Lisbon has many neighborhoods, each with its own charm, but if you are visiting for a weekend stop-over, there are three that you must see.
Chiado – the noblest area of Lisbon
I’ll start with Chiado, the noblest area, which has one of the most impressive stories. Just like the Phoenix, dead in a show of flames and reborn from the ashes, Chiado had a major fire in the 1980s, at dawn, which started in Armazéns do Grandella (currently Armazéns do Chiado) and took down buildings in the equivalent area of eight football stadiums.
Old Portuguese buildings had wood structures so this was the fuel to the tragedy that affected many homes and offices, jobs and livelihoods. This changed the course of Lisbon’s history.
The world-renowned Portuguese architect Siza Vieira (Pritzker winner) is responsible for the majority of the re-built Chiado that you will see here.
This uptown neighborhood is side by side with downtown and the river. It has so many iconic and historical places to explore that I don’t even know where to start.
Chiado’s main street, Rua Garrett, takes the name from a Portuguese poet and is full of shops and cafés. Let’s start perhaps with the fire survivor: Bertrand – the world’s oldest bookshop.
It has recently been redecorated, but its entrance still has the original shelves. Right in front you have another shop, Gardenia, that was designed by Raul Lino, another famous Portuguese architect. His design was controversial in mixing modern and classic. He is popularly known as the creator of the “Portuguese house” concept.
If you keep going up the street (and remember you are in Lisbon the city of the seven hills) on your left you will find the Basílica dos Mártires, a church that definitely is worth a visit.
The shop Tod’s is just across from there, and this shop features an impressive Luis XVI gold and creamy interior decor that this international brand has kept and nurtured.
The first is well-known for its pastry and the second was the home to the writings of Fernando Pessoa, a brilliant Portuguese poet who had several heteronyms.
At Brasileira, my advice is to only have an espresso (ask for a bica – which literally means “drink this with sugar”) at the counter (food is not amazing and service is not great either).
While leaving this street behind, take a peak in the last floor of Benetton’s shop. It features great new-blood Portuguese designers looking for industry exposure.
On the same street, you will find Teatro de São Carlos, the Portuguese Opera House, as well as some classy restaurants. You will also find the Museum of Contemporary Art, offering permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Other places that are worth a visit here are “Vista Alegre”, a fine Portuguese porcelain brand and also some traditional art designed by Bordallo Pinheiro, and “A Vida Portuguesa”, a shop with all national vintage souvenirs. The Bairro Alto Hotel has a rooftop bar, with a splendid view and nice cocktails for a perfect afternoon end.
Carmo’s Convent Ruins
After this I recommend that you keep going up, to find Carmo’s Convent Ruins, side by side with an army barracks and a lovely garden (the garden is fairly new).
This square was the main stage of the Portuguese Revolution in 1974. While going to Principe Real, visit São Roque’s Church and Museum, with the very impressive Chapel of St John the Baptist – full of precious stones. This was constructed in Rome by Nicola Salvi and Luigi Vanvitelli, disassembled and re-built in its current location.
At the time, the chapel was considered to be the richest and most expensive in Europe.
Keep walking and, right before you get to Principe Real’s main street, have a drink at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara – a great garden with an amazing view.
From here, you will see the modern office buildings on your left, standing out against the old and picturesque traditional roofs, the São Jorge’s Castle and finally the river at your right. From here you can also see the last neighborhood that I will write about.
Avenida da Liberdade
If you look down, you will see a row full of trees, marking Avenida da Liberdade, where we are heading last. When you keep going up, you have the hippest place to be in Lisbon – full of new designer shops, very colorful buildings and cafes for every taste.
Some weekends you will be lucky to see a flea market in the main garden, which mixes new artisans with fresh fruits and veggies. This street is the top of Bairro Alto neighborhood, a must-go for a dinner and a drink, with places for all tastes and budgets.
In Principe Real, have a walk, visit the fountain in the square garden (it has an underground passage through to the aforementioned Miradouro, but the passage is not always open), and keep going until the Natural History Museum and the Botanical Gardens.
Since you will find a lot of curvy, steep and narrow streets, ask for directions for the best way to get to Avenida da Liberdade.
Before you start exploring this avenue, know that it was modelled after Paris boulevards, is 90m wide and links Restauradores Square (at your right) with Marquis of Pombal (at your left).
Here you will find great street food places with hotdogs, but also high end restaurants, such as AdLib (fusion of French and Portuguese cuisine) and Stanislav (Russian food and exquisite vodkas).
Avenida da Liberdade offers 1100m of luxury stores like Cartier, Prada, Michael Kors, Boss, Fly London (a great, international Portuguese shoe brand) and more, turning this street into the world’s 35th most expensive one.
Antonio works in talent development for a travel company that operates in the shared economy. He is a natural communicator, skilled trainer and 100% customer driven. You can find some articles and publications on his LinkedIn profile.