Lisbon: A Weekend Guide for the Curious Traveler - Atlas Obscura

Weekend Guides for the Curious Traveler

In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.

Day 1
Alfama and Baixa

From one-of-a-kind shops to hidden courtyards.

Inside Conserveira de Lisboa. Gilbert Santos

1. Conserveira de Lisboa

Lisbon boasts an unusual array of traditional and specialty shops, so spend your morning touring some of the city's unique offerings. Conserveira de Lisboa has been around since the 1930s, and has since specialized in something extremely specific: canned fish. What started as a small grocery store soon grew into a multi-generational family business that continues to attract fish lovers from all over the world. Each colorful tin, stacked on wooden shelves, holds some of the best fish in Portugal, including tuna, cod, sardines, mackerel, and eel. Watch as the staff carefully wraps up your purchase for you, just like in the old days.

Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34, 1100-016 Lisboa, Portugal

Outside Livraria Simão. jessicavo81/ usedwithpermission

2. Livraria Simão

Only one person can fit inside Livraria Simão, one of the smallest bookshops in the world. The owner, Simão Carneiro, took over this former tobacco shop in 2008 and turned it into a whimsical, tiny store. While the majority of the shop's 4,000 titles are in Portuguese, you can also find books written in Spanish, English, Italian, and even Chinese. If you want to see any of them up close, Simão will need to step outside, but that’s a ritual he’s used to by now.

Escadinhas de São Cristóvão 18, 1100-119 Lisboa, Portugal

Drawers of doll parts at Hospital de Bonecas. Gilbert Santos
Toy Store

3. Hospital de Bonecas

Also known as the Doll Hospital, Hospital de Bonecas has been fixing broken dolls since 1830. Dozens of detached heads, eyes, and limbs are piled up in drawers of this unique repair shop. As customers arrive, each doll is registered as a patient and distributed to the "doctors" according to their “illness.” This unusual practice began with a woman named Carlota, who repaired dolls for local children back in the 19th century. Her services as a doll doctor became so popular that she eventually opened a doll hospital, which has remained in the same spot ever since.

Praça da Figueira, 7 1100-240, Lisboa, Portugal

The courtyard at Casa do Alentejo. Tuul and Bruno Morandi/ Alamy

4. Casa do Alentejo

It’s easy to miss Casa do Alentejo, as it hides behind a plain white façade. Step inside though, and you’ll find a gorgeous Moorish-style courtyard. There are two restaurants here, a more formal one upstairs, and a smaller tavern serving lighter meals downstairs. Both menus feature traditional dishes from the Alentejo region of Portugal. It’s worth trying the carne de porco à Alentejana (grilled pork with clams) and the morcela (Portuguese black pudding). If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can also order the moelas em molho de tomate (chicken gizzards in tomato sauce). Pair whatever you choose with a glass of Alentejo wine.

R. das Portas de Santo Antão 58, 1150-043 Lisboa, Portugal

Inside the Lisbon Geographical Society Museum. Lisbon for 91 Days

5. Museum of the Lisbon Geographical Society

For more than 100 years, the Lisbon Geographical Society has been collecting objects related to the Portuguese colonization and expansion period. The society’s museum is spread out over three different rooms, focusing on Africa, China, and India. Among the permanent collection are 16th-century Italian globes, African masks, and rare musical instruments. It’s also worth visiting the library, which holds the largest collection of books about Portugal's complicated colonial past.

R. Portas de Santo Antão 100, 1150-265 Lisboa, Portugal


6. Taberna Anti-Dantas

Walls covered in old newspaper, retro furniture, and many unconventional treats await you at Taberna Anti-Dantas. The restaurant is named after a manifesto written by the Portuguese artist Almada Negreiros against the writer Júlio Dantas. Here, traditional Portuguese food comes with a twist, from the octopus tentacle resting on a sweet potato to the fish soup served in a huge rustic bread. Before you delve into the main dish, there are many appetizers, or petiscos, worth trying, particularly the look-a-like pastéis de nata made with cod. Finish off with a shot of port wine served in a chocolate cup. Once you’ve sipped the wine, you can eat the cup.

R. São José 196, 2610-002 Lisboa, Portugal

Day 2
Estrela and Bairro Alto

Charming green spaces lead to relics of the past.

The Estrela Garden. Gilbert Santos

1. Estrela Garden

Long gone are the days where a lion scared off visitors of this garden. Donated by the African explorer Paiva Raposo in 1870, the lion of Estrela lived a solitary existence, having lost his mate on the journey to Portugal. When he first arrived, thousands of people lined up by the gates of his cage to see him roar. Unfortunately, out of fear, many of them would also throw stones at him. A lot has changed since then, and the only animals roaming the garden today are ducks and pigeons. Amid exotic plants and sculptures, there's also a playground for children, two lovely cafés, and a wrought-iron bandstand that hosts live music in the summer. Anyone is welcome to rent a book at the garden’s kiosk library.

Praça da Estrela, 1200-667 Lisboa, Portugal


2. Basilica of Estrela

Across the street stands the Basilica of Estrela, with its striking white dome. This neoclassical church was completed in 1790 by order of Queen Maria I in gratitude for the birth of her son. Today, you can find her tomb here. Beyond the tomb, there is a remarkable nativity scene featuring over 500 terracotta and cork figures created by the sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro. The walls of the basilica are covered in multicolored marble and embellished with paintings by the Italian artist Pompeo Batoni, among others. But the real showpiece here is the terrace, which offers staggering views of the castle and the 25 de Abril bridge, a Golden Gate doppelgänger.

Praça da Estrela, 1200-667 Lisboa, Portugal

Cactii at the Tapada das Necessidades. Pierre/ CC BY-ND 2.0

3. Tapada das Necessidades

From Portuguese monarchs to Édouard Manet, picnics at Tapada das Necessidades are a longstanding tradition. Manet visited the park in 1859 and it's said that it inspired him to paint Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, now displayed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. This hidden oasis is surrounded by rare trees from around the globe and has one of the world's biggest cacti collections. Ducks and geese greet you as you arrive, as do a handful of peacocks, if you’re lucky to spot them. Once a privileged spot for Kings and Queens, today Tapada das Necessidades is enjoyed by all.

Beside the park, you’ll find the Necessidades Palace, a pink building that was the only royal residence to remain standing after the earthquake of 1755. It is currently home to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is there not open to visitors.

Calçada Necessidades, Lisboa, Portugal

Mãe d'Água das Amoreiras Reservoir. Gilbert Santos

4. Mãe d'Água das Amoreiras Reservoir

Beneath the Amoreiras garden hides one of Lisbon’s best-kept secrets, the Mãe d'Água das Amoreiras Reservoir. Grab a quick coffee at the garden’s kiosk and then venture down into this unique water temple. Fed by the Águas Livres Aqueduct, Mãe d’Água (Mother of Water) was once the main source of water in the city. While no longer in use, the reservoir continues to impress visitors with its echoing interior and water displays, from the huge tank to the ancient rocky fountain. Steps lead the way to the reservoir’s terrace, where you can spot many of Lisbon’s landmarks. If you're up for it, continue through the underground tunnels that take you all the way across town to the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint.

Praça das Amoreiras 10, 1250-020 Lisboa

Dona Quitéria. Gilbert Santos.

5. Dona Quitéria

Back in 1870, Dona Quitéria opened a small grocery store in Príncipe Real. Little did she know that centuries later, her portrait would be decorating the walls of a restaurant in the exact same spot. The décor hasn’t changed much, but the offering certainly has. Specializing in petiscos, Dona Quitéria is famous for its peixinhos da horta, delicious tempura green beans that literally translate to “little fishes from the garden.” There’s much more worth trying in this cozy restaurant, including the game meat croquettes and the pork cheeks. On Sundays, Dona Quitéria turns into a stage for Fado shows. The restaurant is tiny, so make sure to book a table in advance.

Tv. São José 1, 1200-192 Lisboa, Portugal

Cocktail Bar

6. The Insólito

A wooden door opens and vintage wallpaper is revealed as you squeeze into the tiny elevator that leads to The Insólito. At the top floor, you’ll find two spaces, an interior dining area and a terrace offering sweeping views over Lisbon. Featured on the menu are typical Portuguese dishes, classic cocktails, and a vast selection of wines sourced from all over the country. Try the Pêra Rocha Daiquiri, made with native Portuguese Rocha pear, or the Gimlet Insólito, a mix of gin, Granny Smith apple, syrup, and fresh lime juice.

R. de São Pedro de Alcântara 83, 1250-001 Lisboa, Portugal

Where to Stay
As Janelas Verdes

Just a few steps away from the Ancient Art Museum, this 18th-century townhouse has turned into a charming boutique hotel. There are 29 rooms, all decorated in classic style with dark wood furniture and floral fabrics. Guests are invited to visit the rooftop library and relish the river views or even the moon through the hotel’s telescope.

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Palácio das Especiarias

Housed in a 400-year-old palace that survived the 1755 earthquake, Palácio das Especiarias is one of Lisbon’s jewels. The name "Palace of Spices" comes from a story that two vice-kings of India and two vice-kings of Brazil were born here. Inspired by this tale, the hotel’s decoration alludes to remarkable characters from Portuguese history.

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