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Unusual Things To Do In Lisbon That Are Not In Your Guidebook

By Genta Kulari An art and speech therapist who fell in love with Lisbon’s alternative art, cultural and culinary scene
20 February 2020
Unusual Things To Do In Lisbon That Are Not In Your Guidebook

Edited by Elodi Troskie

My favorite thing about Lisbon is how it speaks to your senses - the colors, lights, music, food, flavors, and textures. Visiting this city is a unique experience in itself, but there’s always room for even more interesting, non-touristy activities in Lisbon. If you want to explore Lisbon off the beaten path, kickstart your trip planning with this guide of my favorite alternative things to do in Lisbon!


See The City From Above

The first unusual thing you’ll notice about Lisbon is how it’s built on a number of hills. These seven hills divide Lisbon’s different neighborhoods and also make for incredible spots to view the city from above. One of my favorite hilltop spots is in the laid-back Graça district, a really cool neighborhood with a warm local culture and a big community of students and young working people. Graça is home to the highest point in Lisbon, the Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte viewpoint, from where you’ll have a panoramic view of the city that will take your breath away - especially at sunset! My favorite viewpoint in this area is Miradouro de Santa Graça, which is not quite as high, but offers an amazing view of central Lisbon and the beautiful Castelo de Sao Jorge. You can spend an entire day in Graça. During the day, you can walk around the historic streets, visit a few cafes and admire the colorful street art, then head up to one of the viewpoints to catch the sunset, and then experience the vibrant nightlife in Graça centered around Lisbon’s famous fado music. A great way to kickstart your trip to Lisbon!

Dine Next To The Circus

Chapitô is a non-profit cultural organization that supports really cool features like a circus school and performing arts classes for dancing, singing, painting and writing. Chapitô is an incredible initiative that makes a big difference in the lives of young, budding performing artists in Lisbon. They invite the public to attend their performances and to visit the adjoining restaurant, Chapitô à Mesa. The restaurant is located in the shadow of the Castelo de Sao Jorge, offering a magical view of the city. The food here is incredible and I strongly recommend coming here for dinner at least once. With mains starting around 18€, prices are on the higher end, but if you want to have a special dining experience, it’s definitely worth paying a bit more. The chef combines different styles of Portuguese cooking in a unique, modern-day form of cuisine, and the space itself is beautiful - both indoors and outdoors. Everything is so attractive you won’t know which way to look! Keep an eye out for upcoming events at Chapitô to make sure you don’t miss out on any interesting shows like live music events or theater performances.

Hang Out In The Trade Center

Terreiro do Paço, or Praça do Comércio, is one of Lisbon’s most famous historic attractions. This historic square with its 18th century architecture is built on the site where the old Royal Palace used to be before it was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 that took down most of the city’s buildings. The square was initially used as a commerce center where traders would come together to sell all sorts of fresh produce like fish, eggs and vegetables. Although it’s not used for this purpose anymore, the heritage remains in the name: “Commerce Square”. Nowadays this is one of the coolest places in Lisbon at night, with events like music shows, live-streamed sport games and other art performances. There’s always some sort of social event going on here, almost always accompanied by live music and street performers. You won’t find a more energetic place at night! This square is also just a stone’s throw away from Lisbon’s main shopping street, Rua Santa Augusta.

Party With Sardines

The annual St Anthony Festival is probably one of the most unusual events in Lisbon. Also known as the Lisbon Sardine Festival, this one-of-a-kind event is a yearly celebration in memory of St Anthony, who is known in Portugal as the ‘saint of matchmaking’. The festival, taking place in June every year, has become synonym with sardines. It might be a strange combination, and there are so many legends as to how the sardines came to be the center point of the celebrations, but if you’re going to be in Lisbon during this time, prepare to be eating a lot of fish. Summer is an incredible time to be visiting Lisbon, and this festival is only one of a handful of cultural celebrations that take place during the summer months. There are street parties that take place all over the city and locals are super welcoming to visitors to join in on the festivities. Other cool summer activities are outdoor movie screenings, street performers and side-walk dancing lessons. You definitely won’t run out of interesting things to do in Lisbon!

Experience Fado Music

Fado is a traditional style of folk music that is especially popular in Lisbon. Fado music is relaxing and melancholic, usually led by guitars and mandolins and accompanied by a singer. The lyrics often relate to darker subjects like death and sadness, so don’t be surprised if it brings out the nostalgia in you! This is something really special to Portugal and should be at the top of your list of alternative things to do in Lisbon. Like I mentioned earlier, Graça is a great place to be introduced to this music since it actually originated in this neighborhood, but there are many other places in Lisbon to experience fado. The Alfama district also has a rich history of fado music and many of the best fado venues are still in this area. You can also visit the Fado Museum in Alfama if you want to learn more about the history of this cultural phenomenon. Parreirinha de Alfama is a really cool fado restaurant located in an alley just off Largo do Chafariz de Dentro. This atmospheric hideout perfectly encompasses the haunting vibe of fado, plus they have amazing food - a must-visit place in Lisbon!

Visit The Puppet Museum

The Museu da Marioneta, or Puppet Museum, is Portugal’s first (and only) museum entirely dedicated to marionette puppetry. Europe has no shortage of historic museums and contemporary art galleries, but if you’re looking for something a bit more unusual, Lisbon’s Marionette Museum will be an interesting visit. If you can stomach the spooky faces of the countless historic marionette puppets on display, you’ll find that it’s actually a really fascinating form of performance art. Visitors can tour the museum to get a good look at all the exhibited puppets as well as a behind-the-scenes peek at the life of a puppet master. The marionettes on display are mostly from Portugal, but the museum also features international pieces as well as a collection of cultural masks from all over the world. The museum is located in Rua Esperanca in the Alfama district and is open every day except Mondays. Admission for adults is €5.00 and €3.00 for children between the age of 6-14.

Go Wine Tasting

Portugal has some of the best wine in Europe. Although areas like Porto are generally better known for wine experiences in Portugal, Lisbon shouldn’t be overlooked in this regard. The Lisboa wine region (previously known as Estremadura) is home to a variety of styles and qualities. There are a number of private wine estates in this area, but the larger scale producers are to be thanked for Lisbon’s popular vinho da mesa, a relatively inexpensive blend of local wine. The main white grapes in the Lisboa region are Arinto, Fernão Pires, Malvasia, Seara-Nova and Vital, and the main red grapes are Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Castelão, Tinta Miúda, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira (keep this nearby to impress your fellow wine-tasters!). The Lisbon Winery is a wine bar and tasting center in Bairro Alto, serving a premium selection of local wines. Their Portuguese wine tastings, featuring wines from local small-scale producers along with artisanal cheeses and charcuterie, have proven very popular among both locals and tourists. The premium tasting can be booked online at €65 per person. Before you leave the city, don’t forget to pick up a few bottles of your favorite local wines in one of Alfama’s many affordable wine shops!

Visit The Most Western Point In Europe

This activity will take you outside the borders of Lisbon, but the hour’s journey will be well worth it once you arrive at the destination. Cabo da Roca is the most western point on the European continent and is really one of Portugal’s most beautiful natural sites. About 40 kilometers from the center of Lisbon, Cabo da Roca is perfect for a day trip. The coastline is a mixture of sandy beaches and rocky cliffs, which make for incredible photo opportunities. There is a 4-hour long hike that starts at Cabo da Roca, described as the place where the land ends and the sea begin. The hike will lead you along the wild Ursa Beach - which is considered as one the most beautiful untouched beaches in the world - and continue along the cliffs. If you visit Cabo da Roca, you can get a certificate to prove you were standing at the edge of the European continent, in case the memory in itself isn’t enough. There are buses leaving from Lisbon to Cabo da Roca and back again throughout the day.