Anyone who’s visited Lisbon and probably every guidebook will tell you that you can’t go to Lisbon and not see the Alfama neighborhood. And they’re right. The Alfama has the deepest history. It was one of the only areas spared from the 1755 earthquake/tsunami/fire nightmare. It’s home to the oldest cathedral, the biggest castle, the best miradouros, and its tiny alleys and winding streets are a magical maze to get lost in.
But, it’s Príncipe Real that is my favorite. It may be simply because of proximity; I only have to walk up and down one hill instead of three to get there from our neighborhood of Campo de Ourique. I’m more of a grow-to-love-through-repetition kind of person than a love-at-first-sight, so in all likelihood, that’s probably why. But I think even if I had to trek all seven hills of Lisbon to get to Príncipe Real, it would still be my favorite. Or maybe I’d just take the tram.
My favorite views are walking along Rua da Escola Politècnica. As the side streets plunge down into the neighborhood of São Bento, Lisbon landmarks like the Estrela Basilica, the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Cristo Rei statue pop into view at the end of the street.
Keep walking down the street and you’ll hit Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, one of the best lookouts in Lisbon. While it’s technically in the Barrio Alto neighborhood, it’s so close by that I think it counts.
The miradouro comes alive with food vendors and live music at night, making it a great place to enjoy even after the sun has set.
Most people visit the miradouro, but don’t take the time to cross the street and see the exquisite chapel and tile work at Convento de São Pedro de Alcântara. It may look like a bit of a plain Jane from the outside, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
If you’re looking for more fine examples of azulejos, head further down Tv. Conde Soure to the Convento Dos Cardaes. The tile work in this 17th century baroque convent recounts the story of St. Teresa of Avila, crafted by well-regarded Dutch artist Jan van Oort.
The Jardim do Príncipe Real
Life in Príncipe Real seems to center around the park, the Jardim do Príncipe Real. At its core is a large cedar tree that fans into a circular shade. From here you can see people grabbing a bica from one of the Jardim’s two kiosks, or sitting down to lunch at the outdoor café under two massive mangrove-type trees.
There’s a playground, a fountain I’ve never seen running, and plenty of benches in the shade, though it seems like many people would rather stretch out on the grass and enjoy the sun. The Patriarcal Resevoir portion of Lisbon’s water museum sits under the park, which can be visited on Saturdays. The park also hosts a farmers’ market on Saturdays, with an antique and craft fair joining in on the last weekend of the month.
Because most tourists turn around at the miradouro, Príncipe Real has retained its local flavor. While I’m in the park, I pass by the older gentleman walking his dog in the evening, someone talking on the phone in Portuguese, and a salesperson still asks me, “Posso ajudar?” while I’m browsing in a shop. I love that the Jardim do Príncipe Real is full of Lisboetas enjoying the weather and good company in the evening.
If you’re looking for a real treasure, Príncipe Real is the place to shop. Besides sporting amazing views, Rua da Escola Politècnica is lined with the best antiques and boutiques in town. Whether you’re on the hunt for a collector’s item from the 1800s or a dress so fashion forward H&M won’t be selling that style until next season, you’re in the right place.
The concept stores like Entre Tanto, 21pr and the Embaixada are my favorite to browse. Even if you’re not interested in Portuguese goods, the Embaixada is worth a visit. The building was originally the Riverio da Cunha Palace, and all the rooms of this 19th century neo-Moorish palace have been beautifully restored.
Portugal is well-known for its azulejos, the beautiful painted tin-glazed ceramic tile work that adorns many homes, churches and palaces. If you want to take a piece of the art home with you, visit Solar for an amazing selection of antique tiles.
If you’ve worked up an appetite from shopping, there’s no shortage of good food along Rua da Escola Politècnica. Here’s a few of our favorites we’ve discovered along the way.
Bettina & Niccolò Corallo Chocolate & Café: We make it a point to visit the best chocolate shop wherever we go, and thanks to Bettina & Niccolò Corallo, we haven’t been deprived during our long stay in Lisbon. They sell single origin chocolate from a family plantation on the São Tomé and Príncipe islands, a former Portuguese colony in Africa. They have the best brownies and some of the creamiest chocolate sorbet we’ve ever had, made from only water, sugar, and chocolate. It’s strong on chocolate and light on sugar, so if you favor your cocoa more on the milk chocolate end, you may find it a bit bitter. If it’s too early in the morning for straight chocolate, they sell coffee and hot cocoa.
O Prego da Peixera: Translated, The Fishery’s Prego. This place is brought to you by the same group that created the popular seafood restaurant SEA ME. As all legitimate seafood restaurants in Lisbon feature a prego, or steak sandwich, as “dessert,” these guys decide to create a place that served only dessert. The traditional steak pregos on Madeira bread are delicious, as are the seafood varieties on bolo do caco.
Frangasqueira Nacional: If you’re looking for quick, delicious (and cheap!) take-out, this piri-piri barbecue chicken joint hits the spot.
The Kiosks in Jardim do Príncipe Real: Eating at the kiosks is more about the experience than the food, but it’s a great place to grab a drink, a light snack, and enjoy the surroundings.
If you’ve been to Lisbon, what’s your favorite neighborhood?