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Portugal’s capital is a picturesque city full of beautiful streets, cosy venues, cultural finds and wallet-friendly restaurants. In Lisbon, history blends with modernity and a centuries-old landmark may sit side by side with a hip hotel; each street has a story to tell and each corner reveals a different secret. These are the coolest neighbourhoods to visit when in Lisbon.
The most tourist-friendly neighbourhood during the day is that between Baixa and Rossio, where many of Lisbon’s main landmarks, shopping and dining opportunities can be found. Although ‘downtown’ is a term used loosely to describe a few neighbourhoods, this is Lisbon’s real downtown area. It is also the main part of the city that was destroyed during the famous earthquake of 1755 and rebuilt in the late 18th century. A few key sites include Livraria Bertrand (the oldest bookstore in the world still trading), the elaborate Brasileira café, the elegant, bright-yellow Praça do Comércio and the Rossio train station.
If you want to know where everyone is on Saturday night, chances are good that it’s Bairro Alto. This windy, hilly neighbourhood is filled with bars and has a bohemian vibe, making it one of the coolest places in the city. There are also restaurants, cafés, tattoo parlours and hostels in addition to the ever-present historical landmarks. It’s not just for hanging out in, either; the side streets are filled with apartments and those who can handle the busy weekends love the central location.
Alfama is perhaps the most charming part of Lisbon, and it’s the oldest too. This is the place to go if you want to eat a traditional meal accompanied by equally traditional fado music. Narrow, winding medieval alleys are common all over Lisbon but nowhere more so than in Alfama, where the roads have been described as labyrinthine. If you know where you’re going, this maze leads to landmarks in other parts of the city including the Castelo de São Jorge and the beautiful lookout point at Portas do Sol.
Technically, Alcântara is a parish of the district of Lisbon but locals consider it part of the city. Situated between downtown and Belém, it’s a neighbourhood along the river where visitors will find Docas de Santo Amaro (a dock filled with bars and restaurants) and the LX Factory (a renovated factory building complex that’s been converted into shops, offices, restaurants and more).
This trendy neighbourhood is west of Avenida da Liberdade and north of Bairro Alto. The buildings here are grander than many other neighbourhoods in Lisbon, giving off a pricey vibe, and its name even translates into ‘royal prince’. Príncipe Real is a residential neighbourhood but doubles as a social district filled with stores and gardens.
Parque das Naçoes is a modern area where Oriente train station and the Oceanário de Lisboa are located. It was built to accommodate Expo ’98 and stands today as a living memory of that event. A number of restaurants and bars can be found on the strip along the river, as well as clubs, office buildings and apartments. There is also a popular boardwalk where joggers and dog walkers enjoy the beautiful Lisbon weather.
If you want to buy designer clothes, Avenida da Liberdade is where to go. Built in the late 19th century, it runs between Rossio train station in the south and Parque Eduardo in the north. Magnificent hotels and banks are found here, as well as names such as Burberry and Armani, and the Hard Rock restaurant. Each side of the street has a comfortable walking path lined with grass, trees and the occasional kiosk where friends meet for a drink.
Like Alfama, Graça and São Vicente are in an older part of the city, which is apparent in the tiny streets and even tinier pavements with barely enough space for one person to walk. They offer wonderful views of the Tejo River from above and wrap around jaw-dropping landmarks such as the National Pantheon (which is often portrayed in panoramics over Alfama) and the Igreja de São Vicente. This is also where visitors will find the Feira da Ladra, an outdoor flea market that takes place every Saturday near the National Pantheon, where lucky shoppers may find antique or traditional keepsakes from their trip.
Another secret area in the middle of the tourist spots is the old Moorish district, Mouraria, which stretches from Alfama in the south, below the castle, and towards Martim Moniz in the north. This area has attracted immigrants since the 12th century and is increasingly popular. Its history of poverty, diversity and fado can be experienced while walking along the stone streets and past the old buildings and homes that still feature art and décor from the past.
The last terminal metro stop (before heading towards Alcântara and Belém) is in Cais do Sodré. From here, travellers can hop on a ferry and sail across the Tejo River to cities such as Almada on the other side. Like Bairro Alto, Cais do Sodré is a cool neighbourhood to go to for a beer and catch up with friends. The Time Out Market, or Mercado da Ribeira, is one of the city’s main food courts that offers everything from traditional meals to trendy treats and bakeries. It is also the home of the colourful Pink Street, full of bars, restaurants and artistic personality.