Lisbon is a large, sprawling city stretching far back from the waterfront of the Rio Tejo. However, the historic area abutting the river is actually quite small and walkable, if a little challenging due to the hills.
Thankfully, most of the main attractions are within four adjoining neighborhoods: Alfama, Baixa, Bairro Alto and Chiado.
These neighborhoods capture the essence of Lisbon and provide a great introduction the city. It is possible to visit all the neighborhoods in a single day if you are especially ambitious.
Alfama is a small, hilly, historic neighborhood just to the East of the central Baixa neighborhood. Traditionally, it was home to Lisbon’s sailors. It is one of the few neighborhoods that survived the 1755 earthquake and maintains the pre-earthquake layout. Although it is the most touristy neighborhood, it is worth a visit. The Castelo de São Jorge is located in the Alfama neighborhood and has lovely gardens and views of the city, river, and bridge. The castle grounds boast several peacocks, usually perched on walls and in trees, my favorite part of visiting the castle. Alfama also has one of the best viewpoints (“miradouros”) in Lisbon, Miradouro das Portas do Sol. Just around the corner is another viewpoint, Miradouro de Santa Luzia, and a rooftop cafe with a lovely view, Bar Terraço de Santa Luzia. Cathedral (Sé) was built in 1150 on the site of a former mosque (Lisbon was recaptured from the Moors in 1147).
If you have time to do an extended walk of Alfama, there are a few other sites of note further east:
- Igreja de São Vicente de Fora was completed in 1627 and has a beautiful rooftop view of Alfama.
- Panteão Nacional (formerly Igreja de Santa Engrácia) – formerly the site of a 16th century church, it is now the burial place of notable Portuguese with a great rooftop view.
- Feira da Ladra is a flea market held on Tuesdays and Saturdays on Campo do Santa Clara street.
Baixa is the central neighborhood in historic Lisbon. It runs from Praça do Comércio on the waterfront, north up to Avenida da Liberdade. Bairro Alto and Chiado slope up to the West and Alfama slopes up to the East. Baixa’s streets form a grid and, unlike the other neighborhoods, are thankfully flat. Baixa has a ton of chain clothing and souvenir stores and touristy restaurants. There are 3 squares worth visiting in Baixa: Praça do Comércio, Rossio and Praça da Figueira. I recommend stopping at Confeitaria Nacional, a lovely cafe founded in 1829, for a coffee and a pastry. Near Rossio square there is an elevator up to the Chiado neighborhood, Elevador de Santa Justa, that has lovely views but usually a line of an hour or more.
Bairro Alto is my favorite neighborhood due to its steeply sloping, lovely boutiques. It is home to my favorite view of Lisbon, the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. Across the street from the Miradouro is a fairly good restaurant, The Decadente, and a rooftop bar and restaurant with a lovely view, The Insolito, both at the Independente Hotel. I recommend wandering around the streets in this area, where there is a collection of boutiques, souvenir shops and restaurants. There are a few lovely squares in which to sit that have kiosks (“quiosque”) selling refreshments: Miradouro de São Pedro (mentioned above), Largo Trindade Coelho and Praça Luís de Camões.
Chiado is a small neighborhood between Bairro Alto and Baixa. In the midst of cafes on Rua Garrett, Café A Brasileira is a famous for attracting artists and writers. A block down the hill on Rua Garrett is Livraria Bertrand, the oldest bookstore in the world, opened in 1732. My favorite restaurants in Lisbon are in the Chiado neighborhood, all belonging to Jose Avillez: Cantinho do Avillez, Bairro do Avillez and Cafe Lisboa (make reservations in advance if possible). Between Chiado and Baixa is the Armazens do Chiado mall, which has bathrooms, Vodafone, Starbucks, etc.
Map of Lisbon
I created a map of key neighborhoods, restaurants, bars, cafes, viewpoints and sights in Lisbon, including all of the places named above: Map of Lisbon
For logistical information about Lisbon, please see my post Essential Information for Visiting Lisbon – Transport, Cellphones, ATMs, Safety