If you are fortunate to be enjoying an extended stay in Lisbon, it is worth spending time exploring some of the city’s lesser-known sights and areas, beyond the beaten track.
There are always new things to discover, and we’ve compiled below a few of these more unusual places and hidden gems that we want to share with you.
Jardin Botanico d’Ajuda
The Ajuda Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful and historic gardens in Lisbon, and far from the main tourist trail it remains unknown to most visitors. A haven of tranquility inhabited by wild peacocks, it is located a short walk up the hill from Belem neighborhood, offering beautiful views against the backdrop of the Tagus river.
Designed by the Italian botanist Domingos Vandelli, the botanical garden was built by Marques de Pombal in 1768 to serve as a museum and nursery for trees and plant species from Portugal’s former colonies.
Today the garden is managed by the Agricultural University, housing over 1600 botanical species from diverse origins around the world including South America, New Zealand, Central Europe and Japan. It also features a 400 year old dragon tree, existing long before the foundation of the garden, as well as an Aroma Garden, with aromatic and medicinal plants created with braille signs for the blind, inviting them to touch and smell the plants.
One of the special features in the garden is the Fonte das 40 Bicas fountain, also known as Fonte das Serpentes, decorated with snakes and other animals and mythological creatures. It is consecrated to Nossa Senhora da Ajuda since the Virgin allegedly appeared there. The Ajuda Botanical Garden is open to the public every day until about 5pm.
Largo do Intendente
Since its renovation in 2012, this square in Mouraria has completely transformed from a rundown, sketchy part of the neighbourhood to a prime example of Lisbon’s reinvigoration.
Several buildings were recovered during the remodelling, including the Art Nouveau Hotel 1908 Lisboa, and the former Viúva Lamego tile factory founded in 1849. Its beautiful facade covered in tiles makes it one of the most iconic buildings in Lisbon, now housing the Vida Portuguesa store, where you can find authentic Portuguese products or souvenirs, including soaps, ceramics and preserves.
The Casa Independente is a real gem, formerly a large crumbling palace, now an artistic project and cultural space that draws a young stylish crowd for cocktails, art openings, outdoor cinema, DJs and live music.
Check what’s on at the Largo Residencias while you are there, an interesting cooperative that operates as a guest house, artist-in-residence and cafe. This community hub develops initiatives offering social and cultural events that support the cultural and social inclusion of the neighbourhood’s most vulnerable residents.
Although you are likely familiar with Belém neighbourhood, the long walkway beside the river to get there from Cais do Sodré offers a whole other side of Lisbon to discover. Whether enjoying a relaxed stroll along the promenade or a bike ride, follow the seven-kilometre path to explore the many waterfront cafes, restaurants and museums along the way.
The most interesting stretch begins at the Docas, just beneath the Ponte 25 de April Bridge, where you can stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants overlooking the chic yachts that are stationed there.
The MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) in Belém is one of Lisbon’s modern icons, featuring Portugal’s first power station alongside a modern building designed by British architect Amanda Levete. A curvy, white-tiled building resembling a wave, you can walk around and on top of the building, with the exterior staircase descending towards the water.
Enjoy a drink or early dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants at the Docas do Bom Sucesso in Belém to catch the spectacular sunset across the water, whilst watching the fishermen along the banks and elegant sailboats drift by.
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
The “Viewpoint of the Lady of the Mount” in the Graça neighbourhood is perched at the top of Lisbon’s tallest hill, making it the city’s highest miradouro. Offering unique panoramic views across Lisbon, you can see the old district of Alfama, Castle of Saint George, downtown districts and beyond.
Because of its location outside the main city, visitors don’t always make the trip up the hill, and usually head to the more known viewpoint nearby, Miradouro da Graça.
A small statue of the Virgin stands in front of the Nossa Senhora do Monte chapel dedicated to St. Gens, a martyr and ancient bishop. Built in the 1700s, the chapel occasionally opens for a couple of hours in the afternoon. You can sit and enjoy the buskers playing live music in the relaxing shade of the olive trees, pines and cypresses, or stay until the evening to watch the sunset on the horizon by the river.
Just below the viewpoint is a peaceful garden haven, the Jardim da Cerca da Graça.
A short ferry ride across the Tagus river from Cais do Sodré is the former fishing village of Cacilhas, now part of Almada, a working class suburb of Lisbon. Turning right off the ferry towards the Ponte 25 April Bridge leads you down the Cais do Ginjal, a slightly surreal, and relatively deserted waterfront pathway, past precarious, crumbling graffiti-covered walls.The opening of the bridge in 1966 ended the river transportation of goods and by the 1970s, the warehouses that stored wine, olive oil and fresh fish all closed down. Rumour has it a construction company has since bought 90% of this site, making it worth the trip to this hidden gem before a residential complex becomes a potential reality.
Make your way down towards the end of the pier to discover two authentic and delightful seafood restaurants with outdoor terraces. Atira-te ao Rio ‘Throw Yourself in the River’ and Ponto Final, to enjoy the simplicity of a grilled fish with a slice of lemon on the edge of the water.
Walking further, around the corner is the Elevador Boca do Vento, the ‘Mouth of Wind’ lift, linking the waterfront to Almada’s Old Town. From here you can make your way to Cristo Rei, inspired by Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, one of the most iconic monuments in Lisbon. Explore the surrounding gardens offering spectacular panoramic views across the city.
Galerias Romanas, Olissipo
If you are lucky, your stay in Lisbon will coincide with a rather rare event, when the city council opens the underground tunnels that prevent the city from flooding and need to be drained of water once a year. The tunnels are then opened to the public for 3 days.
These underground walkways are the Roman Galleries of Lisbon. Discovered in 1771 during the reconstruction of Lisbon after the earthquake, they are an ancient underground set of tunnels that were likely used for water supply, drainage and storage, dating back to the Roman empire of 1st century AD, making them over 2,000 years old!
The Galerias Romanas are hidden beneath the junction of Rua da Prata and Rua da Conceição, near Praça do Comercio and are open to the public for three days in the last week of September.
The wait can be up to 4 hours, with queues usually stretching for 3 blocks long. However your patience will be rewarded when you reach your turn to descend through a pothole in the middle of the street, climbing down some narrow stairs to explore the fascinating history that lies below.
You can visit a network of galleries with low stone ceilings, with small caves on the sides, probably used for storage beneath the Roman shops that would have surrounded Lisbon’s Roman Forum when it was the busy port of Olissipo. Alternatively, they could have been Roman thermal springs used to supply a series of wells for the Roman people.