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Explore these shiny hidden gems in Lisbon (with a pastel de nata in hand?)

Lisbon at dawn, Portugal

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe, enjoying a rich culture full of soulful music, unique artistry, and mouthwatering food – not to mention the spectacular views. So it’s no surprise that the city receives over one million visitors every year.

But while most of those visitors will spend their time battling the crowds at popular tourist attractions like Belém Tower, the Jeronimos Monastery, and the Castelo de S. Jorge, there are a lot more hidden gems in Lisbon than what you’d think – you just need to make it up the hills first.

Here’s a list of some of our favourite hidden gems we found while exploring the city of seven hills.     

1. The winding streets of the Alfama Quarter

The oldest and most unique quarter in Lisbon, Alfama is a maze of winding streets and colourful alleys. Built sometime around the 8th century by the Moors, and later occupied by the Romans, visiting Alfama is like stepping back in time. It’s an area unlike any other in Lisbon, having survived a catastrophic earthquake in 1755, which destroyed over half of the city. Wandering the narrow streets, you will find hidden terraces with unique views of the port and terracotta rooftops with some great examples of Portugal’s famous Tiles.

Exploring the quarter at night, you will also be treated to the sounds of traditional Fado music, which was created in 1870 right in the heart of Alfama. The word ‘Fado’ translates to fate and involves a sorrowful solo singer accompanied by a lone classical Portuguese guitar. It’s often performed in small restaurants, bars, and Fado Houses in Alfama and Bairro Alto and is a bucket list item for anyone visiting Lisbon.

Spend a day exploring the tight-knit streets and lookouts throughout the old town before sitting down for a meal or drink while you’re entertained with a traditional Fado performance at underrated local Alfama restaurants like Fado Na Morgadinha or Tasca Do Chico.

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2. Hotel Mundial rooftop bar

With its sunny blue skies and colourful buildings, there’s no question that Lisbon is a city worth photographing. And while the views from Alfama and the Castelo de S. Jorge are lovely, we’ve found an even more unique view worth capturing – plus this one comes with a drink!

Every recommendation list needs at least one rooftop bar, and this truly is one of the hidden gems in Lisbon. The Hotel Mundial in Baixa sits in the heart of Lisbon, and is one of the tallest buildings in the area. This means great views, especially from their lush rooftop bar and lounge. The large terrace is open to the public and offers unbeatable panoramic sights of the city and port. Best of all, the bar is open – so grab a seat and a cocktail and enjoy the view. I’d definitely recommend timing it so that you get here an hour or so before sunset for those golden hour photos.

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3. Time out market

Lisbon offers no shortage of options when it comes to food, but if you’re looking to try the best of the best, and want a range of options, a visit to Time Out Market needs to be on your itinerary. 

Owned and operated by Time Out Magazine, this food hall is a unique take on a familiar concept. Time Out Market is one of the largest gourmet food locations in the world, with spaces rented out to various restaurants, bars, and specialty shops for anywhere from one week to three years. Only the best of the best is allowed, with everything tested for excellence by an independent panel of city experts. 

In Time Out’s own words “if it’s good it goes into the magazine, if it’s great it goes into the market”. 

With 26 restaurants boasting both traditional and foreign cuisines, 8 bars, a dozen specialty shops, and even a music venue, the atmosphere in the food hall is buzzing, and there’s no shame in going back two or three times to try the different foods on offer. Just make sure to leave some room to sample a few of the delicious desserts scattered around the hall. 

Pro tip: stop by Manteigaria on your way out to pick up one – or three, no judgment here! – of their flaky, golden pastel de natas for the journey home. 

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4. Fronteira Palace


Conveniently located within city limits, the Palácio de Fronteira is a treat for both history buffs and architecture lovers. And even if history and architecture aren’t really your things, it’s hard not to be impressed by the lush gardens, ornate fountains, and gorgeous rooms. 

Built in the 17th century and originally used as a hunting lodge and secondary residence to the influential Mascarenhas family, Fronteira Palace is a unique piece of history and is still the official residence of the Marqueses de Fronteira. With some of the best examples of traditional Portuguese tiles combined with Italian baroque architecture, the palace gardens and halls are worth a visit.  

The picture-worthy gardens are open to the public and feature winding hedge gardens, tiled walls and alcoves, and many statues and busts. Another one of our hidden gems in Lisbon, this site is much quieter than other Lisbon attractions, and if you’re lucky you might even have the gardens all to yourself. And if you’re looking for a more in-depth understanding of the palace you can also book a guided tour inside where you can learn more about the history and view the 17th century antiques and tilework. 

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5. Dear Breakfast, Alfama

Pancakes are a surprisingly popular breakfast option in Portugal – usually served with a fried egg, bacon, and a little bit of greens on the side. Being a big fan of pancakes myself, it’s safe to say I ate more than my fair share in Lisbon, the tastiest of which were from this absolute gem of a cafe – Dear Breakfast. 

A bustling all-day breakfast cafe, Dear Breakfast has three locations in Lisbon and offers good vibes and instagram-worthy food. The Alfama location features concrete floors, vaulted brick ceilings, and enough tropical plants to give it a calming bohemian vibe. The ingredients are all locally sourced and they pride themselves on the quality of their dishes, particularly the eggs. 

This is a great brunch option, but make sure you book in advance, as it can get pretty busy in the morning – food this good won’t stay a secret forever.   

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6. Estufa Fria Botanical Garden

While Lisbon is a city of tightly packed streets and seemingly endless stairs and hills, there are still a few places where you can escape into nature. One such escape, and one of our hidden gems in Lisbon, is the Estufa Fria Botanical Gardens, an accidental garden turned oasis. 

Once an abandoned and barren Basalt Quarry, in the early 1900s a local gardener began using the space to temporarily shelter his exotic plant collection. However, World War One forced him to abandon his project and plants to the quarry. However, the plants didn’t die and instead actually thrived, and it was found that the quarry was an ideal environment for a garden, becoming an official Greenhouse in 1933.

Estufa Fria (or Cold Greenhouse in English) is now a thriving garden with over 300 plant species, scattered with small waterfalls, hidden caves, and lakes. It is one of the largest cold greenhouses in the world and uses a natural heating system. The site also includes two other greenhouses that you can visit, the Hot Greenhouse, which houses tropical plants, and the Sweet Greenhouse for succulents.

With over 3.7 acres to explore, Estufa Fria is an excellent way to escape from the city for a few hours. 

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7. Ponto Final

A little bit off the beaten track – or over the Ponto 25 de Abril bridge in this case – is a restaurant where you can dine right on the water. If you’re looking for an unbeatable view of Lisbon to enjoy with your lunch or dinner this is it. 

Located in Almada, Ponto Final is a traditional Portuguese restaurant that you’ll either need to get a taxi or board a ferry to from central Lisbon. But the unique views are well worth it, and if you can score a table outside on the jetty, the experience is well worth it. This is your chance to enjoy a traditional steak or seafood dish with a glass of wine while you sit gazing out at the Tagu river and impressive red bridge. Try to book a table in advance if you can, as the restaurant is popular among locals and it may be a long wait otherwise.  

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8. Castle of the Moors & Monserrate Palace, Sintra

A visit to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without a day trip out to Sintra, a picturesque Portuguese town, UNESCO World Heritage site, and former summer retreat for royalty and nobility. Sintra itself isn’t much of a secret and is popular among tourists, however, most people find their way to the colourful Pena Palace and gardens, which is impressive if a little bit over-hyped. 

Personally, my favourite place in Sintra has to be the Castle of the Moors. Looking like something out of a fairytale and with views of the Atlantic Ocean, this fortress was built in the 8th century by the Moors and was an important player in the defense of Sintra and the ports of Lisbon during Moorish and later Portuguese rule. The Castle has been largely destroyed over time, but the chapel and impressive fortress walls still stand, giving you the unique opportunity to explore a genuine medieval fort – with the best views in all of Sintra. 

Another of Sintra’s hidden gems, which is definitely worth the visit, is Monserrate Palace. Built on the ruins of the former palace in the 19th century, this is one of the best examples of Romantic architecture in Portugal. The unique mix of Medieval and Eastern decorations set against the background of Monserrate’s exotic gardens feels like something out of a movie. And with smaller crowds, exploring the palace and gardens can be a magical experience.  

Lisbon is a city teeming withgood food, good weather, and beautiful architecture. And with buildings that date back to the 8th century and a rich history to discover there’s truly something for everyone. So take a step off the tourist track and experience some of the truly unique things that Lisbon has to offer. 

If Lisbon or Portugal is next on your bucket list, check out our Contiki Portugal trips. On Contiki you can visit some of the most iconic and stunning destinations in Portugal, and experience the best this sunny country has to offer, plus our expert Trip Managers will share all their best Portugal hidden gems with you!

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