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A Guide To The Best Neighborhoods In Lisbon

Where to stay, eat, shop, and sightsee in Lisboa.

By Miguel Andrade

3 August 2018

Alfama & Mouraria

Perfect for: visiting must-see attractions

Alfama, Lisbon | @tachichosz

Start your day early for a full day in the oldest part of central Lisbon: the Alfama. This district’s narrow streets and cobblestone alleyways are best explored on foot, so meander leisurely, pausing to marvel at the ceramic azulejo tiles and pastel-colored buildings. If you have time, pop into the Fado Music Museum before finding a bakery for some coffee and pastries. Then, make the steep climb (or take the tram numbered 28) to one of the famed tourist attractions in the Moorish Quarter, Saint George Castle (Castelo de São Jorge). You’ll pass several miradouros, or lookouts, along the way, but the ultimate panorama will be atop the citadel.

Parque Das Nações

Perfect for: biking, walking

Parque das Nações | @parque.das.nacoes

Eastern Lisbon used to be an ugly industrial area until it was chosen as the site to host the last world fair of the 20th century, Expo 98. It has since been reborn into a futuristic glass-and-steel district, home to some wonderful examples of modern architecture. One of them is Oriente Station, a landmark designed by Santiago Calatrava. Another is Pritzker-award winning architect Alvaro Siza Vieira's fantastic Pavilhão de Portugal, known for its remarkable undulating roof.

Many of the other constructions are ocean-themed (the twin towers São Gabriel and São Rafael resemble ships and are named after two of Vasco da Gama's vessels). Parque das Nações is also home to one of the world's most spectacular aquariums. Everywhere you turn is a glimpse of Europe's longest suspension bridge, which spans 10.7 miles of the vast Tagus River. Parque das Nações boasts active volcanos, exotic greenery, public art by Portuguese and international artists, and cable cars overlooking it all. In contrast to Lisbon’s old historic city centre, Parque das Nações is unashamedly avant-garde.

Belém

Perfect for: charming views, romantic strolls

Belém | @visit_lisboa

Belém is known as the historic district of the Age of Discovery. It was from this waterfront that Vasco da Gama and other explorers departed. Explorers’ historic voyages are celebrated and chronicled today in grand museums and monuments throughout the neighborhood. The discovery of the sea route to India, the opening of trade with Japan, and the colonization of Brazil and parts of Africa and China resulted in sensational architectural feats like the Tower of Belém (Torre de Belém) and Jeronimos Monastery, which are both considered World Heritage Sites. These monuments are adorned and embellished with motifs of exoticized lands elaborately carved in stone, while colossal Discoveries Monument is adorned with carvings of the heroes of the age.

Belém is also Lisbon's museum district, with the one-of-a-kind Coaches Museum filled with royal fairytale carriages, and the Berardo Museum, which showcases a world-class collection of international contemporary and modern art.

Despite all these attractions, it's a pastry shop that receives the most visitors. Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (known colloquially as "Pasteis de Belém" or "Belém Pastries") is the birthplace of Lisbon's famous custard tarts, which are made from a secret recipe and unrivaled throughout Portugal.

Going up the hill through Calçada da Ajuda, you reach the neighborhood of Ajuda, home to the royal palace and a beautiful botanical garden.

Baixa-Chiado

Perfect for: shopping

Baixa-Chiado, Lisbon | @jhs.brgr

Everyone meets for coffee and shopping in Baixa-Chiado, Lisbon's trendiest and most elegant neighborhood. It’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon before dinner and nightlife in the neighboring Bairro Alto. Most of the buildings date back to the 1700's, although many were restored in the 1990's by architect Álvaro Siza Vieira after their destruction by a devastating fire in 1988. Chiado feels like a time warp from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when "Belle Époque" writers such as Fernando Pessoa and Eça de Queiroz used to write at its now historic cafés. Theaters, charming old bookshops, elegant public parks (our favorite is Parque Eduardo), and high-end international brands give Chiado a lively, cosmopolitan ambience—especially along the iconic Avenida da Liberdade.

If you're opting to stay in this neighborhood, don't miss the LX Boutique Hotel, a charming, 4-star property housed in a century-old building in the heart of the historic quarter, within walking distance from attractions such as the Lisbon Cathedral, Praça do Comércio, Igreja de São Roque, and Chiado Museum.

Príncipe Real

Perfect for: scoping out Lisbon’s hottest new real estate

Príncipe Real | @adewitt

This attractive neighborhood (named "Royal Prince" in honor of Queen Maria II's first born) extends north of Bairro Alto. Once known exclusively for its antique shops and gay bars, it is now a fully diversified shopping area. Primarily residential, Príncipe Real is filled with gardens, tranquil squares, and colorful mansions. All this abundant charm has turned it into one of the most sought-after areas to live in the city, and real estate companies have taken notice. Old buildings are being renovated, a young population is moving in, and the company that turned Georgetown into the Washington DC’s hippest region is acquiring buildings.

Down the hill is the small neighborhood of São Bento, known for the neoclassical Parliament building, and for antique shops on Rua de São Bento.

Once you've had your fill of the different parts of the city, head to the Metro Station to embark on a full or half-day trip.

Day trips from Lisbon:

Sintra

This UNESCO World Heritage Site feels like the set of a fairytale movie with its extravagant estates tucked into the lush Sintra mountains, all about 30 minutes by train from the capital. Arrive to Pena Palace first, before the crowds, to witness a remarkable example of 19th century Romantic architecture.

Migrate from Pena Palace’s opulent interiors and through the manicured gardens to the Castelo dos Mouros, which was built in the Middle Ages to guard Sintra from invaders. Descend the hills to visit Monserrate Palace and Quinta da Regaleira, two other displays of Sintra’s magical castles.

Return to Lisbon for dinner at Atira-te ao Rio, near the emblematic 25 de Abril Bridge on the other side of the Tagus. Take the cross-river ferry just before sunset to this waterfront eatery for outstanding authentic seafood with views to match.

Cascais

Another ideal day trip from the capital is the golden sands of Cascais. A train ride from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré station will transport you there in about 30 minutes for just under €5 round-trip.

A few beaches are reachable by foot from the Cascais town center, like Praia da Ribeira or Praia da Rainha, with sand dune beaches like Praia da Cresmina a bit farther out. Rent a bike for a coastal cruise until you locate your preferred sandy stretch.

Then stop for an al fresco seafood lunch at one of the buzzing restaurants of Cascais’ Old Town. The vibrant streets are also filled with boutiques, and sometimes street performers.

Upon return to the Cais do Sodré station in Lisbon, cross the street to the Time Out Market in the Mercado da Ribeira. With over 40 vendors serving both traditional Portuguese specialties and global fare, including a multitude of dessert options, it’s the perfect casual and convivial dinner.


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