The original, independent guide to Lisbon
The Baixa district is the heart of Lisbon and comprises of magnificent plazas, wide avenues and grand Pombaline architecture. The district is popular with tourists, as contained within Baixa are many of Lisbon’s major tourist attractions, along with a huge variety of restaurants and outstanding hotels. Baixa has a lively and vibrant atmosphere, and is where most tourists should begin their tour of Lisbon.
Baixa has not always been so magnificent, on the 11th November 1755, one of the world’s strongest recorded earthquakes devastated the district and, along with the massive Tsunami, killed thousands. The rebuilding of the ruined district was assigned to the Marquis of Pombal, who disregarded the original city layout of narrow streets, and created the first city plan that followed a grid pattern.
The buildings of Baixa were constructed in a magnificent neoclassical style (referred to Pombaline) but more importantly, incorporated the earliest examples of earthquake resistant architecture.
Today, the avenues and plazas are crowded with Portuguese shoppers and tourists, and there is a real prosperous buzz about the district. There is a lot to see and do in Baixa, but often the main attraction is just to wander around the impressive avenues and plazas, and embrace the relaxed café culture of Portugal.
This guide will provide an introduction to Baixa and includes details of the major sights, a tour and tourist advice.
Related articles: 3 days in Lisbon – The Alfama district – The Belem district
The following is our suggested tour which covers the highlights and hidden gems of the Baixa district. This tour could be raced through in two hours, but we would recommend four to five hours to cover the seven-kilometre route. An interactive map of the tour is shown below:
The tour begins at the Praça Marquês de Pombal (1), which is conveniently situated on both the blue and yellow metro lines. It is fitting to start a tour of Baixa at the statue of the Marquês de Pombal, who was responsible for the rebuilding of Baixa after the devasting 1755 earthquake. Today the Praça Marquês de Pombal is a busy intersection of Lisbon’s main avenues, with the Parque Eduardo VII (2) extending up the hill. The park was named in honour of the English king, Edward VII, in his state visit in 1902.
The statue of the Marquês de Pombal
The tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade (3) is Lisbon’s fashionable shopping street, lined with exclusive stores, lifestyle boutiques and designer hotels. At the end of the Avenida da Liberdade is the Praça Dos Restauradores (4), and this plaza commemorates the independence of Portugal from the 60 years of Spanish rule in 1640. Notable features include the obelisk, the art Deco Edan theatre and the Ascensor da Glória (5). This funicular climbs a steep but short street (only 250ml long) to the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara (6) and one of the best viewpoints over central Baixa.
The bland exterior of the Igreja de São Roque (7) gives no indication of the lavish gild altars and beautiful religious art contained within. The route heads downhill along the Calçada do Duque, a series of steps that offer scenic views and passes Rossio train station before reaching Rossio (8).
The scenic views while walking down the Calçada do Duque
Rossio plaza is considered as the heart of Lisbon, and is a favourite with tourists and locals alike. There are wavy stone cobbles, the grand statue and fountains, relaxed cafes and a general buzz about the plaza. To the northern end of Rossio is Dona Maria II Theatre and around the corner is the A Ginjinha bar (9), which sells Ginja a traditional cherry liqueur.
The Igreja de São Domingos (10) was devasted terrible fire in 1959, and the restoration combined the fire damaged ruins with new sections. The Praça do Martim Moniz (11) contains water gardens and is a culturally diverse section of the city. Up until the 1960s the Praça Figueira (12) was the setting for Lisbon’s covered market, and today is a hub for public transport, with views looking up to the castle.
The ruins of the Convento do Carmo
The Rua Augusta (13) is one of Baixa’s prominent avenues, extending from Rossio to the Praça do Comércio, and is lined with grand buildings and tourist focused shops. We not walking the length of the Rua Augusta, as down a side street on the right is one of Lisbon’s curiosities; the Elevador de Santa Justa (14). This lift is an industrial age marvel, when steel and iron were used as an art form, and transports passengers up the 45 metres to the Largo da Carmo (15). Overlooking the Largo da Carmo are the ruins of the Convento do Carmo, a lasting memorial to the devastation of the 1755 earthquake.
Down the hill is the Rua Garrett (16) a popular shopping street, and this weaves down to the Rua Augusta. At the southern end of the Rua Augusta is the magnificent Arch do Rua Augusta (18), and there is a viewing platform at the top of the tower. The Praça do Comércio (19) was the traditional trading centre of Lisbon, and today is the most impressive of all of Lisbon’s plazas.
There is a pleasant riverside walk, known as the Ribeira das Naus (20), which follows the banks of the Tejo Estuary to the Cais do Sodre district. The path ends at the Jardim de Roque Gameiro (21), and this is next to the Cais do Sodre train station where there is a metro back to your accommodation. Before heading back, we would suggest visiting the Timeout Food Market (22) for lunch.
A good way to discover the Baixa district is to join an organised tour. We have worked with Getyourguide for the previous six years and a section of their best tours of Baixa include:
Annoyance: While wandering the streets of Baixa tourists will be likely approached by people selling drugs. Firmly tell them no and they will go away – the police are unable to do anything as the “drugs” are just crushed (legal) herbs and seeds.
Money saving tip: Baixa is a tourist district, therefore all meals will be more expensive, especially at restaurants overlooking the plazas or with waiters stood on the street. For good value food head into the food court in the Armazéns do Chiado shopping centre (GPS: 38.71099, -9.13942) or the Pingo Doce supermarket (GPS: 38.713811, -9.140286).
The Baixa district is at the centre of Lisbon, from the district it is easy to travel to almost every other area of the city. The train to Sintra departs from Rossio station, while the tram to Belem departs from Praça do Comércio the tram and the bus to/from the airport passes through Rossio square.
From Baixa it is just a short walk east to the historic Alfama district and the social nightlife of Bairro Alto is just to the west. Baixa has an extensive range of restaurants, shops and bars – and in our opinion is the best place to be based within Lisbon.
The best viewpoint in the Baixa district is the wonderful view from the top of the Arco da Rua Augusta. This magnificent arch connects the Rua Augusta Street with the Praça do Comércio. From the vantage point of the arch there are panoramic views across the plaza, the Tejo Estuary, the Rua Augusta and up to the castle.
During your visit to the Baixa district you should not trying a glass of Ginja (a cherry liquor) from the traditional home of the drink, the “A Ginjinha” bar. The older Portuguese generation often reminisce about Ginja as it was commonly given as a “medicinal cure” for minor children ailments and illnesses. There is no better way to break up a day of sightseeing than with a glass of Ginja and a disjointed conversation with a retired Portuguese person.
Related articles: The A Ginjinha bar
The Praça do Comércio is the grandest of the plazas found in the Baixa district and was historically the gateway to the city. This impressive square was where the trade from the colonies was bought and sold, while expeditions to the far reaches of the world were financed. To read more, please click here.
The neo-classical Elevador Santa Justa is an artistic marvel of the industrial age. The lift transports visitors up one of the steepest hills in Lisbon, to the ruins of the Carmo Church, to read more please click here.
The Praça Dom Pedro IV is commonly referred to as Rossio and is the heart of Lisbon. Rossio is always a hive of activity and is a great place to watch the capital from one of the cafes that surround the square. To read more please click here.
The haunting ruins of the Igreja do Carmo are a permeant reminder to the horrendous devastation of the 1755 earthquake. Inside the Carmo Church is a small archaeological museum. To read more about the Carmo Church, Carmo Church, please click here.
The Praça Dos Restauradores is one of Lisbon’s most varied squares, which combines the 19th century pink Foz Palace with the Art Deco Eden Theatre and the Gloria funicular. Standing at the centre of the square is an obelisk that celebrates the 15th century independence from Spain.