Historic Lisbon City Center - Exploring the History and Heritage of Downtown Lisbon

Historic Lisbon City Center – Exploring the History and Heritage of Downtown Lisbon

(Last Updated On: August 11, 2019)

We were headed to one of the oldest countries with a great history of discovery and explorations. Portugal is known for its traditional old quarters, beaches and delicious seafood. Lisbon is home to the famous personalities Vasco da Gama and Cristiano Ronaldo. Lisbon, the capital is a coastal city with steep snug streets with stairways and elevators connecting the hilly parts of the old districts.

We had booked our apartment in the old districts of Alfama which makes it easier to explore the historic city center of Lisbon. We had planned to explore Belem region of Lisbon along Tagus River on the second day.

Due to narrow streets and limited public transport, the best way to see the old district of Alfama is on foot. Wandering through the narrow alleys winding through the pastel-colored choc-o-bloc of houses is a unique experience. We started our day early morning with a hike up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge.

Lisbon City Center or Downtown Lisbon

Castelo de Sao Jorge

The Moorish castle sits on a hill overlooking the historic center and the old quarters of Alfama. To reach the castle one has to hike uphill for about 15 minutes.

The ramparts of the castle offer great views of the city and the Tagus River. The camera obscura located in the ‘Tower of Ulysses’ in the castle also offers wonderful panoramic views of the city.

The View of the Castelo de Sao Jorge above the city of Lisbon

There is a permanent exhibition housed in the former Royal Palace fo the Castelo de S. Jorge which offers information on the history of Lisbon.

One can easily descend down from the castle hill to downtown Lisbon through a set of free elevators located on the seventh floor of a building in Rua da Vitória. The terrace of the restaurant is a viewpoint offering stunning views of the red roofs of the city. The elevator will take to the supermarket on the lower floor.

Lisbon Cathedral or Se Cathedral

Just a ten min walk from the elevator building through the maze of cobblestone streets will bring you to the oldest cathedral in Lisbon, the Se Cathedral. Alternatively, take a bus which will drop you at the cathedral. But we recommend you walk your way to the cathedral exploring the hidden gems and the old quarters of Alfama.

The Lisbon Cathedral with imposing twin bell towers looks more like a fortress. The fortress look is due to the fact that during the Reconquista period, the cathedral could be used as a base to attack the enemy. It has a beautiful ornate interior and stained glass windows.

Before heading to our next stop, we stopped by a restaurant to taste the Lisbon special ‘Pasteis de Nata’ along with the dark espresso which is the best way to start your day in Lisbon. Pasteis de Nata are little custard-filled tarts originally from Portugal.

The Lisbon special ‘Pasteis de Nata’ we had on the way to Lisbon Cathedral

If you are looking for more foodie experiences in Lisbon read our post on ultimate foodies guide to Lisbon Portugal with Insider Tips

Few minutes walk from the Lisbon Cathedral is a restaurant/cafe called Portas do Sol restaurant. The terrace of the restaurant offers amazing views over the terracotta roofs, Alfama district, and the Tagus River. A wonderful place to enjoy the views of the city over a cup of coffee.

Tram 28

The Lisbon Cathedral falls on the route of the famed Tram 28. Due to the undulating routes and steep alleys, only the vintage trams can run on these tracks. Trams with their traditional charms operate as a Hop-on and hop-off service with a 24-hour ticket. It passes through some of the popular sights in Lisbon including the Castle, Alfama, and Bairro Alto.

Tram 28 is a vintage tram one of the top things to do Downtown Lisbon

A ride on the number 28 tram is a highlight of any trip to Lisbon, which is not to be missed. A poster of Bollywood favorite Priyanka for Quantico TV Series ad on one of the Lisbon trams came as a great surprise.

Our next stop after Lisbon Cathedral was the major landmark of Praca do Comercio or Terreiro do Paco is about 5 minutes walk. You can even take the Tram 28 and get down at Rua da Conceicao, from here Rua Augusta Arch and the Praca do Comercio is a couple of minutes walk. The street Rua Augusta Arch is lined with numerous shops, cafes, and restaurants with outdoor seating.

An interesting old boat turned outdoor cafe overlooking the Tagus River

We wandered around to the banks of the Tagus River to an interesting old boat turned outdoor cafe overlooking the Tagus River. We enjoyed another cup of dark, rich espresso coffee with the views of the Tagus and the majestic square of Praca do Comercio.

Praca do Comercio

The square is also known as Terreiro do Paco is located on the banks of Tagus River. Terreiro do Paco translates to Palace Square in English referring to the Palace that was the main residence of the Kings of Portugal in Lisbon for around 250 years until it was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake.

An equestrian statue of King Jose I in Praca do Comercio

At the center of the grand square is an equestrian statue of King Jose I. The square is surrounded by arcaded buildings which are occupied by cafes and restaurants.

Rua Augusta Arch

The Rua Augusta Arch is historical building with triumphal arch located to the north of Praca do Comercio square. The terrace of the building is accessible by an elevator and rewards with a breathtaking view of the Praca do Comercio and its neighborhood, the Sao Jorge Castle, and the river Tagus. The arch is picturized in the movie Gulliver’s Travels where the Lilliputians wheel Gulliver through the arch at the end.

Santa Justa Lift

We entered through the triumphal arch into a busy pedestrian street lined with outdoor cafes and branded shops.

Santa Justa Lift - Things to do Downtown Lisbon

We moved onto a parallel street Rua de Santa Justa where stands the remarkable structure Santa Justa Lift. The lift connects the lower streets of the Baixa and the higher Bairro Alto.

Awe-inspiring rooftop panoramic view of the Lisbon city from top of Santa Justa Lift

105-foot ride to the top is recommended for some awe-inspiring rooftop panoramic view of the Lisbon city.

Rossio Square

After around half a km stroll, we walked into the heart of the city to the Rossio Square in the Baixa district. The Rossio Square is one of the popular squares in Baixa. During the middle ages, the square was a venue for celebrations, executions, and even bullfights. Today the square is popular with the tourists as well as the locals for several outdoor cafes where people sit and relax over a coffee.

The gorgeous fountain in Rossio Square

On either side of the square are two gorgeous baroque fountains, and in the center is a monument with a statue of Dom Pedro IV. The statue stands on a marble pedestal adorned with figures of Justice, Wisdom, Strength, and Moderation. The cobblestones floor of the square is designed in a unique wave pattern in alternate white and black colors.

The Rossio Train Station next to the square is a monumental building built in a Neo-Manueline style of architecture. The building featuring horse-shoe shaped arch portals at the entrance is adorned with intricate carvings, turrets and a clock tower. The trains to Sintra, one of the top day trips from Lisbon run from the Rossio train station.

Also Read: Best Day Trips from Lisbon that you should add to your Bucket List.

Restauradores Square

From we walked to Restauradores Square which is also one of the grand squares in Lisbon. The obelisk at the center of the square commemorates the victory of the Portuguese Restoration War. The obelisk is adorned with two allegorical figures of Independence and Victory and bears the inscription of important dates of the war. The square is surrounded by several remarkable buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Till now every sight of the yellow trams filled us with excitement. But Restauradores Square being a major landmark we found dozens of trams all taxied near the square.

From Restauradores Square we took the HOHO bus to our next stop – Marques Do Pombal. Alternatively, you can take a tram to Marques Do Pombal which is just a 5 minutes ride.

Also Read: Lisbon Oceanarium – On a Date With the Life Under the Sea!

Marques Do Pombal

Marques Do Pombal is a large roundabout and a monument about a km walk from the Rossio.

The monument of Marques Do Pombal

The monument is a bronze statue of Marquis of Pombal, the prime minister responsible for the rebuilding of Lisbon following the Great Earthquake in 1755. The statue stands on a column with his hand on a lion.

Parque Eduardo VII

Right behind the Marques do Pombal is the Parque Eduardo VII, a public park that stretches uphill from Marques de Pombal. At the top of the hill, on a small esplanade is a monument with four large pillars and a fountain in the shape of a rock that commemorates the 1974 Revolution. Monument has a beautiful view of the streets, squares and the river Tagus in the distance.

For a Shopping spree, one can visit the El Corte Ingles biggest department store group in Europe just half a km from here. It was by now near dusk and we decided to return to our apartment.

Also Read: Top Things to Do and See in Lisbon – A 3-Day Itinerary

Campo Pequeno

We boarded the hop on hop off bus to our next stop the Campo Pequeno, the bullring of Lisbon. Marques do Pombal to Campo Pequeno is another 5 minutes tram ride.

We were by now hungry and were looking around for good restaurants. We by fluke found an Indian cuisine restaurant ‘Amigos da Montanha Nepal’ in a street opposite to the bullring.

At a restaurant in Campo Pequeno

We had scrumptious lunch with north Indian and tandoori dishes on the menu. We were delighted and euphoric after having the Indian food that we had been missing for last almost 11 months in Switzerland.

After lunch, we visited the Campo Pequeno museum. The museum exhibits artifacts which provide information on the tradition of bullfighting and its history through pictures and numerous items. One can also take a tour of the arena when we visited the arena was closed for some event and all we could do was to have a look at the arena from the first floor.

Campo Pequeno is one of the must visit Lisbon attraction

The artifacts exhibited at Campo Pequeno

The arena can accommodate up to 10,000 spectators. In the present day, the bull-ring is a multi-event venue where various events, band performances, and live acts hosted apart from the bullfighting. Bullfights season lasts from Easter until late summer.

Where Did We Stay in Downtown Lisbon?

Alfama – Lisbon Old Districts

The best way to experience the well-preserved bygone charm and cultural heritage of Lisbon is by exploring the old district of Alfama and the Tagus riverfront. To get the authentic feel of the Lisbon we had booked an apartment in Alfama. Alfama is the oldest and the most charming locality to wander around the labyrinth of narrow alleys and typical choc-a-bloc houses. With an abundance of Fado restaurants, one is sure to fall asleep listening to a background of Fado melancholy music being played until late at night.

Book an Accommodation in the Alfama District

We ended our day at a seafood special restaurant savoring on the delicious menu in Alfama. Many tourists and locals alike were lip-syncing with the singer enjoying the music and the Fado experience. When visiting Lisbon, spending an evening at a Fado restaurant accompanied by delectable seafood is an essential authentic experience.

Bairro Alto

Bairro Alto is also one of the charming traditional districts in Lisbon. While Alfama is known for a quiet aura Bairro Alto is popular for its lively nightlife. There are ample of Fado Bars and cafes in Bairro Alto district. If you prefer a vibrant neighboorhood with lots of parties and activities then Bairro Alto is your place.

Book an Accommodation in the Bairro Alto District

From exuberant nightlife and Fado houses of Bairro Alto to the elegant squares, streets of Baixa or downtown Lisbon – Lisbon has it all to allure the tourists. While Alfama offers a laid-back experience away from the hustle and bustle of city life, the Belem region has numerous monuments to experience the history of Lisbon which we had planned for the next day. Read about our visit to the Belem region of Lisbon.

Lisbon Card

For the best deals and discounts on your trip to Lisbon we recommend you buy a Lisbon Card. The Lisbon Card City Pass is available for 24/48/72 hours depending on the number of days you will be spending in the city. The Lisbon Card offers visitors a wide array of discounts and benefits. With the Lisbon Card, you can enjoy free entry into the major Lisbon attractions like the Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, and the National Pantheon.

You can also enjoy free travel on the public transport which includes trams, Metro, and buses. The Lisbon Card also includes the elevators which mean the ride on Santa Justa Elevator one of the major attractions in Lisbon is free. And the bonus also enjoy a free ride on the train from Lisbon to Sintra and Cascais which are amongst the top day trips from Lisbon.

Have you been to Lisbon and explored its rich history and heritage? What is your favorite part of Lisbon?

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31 thoughts on “Historic Lisbon City Center – Exploring the History and Heritage of Downtown Lisbon

  • May 30, 2016 at 9:46 am

    We’ve spent a lot of time near Praça do Municipio (Fashion Week) and visited the oldest district of Lisbon (Alfama) with lovely architecture. Amazing memories and great weather! Wish we could stay there longer then!

  • May 31, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Great information, especially loved the Rossio Square information as well as the pictures in the post. I am heading to Lisbon and Barcelona at the end of summer and you have supplied me with information that I am sure to use. Hope to read more of your posts in the future.

  • June 1, 2016 at 7:13 am

    This found me at the exact perfect time- I literally just landed in Lisbon last night! This will come in handy. Thank you!

  • June 1, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Oh how I wish I had the chance to visit Portugal. Unfortunately, I will have to live vicariously through others

  • June 3, 2016 at 7:48 am

    I have never been to Portugal. We had talked about visiting but had not planned out a time when it would be best, as we would love to see as much as possible while we are there. The pictures you took are gorgeous and I especially love the bird eye view shots. I will about Sintra next. This is a good guide for visitors.

  • June 3, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Love the way you have captured the city through these amazing photos.
    Very informative and resourceful post for visitors to Lisbon.

  • June 4, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Thank you for these suggestions! I am actually going to Lisbon at the end of the month! I definitely want to go up that lift and take pictures. Lisbon looks fabulous and I’m so excited!

  • June 4, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    The santa just lift looks really scary, did you actually take it? Also, the Rossio square reminds me of the Hero’s square in Budapest.. very similar1

  • June 5, 2016 at 2:51 am

    Thanks for putting down these good information. I particularly like your second photo, it takes me to the atmosphere of the city, makes me feel I am there!

  • June 5, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    FABULOUS photos of one of my favourite European cities! I loved reading this and it took me right back to when I was last there, Karen

  • June 6, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    I am Portuguese and would love to visit Lisbon one day, the bakeries are meant to be amazing- try the custard tarts they are so good and the bread is amazing x

  • June 6, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    i have heard a lot about Lisbon but havnt been there. . . .till I had read your post. Your post makes me feel like i am in Lisbon and seeing evrything with my own eyes.

  • June 6, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Lisbon is pure poetry to me! I love your pics, they make me miss this city so much! Thank you for sharing

  • June 6, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    What an amazing place. I really like the architecture and there are some incredible monuments!

  • June 7, 2016 at 7:14 am

    I’m yet to visit Portugal, but Lisbon is top of my list when I do! Thanks for sharing the history behind the impressive monuments too – a place always seems to have more character when you know the story behind it.
    Lily Kate

  • June 7, 2016 at 7:39 am

    All of your beautiful pictures really make me want to go to Lisbon! It has been on my wishlist and now I really want to go. Maybe soon.

  • June 7, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    A close friend of mine moved to Lisbon not long ago. Your post, along with her Facebook posts and email updates, really make me want to visit! Looks like such a lovely place!

  • June 8, 2016 at 12:53 am

    The pictures are very beautiful. I have not been to Lisbon yet but I will try to visit next year. I have heard Portugal is a beautiful to spend a holiday.

  • June 8, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Beautiful sights! I’d love to visit Portugal, even if it’s just for a weekend. I’m a huge soccer fan and Christiano Ronaldo has always been my reason to visit, but now that I see those photos, I’m even more convinced.

  • June 8, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    I’ve traveled a fair bit of Europe but never been to Portugal & its been on my list for a while now. The beautiful pictures you have here really make me want to plan it sooner than later. You’ve convinced me about it 😉

  • June 8, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Great pictures, and nice post. Looks like a lovely place.

    Samantha xo | Blended To Perfection

  • June 9, 2016 at 1:51 am

    Beautiful pictures. Looks like you had a well round trip, I’ve always wanted to go to Portugal!

  • June 9, 2016 at 2:30 am

    I love the European architecture, it is absolutely breathtaking! Thanks for sharing your photos.

  • June 9, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Lisbon looks amazing! Amazing shots with the pictures! Thanks for sharing:)

  • June 9, 2016 at 8:21 am

    I love the distinctive buildings Portugal seems to have – white walls and red roofs certainly stand out and make a great picture! I’d love to visit the biggest department store in Europe!

  • June 12, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    As always, your travel photos took me to places I`ve never been. I like the details of the building in the third photo.

  • June 22, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Amazing photos! I really want to visit Lisbon soon.

  • June 24, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Thank you a lot for providing individuals with such a splendid chance to read in detail from this site. It can be so beneficial plus full of a good time for me personally and my office colleagues to visit your blog at the least 3 times a week to see the fresh items you will have.

  • November 2, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I’m planning on taking my kids to Portugal (and Europe) next year. I love your post! Walking around the city is always the best way to get to know the place! Rossio Square reminded me a lot of Sao Paulo’s sidewalks!


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