The best secret places in Lisbon is the second instalment of my “secret Lisbon” series, where I portray the less commercial, less known, less touristic side of Lisbon. The first post was about the Best Secret Restaurants in Lisbon and the second is all about those magical hidden places which stay away from the top 10 things to do in Lisbon guides.
It’s easy to see why the Portuguese capital of Lisbon is regarded as one of the best cities in Europe to visit: you can step directly onto a beach, the seafood tastes ocean fresh and the sun shines for 300 days of the year. It juggles the relaxed feel of Southern Europe with a weightier history and heritage, but it also has a youthful energy that seems to stem from the light, which has frequently been described as a cinematographer’s dream.
They show some of Lisbon’s intimacy, where one can get the feel of uniqueness and Portuguese sense of place. Most of all they are quite and touristic horde free, which nowadays is a blessing in Lisbon. Of course, there are many other secret places in Lisbon, but this one are my recommendations which are accessible to the general public to be enjoyed.
Best Secret Places in Lisbon
Smallest Bookshop in the world
Escadinhas de São Cristovao, Baixa
About the size of a shoe cupboard, this little bookshop sits quietly at the start of the Conçeição stairs, from Madalena Street to the Largo da Conçeição on the South Side of Lisbon’s Castle Hill. Despite its small size is boasts a dramatic collection (over 3000 books in just 4sqm) is mostly made of old books about the heritage and history of Lisbon and Portugal, the Jewish influence, the overseas colonies and most importantly the great Portuguese authors who took the Portuguese Language to an international level. Fernando Pessoa and his 70 Heteronyms, Saramago, Camões, Eça de Queiroz are all present in unique collectors editions that a book fanatic would love to get his hands on.
The Portugal Room at Geographical Society of Lisbon
Address: R. Portas de Santo Antão 100, 1150, Portugal
Phone:+351 21 342 5401
The Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa (Geographical Society of Lisbon) is currently recognized, both nationally and internationally, as indispensable for anyone wishing to research into not only the history of the Portuguese Discoveries but also the Geography, History and Ethnography of the community of Portuguese speaking countries. The “Sala Portugal” (Portugal Room) is 50 meters long and accompanies the entire façade of the building. It is a 50 by 16-meter open space surrounded by 2 levels of galleries where some of the most important documents and maps are stored. A unique and very literary although unobvious place, which houses the collection of artefacts belonging to most of our explorers and travellers, such as Gago Coutinho or Sacadura Cabral. It has to be requested beforehand; however, anyone can visit the building and imagine what lies within.”
Street tile hunting
Alfama, Baixa, Chiado and Principe Real Districts
I have to confess that I am addicted to Portuguese tiles. Some people are addicted to chocolate or singing in the shower while others like me are constantly taken by the intrinsic detail and colourful patterns of one of the most beautiful forms of street art in the world. Serving a dual purpose of decoration and temperature control, the glass glazed hand painted 15X15 squares were introduced to Portuguese façades in the early 15th century to reflect the torrid summer heat away from the interior of the building.
Although the most elaborate examples were kept for the interior of the houses, these are in its great majority painted with a Lapis lazuli blue on a white background and are best reviewed as paintings. Lisbon has an Azulejo Museum of its own, that I strongly urge you to visit, as a complementary educational visit to the ones you find in the narrow back streets of the Alfama, Castelo, Baixa, Bairro alto, Chiado and Principe Real districts. My favourite in calçada do correio velho – is on the little moment of beauty and wonder that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, but in Portugal. Main Panel Reads: “Para Nascer, Portugal, Para Morrer, O Mundo” which Translates into “To be born, Portugal, to die, The World”
Sunrise over Alfama
Pateo Dom Fradique 14
There are very few sunrises, like the one over Alfama seen from the top terrace of Suite Bartolomeu de Gusmão at Palacio Belmonte. Once a mosque and the location of where morning prayers were announced during the Moorish occupation of Lisbon, this tower suite has its main façade turned towards Mecca. From here you can see that big orange&red fireball rising over the water, right next to the Alfama skyline silhouette made up the churches, bell towers and the maroon clay rooftops, while dispersing its amber light on the tiles that line the buildings. Some call it a photographers dream place, I call it an everlasting memory of that Lisbon trip, it is well worth the early rise, especially combined with your breakfast being served as the sun makes it journey up on a hot summer morning.
Menino de Deus Church
Address: Calçada do Menino de Deus 27, 1100 Lisboa, Portugal
Phone: +351 21 886 3535
It opened its doors for its 300th anniversary on July 4th, 2011, but this church is usually closed. To visit it you’ll have to ring the bell next to the main entrance, and what you’ll see inside is one of the most impressive churches in the city. It served as a model for many other baroque buildings in the country, having been built during the golden years of King João V in the 18th century. The rich décor is mostly in marble and is adorned with paintings by some of the greatest local artists of the time. All that survived the earthquake of 1755, as did one of the houses that can be seen right outside. Painted yellow, it’s one of the oldest still standing in the city and is a rare example of the architecture at the time of the Discoveries. A second example is just around the corner on Rua dos Cegos.
Palacio de la Frontera
1 Largo de São Domingos de Benfica, Benfica.
(21) 778 2023.
For glorious palaces, it’s fairly hard to beat the 1670 home of the Marquis of Frontera. Aside from the highly sculptural garden, there are rooms full of decorative tiles from the 17th and 18th centuries depicting battle and hunting scenes in brilliant hues. Please believe me that you will not find anything like it in Lisbon. If you are into Azulejos and grand interiors, this your place. The Room of Battles (sala das Batalhas) has been called, “the Sistine Chapel of Portuguese Tilework.” Opening hours are limited, so booking ahead is highly advisable.
Tapada das Necessidades
Largo Necessidades 58
This may not the Lisbon’s prettiest park, but it sure is one the most special because it contrasts the neatness of the Belém district where it is located. Abandoned buildings and broken paths scream out for maintenance, but this would just make it another boring “nice” park. Instead there is an absolute atmosphere of tranquillity and calm – whilst the drum of car traffic can always be heard in the distance, the cats and birds seem unperturbed by it – they wander and fly around easily within extensive gardens that are obviously their home. There are no facilities there, not even a coffee stand, but it’s a really nice place to picnic under the old trees if it’s hot, or on open grasses if it isn’t. Very good place to read, meditate, walking, pic-nick, hang out with friends and discover the different nooks and curiosities of the park.
Pombal Palace at the Carpe Diem Gallery
Rua de O Século, 79, Bairro Alto
+351 21 197 7102
The Pombal Palace, located in the street O Século, is a sixteenth-century building, which served as the official residence of the Pombal Family until the earthquake of 1755. Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa is a platform for research, experimentation and studies in the field of contemporary art founded in 2009. It took over the heritage, transforming the palace into a 17 exhibition room property open to the public. Presents a multidisciplinary and plural structure to the visual arts, with the intent of providing a network for the exchange of information between artists, theorists, students, producers and audience. The most interesting thing about it is that the palace was reconstructed from what was left of the 1755 earthquake and it has areas with considerable dimensions, ceiling heights of 6m, stuccoed ceilings and monumental staircases.
Depósito da Marinha Grande
Address: R. São Bento 159 1º-D, 1200-817 Lisboa, Portugal
Phone:+351 21 395 5818
The first glass production factory in Portugal – the Real Fábrica de Vidros da Marinha Grande, was established in the year 1769 by Marquês de Pombal in the city of Marinha Grande in the Centre of Portugal. Since then, Marinha Grande = Portuguese hand blown glass of high quality and prestige. About 120 years ago it opened its first store on Rua de São Bento, 234-242, Lisbon. In fact, when you know a shop of this kind has survived so many years, you come to doubt whether some are collector’s items, but no, one can find vintage daily household items like the colourful edge glasses that have been regular at the Portuguese Table for generations.
Salt Cod Fish Store at Manteigaria Silva
Address: Rua Dom Antão De Almada 1, Lisboa, 1100, Portugal
Phone:+351 21 342 4905
Dubbed by popular culture as a “faithful friend”, salt cod has been the number one fish course at the Portuguese dinner table since the middle ages. Somewhat of an embellishing paradox to modern Portuguese food culture, as Portugal is the country in Europe with the largest exclusive fishing zone in the Atlantic. Despite the vastness of the National Exclusive fishing waters and all the fresh fish that is available there, the number one favourite dish of the Portuguese is still, salt cod imported from the Norwegian icy waters of the North Atlantic. Sr. Silva knows the bacalhau. His hands are scorched from a lifetime handling the salted fish, probably making him the best person in Lisbon to recommend you on which one to get! From small to large, from dry salted to yellow sundry salted, from 3cm to 10 cm thick, he knows it all. Even each one of the 365 ways the Portuguese have of preparing this delicacy.
The Best Secret places in Lisbon article is a part of my ongoing collaboration with Porto Bay Hotels, where I am a frequent contributor to the In Porto Bay blog. You can see the original Best Secret places in Lisbon article here:
Photo credits to Nelson Carvalheiro, Maria Braga and to the respective properties.