Baixa is the center of tourist Lisbon and one of the oldest parts of the city, although you wouldn’t know that by looking at it! Baixa was totally destroyed by the infamous 1775 earthquake (now everything is earthquake-safe!) and rebuilt under the direction of the 1st Marquis of Pombal, who insisted that Baixa was rebuilt in a modern style, with wide boulevards and many public squares. Very much in a Parisian style!
Baixa is flanked on both sides by the hilly neighborhoods of Alfama and Chiado, but Baixa is completely flat. Due to its flatness, central location, and accessibility, Baixa is a great neighborhood in which to stay in Lisbon, and where I most often stay (at the Hotel Avenida Palace (info below))! Whether you are staying in Baixa or just passing through for sightseeing, it has a couple of worthwhile sites and lots of shopping. Plan to spend at least an hour in Baixa. Since Baixa is small and flat, sightseeing is easier than in other neighborhoods. However, watch your wallet. Unfortunately, pickpockets and “beggars” congregate in this area to try to get money from unsuspecting tourists.
The most impressive site in Baixa is the Praça do Comércio, a grand park located on the Tagus river. The Praça do Comércio is grand, yellow, and really makes you think that you are in Portugal! I would start your Baixa tour by walking to the Praça do Comércio (its a straight shot from Hotel Avenida Palace to the water) and you cannot miss it – just watch out for the old and modern trams zipping by!
When you reach the Praça do Comércio, take it all in. This was the former location of the Royal Palace (until it was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake). The statute in the middle is of King José 1, who is crushing snakes in his path…yuck.
Be sure to walk to the water to glimpse the 25 de Abril Bridge – the bridge that looks A LOT like the San Francisco bridge. It was actually built by the American Bridge Company, the same company that built the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (not the Golden Gate).
After taking all of the pictures (Praça do Comércio is terribly photogenic), stop in for an introductory wine tasting at the Wines of Portugal shop, on the right hand side of the Praça do Comércio when facing the water. You can taste by the glass for as little as .50 euro cent a tasting!
When you have had enough of Praça do Comércio, walk away from the water into town. There is a lot of shopping in this area, including local shops, international brands, and tourist shops. On your walk, be sure to pass by the Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon’s most famous elevator that also is very reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower! Elevador de Santa Justa is over 100 years old and still acts as a working elevator to connect Baixa with Chiado, particularly Carmo Square. You can ride the Elevador de Santa Justa like any other transportation, but lines are often long in the Summer, as its popular with tourists!
Baixa is also home to three main squares: Rossio Square, Restauradores Square and Praça do Figueira. My favorite is Rossio Square, which is home to one of Lisbons numbeous train stations, Rossio Station (to the far left of the square when facing away from the water). Pro tip – to get between Baixa and Chiado, use the free escalator in Rossio Station (although there are still some steps involved…).
In addition to being home to the train station, Rossio Square is one of Lisbon’s liveliest squares and is ringed by cafes and shops. Worth noting are Café Nicola, an old school Art Deco cafe, and A Ginginha, which is Lisbon’s most famous ginginha shop in the far right hand corner Rossio Square (near the McDonald’s). The monument in the middle of the square its topped by Dom Pedro IV, and the fancy columned building is the national theatre. Also, check out the wave pattern in the coblestones, which has inspired similar sidewalks all the way to Brazil! Praça do Figueira and Restauradores Square are similar to Rossio square!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hotel Palace Avenida: R. 1º de Dezembro 123, 1200-359. T: +351 21 321 8100. E: reservas@Lisboa, Portugal. We stayed here in March and are staying here again in August before our wedding. The hotel is a tiny bit dated but the service is excellent and more than makes up for the datedness. Tip – book directly with the hotel. We booked directly with the hotel and were rewarded with an upgrade, strawberries, chocolate, and complimentary sparkling wine!
Wines of Portugal: Terreiro do Paco 1100-148, Sala Ogival, Lisbon, Portugal. T. +351 21 342 0690. Open Monday – Saturday 11:00 – 19:00. Free entry. Tastings start at 50 euro cent a taste.
A Ginginha: Largo São Domingos 8, 1100-201 Lisboa, Portugal. Open daily 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. No reservations. A Ginginha is truly a hole in the wall and there are no seats. Shots must be drank standing outside. Full bottles sold to go. There are a couple other ginginja shops near A Ginginga if it’s too crowded.
Elevador do Santa Justa: Open 7:00 – 23:00. €2,80/person. There is often a line, and you should really only take it one way. The top viewing platform is accessible for about half of the cost of actually riding the elevator.
ON A BUDGET
Baixa has a variety of food and lodging at all price points. Look around and you are certain to find something in your price range. Visits to all of the squares are free and ginginja at A Ginginha is only €1,65/serving.