Lisbon / Destinations

Lisbon Walking Tour: The Coolest Neighborhoods in Town

Ivo Sousa Martins

Published on
Lisbon Walking Tour: The Coolest Neighborhoods in Town

The best way to get to know a city is to get lost in it. Turn left when the map tells you should go right and freely explore where you end up. While this guide intends to help you navigate the Lisbon, take it with a grain of salt. There’s much to see and do, and sometimes getting lost is the best way to find your north.

Illustration of Lisbon Neighborhoods

Illustration of Lisbon Neighborhoods

In the last few years, Lisbon has become one of the trendiest cities to visit in the world. The Portuguese capital is the second oldest European capital after Athens. The ancient town of Olissipo (the original name for Lisbon during the Roman Empire) may be old in age, but it's young at heart. Like most cities around the world, Lisbon is better when walking through it and getting lost in it. Although the city rests on top of several hills—7 to be exact, which sometimes makes it hard to wander around, it’s undoubtedly worth the effort. Lisbon is filled with stunning views, quirky restaurants, mesmerizing architecture and fascinating history. So stretch out those legs and grab your camera. Our first stop is one of the oldest areas in the city, so let’s see what it can teach us. Come along in this walking tour around Lisbon.

Alfama: Where It All Began

In the heart of the city, you'll find Alfama, a traditional borough or Bairro (in Portuguese), near the Castle of São Jorge. The borough of Alfama is the oldest in Lisbon and one that's been well-preserved. Its name comes from the Arabic word Al-hamma meaning hot fountains or baths. In the past, Alfama was the entirety of the city of Lisbon (can you believe it?). Initially inhabited by less affluent communities after the expansion of the city, it is still to this day a lower income neighborhood, and one of the few places unscathed by the earthquake and fire of 1755. It looks relatively similar to the original version. 

The streets of Alfama will take you to a time far away from today. The smell of food and cacophony of chit chat echo through the narrow streets, stairs, and tiny patios. The borough of Alfama offers you a journey through time. From majestic churches like Igreja de São Vicente and Sé de Lisboa or the Pantheon to typical hidden restaurants; this is where Lisbon first began. 

If you ask any Portuguese person which music says the most about their culture, they'll say fado without a doubt. The Portuguese blues, as many would describe, is music that comes straight from the soul. It tells us stories of longing, melancholia, and love. Alfama is the birthplace of fado and where you'll find a multitude of Casas de Fado places filled with history and long nights. Here you can experience a traditional Portuguese meal or just sit down for a drink while musicians play and sing fado throughout the night.

Painted mural on the streets of Lisbon

Painted mural on the streets of Lisbon

Pro Tip

 If you love photography, make sure you have a full battery when you get to Alfama—you'll need it. 

Zé dos Cornos: Typical Tasca Lunch

If that gets you thinking about food, here you'll find Zé dos Cornos, a typical restaurant or Tasca with authentic Portuguese food. The joint is small, so you'll probably have to wait, but the people are warm and inviting. So enjoy a cold brew while you're waiting and connect with the spirit of the old borough.

The most famous dish here is the spare ribs with beans mixed with rice—it's a true delicacy. If that's not for you, don't despair—there's a lot more on the menu, adequate for all tastes. And if you like wine, oh do we have a treat for you. The owners, a family from Northern Portugal, have a vineyard of their own and serve their wine at the restaurant. You'll rarely find this kind of thing anywhere else.

Graça: Or ‘Charm’ When Translated to English

One of the most charming neighborhoods in Lisbon is Graça and it borders Alfama. So you’re only a few minutes away. You'll find stunning views of Tejo River and a sense of the city layout from Miradouro da Graça viewpoint. While you’re here, why not take the time to sit for a while and enjoy a freshly-made sangria.

In the 19th century and early years of the 20th century, with the railway revolution, people with less money started coming from the countryside to bigger cities such as Lisbon and Porto. Consequently, new neighborhoods began to develop. That's the case with Villa Berta, where newcomers occupied a small set of old palaces in the are. Nowadays, these residential areas still maintain the beauty of olden times.

Every Saturday, near the National Pantheon, you'll find an outdoor flea market full of antiques and traditional keepsakes for you to take back home. It's called Feira da Ladra—don't miss it! If shopping is your thing, you must spot by Chiado.

Stand at Feira da Ladra Flee Market

Stand at Feira da Ladra Flee Market

Pro Tip

If you come during the summer when Lisbon festivities are on, you'll find this street filled with people enjoying summer nights with beer, food and Portuguese music.

Chiado: Shop For Centuries

Chiado has been a place for commerce since the end of 18th-century and still has a few stores open from that time. That's the case with Bertrand bookshop, a spot opened since 1747. Or the garment shop, Paris em Lisboa, opened in 1888. Although a massive fire almost destroyed Chiado in 1988, the city quickly rebuilt itself, making sure buildings stayed true to their original designs. So if you're looking for the best place to go window shopping, Chiado's the place.

The biggest mall in the historic city center, and certainly one you can't miss even if you try, is the Armazéns do Chiado. It was born in 1894 with the intent to bring to Lisbon cosmopolitan trade and glamour that you would find in Paris. Today it has around 50 stores and restaurants, from bookstores to perfumes you can find everything here.

Another shop that has a place on our list is a quaint store in the heart of Chiado, A Vida Portuguesa or roughly translated "The Portuguese Life." Here you'll have the chance to find classic Portuguese products—the ones used by Portuguese grandmothers in the early 20th-century. From books to soaps or even toys, the nostalgia is present here. You'll go back time just for stepping in this store. 

Manteigaria: Pit Stop for Dessert

Portugal is home to numerous traditional treats: Queijadas or Travesseiros originally from Sintra, Tortas de Azeitão from Azeitão—both a short drive from Lisbon. Rodriguinhos from the South in Algarve, and Braga in the North with their famous Pudim Abade de Priscos. No matter where you go, sugar is spread all over the country.

However one of the sweets that put Portugal on the map is the famous custard tart or as we call it, Pastel de Nata. Although the recipes differ slightly, you've probably also heard about Pastel de Belém, but I'll talk about the prior since it’s one of my favorites.

Manteigaria, once a small butter factory near Chiado, is today a must-see when visiting Lisbon. The bakery is small but inviting. A large glass divides the space between the clients and the bakers, and you'll have the chance to see them make custard from scratch and serve it while it’s still hot. Having only one might not suffice, especially once dusted with powdered sugar or cinnamon.

So, if your time in Lisbon is short and the list is long, make sure Manteigaria is a priority. You'll thank me later.

Rossio: A Bit of History

Here you'll find Café Nicola one of the oldest ones in Lisbon—over 200 years old, so they probably know how to make a good espresso. You'll see the beautiful National Theater, founded in 1842, which replaced the old Estatus Palace home to the Portuguese Inquisition. If you look further west, you'll see the Rossio's railway station, built in 1887. If you're here don't miss the chance to admire the station facade or the station itself, it will be worth your time.

Rossio Square held the spotlight to many brutal fates, being the chosen stage for public executions during the Inquisition in the late 15th and 16th-century. Since then, many things have changed. The Inquisition ended, an earthquake occurred in 1755, and Rossio became a meeting place for people. If you look at the floor of the square you'll notice a wavy pattern, something added in the 19th century and copied all over Portuguese ex-colonies around the world.

Rossio is full of stores, and if you walk a bit further downtown towards Baixa you’ll find one of the best areas for shopping.

Within the Square is The Fantastic World Of Portuguese Sardines. It looks like something taken out of a Victorian Carnival Film set. In reality, it is a place for you to buy canned sardines (just like the name suggests, right?). With hopes of revisiting the last century of Portuguese history and fishing traditions, the cans illustrate the years going back from 1612, with different colors and tonalities for each decade. The store has a cheerful vibe, so even if you don't like sardines or cans, this is one cool gift to bring home with you.

Príncipe Real: Lisbon’s Hot Spot

One of the more trendy places in Lisbon right now is without a doubt Princípe Real. The area is full of stores, bars, restaurants, and art galleries—there's so much to do here.

At the center of the neighborhood is Embaixada a 19th-century neo-Moorish palace, repurposed into a shopping gallery showcasing several Portuguese brands from clothing and furniture design to gastronomy and a few art exhibitions.

While you’re here, visit Galeria de Arte de São Mamede and get inspired by Portuguese contemporary art. If you find yourself walking out with a painting under your arm, that's on us.

One of the most iconic things you'll see walking around Lisbon, especially in the old neighborhoods are the tiles or azulejos covering building facades. At Solar they sell these antique tiles, from as far as the 16th-century. Visit this store and maybe take a piece of the city back home with you.

There is no shortage of places you should see while visiting Príncipe Real. From stores with antiquities to traditional foods, there's a world for you to get lost in, so take your time and walk around the neighborhood. Have dinner at one of the many hip restaurants in the area and head to Bairro Alto for a drink.

Buildings in the district of Príncipe Real

Colorful building found in Príncipe Real, Lisbon

Bairro Alto: Just One More Drink

Almost six centuries have passed since built and Bairro Alto still hasn't lost its touch. For those who live in Lisbon, it's fair to say that many spend their nights in Bairro Alto, or at least parts of those nights. It's probably one of the liveliest spots in town when it comes to going out for a drink. From regular nights to holidays and festivities, everything changes when you step into this neighborhood.

You'll see thousands of people out in the streets having a good time as if none of your problems could reach you inside this bustling area. Most of the bars have been here for as long as people can remember, and are certainly older than most of the people who visit them. Here you can find all sorts of bars, from Techno to Fado, the music travels through the streets like air itself, sirens calling to Ulysses.

View from Rua da Bica

Rua da Bica located in Bairro Alto neighborhood, Lisbon

Pro Tip

Until a few years ago the night would go on as far as the moon was up, but nowadays all the bars need to close by 3am. Don’t worry night owls, the night is young at Pink Street. Head downtown for Lisbon’s nightlife scene. 

Pink Street: Dance The Night Away

Once a place in total decay, today it's on every guidebook to Lisbon, and for that reason alone we couldn't skip it (follow the herd, right?). Just kidding, although Pink Street is fairly known at this point, it is still one of those places you shouldn't miss while visiting.

Known as Lisbon's "Red Light District", it was once a meeting point for sailors, criminals, and prostitutes. Picture one of those streets from the turn of the 19th century where the street lights are dim, and the air is misty. (Hey, it works in movies, so why not here!) Let's just say that if you were caught wandering this street, it wouldn't be for the best reason.

But in 2011, with a splash of pink, Rua Nova de Carvalho (the actual street's name) became what is known today as the Pink Street. The old brothels gave way to new bars, and the abandoned stores became cozy little cafes where you can grab a bite to eat or have a cold brew with friends.

It’s now the trendiest place to go out, with clubs like Music Box or Europa and bars like Copenhaga or Pensão Amor. The nights are fun and long, and the memories will last you a lifetime.

If a crazy night is not your thing, go to sleep early and wake up renewed for more exploring. Lisbon has a bountiful cultural scene to be enjoyed during the day.

Gulbenkian: A Museum, Park & Concert Venue

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is the proud owner of an incredible and enviable art collection. It features an amphitheater, library, auditoriums, and cafes. Best of all, it is surrounded by a beautiful park that hosts a multitude of activities all year long.

Their collection has over 6,000 pieces, with 1,000 of them on permanent display. The collection focuses on Oriental and Classical Art, as well as European Art with particular attention to the 18th-century French art nouveau jewels and glasswork of René Lalique.

So if you're looking for a cultural approach to the city of Lisbon, there's no better place to start than here at the Gulbenkian Museum. 

Gulbenkian Park, Lisbon

Gulbenkian Park, Lisbon

Pro Tip

The museum is closed on Tuesdays and offers a 50% admission discount if you're a student or under 30 years old.

Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga: A Lesson in Art History

Considered one of the most most important art museums in Europe, the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga holds a collection that spans from the 12th century to the 19th century. If you’re a history buff, it’s one place that you must see while you’re in Lisbon.

Funded in 1884, this museum occupies the Palácio de Alvor-Pombal which by itself is something to behold. The building encircles a beautiful garden filled with sculptures and a stunning view of the river.

The three floors of the museum are worth visiting, but if we had to highlight one thing that would be the infamous Saint Vicente Panels. Many questions are left unanswered, such as the real author, when it was painted and the meaning behind the six panels. What’s your interpretation?

Pro Tip

 If you're looking for an unusual place to have breakfast, try going to the museum. You'll have the chance to savor your coffee in the beautiful sculpture garden with a river view.

Maat: A Museum That Looks Just As Good From Outside

The Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (Maat), sits on the banks of the river and takes inspiration from the waves themselves to gain its architectural form. The intention behind its white reflective color is that you'll see it differently depending on the time of day. From the cantilevered terrace you'll be able to see across the city to the Castelo de São Jorge.

According to the director, Pedro Gadanho, former curator to the MoMa in NY, the purpose of this museum is to host and become a "cultural space of discovery, critical thinking, and global dialogue." And here we are, talking about it. If you're curious about a riverfront museum with much to see both inside and out, this is the place for you.

Now speaking of the river...

Lisbon Riverfront Museum Maat Walking Tour

MAAT, Lisbon

River Walk: 13 Miles of Breathtaking Views

In the last few years, Lisbon has been in transformation for locals and tourists alike. Places that were once parking lots or not used at all, are now praised riverfront viewpoints that will for sure make you want to walk or ride a bike for hours.

Since the Age of the Discoveries, the Portuguese have been drawn to the sea. They launched ship after ship out into the ocean hoping to discover a new world. So it's no surprise that you'll find such a deep connection between the Portuguese and the river.

From Torre de Belém to Parque Tejo you'll find a practically uninterrupted path with 13 miles of beautiful riverfront views to enjoy. Walk, bike, or rest on the grass and sip on the warmth of the sun. Along the way, you'll see cafes, restaurants, and of course, museums.

Ponto Final: One Final Stop, Across The River

Curiously enough, the best view of Lisbon is not found in the city, but rather across the river. That's where you'll find yourself looking into a beautiful and detailed painting of the town, a unique and mesmerizing view.

Forgotten for many years, and technically not belonging to the city of Lisbon, Cacilhas is close and noteworthy enough to earn a spot here. They say what counts is the journey, not the destination, and although that may be correct for many adventures, it's not true when it comes to this riverfront restaurant. Don't get me wrong—the 10-minute boat ride is worth it, but when you finally sit at the table a few feet away from the river, you'll agree. The food is simple yet delicious. Pro tip: Order fish and seafood.

Tagus River, Lisbon

Tagus River, Lisbon

After all the foodie tips above, it's time to go for a walk to explore the city and all its secrets. From river walks to rooftops, Lisbon's got it all. It’s a city with so much to see and discover that you'll find yourself lost in which direction to go first.

In conclusion, while Lisbon might not be as cosmopolitan as other major cities, it has a uniqueness that you probably won't find in other capitals around Europe. From amazing parks, delicious restaurants, enchanting architecture and scenery and a coast filled with sunny beaches and river views, you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy your time here. The real problem is going to be deciding what to do first. 

 While people tend to look for other warmer places to travel off-season, Lisbon is a beautiful city, even during the cold months of the year. Enjoy the city without the summer hassle or explore the mystical woods of Sintra during winter. During the holidays you'll find the city covered in beautiful decorations accompanied by the smell of roasted chestnuts in the air. I might be biased but it's magical. So what are you waiting for?

Ivo Sousa Martins
Writer & Photographer
Lisbon, Portugal
you may also like