The capital of Portugal is bristling with world-famous landmarks that draw millions of tourists like a magnet. But Lisbon also has a beautiful non-touristy side that teems with hidden gems and vivid experiences lying in wait just around the corner. Here are some of the best under-the-radar places to visit in Lisbon that would please travel snobs everywhere…
Visit the Principe Real neighbourhood
Principe Real is a very fashionable historical district located near the city centre. It was built in the 18th – 19th centuries and named after the Portuguese King Pedro V. This small cosy area retains the leisure atmosphere and slow pace – there is no metro or tram so you’ll have to explore this beautiful place on foot. Despite this fact, tourists do not deprive Principe Real of attention. Visitors are drawn by various museums, fashion boutiques, antique shops, and designer galleries where you can pick a fancy souvenir. If you are tired from walking, simply drop by the botanical garden and chill under the canopy of a giant cypress. The area is famous for coffee shops with unique designs that brew savoury coffee following traditional and modern recipes. Principe Real is also a favourite shopping site for the local residents and a few good Libson private tours explore this easy-on-the-eye local area. A huge Embaixada shopping centre is set in a former palace of the 19th century and accommodates the trendiest boutiques in Lisbon.
Dine at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant
Lisbon offers an incredible number of restaurants with traditional cuisine. If you are willing to pay €100 for dinner, you can visit the oldest restaurant in Portugal, Tavares Rico. However, Lisbon will not leave you hungry even if you travel on a shoestring budget. You can safely head to one of Tasca restaurants and have your belly full for only € 7-15. Tascas are traditional Lisbon taverns that became popular in the first half of the 20th century. They used to be small shops selling coal in which owners arranged corners where customers could linger over a couple of glasses of wine and some snacks. Modern Tascas no longer sell coal but they still feature modest sizes (4-6 tables) and cosy ambiance. In these family restaurants, you can enjoy excellent seafood, vegetable soup Caldo Verde, rice pudding or traditional Portuguese custard tart Pastel de nata.
Sample food at Mercado da Ribeira
If you visit the capital of Portugal for gastronomic adventures, you simply have to pop into the most famous grocery market in Lisbon. Mercado da Ribeira was opened in 1882 in a beautiful white building with a dome. In 2014, the market experienced a rebirth thanks to the ambitious project of the Time Out magazine. The building, which occupies approximately 10,000 m², has been transformed into a huge food court with more than 30 restaurants and cafes. At the Time Out Market, you can taste literally everything your stomach desires – fish, meat, hamburgers, sushi, cakes, ice cream, etc. In addition, you can go round to the traditional market which still opens its doors to visitors from 6 am to 2 pm. Mercado da Ribeira has gained immense popularity among both tourists and locals, and many people even compare it with the famous San Miguel market in Madrid.
Visit Estufa Fria
Estufa Fria is one off the beaten track Lisbon attractions hidden in plain sight. This glasshouse with exotic plants is located on the territory of the Eduard VII Park (Parque Eduardo VII) just behind Marques do Pombal Square. Estufa Fria includes three diverse gardens under one roof. The Cold Greenhouse is the largest garden where the temperature and lighting are regulated naturally. The fresh air with moderate moisture and coolness is ideal for long walks. You can observe various birds that occupy artificial ponds, streams, and grottoes of the Cold Greenhouse. The Estufa Quente, otherwise known as Glasshouse Hot, is home to numerous tropical plants. Thanks to the glass roof, the air in the Estufa Quente is warm and humid. The smallest Sweet Greenhouse houses heat-loving and drought-resistant plant species such as cacti and succulents. Estufa Fria is a family-friendly place for a peaceful and relaxing pastime.
Hunt for bargains at Feira da Ladra flea market
Feira da Ladra flea market has been held at the same place for more than 130 years. Every Tuesday and Saturday, you can spend a few hours under the walls of the National Pantheon raking through antiquities and collectables trying to find a real treasure in disguise. The first flea market in Lisbon was opened in 1272. Since then, it has relocated a lot till it finally settled on the Campo de Santa Clara square in 1882. In addition to second-hand goods, vendors at Feira da Ladra offer all kinds of hand-made items and crafts. You can also stop by various shops and ateliers in the building of the old market that sell ceramics, jewellery, bags, and souvenirs. Even if you do not like such shopping, you can simply stroll across the square and take some interesting photos along the way. One of the highlights of Feira da Ladra is the mural decorated with azulejo (tiles) by the famous graffiti artist Andre Saraiva aka Baron Andre. Feira da Ladra is a secret under the radar Lisbon sight where you come in contact with local arts and meet many peculiar people.
Relax in Martim Moniz square
Martim Moniz Square located at the junction of three districts, Baixa, Graça and Anjos, is the multicultural centre of Lisbon. The neighbourhoods surrounding the square are inhabited by people from across the globe (Chinese, Indians, Africans, etc.). The influence of the Chinese culture is sensed especially strong, thanks to which Martim Moniz square is also called Lisbon’s Little Chinatown. Starting from here and further along Rua da Palma, you can spot many colourful Chinese shops. Since 2012, the square has become the venue for various events, street food fairs, dance and live music festivals, etc. Martim Moniz Square is a perfect place to try dishes from around the world – there are several street cafes and kiosks offering nearly two dozen national cuisines. On weekends, the square accommodates Mercado de Fusão fair where you can take a peek at handmade crafts, buy organic products or just enjoy live music. When the square does not host any events, you can spend a great time relaxing at the fountains or admiring the panorama of St. George’s Castle.
Go for a coffee at Café A Brasileira
According to statistics, the Portuguese spend more time (and money) in cafes than residents of other European countries. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Lisbon has a tremendous number of cafes, some of which have been operating for more than a hundred years. One of such atmospheric ancient sites is Café A Brasileira opened in 1908. The cafe is beautifully decorated in the Art Nouveau style. It has been the favourite place of Portuguese artists and intellectuals. One of the cafe’s regulars was a Portuguese poet and Nobel Prize winner Fernando Pessoa, whose bronze statue is now installed on the cafe’s esplanade, right among the tables. Café A Brasileira was opened by pharmacist Adriano Telles who decided to try himself as a restaurateur at the beginning of the 20th century. He immigrated to Brazil where he made a decent fortune, and then returned to Portugal to open four A Brasileira cafes in Porto, Lisbon, Braga, and Coimbra. In addition to delicious coffee, the cafe cooks perhaps the best Pastel de nata in the city.
Visit one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores (Ler Devagar bookstore)
This world-renowned bookstore has settled in the premises of a former textile factory. Ler Devagar is a magnet for bibliophiles, introverts, and literature enthusiasts due to the huge selection of books on various topics and genres. Having said that, Ler Devagar is more than a regular bookstore. Its space accommodates two bars, an art gallery, and many fancy sculptures including a flying bicycle that hovers over the main hall. Visitors come here to immerse themselves in a cosy atmosphere of a reading room where they can spend a whole evening with a book sipping some wine or coffee being surrounded by congenial book lovers. On top of that, Ler Devagar hosts many cultural activities – lectures, performances, chamber concerts, exhibitions, and much more. If you want to escape from noisy crowds and explore calm non-touristy Lisbon, welcome to Ler Devagar.
Head to Tejo Estuary
Have a spare day in Lisbon? Then do not miss your chance to visit the Tagus Estuary Natural Reserve (Estuario do Tejo). Being opened in 1976, the reserve is among the 30 areas of Portugal that are officially under protection. Estuario do Tejo occupies the largest estuary in Western Europe with an area of approximately 14,000 hectares. The mouth of the Tagus (Tejo) river is characterized by a vast surface of estuarine waters that are dotted with streams, swamps, salt fields, and alluvial arable lands. The fenland is full of fish, molluscs, and crustaceans. The reserve annually houses 50,000 wintering waterfowl (flamingos, ducks, wading birds, etc.), which make a stop on their migration route from Europe to Africa.