The best secret places in Lisbon
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.
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 these ones are recommendations that are accessible to the general public to be enjoyed.
*"The best secret places in Lisbon" are the second instalment of my "secret Lisbon” series, where blogger Nelson Carvalheiro portrays the less commercial, less known, less touristic side of Lisbon. The first post of the blogger was about the best secret restaurants in Lisbon and the second is all about those magical hidden places that stay away from the top 10 things to do in Lisbon guides. Tips that you absolutely cannot miss !!
Smallest bookshop in the world
Escadinhas de São Cristóvão, Baixa
About the size of a shoe cupboard, this little bookshop is located at the start of the Conçeição stairs, next to Madalena Street (Rua da Madalena).
Despite its small size, it boasts an incredible collection — over 3000 books in just 4 square metres — mostly composed by old books about the heritage and history of Lisbon and Portugal, the Jewish influence, and the overseas colonies. Most importantly, it also includes many books by 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 collector’s editions that any book fanatic would love to get his hands on.
The Portugal Room at Geographical Society of Lisbon
R. Portas de Santo Antão nº 100, 1150
+ 351 21 342 540
The Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa (Geographical Society of Lisbon) is recognised, 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.
"Sala Portugal” (Portugal Room) is 50 metres long and extends throughout the building’s entire façade. It is a 50 by 16 metres open space surrounded by 2 levels of galleries where some of the most important documents and maps are stored.
This is a unique and very literary place, which houses the collection of artefacts belonging to most of our explorers and travellers, such as Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral. Visits must 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 Alfama, Castelo, Baixa, Bairro Alto, Chiado and Principe Real districts. My favourite is at Calçada do Correio Velho — a little moment of beauty and wonder that cannot be found anywhere else in the world but in Portugal.
The main panel reads: "Para Nascer, Portugal, Para Morrer, O Mundo" (which translates as "To be born, Portugal, to die, The World").
Sunrise over Alfama
Páteo Dom Fradique, Alfama
There are very few sunrises like the one over Alfama seen from the Pateo Dom Fradique, next to Palacio Belmonte on Lisbon’s Castle hill.
From here you can see that big orange and red fireball rising over the water, right next to Alfama’s skyline silhouette made up by churches, bell towers and maroon clay rooftops, while dispersing its amber light on the buildings’ tiles. Some call it a photographer’s dream place, I call it an everlasting memory of a trip to Lisbon. It’s well worth the early rise . ..
Menino de Deus Church
Calçada do Menino de Deus nº 27, 1100
+351 21 886 3535
It opened its doors for its 300th anniversary on July 4th, 2011, but this church is usually closed. To visit, you'll have to ring the bell next to the main entrance, and pray that someone answers.
The inside is simply magnificent: 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 John 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.
Palácio da Fronteira
Largo de São Domingos de Benfica, nº 1
+351 21 778 2023
For glorious palaces, it’s fairly hard to beat the 1670 home of the Marquis of Frontera, a sanctuary for Portuguese palace tilework.
Aside from the highly sculptural garden, there are rooms full of decorative tiles from the 17th and 18th centuries, depicting battles and hunting scenes in brilliant hues. Believe me when I say you will not find anything else like it in Lisbon.
For instance, 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 of the contrast with 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 noise of the city can always be heard in the distance, the cats and birds seem unperturbed by it, since 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.
Pombal Palace at the Carpe Diem Gallery
Rua de O Século nº 79, Bairro Alto
+351 21 197 7102
The Pombal Palace, located in the O Século street, is a 16th century building which served as the official residence of the Pombal Family until the 1755 earthquake.
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. It presents a multidisciplinary and plural structure for visual arts, the purpose of which is providing a network for the exchange of information between artists, theorists, students, producers and audience.
The most interesting thing about this building is that the palace was reconstructed from what was left of the 1755 earthquake and it contains areas with considerable dimensions, 6 metres ceiling heights, stuccoed ceilings and monumental staircases.
Depósito da Marinha Grande
R. São Bento nº 159, 1ºDT
+351 21 395 5818
The first glass production factory in Portugal —Real Fábrica de Vidros da Marinha Grande — was established in 1769 by Marquês de Pombal in the city of Marinha Grande, in the centre of Portugal.
Since then, talking about Marinha Grande is the same as talking about the high quality and prestige of Portuguese hand blown glass. About 120 years ago it opened its first store in Lisbon, on the Rua de São Bento, numbers 234-242.
The truth is that when you hear about a shop of this kind, one that has survived for so many years, you naturally tend to think that you’ll only find relics. But that is not the case: one can actually find vintage Portuguese household items, such as the glasses with colourful edges that have been a staple of Portuguese tables for many generations.
Salt Cod Fish Store at Manteigaria Silva
+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.
It is something of a paradox that the icon of Portuguese food culture has to be imported from Norway or Iceland, but Mr. Silva knows all there is to know about codfish. His hands are scorched from a lifetime handling the salted fish, probably making him the best person in Lisbon to advise you on which one to get! From small to large, from dry salted to yellow sun dry salted, from 3cm to 10cm thick, he knows it all.