Sun. May 19th, 2024
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Want to uncover the best-hidden gems in the Portuguese capital? Whether you only have a few days in Lisbon, or you’re here for a longer stay – this is a thriving city that is bursting with plentiful flavours, world-class landmarks, and kitschy hotspots.

In one word, Lisbon is captivating.

It took the world long enough to start to notice this jewel of a city, shimmering on the Tagus River in Portugal. But with Lisbon having gone through a city-wide renaissance, becoming one of Europe’s most visited destinations – also comes the expected crowds. But fret not – this beloved cobblestone metropolis is filled with treasures to explore and non-touristy things to do. With recommendations from locals and expats, we’ve hand-picked Lisbon’s most unique activities that will help you venture off the beaten path. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!

Before you go, here’s top picks in Lisbon:

MY TOP – 5 PICKS

  • 👨‍🍳 Learn how to make Portugal’s famous egg tarts, Pastel de Nata during a 2-hour cooking class in a kitchen with professional and friendly chefs
  • 🌅 Experience the beauty of the sun setting over Lisbon on this cruise down the Tagus River with drinks and bites
  • 😋 Taste the many flavors of Lisbon on a guided walk through the city to try some of the best local wine, petiscos, food, and fado
  • ⛵ Enjoy a day trip from Lisbon to the Pena Palace, Sintra, Cabo da Roca, and Cascais
  • 🚲 Feel like a local and explore Lisbon’s top highlights on a 1-hour guided tour riding a bike all while enjoying a selection of drinks
People watching in a theatre an immersive media experience.
Quake – Lisbon Earthquake Centre

1. Experience an earthquake… Yep you read that right 

Right in the middle of Lisbon’s Belém neighbourhood is Quake – Lisbon Earthquake Centre. It’s a thematic experience that combines science, history and entertainment to take you to the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.

On the 1st of November in 1755, a combination of fires and tsunami was triggered by an earthquake that almost completely wiped out Lisbon and the surrounding areas. At a magnitude of 7.7, it was also one of the deadliest earthquakes in history – rippling through the Iberian Peninsula and Northwest Africa. At Quake – Lisbon Earthquake Centre, you’ll be taken on an interactive journey that teaches you about the past tragedy while help prepare and prevent for the future. Based on the talents of seismologists, historians and a theatre producer, Quake is designed for children, adults, and everyone. The simulator you’ll step into to recreate the Great Lisbon Earthquake is mind-blowing, as well as the re-created tsunami from advanced technology and special effects!

2. Jardim do Torel

Lisbon is such a treasured city, but often there are fewer and fewer spots left to relax in as more travellers flock its streets. What feels like one of the last true local spots in the city also happens to be where my friends and I usually go to hang out. Jardim do Torel is a hilltop garden oasis with absolutely romantic views of Lisbon’s  Baixa neighbourhood and the Avenida da Liberdade.

There’s two levels to Jardim do Torel since it’s on a hill, one on top that’s flanked by the cool caress of trees while the other below has a cafe terrace. Look out for the beautiful fountain at the entrance, as well as a pond with a mermaid statue. Enjoy this unique view of Lisbon, and the glowing blue waters on the horizon!

Different stalls laid outside on a square selling different used goods.
Feira de Ladra | Max Bashyrov

3. Flea market shopping at Feira de Ladra

Located out on the streets of the Alfama neighbourhood, Feira de Ladra or also mischievously known as the “Thieves Market”, is an open-air, come-as-you-are flea market. Rest assured, there’s no where else that does a good bargain like the stalls at Feira de Ladra!

It’s fun to stroll through this second-hand market eyeing pre-loved goods. This type of market has been around Lisbon since the 12th century, with traders and sellers displaying their wares on simple blankets and rails. From traditional artisanal goods, to garage-sale style military objects, clothes, pre-read books, coins of various collections and antiques – if you have something in mind, surely there’s a vendor here with it.

Since the Feira de Ladra covers quite a big area around the Campo de Santa Clara and a square by the National Pantheon, if you want to avoid the busy afternoons definitely go in the mornings or after lunch time. It’s open on Tuesday and Saturdays from 9am to 6pm.

 

A historical palace with a garden and pop of flowers by an old statue.
Frontiera Palace | Emmanuel Parent

4. Palace of the Marquesses of Fronteira

Bright stunning red, the Palace of the Marquesses of Fronteira, also known simply as Frontiera Palace is a grand dame for architecture lovers. Boasting the largest collection of Portuguese tiles – yep, those stunning ceramics from the 17th century, the Frontiera Palace was originally a hunting lodge belonging to the Mascarenhas family.

Today, it’s a national monument, and you can take either a guided tour or your own self-walk with audio tour through the lived manor. From the gardens that mimic a miniature Versailles, to the wistfully-named Knights Lake and Kings Gallery.  All around the palace are statues of Greek Gods, azulejo tiles, and grotto-like sanctuaries that take you from the present time back to a bygone era.

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A blur of people dancing out on the street.
forró in Martim Moniz plaza

5. Dance the forró in Martim Moniz 

Tied into Portuguese culture and history is the nation of Brasil itself. Part of it is forró, a musical genre, way of dance, and rhythm that originated from the North Eastern region of Brasil. While it may look similar to salsa, it actually combines salsa, tango and samba into a mix of European and African rhythms.

So where else is perfect to experience the dance and music of forró than the multicultural square of Martim Moniz? Each Friday night, the outdoor plaza is filled with couples, groups, and different gatherings dancing their way with the warm music blasting from musicians and speakers. Even if you just want to come by and watch, it’s such a joyous atmosphere and a sultry one under the streetlamps of the open plaza.

A family of four people biking along a cycling path by the river in Lisbon.
Biking Lisbon | Helio Dilolwa

6. Cycling around Lisbon’s historic neighbourhoods

Whether it’s by peddling your way through downtown Lisbon to Belém or zooming through on an electric bike adventure, exploring Portugal’s capital on wheels is a fun way to see what you want and go at your own pace.

At first the 7 hills of Lisbon may sound intimidating to even make a dent in – this is a city with multiple character-filled neighbourhoods after all. But if you go by bike, you can also get a local tour guide with you, who will know all the ins and outs of growing up in Lisbon.

There are plenty of approachable routes around the city, from flat terrains and descending – so if you’re up for a leisure way to explore Lisbon, this is a casual way to take in some of its panoramic views. Get a unique perspective of the city’s locals – and explore the eco-friendly way, by bike!

7. Mirador de la Señora del Monte

You’ll discover that there are tons of viewpoints scattered throughout the Portuguese capital. After all, Lisbon is built on 7 hills. While each one of them offers its own stunning spot to observe and take in the skyline (as well as the glistening waters that surround the city), one of my favourites that locals often go to is the Mirador de la Señora del Monte.

My friend who grew up in Lisbon took me here at sunset, and what a sight it is to behold. From the churchyard that leads to the Mirador de la Señora del Monte, you can take in the whole waterfront. From the iconic red bridges that looks like the Golden Gate, to the orange-tiled rooftops of the historical buildings that make up Lisbon, this vantage point is simply breathtaking. There are also usually musicians nearby playing live music, and sometimes the locals get into the mood and take their partner’s hands for a dance.

Old containers refurbished into art murals and staircases.
Dário Gomes

8. LX Factory

Lisbon is a city where artists have been flocking to over the years, eventually taking over industrial outposts that were once left in disarray. The results? A crop of young galleries opening and the once-neglected factory complexes in the Alcântra neighbourhood of Lisbon have been turned into creative spaces that shepherd the arts, music, and small businesses.

Welcome to LX Factory, where you can easily spend half the day strolling through the old underground factory site covered in colourful murals and urban art. It’s also a great sight to see how the city revitalized and made use of these spaces to further support local artists. LX Factory is also home to film screenings, concerts, and theatre performances. Depending on when you’re visiting, you can check out their monthly event listings here to see if there are any events you want to combine your exploration with.

While the street art on display is awesome to see, the cafes and restaurants in LX Factory are much pricier than other places in the city. Since this neighbourhood was more of an industrial outskirt, there’s not much to see outside of the LX Factory for a traveller. Though a bonus is the 25 of April Bridge (a Golden Gate-style red bridge) is nearby to explore.

Two floors filled with books in a bookstore in Lisbon.
Ler Devagar Bookstore

9. Ler Devagar Bookstore

I’m a sucker for beautiful bookstores, and if you’re a bibliophile as well – Ler Devagar Bookstore is one of those book havens that is not only a gorgeous hideaway for crisp pages and hardbacks, but a quality spot to spend time in too.

Books and coffee just go hand in hand, and the folks at Ler Devagar Bookstore know this so there’s a little cafe on the first floor where you can nuzzle into your pages with a steaming cuppa. Now the space itself honours the open artistic ambience of what the LX Factory is about. Located within the LX Factory, the bookstore is an industrial reconstruction of high factory ceilings, steel beams used for stairways and large windowsills. I actually like coming by to flip through their wide selection of niche art books, while sitting in one of the windowsills.

Don’t forget to peep their now notorious figurines on bicycles and wheels that are hung up like dreamscapes from the ceilings. It definitely adds another magical touch to this book-lovers hideaway. If it’s a rainy day – bonus, this bookstore and cafe are even cosier. If it’s a sunny day – the natural light shining through this industrial spot makes it even more of a well-designed space.

10. Quinta dos Azulejos Garden

One of the many things that make Lisbon such a multi-faceted and special city is how its own residents loves the effortless intertwined combination of urban life and nature. Wherever you are in Lisbon, you’re not too far away from a park, an urban green space, or the waterfront – giving you different areas to reconnect to nature, even when you’re in the bustling heart of it all.

One of these magical places is the Quinta dos Azulejos Garden, a relic from the late 18th century. There are blue Portuguese tiles (azulejo) depicting detailed mosaics of religious stories and hunting conquests. Here, this will feel like an enchanting secret garden that not many people know of in North Lisbon. Oftentimes, you’ll find yourself being the only ones to explore these courtyards and Moorish architectural arches and columns making it truly off the beaten path.

Different doll parts and dolls stacked on top of each other.
Doll Hospital | Magda Ehlers

11. Doll Hospital, also known as Hospital de Bonecas 

Doll making and its hand-crafted industry may be a long lost art form in today’s modern society with the likes of Hasbro and Mattel. But this family-run operation that is the Hospital de Bonecas, or the Doll Hospital, has been long-standing in Lisbon since 1830.

The Doll Hospital is equally fascinating as it is eerie for some, as the place is rooted in the respect and affection between a doll and its owner. From carefully and expertly restoring and repairing beloved dolls and any toys you can think of, this Doll Hospital is an independent business that has become a unique mark in the capital. If there’s a teddy bear that’s ripped or a porcelain heirloom that’s shattered, rest assured – the Doll Hospital lives up to its name to repair their extra limbs. The staff here also wear long white lab coats like they’re performing surgery too.

12. The traditional neighbourhood of Ajuda 

Alright – so you know of Lisbon’s famous neighbourhoods of Alfama, Belém and Baixa. You may have even shopped or strolled through Chaido. But a neighbourhood that is often overlooked – and definitely not touristy, is Ajuda. For those who want to go where truly the locals will be, and uncover another side of Lisbon – this is the area for you.

Ajuda goes all the way back as a pull up your own boot-straps, true working-class neighbourhood. Now, while some parts of Ajuda looks like it’s too rustic and unmaintained, it’s actually still a very affordable side to the city. For Lisbon and its locals, this means a lot. These days, with the ever-burgeoning tech scene and how the capital is more and more becoming one of Europe’s top holiday destinations, it’s harder for locals to find long-term places to live that are within a local’s budget. So Ajuda, with its walking distance to Belém and urban green spaces, has become popular with university students. One of these outdoor sprawls is the Parque Florestal de Monsanto

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, also known as Monsanto Forest Park – the largest green patch in the city the reaches to almost over 1000 hectares.

Another highlight of the neighbourhood is the Palacio Nacional da Ajuda – a 19th-century royal residence that is as grand on the inside as it is on the outside. Also don’t miss out on the Ajuda Botanical Gardens, where you’ll feel like European royalty just strolling through amongst centuries-old trees, elegant statues and Baroque fountains. From there, take a peek out into the Tagus River, with crystal clear views of the 25 of April Bridge.

Stack and stack of books from a bookstore in Lisbon.
Livraria Simão | Eduardo Goody

13. The smallest bookshop in the world at Livraria Simão

The residents of Lisbon have a true respect and appreciation for books and the culture around reading. There are tons of bookstores and shops all around Portugal’s capital city, some for the neighbourhoods, others specializing in its own niche. Libraria Simão is the latter, being the smallest bookshop not only in the city – but also in the whole entire world too.

In fact, only one single person can really fit inside the bookstore that was once a tobacco shop. Named after the owner, Simão Carneiro, has been selling from his collection of mostly pre-read books. While the bookstore looks small (and definitely is in size at less than 4 square metres), there is impressively some 4000 books in the collection. Most of the books sold are in Portuguese, but there are also some international editions and books other languages like Spanish, Chinese and English.

A sharp blue sky against the crumbled stone walls of the Carmo Convent.
Carmo Convent

14. The ruins of Carmo Convent 

Leftover from the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, are the Medieval ruins that were once the Carmo Convent and the Gothic Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It’s a peculiar sight to see, since it’s smack middle of the city, poking out of the nearby building are gothic arches and crumbled stone walls.

Like many sad stories from the earthquake tragedy, the Carmo Convent, unfortunately, has its own. When the earthquake struck, a lot of church-goers were there to pray (the earthquake happened on All Saint’s Day, a national holiday too). What happened then were the stone walls and ceiling collapsing in of themselves, trapping and killing many people inside. While today, you can walk freely in and around the ruins of Carmo Convent, as it is also a museum it’s still a sacred site honouring those who lost their lives in the tragedy.

The museum also has on display different pieces that had survived the earthquake, as well as miniature models of what the church and convent had looked like before the earthquake. But adding to its rather unique and oddity is that the museum has a collection on display of mummies from Peru. Donated from private collections, the well-preserved mummies and Egyptian sarcophagus adds to the eeriness of the ruins.

A dimly lit small local bar in Lisbon.
A ginjinha bar | We Love Lisbon

15. Have a taste of Ginjinha 

You can’t experience Lisbon like a local without having a taste of its homebrewed liqueur, ginjinha – also known as ginja. This Portuguese nectar is made out of infused ginja berries that look like rubyred cherries. They’re added in with spices like cloves and cinnamon sticks in aguardiente (alcohol originating from the Iberian Peninsula). The historically making of this drink had reduced alcohol time and cost, which added to its love by the locals of Lisbon.

While a lot of vars around the city serve ginjinha, these spots in Lisbon are specialized tiny bars for the liquor:

  • Ginjinha Espinheira, since 1840.
  • Ginjinha Sem Rival, since 1890.
  • Ginjinha Rubi, since 1931.
  • Ginginha do Carmo, since 2011

Fun fact, back in the day a tiny shot of ginjinha was given to children to help them sleep!

The ruins of a convent all lit up in different designs and projected murals.
Lisbon under the Stars

16. Lisbon under the Stars

Adding to Lisbon’s cultural and artistic flair, Lisbon Under the Stars is an immersive spectacle that takes place in the ruins of Carmo Convent. The event takes you on a new journey of experiencing Lisbon’s history, through a visually immersive experience using multidisciplinary media. When you step into the ruin walls, you’ll be automatically teleported on an adventure that takes you through over 600 years of Portugal and Lisbon’s coming of age.

With high-tech projections, virtual dancers and multimedia effects, your senses will feel like they’re dipped in an all-immersive show. This isn’t just a visual feast but also one that features Portuguese music and its different traditional styles too. It’s best to book your tickets for Lisbon under the Stars in advance here.

An intimate interior of a bar with multiple mirrors and frames adorning the wall and lamps.
Pensão Amor

17. An affair to remember at Pensão Amor 

Lisbon is infamous for its boisterous nightlife that rages on from the dimly lit bars and pours out into its cobblestone streets. While there are tons of places to frequent and hop around to, one quirky bar that’s hidden behind a nondescript door is the Pensão Amor. Blink and you’ll miss it – since it’s on Lisbon’s much loved pink street, back to back with other packed nightclubs and bars. While the entrance to Pensão Amor is discreet, honouring and channelling its history as once former port-city brothel that had enticed sailors, the inside today is anything but unmemorable.

Serving creative cocktails named after ladies of the night like “Carmen, a exibicionista”, “Bing Quing, a Chinesa” and “Albertina dos Touros” – ordering a drink at Pensão Amor definitely alludes to ordering a lady’s time back then in the same building. And what a space it is today – see it as your own Pied à Terre, or more appropriately, Pied àn affair. Plushy cushions, vintage nudes, velvety curtains, chandeliers that one can almost – just almost swing on, every detail is accounted for to whisk you away for a night of sinful fun. This is one place not to be shy in, definitely wander around the many provocative rooms and take in the jazzy seduction. Certain nights also have live burlesque performances – and you’re invited.

The modern curve building of the MATT beside the river and the bridge.
MAAT | Michiel Annaert

18. MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) and its phenomenal views of the 25 of April Bridge 

The MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) sits right by the river in the historical district of Belém. It’s a modern fusion of a storied power plant (the first in the city!) that was fired by coals and turned into a contemporary museum with a manta-ray architecturally inspired building.

Inside, there are immersive videos, projections that are designed into curvy mirrors imitating the country’s waves, and exhibitions on topics that are interwoven with Portuguese society such as colonisation, immigration, social disparity, and climate change. Definitely don’t miss going up to the rooftop of the museum, which doubles as an observatory deck. From there, it’s the perfect spot to admire the full stance of the 25 of April Bridge.

A local tip, the museum’s line to get in can be really long – so instead of spending half the day queuing, definitely book your tickets online here in advance. Also your ticket includes the converted Tejo Power Station (both buildings are both one museum) so don’t forget to explore that historical space too.

A sailboat on the Tagus river with a red bridge behind it.
Sailing in Lisbon | Ronan Furuta

19. Sailing the Tagus River 

Release your sails, and set forth down the Tagus River! You may have been taking in the capital city all this time on land, but one shouldn’t miss out on experiencing Lisbon by its water too.

As the city is aglow at sunset, sailing down the Tagus river makes for a lovely way to cruise into the evening. This is the perfect way to take in the grand 25 of April Bridge up and such famous landmarks of Lisbon like Commerce Square, Belém Tower and the MAAT museum from the boat. You’ll also be able to spot the Castle of Sao Jorge which stands atop Lisbon’s highest peak too! Whether you’re with family or friends, solo or on a romantic date, sailing the Tagus river gives you Lisbon from a whole different vantage point. Click here took book your 2 hour cruise for any time of the day that you’d prefer.

A view of Lisbon from the rooftop.

20. Enjoying a drink on a rooftop bars 

Lisbon is a city that knows how to take advantage of its many hills and viewpoints that are all around the city. If you’ve been walking around Lisbon, up and down the steep streets that is, it’s time to reward yourself with some sights from above. Whether you’re going for sunset (golden hour definitely looks the best on Lisbon) or late into the evening when the stars come out, a rooftop bar is next to none for drinks in the city.

Here’s a roundup of some of my favourite rooftop bars in Lisbon:

  • ŌKAH Rooftop Bar & Restaurant is in the old port area right next to the waterfront, built out of cool industrial shipping containers. You’ll also be up and close to the iconic red bridge.
  • Rooftop on Hotel Mundial is where a lot of locals frequent, with a rotation of live DJ sets, yummy cocktails and no matter where you turn – there’s front row views of the city.
  • Park Rooftop Bar is one I find myself returning to time and again. It’s on the 6th floor of a parking garage, hence the name but also has a laisse-faire attitude with one of the most breathtaking views of the capital.
  • Sky Bar by SEEN  is a chic and plush abode with panoramic views from Lisbon’s city centre heart all the way down the Tagus river.
  • Limão Rooftop Bar is one for the romantics – now this place knows how to create an intimate ambience with up close and personal skyline views of Lisbon.
Row and row of pasteis de nata - an egg custard tart.
Felix Kolthoff

21. Eat traditional Portuguese food 

This one has to be stated on the list – simply because Lisbon is such a great city for international cuisine and tastes, that one should also do what the locals do – and eat Portuguese food during your time here too. What many might not know is that Portuguese cuisine varies by region – if you go north of Portugal, the specialities differs from say if you go to the Azores. Yet in Lisbon, you can taste all of the regional specialities in one city.

  • Bacalhau fish – don’t even leave this city without trying bacalhau! The preserved salted cod is an essential part of Portuguese cuisine. Restaurant Laurentina is a great place to try the bacalhau à brás dish, while A Licorista should be a go-to for the pastel de bacalhau pastry version.
  • Pasteis De Nata – You may have already had one, or two – hey, I’ve had more than a dozen each time I’m in Lisbon. But can we all agree that Pasteis de Belém is the best bakery for these delicious custardy egg tarts?
  • Piri Piri Chicken – my mouth is already salivating, are yours? Go to Frangasqueira Nacional for no frills, dripping takeaway of piri piri chicken done right.
  • Caldo Verde – you’ll often see this soup at most Lisbon restaurants, which is a bowl of hearty vegetable soup that contains olive oil, kale, carrots, and potatoes.
  • Bifana sandwich – this is Portugal’s signature sandwich is a juicy marinated pork stacked into a crunchy roll. Following in the footsteps of one of my idols, O Trevo is where Anthony Bourdain ate and recommends for this sandwich.
  • Azeitão Cheese – Did you know Portugal makes its own cheese? Made out of sheep’s milk, you can get this tangy cheese in any local’s grocery store to try.
The skyline of Lisbon by the Tagus River.
Source: https://www.livetheworld.com/
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By Lala