Tag Archives: Portugal

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


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

The rugged coast of the Costa Vicentina Natural Park – One of Portugal’s hidden gems.

Portugal has long been known for its sandy beaches and sun, sea and sport resorts but there is another side to Portugal that offers a magical mix of pretty historic towns, stunning landscape; staggeringly beautiful coastline with hidden beaches and rocky coves; and the opportunity to glimpse traditional lifestyles.

The whole of Portugal’s west coast is beautiful and it is increasingly attracting the attention of the “hip international travel” crowd, areas such as Herdade da Comporta are the current sweethearts of the travel press. For those looking to avoid the places covered by the newspapers and glossy magazines just head a little further south until you will reach the Algarve’s west coast. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful stretches of south Portugal’s coast. Running from Sagres in the south to Odeceixe in the north, it lies in the Natural Park of Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina (PNSACV). It is a unique landscape that has been protected from development because of its status as a biological reserve and natural park. With the exception of Sagres the area is practically untouched by tourism and you will only find small villages and hamlets scattered through the area. Restaurants and cafes are often to be found in the most unexpected places, alone staring out to sea on a cliff top; clinging to a craggy hill side; or hidden away on a secluded beach.

PortugalThe landscape is exceptionally beautiful, it reflects the varied geology of the area which in turn shapes the diverse vegetation and terrain, and you will find gleaming golden sandy beaches, black pebbled bays, rocky coves and magnificent rock formations. Whilst it has to be said that the signage is often lacking, all you need is a map and a bit of determination and you will be rewarded with beautiful vistas, empty beaches and turquoise seas. The area can be visited by car but one of the best ways to explore it is on foot using one of the many coastal paths or fisherman’s trails. Many of the beaches can only be reached on foot or via dirt tracks and you can leave your car in a nearby village or parking point.

As a taster head to Pontal, it is about half way between Sagres and Odeceixe. Pontal is a headland with multi-coloured cliffs and spectacular coastal scenery. There is lovely short walk that starts in the village of Carrapateira and goes towards the cliffs where you will have fantastic views along the coast and be able to see some of the many bays, headlands, off-shore stacks and rocky islands waiting to be explored. To the north is Praia da Bordeira with its large sandy beach and elegant dunes and to the south is Praia do Amado a surfer’s beach, with a rustic beach cafe.

Another beautiful spot is the village of Monte Clérigo, it is accessible by car from Aljezur. A steep road winds down to a sandy beach with magnificent rock formations at one end. Fishermen’s huts and a couple of cafes cluster around the entrance to the beach and pretty white cottages cling to the steep green hillsides looking out to sea.

Exploring this wild and rugged area is an exhilarating experience and nothing quite matches a walk along one of the magnificent cliff path then scrambling down to a secluded beach to enjoy the sun and a dip in the cold blue sea. The Rota Vicentina brings together a selection of rural and coastal routes that showcase the pristinely preserved area and places of cultural interest. There are around 350 km of walking routes starting in Santiago do Cacém and finishing at the Cape of St. Vincent. The site www.rotavicentina.com is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to visit the area and includes maps and descriptions of the different routes.

Click here to get a glimpse of this beautiful coast.  Photo inspiration.

The interior of the Algarve should not be overlooked either. There are the mountains of the Serra; beautiful rolling hills with deciduous woodland and cork trees and lovely lakes and rivers. The villages of the interior tend to be very charming with pretty chapels and churches sitting on old cobbled squares. Portuguese ChurchHere the traditional ways of life are strong and villagers still till the land using traditional methods. You may also pass shepherds tending their flocks in the surrounding hills and valleys. A good way to start to explore the interior of southern Portugal is along the famous Via Algarviana. This is a 300 km trail that runs from Alcoutim in the South East to the Cape of St Vicente in the South West and passes through the mountains of Serra do Caldeirão and Serra de Monchique. There are many day walks that start in small villages which are accessible by car and the Via Algarviana Organisation provides an abundance of information about the routes and the different areas along the trail. More information can be found on their website: www.viaalgarviana.org

Where to stay: If you want to have access to tourist type facilities then Luz, Sagres or Burgau are good places to base yourself. If you are looking for a more authentic experience and interested in culture, walking and surfing then try Carrapeteira, Rogil or Aljezur.

Rota Vicenta:  www.rotavicentina.com
Via Algarviana:  www.viaalgarviana.org
Visit Portugal:  www.visitportugal.com

Getting there:
Most major airlines fly direct to Lisbon and Faro.
The roads are fantastic in Portugal; make sure you rent an electronic toll payment meter for your car to beat any queues on the fast roads. Luz is around 3 hours from Lisbon and 1 hour from Faro, add 30 – 60 minutes more if you stay towards Sagres or the interior.

Tips: Please remember that the areas featured here are slightly off the traditional tourist routes and whilst many people will speak English, it is not guaranteed and a little Portuguese or a phase book will go a long way. If you are hiking remember to take plenty of water, sun screen and a hat, the sea breeze can make it feel deceptively cool and the sun is strong. Spring is a particularly beautiful time of year to go as the area is a mass of colour with spring flowers and the weather is warm but not too hot.

Portugal’s South West Coast

The south west coast of Portugal is wild, rugged and breathtakingly beautiful.  Here is a small collection of photographs I took whilst hiking in the Costa Vicentina Natural Park this spring.  If you would like to read more about my trip and visiting the Costa Vicentina Natural Park.  Click here.