WELCOME TO BAIXA DE LISBOA
Starting at the top of Restauradores Plaza, the famed area of Baixa Chiado follows a narrow crevice that rolls out into the river at Praça do Comércio (Comércio Plaza). It’s also known as Baixa Pombalina in reference to the area Marques de Pombal rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1755, including parts of the surrounding Alfama and Bairro Alto neighborhoods. As a result of the tsunami that surged from the river, wiping out everything in its path, Marques do Pombal constructed an entirely new layout of Baixa. What was originally a scattering of ancient, winding roads became a uniform, grid-map of longer, wider streets that connected the main plazas. Granted, most of the structures in Baixa are post-1755, but you’ll encounter several that sit proudly upon medieval foundations where Roman ruins have been unearthed. Sidenote: Marques de Pombal was a huge supporter of Portuguese wine creating the very first demarcated wine region in Europe!
With so much history condensed into this area, it’s no wonder Baixa seems to attract every tourist who visits Lisbon. And indeed, it is the most-touristy part of Lisbon, if you count the number of tourist focused restaurants, cafés, chintzy souvenir shops and pickpockets. In fact, many Lisbon residents (including myself) often avoid Baixa for this very reason, but in the last 3-4 years, it’s had a considerable face-lift. Comércio Plaza, in front of the river, has been completely renovated and made into a more inviting plaza with riverfront accessibility and new upscale, hip eateries. You can also find numerous gourmet shops, cafés and warm, lively petiscos restaurants peppered across the area.
Therefore, as every tourist ends up in Baixa at some point during their stay, allow us to guide you through this stunning area without falling into massive tourist traps. You’ll find information about ways of getting around, great sightseeing tips, restaurants worth visiting and quality Portuguese gourmet products. We’ve also included our favorite picks for accommodation! There is a lot to explore in downtown Baixa, and hopefully, this list will create an experience that goes above, and not baixa (below), your expectations.
Check out Catavino’s Google Map of Baixa for Visitors for all of the exact locations of our picks!
BAR AND CAFE SCENE
Baixa has a mix of old and new, though mostly new and modern nowadays in the realm of Portuguese cuisine. The area has some of the most iconic traditional Lisbon pastry shops, groceries/charcuteries and wine shops, especially around the Rossio and Figueira Plazas, but now you can also find numerous gourmet shops/cafés, wine bars and restaurants specializing in Portuguese petiscos (Portugal’s version of tapas). These new places have an incredible selection of produce, fantastic food, great marketing and attentive service. And while the majority of the traditional jaunts close at the end of the day, the modern ones stay open for dinner, inviting people to come early for drinks and petiscos and stay well through the evening. For the best experience, start classic to understand the very basics in Portuguese cuisine, then dive into the modern fare for a more rounded experience.
WHAT NOT TO MISS
Here are some things available year-round that you cannot pass up!
- A Ginjinha (cherry liquor shot bar)- This hole-in-the-wall Ginja liquor tank was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” Lisbon. They sell shot glasses filled with one of the strongest versions of this Portuguese cherry liquor, with or without the cherries added in (they’re edible).
- Confeitaria Nacional– With over 175 years in business by the same family, it may be the oldest pastelaria in Lisbon. Everything is “Fabrico Próprio”– all house-made and is great quality. The old architecture of this place is beautiful.
- A Manteigaria e Bacalhoaria Silva (delicatessen shop)- This classic delicatessen and dried saltcod vendor have been around forever and it’s hard to find shops like this anymore in Lisbon. The Manteigaria sells manteiga– “butter” like the name, along with Portuguese cheese, sausage, various cured meats and other market foods and the Bacalhoaria sells the saltcod of course and Portuguese tinned fish.
Other Notable Food & Drink Stops & Shops:
- Garrafeira Nacional (2 wine shops) – Open since 1927, this historic wine shop has an expansive collection of quality Portuguese wines, including some very old and/or rare ones. Plenty of helpful staff. Shop 2 is new extension of the original opened a couple years ago and offers free wine tastings along with an additional diverse selection of Portuguese and International wines.
- Silva e Feijóo (gourmet shop)- Gorgeous old shop space from 1919 that reopened as a gourmet shop in 2006. They also sell cheese, cured meats and fresh-baked bread.
- A Gingjinha do Carmo (Kiosk)- Stop here at this convienent kiosk from the original shop up the hill in Chiado for a smooth version of this Portuguese cherry liquor. The kiosk also sells Port and Moscatel by the glass.
Our picks for traditional and modern Portuguese cuisine in Baixa.
- Paço Real– There are many traditional style Portuguese eateries in Baixa, but many aren’t of quality anymore. However this pastelaria/restaurant on Rua da Conceição, where the 28E trolley passes is excellent and serves typical, inexpensive homestyle Portuguese dishes.
- Alfándega– This cool restaurant is just a couple doors down from the Igreja de Nossa Senhoa da Conceição and specializes modern/fusion Portuguese petiscos (Portuguese tapas). Great staff and great ambiance for a fun dinner.
- Maria Catita (restaurant + shop)- Opened in March 2014, this warm, inviting restaurant and shop has gained great reviews in just a short amount of time. They offer traditional petiscos (Portuguese tapas) along with a main menu of some modernized favorites. The petisco portions are plentiful so good for sharing and they also have wines by the glass and some of the new Portuguese craft beers.
- Populi– One of the many recent established restaurants in Comércio Plaza, this place offers both petiscos and a modern Portuguese menu, as well as a fabulous brunch on the weekend. Enjoy their outdoor seating with a view of the river on a warm day.
- Can the Can Lisboa– Right next to Populi, they were one of the first places to serve Portuguese canned fish and are still the only place in Lisbon that goes full-on gourmet with the cans. They also have a regular menu but this is really a restaurant for trying the canned fish. You can also enjoy live Fado music there on some evenings.
EXPLORING BAIXA: DO’s AND DON’TS
Getting Around: Baixa is a great area to access central Lisbon, either by walking or taking public transport. There is plenty of handy public transport in Baixa and Lisbon in general, but it’s best to avoid taking it during rush-hour on weekdays (approx. 8:00 – 9:30 or 17:00 – 19:00), as it’s super-crowded. You will also have a higher risk of being pick-pocketed and a great potential of missing your stop, especially on buses and trolleys. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are the best times for most transport. A Tip on Transport Passes- If you plan on getting around to see a lot of places in Lisbon, pick up a 1 – day Carris/Metro ticket (currently €6.00 for the pass + €0.50 for the re-chargeable card) at any metro station. This pass gives you unlimited trips on all public transport within the city for 24 hours starting after the first swipe at the reader. Otherwise, the on-board tickets are very expensive and start racking up money if you want to hop on, hop off a lot.
From Airport to Baixa: If you are staying at accommodation in Baixa, you shouldn’t pay more than €15 for a taxi ride from the airport to Baixa or anywhere downtown. Unless you have a lot of luggage, the cost should fall between €10-15 – the number of passengers doesn’t matter. If you want to try avoiding getting ripped-off by a taxi driver for your airport ride, before you get into a taxi, show the driver the address/hotel of where you want to go and ask for an approximate price to agree on. Don’t let them start the meter until they move. You should also write down their license number. Local Tip: If you are at the airport, try catching a taxi from the departures entrance. Having just dropped off passengers, they are generally nicer and tend to give a better deal, especially if you’re not going that far. Taxi fares within the downtown are usually between €5 – 8.
Dining: While you will find several restaurants and cafés in Baixa, the majority are still very touristy (overpriced and poor quality food/service). Avoid places with giant, dirty plastic menus in every language and corresponding flag plastered outside or at their door. Waiters who stalk you with those dirty menus and false promises. Basically everything on Rua Augusta. Instead, recently handwritten menus in Portuguese, and even English, are usually from acceptable places. Almost everything on Rua dos Bacalhoeiros.
Where to Stay in Baixa: The Baixa area is best known for its fabulous hostels and vacation rental apartments, but there are also a couple of really nice hotels as well. Book early with plenty of time before your travel dates to get your best choice. Avoid choosing accommodation rated below an 8.0 on Booking.com or below a 4 out of 5 on TripAdvisor, chances are they won’t be worth the extra money. Avoid staying in or around Martim Moniz Plaza, while it has improved in the last couple of years, the sketchy factor is still high.
SIGHTSEEING: IN BETWEEN MEALS
- Millenium BCP Núcleo Museulógico– This place is amazing, and not just because it’s free! While renovating the buildings between 1991 and 1995, construction workers discovered a series of ruins as they were digging down, finding layers from several different time periods spanning over 2,500 years, including the Romans, Visigoths and Moors. The museum is free and offers guided 1-hour tours as well.
- Igreja da Nossa Senhora de Conceição– It was the second largest Manueline-style (second to Jerónimos Monastery in Belém) church when the original was completed in 1534 and was called the “The Church of the Misericórdia”, named after the brotherhood/charity that was headquartered there. The church was partially destroyed in the great 1755 earthquake and rebuilt with the entrance reoriented to the south side and become the new church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição Velha, which had been completed destroyed in the earthquake.
- Rua da Augusta Arch (Praça de Comércio)- This magnificent stone arch connects the pedestrian street of Rua da Augusta to Comércio plaza facing the river, and when it was renovated in 2013, a new elevator was installed to allow visitors to go up to the top and catch some spectacular views of the surrounding downtown and river. Open daily from 9:00 – 19:00, tickets are €2.50 per person to ride the elevator to the top. Children under 5 ride for free!
- Ascensor/Elevador da Glória– Take this classic 19th century Portuguese funicular tram up to connect with the Bairro Alto and Principe Real neighborhoods.
- Elevador de Santa Justa– Built in 1902 by a resident French architect, this elevator was created to connect Baixa to the upper part of Chiado/Bairro Alto. At the top, it has some pretty nice views of the downtown and beyond. For around €5.00 you can take a nostalgic journey up on the old-fashioned elevator to the main platform that connects with Bairro Alto. And for another couple of Euros, you can climb the winding stairs to the very top. However, if you’re not a big fan of riding elevators but still want the view, you can go through the Baixa Chiado metro station and take the escalators up to Bairro Alto then walk up to Convento do Carmo where it connects with the main platform for a free view!
*A One-Time Opportunity in September:
- As Gallerias Romanas- Did you know that most of Baixa sits atop a web of ancient Roman Underground Galleries? With only one small trapdoor entrance, located in the middle of the street on Rua da Conceição, these galleries are only open for one weekend in late September because they’re filled with water the rest of the year. But if you happen to book your trip to Lisbon during this time, this is one of the most fascinating historical secrets to explore. Plan to wake up early and get in line. You may have to wait a couple of hours, but it’s worth it.
ACCOMMODATION: BEDDING DOWN FOR THE NIGHT
Apartment Rentals: If you’re looking for the most authentic, local accommodation, Baixa has a HUGE selection of fabulous apartments to choose from. Wonderfully decorated, most in historic buildings and many with balconies and terraces with beautiful views, it’s worth looking into. One of the best sites to search is AirBnB.com. Just click on the Baixa neighborhood and you can narrow your search to a private suite or an entire apartment, among other options. Note: Be aware that many of these vacation apartments are located on upper floors with no elevator (often 4th, 5th, 6th floor no elevator), so unless it says in the description, you should check with the host/owner about the building before booking. If you’re packing a lot of baggage, and there isn’t an elevator, we recommend not going above 2nd or 3rd floor, as stairwells are steep and narrow in these old buildings. And if you can’t live without air conditioning in the summer, make sure you check the A/C option when searching.
Our Hotel Picks: These 4 and 5-star hotels continue to be highly-rated for their perfect downtown location, high-end quality facilities and service.
- Avenida Palace– The epitome of classic, Old-World Lisbon, the facilities and rooms are decorated with antique-style furniture, but in the way that would make you feel like you’re staying in a palace, with a view facing São Jorge castle. The hotel does include modern amenities, such as a gym and massage services.
- Altis Avenida– Directly across from Avenida Palace, choose this hotel if you prefer stay in a place with modern decor and rooms but still with the same great location. The hotel also has a fine dining, rooftop restaurant and terrace with panoramic views of the city.
- Hotel Santa Justa– This smaller hotel is located almost right in the center of Baixa in the shopping corridor and just a short walking distance to the Santa Justa Elevator. The rooms are sleek and modern and equipped with a Nespresso coffee machine and large LED SmartTVs.
Hostels: Lisbon continues to have the highest rated hostels in the world, and many of the multiple award-winning ones are in Baixa. If you were never a big fan of hostels (such as myself) you may become one in Lisbon. Aside from the normal dormitory rooms, the majority of the best ones offer private group and couples’ rooms equipped with double beds and a private bath. And not only are the rooms and public areas nicely decorated, they are fastidiously clean! Hostels in Lisbon are great for meeting people, including the young locals who run them, and you can often find plenty of food and cultural events hosted at or through them. Although there are several more to choose from on HostelWorld, these are the current Top 5 of Baixa:
- Home Lisbon Hostel– The warm, cozy decor makes you feel at home, and they boast of their great, in-house cook preparing traditional Portuguese food.
- Yes! Lisbon Hostel– Also a great place for homecooking, this hostel is famous for their dinners and has a great bar and lounge area.
- Goodmorning Lisbon Hostel– Located in Restauradores plaza, this hostel is easy to find and has beautiful, modern rooms that offer charming visitor experiences.
- Travellers House– Offers a lot of free amenities, including free use of the kitchen and has four common rooms as well as separate men’s and women’s bathrooms.
- Lisbon Destination Hostel– This hostel is actually located within the gorgeous Rossio train station, so super easy to find, as well as easy hopping on the train to visit Sintra. The large common room is a beautiful, tropical-themed indoor patio with a bar, lounge areas and hammocks.
Metro Stations: Metro trains in Lisbon only have the same line going on each track, with the destination shown being the final stop on the line in that direction.
Airport to Downtown via Metro: If you packed light, and don’t mind going up and down stairs, you can also take the metro from the airport to the downtown, starting at the Red line, then switching to the Green line and getting off at Rossio.
- Restauradores– Located at the beginning of Baixa, in Restauradores Plaza and next to the Rossio Train station. Take this two stops to get to Marques de Pombal Plaza. The next stop down is Baixa-Chiado then Terreiro do Paço and finally Santa Apolonia at the end, which is also a train station that goes North to Porto.
- Baixa-Chiado– The bottom “Baixa” entrance of this metro lets you out at the halfway point of the Baixa neighborhood, perfect to start exploring. Or take the series of escalators/stairs to the upper entrance to the Bairro Alto neighborhood. This station connects you with the Green line, with Rossio station/plaza being the next stop in one direction and Cais do Sodré station (this is where you can catch the train to Cascais) in the other.
- Terreiro do Paço– This lets you out right in front of the river in the grande Comércio Plaza.
- Rossio– One entrance is in Rossio Plaza, the other in Figueira Plaza, hop on this and head to Cais do Sodré if you want to get the train to Cascais. Don’t bother going in the other direction, not worth it for visitors unless you are heading back to the airport.
- Rossio Train Station– This late-19th century train station is between the Rossio and Restauradores Plazas. You can’t miss it due to its beautiful Manueline-style entrance. Take the train here all the way to Sintra, but beware! There are huge lines to get tickets during the tourist season. So plan accordingly, which may mean getting your ticket the day before.
Useful Transport in Comércio Plaza:
- #13 Tram– A large tram that will take you on a leisurely ride through the bottom part of the city all the way to Belém (heading to the right when facing the river).
- #25E Trolley– This classic little trolley will take you through Cais do Sodré (Ribeira market and popular Rua Nova do Carvalho bar area), then Santos (more restaurants and bars), up through pretty Lapa (great for walking and taking photos), past the Basílica da Estrela before finally ending at the Ceméterio dos Prazeres, just a short walk from the Campo de Ourique gourmet market.
Fast-Track to São Jorge Castle: Looking to visit Lisbon’s castle but don’t want to climb the steep hill on foot? Then try these transport option
- Free Elevator on Rua dos Fanquieros– Just inaugurated in 2013, this series of staggered elevators take you right up the hill to the castle. Catch the first part here on Rua dos Fanqueiros, or the second set on Rua da Madalena, until you reach the castle.
- 28E Trolley on Rua da Conceição– This is the most “scenic” way to get to the castle. The trolley climbs up through the Alfama neighborhood and has a stop at Miradouro de Santa Luzia where you can get out and walk up the last steep hill to the castle. This option is great if you want to explore the surrounding area of the castle but it’s normally packed to the brim with people during the tourist season.
- 737 Bus in Praça (Plaza) de Figueira– It may not be as pretty as taking the trolley, but it’s usually a lot less crowded, and you can take this bus all the way up to the castle gate. It’s the last stop on the line.