Tag Archives: Lisbon

Alfama – ancient streets, Fado music and guided walks in Lisbon

Lisbon was founded in Castelo and as it grew it spread down the slopes towards the River Tejo. The first area to form outside the castle walls was Alfama. This barrio is fascinating and still retains its ancient feel and Moorish influences. Its layout is chaotic, typical of Moorish cities where the narrow, confusingly arranged streets represented a defence as well as protection from the heat of the sun. This gives Alfama a very distinctive feel.

Alfama is different from the other areas of Lisbon. During the day the neighbourhood has a sleepy residential feel to it but at night it shifts gear; the restaurants and bars fill and the sound of Fado drifts through the air. Fado is the nostalgic Portuguese music that is considered to be the purest expression of Lisbon’s soul. Fado has its roots in Alfama. The bairro is the subject of many songs and has been the inspiration for Fado artists and songwriters throughout the ages; many consider Alfama to be the birthplace of Fado.

As you explore Alfama you will undoubtedly fall in love with its narrow streets, steep steps, dimly lit taverns, flower-laden iron balconies and pretty squares. The blogs LisbonLux and Carlos Fontes suggest walking routes that take you through some of the most interesting parts and I have included links and information about these walks at the end of this post.

Alternatively, if you prefer to explore alone, a good starting point is the Santa Luzia viewpoint (Miradouro de Santa Luzia). The old wooden Tram 28 stops here. As well as beautiful views over the city there is a small water garden with shaded seating and pretty murals made from the blue and white Portuguese tiles. A little further up the road is Largo Portas do Sol, this has fantastic panoramic views over Alfama and São Vicente; you can see the impressive Igreja e Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora, the splendid building of the National Pantheon and the dome of the Church of Saint Stephen. It is a breathtaking view. Nearby you will find the little kiosk Portas do Sol Café. The Café is on the wide street dominated by the statue of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon, holding the symbols of the city – a boat with two ravens. Opposite is the Museum of Portuguese Decorative Arts, another place well worth a visit.

Other things we loved in Alfama included:

National Pantheon Lisbon
National Pantheon Lisbon

the National Pantheon, a 17th-century church and monument; the Fado Museum on Largo do Chafariz de Dentro; Sé de Lisboa, Lisbon’s Cathedral, on Largo da Sé; and the weirdly beautiful Casa do Bicos (House of Beaks or spikes) on Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, just a little way down from the Cathedral.

Self-guided walks around Alfama and Tram 28

LisbonLux have put together a fantastic self-guided walking route that takes you through the prettiest streets and past some of the best sights. This post is in English and Portuguese. Click here to read more ….

Carlos Fontes’ blog is a local historian. On his blog he talks about his 365 favourite things to do and see in Lisbon. Alfama is described in some detail and he outlines a walk that includes his favourite streets. His blog is in Portuguese so I have included a very rough description of his walk below in English or click here to read his blog in Portuguese

Carlo’s route starts at Lisbon’s Cathedral, Sé de Lisboa, from here he suggestions you follow the street Cruz de Sé in the direction of the Igreja de São Miguel de Alfama (built in séc.XVII), from the church head in the direction of Largo do Chafariz de Dentro (built séc.XIII) to the impressive Igreja de Santo Estevão (which was built in séc. XVIII, by João Nunes Tinoco); and finally seek out the bright pink building the O Pátio dos Quintalinhos on Villa Rocha just off Rua das Escolas Gerais. This building might not look much now but it is significant in Lisbon’s history; it was established in 1290 to advance learning and higher studies and symbolises the establishment of the first University of Lisbon.

Tram 28
Tram 28

Tram 28
A ride on Lisbon’s traditional wooden Tram 28 is a “must do” thing to do for anyone visiting Lisbon. LisbonLux have a whole blog post dedicated to Tram 28 and its route. Click here to find out more…

Photography and Credits:  Unless otherwise stated, all photography in this post is the property of LisbonLux.com. LisbonLux have generously given their permission for the use of their photography on this site.  LisbonLux is an independent blog and one of the best city guides to Lisbon on the web.  For more information about Lisbon visit:  www.lisbonlux.com


São Vicente, Lisbon – churches, shopping and hidden restaurants

Lisbon is a city best explored on foot and the narrow, cobbled streets of the old quarters surrounding the Castelo de São Jorge are fascinating.  After we visited the castle, we spent the day exploring these old neighbourhoods and adored the laid back vibe of São Vicente.  We were bedazzled by its churches and the pretty square of Campo de Santa Clara.  We had fun searching for hidden treasures at the old antique markets, Feira da Ladra; and loved trying new dishes in the neighbourhood restaurants.  We ended our visit by wandering up into Graça to watch the sun set over the city from the O Miradouro da Senhora do Monte viewpoint.

In the bairro of São Vicente the ancient streets are lined with neighbourhood shops, traditional workshops and colourful houses with the old style tiled roofs.  Many still have the traditionally iron clad balconies full of flowers and washing, which gives São Vicente a residential feel and strong sense of community.  

Rising above these narrow streets is one of Lisbon’s most magnificent churches, the Igreja e Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora (The church and monastery of Saint Vincent). The Igreja e Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora has an impressive Italian Renaissance facade with two ornate towers that house status of the saints.  It is well worth going inside; the interior has a barrel vaulted ceiling and a Baroque altar by the Portuguese sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro.  Over in the monastery is a superb collection of the blue and

Tiled Panels in the Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora
Tiled Panels in the Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora

white Portuguese tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese history.  In the cloisters are more tiled panels, which tell the tales by the French poet Jean de la Fontaine.  There is also a museum here, which documents the history of Lisbon and has a permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, jewellery and vestments.  Finally before you leave, climb the stairs to the rooftop to see the fantastic views of the city and River Tejo.

Nearby is the Feira da Ladra (the thieves market), this market is a treasure trove for antiques and bric-a-brac. The market is only open on Tuesdays and Saturdays; but it is worth passing by any day of the week just to visit the square and garden of Campo de Santa Clara.  This is a pleasant spot with a handful of charming neighbourhood cafes and bars, all with fantastic views towards the sea.  All this makes it a lovely place to have a drink and enjoy a lazy afternoon in the sun.

From the Campo de Santa Clara it is an easy walk up to the Castelo de São Jorge and the bairro of Graça.  On the way is the tiny little cafe restaurant GatoPardo (see below for details).  This is a fantastic “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant, typical of the area which serves up a wonderful selection of Portuguese and Mediterranean inspired dishes using garden fresh produce.  It is a neighbourhood restaurant in the truest sense and a real gem.

Alternatively walk down into Baixa or the sea front via Alfama; and if you are walking through Alfama don’t miss the National Pantheon (Panteão Nacional), which is just a few moments from Campo de Santa Clara.

Practical information:

The Igreja e Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora sits on Arco Grande de Cima.  The monastery is to the right of the church in Largo de São Vicente.  Admission to the church is free; The monastery and museum has a small entrance fee and is open every day.  The traditional wooden Tram 28 stops close by at the Feira da Ladra (the thieves market).  

Feira da Ladra (the thieves market) is on Campo de Santa Clara and is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  

GatoPardo is on Rua São Vicente for more information visit their Facebook page:    https://pt-br.facebook.com/BistroBrechoGatoPardo/

Photography and Credits:  All photography in this post is the property of LisbonLux.com. LisbonLux have generously given their permission for the use of their photography on this site.  LisbonLux is an independent blog and one of the best city guides to Lisbon on the web.  For more information about Lisbon visit:  www.lisbonlux.com

Graça has the best viewpoint to watch the sunset in Lisbon …. and much more

If you are visiting Lisbon put some time aside to visit the Castelo de São Jorge and explore the neighbouring bairros of Alfama, Graça and São Vicente.  These are Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods and sit on Lisbon’s tallest hill. Lisbon is built on seven hills and there are impressive views all over the city.  One of the best, which features in every guidebook, is from the Castelo de São Jorge, however continue into the bairro of Graça and you will leave the crowds behind and find a number of other breathtaking viewpoints.  In fact many locals considered O Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (which the locals call O Miradouro da Graça) and O Miradouro da Senhora do Monte to have the finest views in the whole city.

the Bairro Graça in Lisbon
Traditional street in Graça Lisbon Photography by LisbonLux

Graça still retains its residential feel despite its close proximity to the castle, Lisbon’s main tourist sight.  The area is full of history and it has many of the old villas and palaces that were built by Lisbon’s aristocracy when Portugal was one of Europe’s most powerful nations.  The excellent Portuguese blog post by Carlos Fontes describes the bairro in-depth and suggests a walking route that passes some of Graça’s most interesting buildings, churches and squares; click here to read more.  

The neighbourhood centres around Lago da Graça and Lisbon’s oldest church, the Igreja and Convento da Graça.  The church was built-in 1271 but collapsed after the 1755 earthquake and was rebuilt in a baroque style.  It has an impressive interior, with 16th and 17th century tiles and numerous altars’ dedicated to the different saints which were important to the city and its population at the time.  There is also a beautiful 18th century section dedicated to Senhor dos Passos da Graça, which should not be missed.  Outside is a lovely garden and a terrace with a small cafe which offers yet another view across the city.  From here it is a pleasant walk down towards bairro Baixa and the sea, passing through the bairros of São Vicente and Alfama.  Alternatively catch the famous Tram number 28 from Lago da Graça; a ride of this old style tram is an absolute must when you stay in Lisbon and the blog LisbonLux has an excellent post about the Tram and its route, click here to read more

If you are visiting Graça you certainly will not go hungry or thirsty; its pretty cobble streets are lined with tempting cafes, independent restaurants and neighbourhood shops.  Below are some places we enjoyed, if you have some suggestions you would like to share, please add them using the comments section.

O Botequim de Graça this bar is something of an institution.  It was originally owned by the famous Portuguese writer, Natália Correia, and became a gathering place for artists and intellectuals in the 70s and 80s.  The bar is located in the blue tiled building, Villa Souza, on Largo Graça, not far from the O Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.  For more information click here:  https://botequim.net/

Via Graca is on Rua Damasceno Monteiro,  this  restaurant has lovely terrace and views.  The menu is modern Portuguese and it has some excellent vegetarian options, which is not always the case in Portugal. For more information visit: http://www.restauranteviagraca.com/

Cafe do Monte, Rua de São Gens, Senhora da Graça – a small local cafe and bar; with great food and that magical mix of traditional old Portuguese style with a touch of modern cool.

Gelateria Miraggio (Ice-cream parlour) on Tv. do Monte which, I am told, is often listed as one of the top 10 Ice-cream parlours in Lisbon.

For more things to do in Lisbon visit our post on Lisbon and for the ultimate insiders guide on Lisbon check out Carlos Fontes 365  things to do in Lisbon:  http://www.filorbis.pt/lisboa/page301Programas.html  This is a must do list from a Lisonite with a passion for his city and its history.

Photography and Credits:  All photography in this post is the property of LisbonLux.  LisbonLux have generously given their permission to Site of Special Things to use their images.  LisbonLux is an independent blog and one of the best independent sources of information about Lisbon.  For more information visit their site:  www.lisbonlux.com

igreja-da-graca copywrite lisbonlux
Igreja and Convento da Graça Image copywrite: Lisbonlux.com

Lisbon where ancients streets and contemporary cool mix beautifully

Lisbon is a beautiful city and for those in the know it has long been on the radar as a great destination for city breaks, cultural excursions, brilliant nightlife and beautifully hand crafted products.  Now the wider tourist crowd is discovering Lisbon, this has its obvious disadvantages: the crowds, the queues and the groups attracted by the cheap food and wine.  However, it also brings advantages as the International cool crowd put Lisbon on their must see and then must return to list, so the number of contemporary Portuguese bars, restaurants, cafes and galleries grow.  There are already a huge number of fabulous places that cater to the sophisticated Lisboeta, who has exceptional taste and exacting standards.  The Portuguese excel in chic, it suits their character, their designs and their natural sense of style and the increased demand for cool contemporary Portuguese style suites everyone well.  New bars, restaurants, clubs, galleries and boutiques are multiplying at a dizzy rate all over the city, reclaiming previously forgotten or rundown areas.  This makes Lisbon an exceptional travel destination and city to visit.

The city is a fascinating place, it is one of the world’s oldest cities, predating London, Paris and Rome by centuries.  Built on seven hills it has a stunning setting beside the sea and the picturesque neighbourhoods with their tiled houses, impressive churches and terracotta roofs spill down the slopes to meet the Atlantic coast at the month of the River Tagu.  It is Europe’s most western capital which means it is blessed with a pleasant climate and is bathed in sunshine and gentle sea breezes for much of the year.

Portugal once had exceptional wealth and the palaces, parks and monuments play tribute to its opulent past.  Its long history is reflected in the architecture and as one walks the streets there are examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Baroque, Modern and Postmodern constructions everywhere, which, at times, gives a sense of drifting through history.

However the country’s fortunes have been mixed and this is clearly visible on the streets where old and new, renovated and

Shopping in Lisbon A Vida Portuguesa
New meets old at the lovely boutique style shop A Vida Portuguesa

dilapidated, modern and traditional can be found side by side.  This is part of Lisbon’s charm, a traditionally tiled hole-in-the-wall cafe or bar can look out onto an uber modern design studio, a gorgeous old building can hide a contemporary restaurant and an old cobbled square can be lined with sleek ultramodern boutiques.

There are key attractions and sights that should not be missed too, but once these are done, strike out into the cobbled lanes and explore.  The beauty of Lisbon is that it has such a strong cultural identity, the international gloss of sameness that has taken over so many cities in the world is kept at bay.  Lisbon exudes its own character, its spirit is in everything and this is most apparent in the Barrios (neighbourhoods in English).  Each Bairro is different and expresses their individual character distinctively.  Below is a short series of posts that explore our favourite Barrios (neighbourhoods).  Over the coming weeks we will be adding more information about things we did and loved in each Barrio.  Once these are live you will be able to click on the Barrio name to open the post.


Alfama is considered the oldest of neighbourhood and was the Moorish quarter before it became the fishing community.  It is still a residential area and best known for its traditional bars and restaurants.  It is here that you will find the biggest concentration of traditional Fado music venues.  Click here for things to do in Alfama.


Graça lies above Alfama and is famous for its pastry shops and cafes.  There are some excellent viewpoints in this Bairro, don’t miss the spectacular view from Graça e Senhora do Monte in front of Capela de Nossa Senhora do Monte.  From here you can descend via the garden to Lisbons famous Castelo de São Jorge, in the neighbouring Bairro of São Vicente.  Click here for things to do in Graça.

São Vicente

São Vicente has some of our favourite sights, the Castelo de São Jorge, the famous Panteão Nacional, São Vicente de Fora Church and Feira da Ladra (the thieves market).  The Feira da Ladra is next to the pretty square Campo de Santa Clara and is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Click here for things to do in São Vicente.

Bairro Alto

Bairro Alto is renowned for its nightlife.  It is full of small bars, restaurants and clubs.  During the day it has a sleepy feel to it and other than the bairro shops on Rua do Norte it can seem a little quiet.  But come evening all that changes, the bars and restaurants open and life spills out on the streets.  There are a couple of viewpoints here, don’t miss the Tagus River viewpoint (Santa Caterina).  Or head towards the Pharmacia Restaurant & Bar, next to the Pharmacia Museum, this has great views over the city and fabulous cocktails.


Baixa is the heart of Lisbon.  The area was completely rebuilt in 1755 after an earthquake destroyed the whole area.  The Marques do Pombal created a grid like system with a series of pedestrianized areas and impressive squares.   Praça do Comercio is by the water’s edge and is home to the triumphal arch.  From here the streets fan out up to Rossio where there are some of the best examples of monumental neoclassical squares and parks. Finally, don’t miss the spectacular Elevator of Santa Justa that links Baixa and Barrio Alto.


Chiado is one of Lisbon’s most charming Barrios.  It’s pretty cobbled streets are full of lovely boutiques, beautiful cafes and excellent restaurants, many hidden away on pretty squares or within grand old buildings. From Chiado you can easily walk up to Bairro Alto or down to Baixa.


Belem is Lisbon’s historic district.  Vasco da Gama and other explorers launched themselves on their voyages of discovery from here.  The Barrio has a great number of museums and monuments; by the water there is the elaborate Torre de Belem and the Discoveries monument ( o Padrao dos Descobrimentos).  Close by is the stunning the Jeronimos monastery and church; and Belem Cultural Centre which houses Lisbon’s finest contemporary art collection at Museu Colecão Berardo.  From Belem you can go up the hill through Calçada da Ajuda to the Royal Palace and the botanical gardens.

Alcantara & Santos

These Bairros sit beside each other at the water’s edge between Baixa and Belem in the western reaches of the city.  Here the old warehouses have been converted into restaurants and bars, making it a fun destinations  day or night.

Torre de Belém Lisboa