The original, independent guide to Lisbon
The Baixa district is the heart of Lisbon and comprises of magnificent plazas, grand avenues and boutique shopping boulevards. 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 many excellent hotels. Baixa has a lively and vibrant atmosphere, and is where most tourists should start 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 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 suggested half day itinerary and other useful tourist advice.
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 considered as the central, downtown area Lisbon. The district extends from the banks of the Tejo Estuary in the south, up to the Marquis de Pombal Square in the north and is positioned between the two hills of the Alfama and Chiado districts. For tourists, there are four main plazas:
• Praça do Comércio
• Praça dom Pedro IV (Rossio)
• Praça dos Restauradores
• Praça Figueira
While there are two main avenues:
• Avenida da Liberdade
• Rua Augusta
The nightlife of Baixa is primarily focused around late meals, casual drinking or performances in the theatres. The street Rua das Portas de Santo Antão is a very popular dining area with many great, touristy restaurants which stay open late into the night.
The open-air cafes and restaurants of Rua August, Rossio and Baixa tend to close around 11pm. For the banging late nights, which Lisbon is famed for, head west to Bairro Alto district (which closes at 2am) and then Cais do Sodre (which continues until sunrise). Baixa is a good location for family evening meals and does not have a rowdy or chaotic atmosphere, as with some other districts.
Here is our suggested route for a half day tour of the Baixa district, included are GPS coordinates for the major (or difficult to find) sights. The route covers 3km but it is all downhill as it starts from the top of the Marquis de Pombal hill.
• Catch the Metro to the Marquis de Pombal square (blue or yellow line)
• The Park Eduardo VII and Marquis de Pombal Square – 20minutes (GPS: 38.72573, -9.15050)
• The tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade, with the designer shops and boutiques - 30minutes walk
• The Praça Dos Restauradores with the Art-Deco Edan theatre and the pink Palácio Foz- 20 minutes
• Ride the Gloria funicular up to the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint – 3O minutes (GPS: 38.71612, -9.14267)
• Rossio square, with Rossio station, Dona Maria II Theatre and the fire ravaged São Domingos Church – 20 minutes
• Have a glass of Ginja at the little Ginjinha bar – 20 minutes (GPS: 38.71471, -9.13906)
• Praça Figueira – 10 minutes
• Ride in the Elevador Santa Justa and viewing platform – 30 min (GPS 38.71207, -9.13933)
• Largo da Carmo and Carmo Church – 30 min (technically not part of Baixa but next to the Santa Justa lift) (GPS 38.71189, -9.14074)
• Rua Augusta (and a coffee) – 30 minutes
• Arch do Rua Augusta viewpoint – 20 minutes (GPS: 38.70842,-9.13677)
• Praça do Comércio – 20 minutes
• Relaxing walk along the Ribeira das Naus and the banks of the Tejo Estuary to Cais do Sodre (GPS: 38.70628,-9.13856)
• Have lunch or dinner in the Time Out Lisboa Market (again not Baixa but a great place to end a tour!) (GPS: 38.70687, -9.14581)
Internet Tip: For very detailed maps of Lisbon (and Portugal) try OpenStreetmap.org, which is free and open source: http://www.openstreetmap.org
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.
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 attraction of 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.
Drinking a small glass of the cherry liquor called Ginja from the Ginjinha bar. The small bar is loved by the Portuguese as it is the traditional home of the sweet drink. 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. For a guide to the Ginjinha bar please click here.
The Ginjinha bar in Baixa
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.