In the words of our Lisbon local Cláudio: “Lisbon must undoubtedly be one of the cities that most abounds in impressive spots that are often missing from the main tourist guides.”
In recent years, Lisbon has become a very popular city to visit. Before the pandemic hit, crowds of tourists could be seen partaking in the city’s “highlights”: visiting Sintra, a walk through Alfama, a drink in Bairo Alto… As travel opens up again, doubtless visitors to these famous places will increase again as well. But there are plenty of amazing, little-known gems lying around if you look around the corner or go a little further away from the touristy neighborhoods.
Our local Spotters adore the city’s lovely hills; the narrow streets and stairs that never get boring to explore; the fact that the city makes you want to slow down and look around; the way that sunlight hits the buildings in the mornings and evenings. They are passionate about their city and always on the lookout for unique, fun and local spots.
For visitors looking to get away from the crowds, and even for fellow locals who want to discover new places in their city – here are our picks for some of the best hidden gems in Lisbon.
Songs of tradition
Fado is a traditional Portuguese style of music, originating in Lisbon at least two centuries ago. The songs are known for conveying strong emotions, especially despair and melancholy, but also sheer joy and pride. One of the best places in Lisbon to listen to fado (with few tourists around) is Tasca do Chico.
Enjoy a nice glass of red wine, roasted sausage and good company while immersing yourself in the songs. Tasca do Chico is one of the most traditional, beloved and distinctive bars in Bairro Alto, and a veritable institution when it comes to fado and allowing new singing talents to showcase their abilities. With or without fado singing sessions, Tasca do Chico is worth a visit.
A popular sight in Lisbon (and on many postcards) is one of the city’s beautiful tile-covered buildings. Unfortunately, some of these buildings get neglected or abandoned and the tiles are stolen to be sold as souvenirs in flea markets.
That’s part of what makes Cortiço & Netos such a great spot. Here you can buy from an immense collection of tiles, all genuine and new, from old Portuguese factories rather than broken and stolen off of buildings. It’s a place of history, and could be considered a museum almost as much as a shop. If you want a real authentic tile as a souvenir from Lisbon, this is the place to go. And even if you don’t want to buy anything, simply seeing the shop and its tiles is worth a visit.
A hidden Eden
Unlike most cities, Lisbon does not have a central green area. Rather, it has peripheral and hidden parks, which add some mystery and a romantic mood to the city. Tapada das Necessidades is one of these “hidden” places. Well… sort of. It’s actually one of the main green spots you can see from far away. But the problem, (and the reason even many locals haven’t been inside) is that finding the entrance to this huge garden is not a simple task.
For those who do manage to stumble across the entrance – it’s an amazing space. Located near Necessidades Palace, it was planned with a British-style layout as a garden for kings and queens. The garden was forgotten for several years and still has a slight atmosphere of neglect, but in many ways this only contributes to its secluded charm. It’s a nice place for a visit, a walk, or a picnic; and it also has great views over the city.
The tiniest bookstore
Livraria do Simão is probably the smallest bookshop in Portugal, even one of the smallest in the world; it is certainly the tiniest one in Lisbon. It is so tiny that the owner and the client can’t be inside at the same time!
Although the shop is small, the choice of books is not. The owner, Simão, reportedly has about 4,000 mostly used books available here, some of which are rarities. Most of the books are in Portuguese, although a variety of other languages are on offer as well. This is a must-see for book lovers, and even for non-literature fans this tiny spot is unique enough to make an interesting visit.
The oldest bookstore
There must something in the water with Lisbon and bookstores – on top of having one of the tiniest ones (above), it’s also the location of a bookstore holding the Guinness World Record for being the oldest continuously-open bookshop in the world! Bertrand has been in Rua Garrett since 1773. Some of the best and most famous Portuguese writers have hung out here, like Eça de Queirós, Antero de Quental and Alexandre Herculano (all of whom you can check out in the store).
For its 285th birthday, in 2017, Bertrand opened the Bertrand Cafe with the beautiful concept “taste our books”. Their recipes are inspired by novels, and allow you to have a taste of good Portuguese food with contributions from celebrity chefs like José Avillez, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey. The slogan of the cafe is “Happiness is a cup of coffee and a good book, or two or three or four” – a sentiment that every book lover will surely agree with.
A garage you don’t want to miss
Strolling past Regueirão dos Anjos with a friend, you might be drawn inside by the laughter and talking, sound of music, and relaxed atmosphere of the place. Inside you would find a bar that hosts impromptu live music, as well as a cooperative restaurant and a bike repair shop next door. Besides music, there are also workshops, debates, boxing events… you name it.
RDA69 is the name of the cultural and social cooperative behind all this. They have developed several projects in different areas of Lisbon, creating lots of events to choose from. If you want to have a decent meal, dinner here is cheap and sometimes vegetarian as well. Keep an eye out for their enterprises around the city!
Cinema at its finest
Since it was created in 1948, the Cinemateca Portuguesa has been dedicated to the preservation and promotion of classic cinema. Comprising a museum, an open-air terrace for snacks and coffee, and a small cinema, it’s a great place for a night at the movies and some education on the history of cinema. The location in a 19th-century Art Nouveau style building with an impressive Neo-Mudejár atrium is another good reason to check it out.
In the museum you’ll find relics that tell the story of cinema from magic lanterns to Lumiére projectors and other cinematographic objects like film reels, books and photographs. The cozy small cinema is reserved for retrospectives of acclaimed directors and actors and screenings of great classic films. Featuring iconic movies like Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Birds” by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, any movie buff will appreciate this venue.
Fresh and authentic seafood
According to our foodie Spotter Erik, “Cervejaria Ramiro is THE place to eat seafood. There are better (and much more expensive!) places for sure, but few are as authentic as this one. The seafood is fantastic and always fresh.” In normal times, the restaurant is a very lively place, with waiters scurrying around to clear the long lines of people waiting for their tasty lunch. It has become quieter recently, of course, so if you happen to be in Lisbon don’t miss the chance to try this place while it stays emptier!
Rubber duck tales
Spotter Cláudio’s experience at the rubber ducky store is better told in his own quirky style:
“Lisbon Duck Store is no ordinary Lisbon shop. I was attracted to it. As if there was gold shining from the inside. It glowed. And then I entered. I found myself surrounded by hundreds of rubber ducks. All different, but with their own personalities just staring at me. At first I felt frightened. But soon I was having a blast and smiling at each duck I was checking on.
Oh Gosh, there are so many! Star Wars ducks, a Count Dracula duck, a Unicorn duck, Angry Birds ducks, a Queen of England duck, pirate ducks, an Egyptian duck, a Marilyn Monroe duck, a Pride duck, a Lisbon duck… they’re endless!
Most of them have traveled all the way from Germany, some from England and then some are very Portuguese. How did they get here? Floating, obviously!
And then I asked myself: who the hell buys these? The answer? I couldn’t leave without buying my own duck. Darth Vader duck! Yes, guilty pleasure!”
Ever seen the gorgeous luminous fountain in Barcelona, or the beautiful and crowded Fontana di Trevi in Rome? Well, Lisbon’s Fonte Luminosa is like a combination of the two, with the difference that it’s often far less crowded. There are normally just locals, children playing along the grass, people walking their dogs, couples dating (it’s a very romantic spot), and altogether this creates a serene, familiar atmosphere.
You can enjoy different points of view and wonderful spots to gaze at the play of light on water. There’s also a great view of the city from above. Although this beautiful fountain deserves the spotlight that some of its cousins have, perhaps it is better that it stays a private and peaceful spot known only to the locals (and now you).
Parking in art
Finding a parking space can be a challenging exercise, both for your driving skills and your patience. That’s why Chão do Loureiro, a parking garage in an old converted local market, was a welcome addition to the neighborhood. But its appeal goes beyond its immediate practical usefulness.
Chão do Loureiro further alleviates the boredom of parking by providing a feast for your eyes in the form of graffiti and street art covering its walls. This free art gallery covers the 5 floors of the parking structure and gathers some of the most recognized Portuguese graffiti artists’ works. The building also offers a panoramic elevator and a terrace with a view over Lisbon’s rooftops.
A brothel turned fancy nightclub
One of the most popular bars in Lisbon, Pensão Amor (the name translates as “Love House”), was originally a cheap pension with rooms rented by the hour to prostitutes and their clients. Nowadays, it’s a spot for a fancy and fun night out. The bar serves a great selection of beers, wine, spirits and cocktails. Guests are entertained by regular live music performances, burlesque shows, and clean and tasteful pole dancing exhibitions in an adjoining salon.
The upper floors are occupied by several independent retailers, many specializing in alternative fashion and handcrafted jewelry. It’s a great place to find an original and unique gift for someone special. Enjoy this unique spot for a night out, a casual drink with a friend, or a gift shopping spree, all in one place.