The best independent guide to Lisbon
The best independent guide to Lisbon
The Baixa district is the heart of Lisbon and comprises of magnificent plazas, grand avenues and grand Pombaline architecture. The district is popular with tourists, as contained within Baixa are many of Lisbon’s iconic tourist attractions, along with an extensive selection of restaurants, shops and hotels.
The history of Baixa has not always been so illustrious, as on the 1st November 1755, one of the world’s most powerful earthquakes devasted the district and killed thousands. The rebuilding of Lisbon was charged 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 entirety of Baixa were reconstructed in a neoclassical style (referred to Pombaline architecture) and most importantly, incorporated the earliest examples of earthquake-resistant architecture.
Today, Baixa’s avenues and plazas are crowded with Portuguese and tourists, and there is a lively and vibrant atmosphere about the district.
This article will provide an introduction to the Baixa district and includes a tour (with map), details of the major sights, and useful tourist information.
Related articles: 3 days in Lisbon – The Alfama district – The Belem district
Insider tip: The 24hour public transport ticket (€6.00) includes the Ascensor da Glória, Elevador de Santa Justa and all metro, trams and buses. This ticket is exceptional value when exploring Baixa, and is purchased from any metro station.
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 (1)
The tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade (3) is Lisbon’s fashionable shopping street, lined with exclusive stores, lifestyle boutiques and designer hotels. boutique shops 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 250m long) to the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara (6), one of the best viewpoints of central Baixa.
On the way back to central Baixa you will pass the bland exterior of the Igreja de São Roque (7), which gives no indication of the lavishly gilded altars and beautiful religious art contained within. The route downhill follows the Calçada do Duque, a series of steps that offer scenic views, and passes Rossio train station before reaching Rossio plaza.
The scenic views while walking down the Calçada do Duque
Rossio (8) is considered as the heart of Lisbon, and is a favourite with tourists and locals alike. There are wavy pattern stone cobbles, grand statues 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 sombre Igreja de São Domingos (10) was devasted by fire in 1959, and the restoration incorporates the fire-damaged ruins. A side street leads from the church to the Praça do Martim Moniz (11), a culturally diverse section of the city. Heading south enters the Praça Figueira (12), which up until the 1960s was a huge covered market but today is a hub for public transport.
The ruins of the Convento do Carmo
The Rua Augusta (13) is one of Baixa’s prominent avenues and is lined with elegant buildings and tourist-focused shops and restaurants. Partway down the Rua Augusta is the Elevador de Santa Justa (14), an industrial age lift, that transports passengers up 45 metres to the Largo do Carmo.
Note: If the Elevador de Santa Justa has long queues it probably better to miss stages 15 and 16, as it is a demanding uphill walk to the Largo do Carmo.
The Largo do Carmo (15) is a delightful and peaceful plaza, which is overlooked by the ruins of the Convento do Carmo, a lasting memorial to the 1755 earthquake. From the Largo do Carmo it is a downhill walk to the popular shopping street of Rua Garrett (16), with its independent shops and traditional cafes. Continuing downhill leads back 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. On the opposite side of the arch is the Praça do Comércio (19), the traditional trading and commercial 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 west 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/metro station, where the metro can take you back to your accommodation. Before heading back, we would suggest visiting the Timeout Food Market (22) for lunch.
A good way to discover Baixa and meet fellow travellers 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 includes:
Annoyance: While wandering the streets of Baixa, you will be likely approached by people selling drugs. Firmly tell them “no” and they will leave you – the police are unable to do anything as the “drugs” are just crushed (legal) herbs and seeds.
Money saving tip: As Baixa is a popular tourist district, 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, and 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 and there are good connections to 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.
Related articles: Airport to central Lisbon – Alfama guide
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. A trendy hang out is the Rooftop Bar at the Hotel Mundial.
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 try 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 neo-classical Elevador de 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. At the top of the lift is an observation platform, which offers great views over Baixa.
Related article: Elevador de Santa Justa
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.
Related article: Rossio.
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.
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