Enjoy these hidden secret places only Locals know about on your next trip to Lisbon, Portugal’s capital.
From the modern Azulejo Tile Museum to the historic Sao Domingos Church, this list of the top 10 secret things to see in Lisbon are a must go to on any trip to Lisbon. Even better, many of these landmarks are free to visit!
Read time: 10 min
Lisbon, an ancient setting, it was, as stories hint, founded by Ulysses himself. As a result, has many secret corners to still explore.
Having run bike tours here for over a decade, here is a list of our favourite top 10 secret things to see in Lisbon only locals know about.
Start your sightseeing in Portugal’s capital city now with these curious places, often missed by tourists.
Lisbon’s history is tumultuous to say the least. In addition to being attacked by mercenaries in the dark ages, destroyed by earthquake and tsunami in 1755, it suffered 30 years of 20th century dictatorship. Needless to say, it has seen a lot of action, everywhere.
Consequently, and sadly, one of the unique secret spots to see in Lisbon is where the worst pogroms of the city occurred.
1/ Top 10 Secret Things to see in Lisbon – Igreja Sao Domingos Church
Coming upon the slightly bland façade of this Baroque church, does not give hint to what lies behind its doors. In the first place, the site itself saw horror when in 1506, its drought stricken congregation, inflamed by its priests, beat to death converted Jewish Christian members over perceived ridicule. As a result, this led to several days of murderous rage, in which 1000 to 4000 converted Jewish people were brutally killed without reason in what is called the Easter Slaughter.
Thus, call it retribution by the heavens, step inside this holy space and be amazed at what you will find.
Curious Lisbon Sights only Residents Know – Sao Domingos Church
Surviving the murder scandal, the 1755 earthquake, it was finally scorched in a violent consuming fire in 1959. Rather than tear down this medieval church it was rebuilt, leaving the broken pillars and shattered structure as is. No adornments, all were burnt. It certainly is a macabre testimony to what happened there.
A Phoenix rising.
*Interestingly, see the Massacre memorial outside the church. It proclaims, Lisbon a City of Tolerance, and marks this dark day in its history. Interestingly, this is a very lively area, and has been historically, for the colourful West African community, who gather here, socializing and selling the Cola nut. A potent nut full of caffeine.
Lisbon’s Hidden Church Secrets
2 / Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira
If shopping in the Baixa / Comercio district, you will walk by one of the top 10 secret things to see in Lisbon, without knowing. As a result of the great earthquake, when the Marques da Pombal, was given the task of rebuilding Lisbon, he permitted churches to rebuild. However, strings attached, they could only do so if fitting into his plan of the city. Therefore, all must conform to the uniformity of all structures on the street. Thus, not emphasizing their glory (over the State – him). Hence, stroll past the completely innocuous doorway of Our lady of the Olive Grove at Rua de São Julião, 140 and you will miss the sumptuous tiled interior of this pretty little chapel built in 1762!
3 / Church of Sao Roque
Another bland non descript exterior is that of Church of Sao Roque (Largo Trindade Coelho, Bairro Alto). However, if you aren’t a resident, you may not realize it hides one of Lisbon’s top secret things to see, having some of the most expensive and lavish religious art in Europe. The chapels are decorated in precious stones and outstanding mosaics and of course, a lot, I mean a lot, of Gold. In addition, the painted wooden panel roof is exquisite.
The extravagant royal Chapel of St. John the Baptist of 1742, took five years and is made of gold, ivory, lapis lazuli and agate.
4 / Intriguing Spots to Enjoy
While you are up here and if looking for a great spot to get a drink, Pavilhão Chinês “Chinese Pavilion” is one of our favourites (Rua Dom Pedro V / (5 minutes from Sao Roque church). It will be one of yours too if you love a curio driven atmosphere.
In face, now more a museum than a bar, be amazed by this crazy and eclectic collection of stuff surrounding you.
It’s a fun way to enjoy these secret spots in Lisbon!
5 / Secret Cities Underground
Don’t forget that there is a whole mysterious city below your feet. Those of the Romans!
Stroll to Rua dos Correeiros and through a nondescript window you can see the beautiful remains of a Roman home. Found when works on the Millennium Bank were done in the 1990s, the Archaeological Centre here also have salting tanks, for Garum (rotting fish gut paste, a Roman delicacy) as well as an Iron age ceramic furnace. Open daily. In fact, once a year, the city also opens the sewer nearby to visit this underground city!
Top Things to see in Lisbon only Locals know about – Retro Shopping
Continuing on down this street, come out at Rua da Conceição, which has a wonderful collection of something Lisbon excels at, historic little shops and boutiques. Although they may be overshadowed by modern brand stores they are still beloved by residents. At the end of the road here is lovely Retrosaria Bijou Haberdashery boutique in a soft robin’s egg blue Art Nouveau store.
These crazy little lojas for everything imaginable are jewels to seek out with their turn of the century architecture, wares and sense of pride.
Here are a few Lisbonites love to visit and so will you.
A couple of our favourites are in or near the Praça da Figueira square right in Lisbon’s downtown Baixa.
6 / The Quaint Doll Hospital
This Doll Hospital at #7, a unique place known to local residents but hidden from tourists. A spot that has been the elixir of youth for many a Portuguese doll since the 1800s. Carefully and loving restored, Barbies to ceramic heirlooms, the work of bringing these toys back to life goes on daily here. Their museum is delightful.
7 / Seeds & Salted Cod! Lisbon’s Treasures
About 100m away, at the intersection of Rua do Amparo and the Praça da Figueira and which has undergone a very nice refurbishment is the Casa das Sementes Soares & Rebelo. Founded in 1935, this snappy green and white shop sells seeds. It’s retro packaging and green store front is very striking with its contrasting striped sun shade. Even if you aren’t a green thumb, you will love the look of this classy place.
Another Favourite Retro Shop
For your next secret spot to shop, go next door at Rua D. Antão de Almada to where you find the very cute Bacalhoaria Silva and Manteirgaria Silva. This dried cod, butter, fruit and butcher shop has existed here since the late 1890s, selling butter (Manteigara) from the Azores. It expanded and now boasts a beautiful delicatessen and photogenic fruit displays. Furthermore, it also sells something you might think was from the Victorian age. Underneath the stacks of dried cod, find rounded salted biscuit for long trips at sea, hardtack!
8 / Lisbon’s Best loved Secret – Confeiteria Nacional
Still one more lovely local secret stop is the Confeiteria Nacional (#18B) on the corner of the Praca da Figueira. It is Lisbon’s oldest pastry Loja (shop). Founded in 1829, its delectable cakes and cookies are housed in an attractive store with curved windows and shapely display cases. This pastry shop was granted a royal seal by King D. Luis I in 1873, and went on to win many International baking competitions. In addition, it is credited in introducing the Bolo Rei (a Christmas fruit cake signifying a King’s crown) to Portugal,. So popular, it is now derigueur for all Portuguese to serve one during the holidays here.
Of course, theirs is the best and first!
9/ Lisbon’s Favourte Drinking hole
Retrace your steps back up the theatre strip and take a ginjinha at Ginjinha Espinheira (#8 Largo de São Domingos). Initially established in 1840 to keep ill health at bay, this Morello cherry liqueur became Lisbon’s favourite tipple. Quaintly, these tiny Ginjin shops only support the purchaser and the pourer and a tiny plastic cup costs. €1.50.
With this in mind, stand out in the street like a local and sip this potent mixture.
Your only dilemma will be to order with (com) or without (sem) the sour cherry!
It is easier to make the sun cool, than to find cherries with such virtue.
10 / Portugal’s Capital Secret Things to See – Casa do Alentejo
Head to the Casa do Alentejo (Rua das Portas de Santo Antao 58), for an old world look at Lisbon’s favourite social club. To begin with, this Moorish styled community centre, was for those from the hard working agrarian Alentjo region, as a place to relax, meet and have fun. Consequently, it features a reading room, casino, ballroom, restaurant and an art gallery.
Accordingly it still showcases some of the best talent of that area. Incidentally, the last time we visited, a men’s group singing in the distinctive Alentejano polyphonic style performed.
Venture upstairs to see tiles painted with scenes from the famous epic voyage story of Luís de Camões, Portugal’s favourite medieval poet. Also enchanting is the elaborate wooden reading room and bucolic, if not risqué, frescos in the ballroom.
Truly a hidden gem.
“By day Lisbon has a naive theatrical quality that enchants and captivates, but by night it is a fairy-tale city”Erich Maria Remarque