5 Hidden Gems in Lisbon

By Kathryn Foley

From trying to untangle the networks of narrow streets in historic neighbourhoods to cooling off on the rugged beaches of the Atlantic coast, life in Lisbon is never boring! But to experience life like the Lisboetas, check out these 5 favourite hidden gems of Lisbon and start seeing the city through the eyes of a local. From tiny restaurants that will allow you to experience Lisbon off the beaten path to places where you’ll be hanging out with the locals, there are so many places to see. It’s time to start exploring!

Cacilhas

This one’s not technically in Lisbon but still worth checking out. From the port at Cais do Sodré, hop on the commuter ferry to Amalda and swap views of the southern shores of the river Tagus and the Christo Rei statue for a vista of the Lisbon skyline. You’ll step off the ferry in Cacilhas - a paradise for seafood lovers. This neighbourhood might not have the same polished look as the city center but, its slightly worn aesthetic offers insight into alternative Lisbon. The number of seafood restaurants that greet you as soon as you step off the boat can be a little overwhelming and all look unhelpfully similar, so I’d recommend bypassing the confusion and taking the narrow street that winds along the water to Ponto Final. This no-frills restaurant is one of Lisbon's best kept secrets and you’ll want to stay forever in the easygoing atmosphere. Perched so close to the water's edge it might feel like one false move and you’ll fall in, but it’s all part of the charm. Ponto Final is only closed on Tuesdays, but you should also avoid Mondays. The reason for this is that Lisboetas don’t eat seafood on Mondays, since by then, the Saturday catch is no longer fresh and there’s no fishing on Sundays. 

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Cais do Sodré to Cascais

There’s nothing quite like a holiday from your holiday, right? Conveniently for you, that’s exactly what taking the train to one of small beach towns on the Atlantic coast feels like. From Cais do Sodré station, take the train to Cascais and take your pick from one of the sun drenched beaches that line the route out of the city. This historic fishing village is only half an hour away on the train and truly one of the hidden gems of Lisbon, although it’s not the only spot along the way you’ll want to jump off at. You’re spoiled for choice, as every station en route offers beautiful beaches, clean water and a few bars and restaurants, making this stretch of coast the perfect setup for a beach day. A couple of the best secret places Lisbon include Praia de Carcavelos and São Pedro. Both villages are famed for their surf but are also loved by locals looking to settle in for a day soaking up the sun and enjoying drinks with a few plates at one of the bars and cafes which line the waterfront.

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Os Amigos da Severa

You couldn’t explore Lisbon off the beaten path and not listen to fado at some point - it would be rude, and even if you tried it would be difficult not to come across it at some point. The best places to hear this traditional music that was born in the medieval quarter of the city are in historic Mouraria or Alfama, but instead of heading to a casa de fados where you’ll pay a fixed price for entry, a drink and sometimes dinner, stop by Amigos da Severa instead. This is one of Lisbon best kept secrets, a tiny tavern where locals pick up their instruments and play for each other, themselves and whoever else happens to be lucky enough to have squeezed into the bar at the time. It’s also a great spot to try the local cherry liqueur, ginja. There are certainly more famous spots to enjoy a glass or two in the city centre, but for a local vibe and homemade liqueur you can’t go wrong with this bar. The history of the place can be read through the objects that adorn the walls and covers the small counter; from a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to old fado posters, record sleeves to football scarves, dried flowers and even a string of garlic - it looks like it hasn’t changed since your grandmother was a girl, but the locals wouldn’t change it for the world!

Ribeira das Naus

This road leads you away from Lisbon’s main square, the Praça do Comércio, along the river towards the train station. It’s a hidden gem of Lisbon where locals come to hang out, sunbath and or play with their kids at weekends to get outdoors without leaving the city. There’s a small kiosk with deckchairs to sit back in and enjoy the panoramic views over the river, but to get a taste of life like the locals, grab some beers from a shop on the way and sit right on the stone floor which slopes down into the river instead. When the main road curves around to the right, keep walking along the promenade and you’ll find a cluster of pop up bars and street food stalls. In the evenings you’ll find locals sitting at the benches, enjoying the mojitos and grabbing some food - it’s the perfect spot to cool off in the evenings.

Chinês Clandestino

There is an alternative side to Lisbon, but you certainly won’t find it in your guidebook. In Mouraria, an old local neighbourhood, a small number of ‘illegal’ Chinese restaurants have started to appear close to the Martim Moniz metro station. Known as clandestinos by the locals, these spots are essentially in someone’s home, where the food comes straight from their kitchen and the bathroom is the same as the one used by the family who lives there. Some are literally in the family’s living room and you might have to arrange yourself around someone’s grandma watching tv in the corner and the old guys playing board games, although some owners have converted their apartment to have a more restaurant like set-up. Those not in the know would walk straight past these spots, as the only way to distinguish them from the surrounding flats is by a red Chinese lantern that hangs in the window, or if you’re lucky enough to have a tip given to you by a local. So take a deep breath, ring the doorbell and prepare to try truly authentic Chinese food. It might sound strange, but these eateries have become part of the fabric of local life in this area, and it’s not an experience you’ll get anywhere else. You’ll find two of these secret spots at 59 Rua do Benformosso, but also in Rua do Terreirinho and Beco da Oliveira. 

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