We're ardent supporters of the concept that travel without authenticity is nothing more than Disneyland—a prefabricated, pre-determined theme park of designer experiences woefully lacking in true flavors, aromas, or spontaneity. To find fulfillment in travel, we need to stretch out off the beaten path beyond the international chains, tacky souvenir shops, and faux handicraft goods—the horrid, unfortunate final resting place of mass tourism. To do that, we’re heading to Portugal to check out some of the best neighborhoods in Lisbon, way beyond the well-trodden city center.
The Best Neighborhoods in Lisbon
Principe Real for the Trendy
When you're ready to stray from the tourist trail and beyond the colorful bars of the Bairro Alto, meander north until you run into Rua da Escola Politècnica in the upscale neighborhood of Principe Real. Start your adventure with monumental city views from the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara, and then continue on to check out swanky boutiques along the high street.
Stop for a snack or a drink at one of the kiosks in the neighborhood’s central park, Jardim do Principe Real—these little food and drink stands are one of Lisbon's cheapest secrets. Grab an espresso for a euro or a chicken sandwich for a euro more and soak up the greenery.
To your left, the cobbled streets tumble toward the Estrela district as the Golden Gate-esque Ponte 25 de Abril rises in the distance. If you decide to continue along Rua da Escola Politècnica instead, you'll soon come across the gates to the hidden and deserted Lisbon Botanical Garden, where you'll more than likely have the trees, flowers, and birds all to yourself.
Alternatively, you could spend the morning exploring the fascinating collections and exhibits of the adjacent National Museum of Science & Natural History.
Estrela and Santos for Charming Locals
Turn down any of these alleyways on the south side of Rua da Escola Politècnica, and you'll find yourself in the midst of charming red-roofed homes interrupted only by bars, cafes, eateries, and worn ribbons of mosaic staircases snaking farther to parts unknown.
If you zigzag west far enough, you should come to the relaxing Jardim de Estrela, where you can have a drink or snack and wander the gardens with the locals. Walk to the park's southern entrance and check out the Basilica de Estrela. Built in the 1780s, the eye-catching, neoclassical, baroque church is covered in ornate marble carvings.
If you've taken the day to wander this far, consider finding a restaurant in the nearby Santos neighborhood for dinner. There are dozens of fantastic options hidden along the narrow, twisting alleyways. Stop at any of the lively spots along Rua Da Esperanca, those nearby on charming Green Street, or the quieter yet fantastic joints near the intersection of Rua Poiais de São Bento and Rua de São Bento. Hop on the 28 tram to get back to the city center.
Graça for Families and Street Art
After exploring the steep, narrow, cobbled alleyways of the touristy yet historically beautiful Alfama neighborhood, head toward Graça in search of more authentic experiences. This nearby, street-art-infused neighborhood has much more of a family-friendly, local vibe than other central Lisbon areas. To get here, you can walk from the Alfama or hop off the ever-busy 28 tram.
The area provides several fantastic lookout points, which is no surprise as it’s actually the highest spot in town. Stop and have a drink at the Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte for views from St. George’s Castle all the way across the city to the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, or check out the Miradouro da Graca and wander into the sprawling Graça Convent, which was founded in 1271, next door.
Some of Lisbon’s best street art can be found in this neighborhood as well. Keep your eyes peeled; a few of these pieces are actually the works of Shepard Fairey.
Avenida da Liberdade for the Upscale Shopper
For those with a taste for the highlife, the shops, bars, and restaurants along Avenida da Liberdade, or “Avenida,” as the locals call it, should do just the trick. This is one of Lisbon’s swankiest stretches and the place to find famous international brands like Armani, Prada, and Louis Vuitton, among countless others. The long, tree-lined boulevard is also home to some of the city’s grandest architecture and a number of foreign embassies.
Spend the day window shopping and make your way from the fantastic and scenic Parque Eduardo on the north end all the way down to the Monument of the Restorers in Restauradores Square. Along the way, you’ll pass countless statues built in honor of Portuguese writers and artists.
When it’s time for a bite, check out one of the upscale seafood joints along the Avenida or head to nearby Rua São José to find a number of exceptional and cheap local establishments.
If you’re looking for a unique Portugal experience and the chance to get off the beaten path well beyond the tourists, check out our 8-day itinerary, which winds from the capital down to the sea.
For other great international destinations, dive into our full catalog of great adventures.