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Lisbon Travel Guide

A silver lining of a city.

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Lisbon is a silver lining of a city. Situated on the north bank of the River Tagus, this European capital offers neither sites nor cuisine that dazzles. (Many acclaimed restaurants serve rich, bland, disappointing food.) The delights here are subtler: picturesquely steep topography; shimmering, tiled buildings; and a rich selection of decorative arts, especially faience, painted statuary, and tilework. You see things here that you seldom find elsewhere in Europe: 200- to 400-year-old azulejos, antique tiles the like of which still clad the facades of many of Lisbon's churches and palaces; gorgeous carved wooden pieces-altarpiece fragments, santos de roca (processional figures), and frames; and beautiful old faience, frequently in blue and white, that is bolder and better-designed than its fussier contemporary counterpart. Lisbon also has a healthy number of antique silver dealers and several shops that specialize in marquetry-tables, chests, escritoires-as well as simpler, elegant furniture.

The 18th-century city center, Baixa (lower town), is flanked by the hilltop Barrio Alto (late 16th century) and Alfama (the old section and home of the Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva Foundation's fine Museu de Artes Decorativas, housed in Palácio Azurara). Four miles west along the river from the city center is Belém, the old port and today a reminder of Portugal's glorious maritime past.

Getting Around

Although Lisbon is a great walking city, its hilly terrain makes it tiring for even the most intrepid of sightseers. But public transportation abounds: trolleys, buses, elevators and funiculars, taxis (relatively inexpensive), and a metro. It is advisable to avoid driving in the city, as its maze of one-way streets and Lisboeta drivers can be more than challenging.

Lisbon Basics

Telephone Numbers: The country code for Portugal is 351; the city code is 1.
Currency: The escudo ($), pronounced shkoo-doo, is divided into 100 centavos. Amounts are expressed with the escudo sign before the centavos (100 escudos=100$00).
Current Exchange Rate: 175$40=U.S.$1
Best Time To Visit: May through September. Summer is peak tourist time; days are sunny and quite hot. The rainy season begins in October and continues through winter.
Time Difference: Five hours ahead of EST.
Airlines Served By: Continental Airlines (800-231-0856), Delta Airlines (800-241-4141), TAP Air Portugal (800-221-7370), and TWA (800-892-4141).
U.S. Gateways: New York.
Flight Time: Seven hours.
Cab from Airport: to Downtown $7.
Airport Car Rental: Auto Jardim, Avis, Eurodollar, Guérin, and Hertz.
Taxis: Metered taxis can be hailed on street.
Taxi Tipping: 10 percent.
Taxes: Non-European Union residents are exempt from the VAT if they remain in Portugal less than 90 days after purchases
Restaurant Tipping: Ten percent, if service is not included.
Remember That: The Portuguese are very polite. Address people as senhor or senhora; dress with decorum, especially when visiting churches (arms and legs should be covered).
Take With You: Eyewitness Travel Guide, Lisbon (1997), DK Publishing, Inc., 95 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016; 212-213-4800.
Further Information: Portuguese National Tourist Office, 590 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10036; 800-767-8842; 212-354-4403.


Almost every antiques store in Lisbon will bargain, but only in a respectable, restrained, and polite way, which is how Lisboetas try to conduct themselves in all circumstances. If you do not speak Portuguese, try French (since it used to be taught as a second language in the schools it may be more useful than English). After admiring a piece for a suitable amount of time, smile widely and politely ask for a good price. It works more often than not: You might get 10 percent off in the blue-chip shops (such as those owned by Rui Quintela), and as much as 25 percent in one of the nifty "junktique" shops.

Although you'll find antiguidades in every part of town, the city's most interesting stores are on or near two streets, Rua da Escola Politécnica and Rua de São Bento. Running roughly parallel about eight blocks apart, the streets are bookends to the market: Rua da Escola Politécnica is the venerable avenue that is home to the city's best-and most expensive-establishments; Rua de São Bento is the upstart: less snobbish, with a vitality and some surprisingly good finds among its uneven offerings that can, in some categories, rival its rival.

Listed below are the best of both streets.

The Old Line
Begin near the top of Rua da Escola Politécnica and plan to spend the day walking downhill in the direction of the River Tagus. (This street changes names four times but it's all one long, downhill curve.) First stop: Ferrolho, just off Rua da Escola Politécnica on Rua Nova de São Mamede. In this shop, with its wide variety of stock and great range of prices, you are as likely to find carved wooden wall panels from India as handsome silver and crystal cruets from northern Portugal, or a tea-shipping chest from England. Rua Nova de São Mamede 6; 396-9221. $

Turning onto Rua da Escola Politécnica, walk just a couple of blocks to Manuel Henriques de Carvalho, in business since 1856. Musty and packed full, it carries a collection of azulejos from as early as the 17th century (prices start at $135), along with old faience, chandeliers and sconces, and accent pieces such as pedestals. If you want to see more tiles, ask to look through the dusty boxes in the back room. Rua da Escola Politécnica 97; 396-2816. $

For a coffee and pastry stop, check out Confeitaria Cister, a great pastelaria where most every table is occupied and the air is thick with smoke and conversation. With marble floors, green enamel tables, and a massive wooden-and-glass bar, Cister caters to students and professors from the nearby university, neighborhood business people, and gossipy old ladies whose faces fold into a thousand creases. Rua da Escola Politécnica 107; 396-2413. $

Farther down, at the corner of Rua da Imprensa Nacional, the Casa dos Tapetes de Arraiolos, one of the main producers of traditional Portuguese needlepoint rugs, has its shop. These cheerful wool rugs, although not as fine as those that are made by the Espírito Santo Silva Foundation, are antiques in the making: Stitched by hand, as they've been for centuries, they're bright and bold and come in two stitch sizes: a three by five-foot rug in gros point is approximately $214; in petit point, $385. "They last forever," says the store manager-and can be repaired at the factory in Arraiolos if they don't. Rua da Imprensa Nacional 116; 396-3354.

A couple of blocks down, at Intermobília, four dealers (including Rui Quintela, who has two stores in town and spends most of his time traveling in search of interesting pieces) share a large, eclectic shop that carries antique toys, wood altarpiece carvings, primitive furniture, and 19th-century Portuguese and Spanish faience. Rua da Escola Politécnica 39; 342-4964.

At Príncipe Real, a shop that caters to the royal houses of Spain, England, Sweden, and Morocco, you can custom-order fine table and bed linens, or choose from the stock. Sheet sets in the finest linen begin at $1,000. And those, explains owner Victor Castro (who runs the business with his 84-year-old mother), are what Michael Douglas ordered three sets of. He also just filled a custom order for Princess Caroline of Monaco; one complete bedset that took three months to hand-embroider. Rua da Escola Politécnica 12-14; 346-5945. $

Continue along Rua da Escola Politécnica (which becomes Rua Dom Pedro V) to Solar, the best-known azulejo dealer in the city. Tiles are categorized by century, from the delicate tracery of the 16th century to the more saturated, bold designs of the 19th, to Nouveau and Deco offerings from the early 20th century. Rua Dom Pedro V 68-70; 346-5522. (Solar also has a branch in New York City: 306 East 61st Street; 212-755-2403.) $

Walk downhill for about 10 blocks and you'll see the Rua Garrett on the left. This short street is the heart of the fashionable Chiado district (adjoining Baixa and Bairro Alto), where new designer boutiques rub shoulders with old Lisboan establishments such as Parisemlisboa, a grand emporium of household linens, lace, and fabric (Rua Garrett 77; 346-8885), and Ourivesaria Aliança, one of the city's oldest silver dealers (Rua Garrett 50; 342-3419). Ask to be escorted into the back rooms, where most of the antique pieces are kept. $

Back on your original route (now called Rua da Misericórdia), walk on until the street name changes one last time, to the Rua do Alecrim, near the river. Though Lisbon isn't strong in modern housewares, Cristina Vilas' little shop, Cutipol (Rua do Alecrim 113-115; 322-5076), offers well-designed contemporary Portuguese cutlery and other, not necessarily Portuguese, tableware. There are also several old print and bookstores along this stretch that are fun to browse through, but the real find is A.M. Salgueiro Baptista, a restrained, elegant shop that carries fine furniture (tables, desks, chests of drawers) and faience. You may even find Oriental rugs. Rua do Alecrim 87-89; 346-2069. $

Also worth visiting in Chiado is Antonio P. da Silva's Silva Joalheiros-Prateiros (Praça Luís de Camões 40-41; 342-2728), which has mostly Portuguese top-of-the-line silver pieces. (Be aware that except for blue-chip shops such as this one, many antiques dealers don't know precisely what they are selling, especially when it comes to foreign merchandise.)

For contemporary and reproduction-antique Portuguese tiles, there is only one producer in Lisbon that's currently manufacturing tasteful, reasonably priced ceramic material-the 150-year-old Viúva Lamego. All tiles are hand-painted. The company's fine work can be seen in Lisbon's metro stations-more than 90 percent of them have been tiled by Viúva Lamego. Try their Chiado outlet, at Calçada do Sacramento 29 (346-9692). One good choice: Viúva Lamego's high-quality biscuit tiles at prices starting as low as $2 apiece for classic cobalt-blue designs.

The Upstart
There are so many shops crowded onto either side of the Rua de São Bento that it can take almost as long as the multimonikered trek down Rua da Escola Politécnica. Have a cab drop you off near the top of São Bento-a few blocks down from the Largo do Rato-where the shops begin. Some are simply terrific junk shops; others are respectable but undistinguished. One exception is Benedictus, a small shop specializing in rare porcelains and ceramics; it also carries a selection of wood-inlay pieces: small tables, mirrors, pedestals. Rua de São Bento 297-A; 397-0329.

Next must-stop stop: Arruda, which carries richly carved mahogany Portuguese and Spanish furniture, a nice collection of 18th- and 19th-century faience, and some well-chosen accent pieces. Rua de São Bento 358; 395-5488.

396 S. Bento, owned by Rui Quintela, carries nothing but wood pieces: fantastically carved whole and fragmented altarpieces, pedestals, nine-foot-tall fluted columns, wall panels, angels, sconces, and meticulously detailed model boats. This shop, larger than most on the street, is easy to get lost in-and hard to resist. The prices are good, and somewhat flexible. (Be sure to ascertain how greatly a piece has been restored: Overrestoration is the great danger with painted wooden pieces.) Rua de São Bento 396; 396-8254. $

For more wood carvings, wood trunks, tables, and other inlaid furniture, head to the nearby Ana Paula Terreiro, where the selection is smaller but the quality is high. Rua de São Bento 368-370; 396-2463.

At Câmara dos Pares the specialty is swords and guns from bygone eras and military medals. The store also has a nice collection of miniatures and small portraits. Rua de São Bento 438; 395-5418. $

The Third Choice
One of Lisbon's most lovely streets is the serpentine, medieval Rua Augusto Rosa, in the originally Moorish and still Casbah-like Alfama quarter. This street winds past Santo António à Sé cathedral and climbs upward toward the Museum of Decorative Arts, where it ends. In the last few years this street has acquired a large number of antiques shops, some of them great fun. M. Murteira Antiguidades, dean of this group (Rua Augusto Rosa 19; 886-3851), is known as a source for fine, although not necessarily Portuguese, wooden pieces. Ricardo Hogan Antiguidades (Rua Augusto Rosa 9; 886-8549), whose owner has a perceptive eye, offers santos de roca, other religious statuary, and bewitching faience. Françoise Baudry (Rua Augusto Rosa 4; 886-9691) displays anything from anywhere that appeals to its owner's playful taste. And the shops that have sprung up beside these are all worth poking into-you may find a bargain.


The following Fine Hotels & Resorts appear in this area:
Hotel Lapa Palace
Four Seasons Hotel The Ritz, Lisbon

Hotel Lapa Palace Built in 1870 as a villa for the Count of Valenças, the opulent Lapa Palace, in the quiet, elegant district of Lapa, was opened as a hotel in 1992 by Orient Express. With its splendid views of the River Tagus, balconies and belvederes, terraced gardens, landscaped pool, 94 carefully decorated guestrooms, and public rooms swathed in velvets and chintzes (including a banquet room with a superb ceiling by the 19th-century Portuguese bravura painter Columbano Bordero Pinheiro), the Lapa Palace is Lisbon's first luxury hotel. (The restaurant, however, could be improved upon.) Just west of the antiques shopping streets. $325-$667. Rua do Pau da Bandeira 4; 800-237-1236 or 395-0005/6; fax 395-0665.
Click here for more info

Four Seasons Hotel The Ritz, Lisbon This recently overhauled hotel (a late-fifties high-rise, previously part of the Inter-Continental chain) has always struggled with the architectural dullness of its modern tower-block premises. In 1998, however, it reopened as a Four Seasons hotel under the direction of veteran hotel manager George Cordon, who has introduced a lot of old-world charm. Among other novelties, the newly pleasant and welcoming Ritz has five airy suites (on floors six through 10) designed by the Espírito Santo Silva Foundation. Most of the 284 rooms have private balconies; many overlook the recently renovated Eduardo VII Park, north of the antiques district. $285-$2,710. Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca 88; 383-2020; fax 383-1783.
Click here for more info


Alcantara Café
For a high glamour quotient, head for this restaurant that caters to hip Lisboetas but is liked by everyone. Alcântara, set in a converted waterfront warehouse with iron columns and steel-girded ceilings, looks as if Philippe Starck collaborated with the set designer of Batman. The food—among the best in Lisbon—combines Portuguese specialties with wild-card offerings. Grilled ostrich steak, served with wild rice and sautéed potatoes and apples, was mouth-melting, as were grilled giant prawns with a vegetable mille-feuille of carrots, zucchini, and potato. $60. Rua Maria Luâsa Holstein 15; 363-7176.

If you go to one old-school, high-profile establishment, make it Tágide, and make it lunch, when light floods this airy, elegant restaurant. Ask for a table next to one of the many floor-to-ceiling windows, which will give you a view of the Tagus as well as the restaurant's beautiful blue-and- white-tile walls. Service is courtly and the food is rich. Start with the relatively austere smoked swordfish (even dishes that sound low-key, like rock bass with leeks and mushrooms, are served in butter-and-cream-laden sauces). Saturdays open for cocktails and banquets only; closed Sunday. $100. Largo da Academia Nacional de Belas Artes 18-20; 342-0720.

In a genteel neighborhood, two partners of a certain age take you under their wing. You can sample such classic Portuguese dishes as pataniscas de bacalhau (delicately sautéed cod patties), tiny clams, rice with shellfish or duck, gamebirds such as partridge and pheasant. The unpretentious rooms here have high-quality antique decorative art on the walls, and the sommelier knows his business. Some of the desserts, derived from monastic recipes (hence the restaurant's name), seem almost Oriental, and may be vestiges of medieval Moorish sweets. $70. Praça das Flores 45; 390-9196.

A Tasquinha
Around the corner from the Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva Foundation, this good, moderately priced restaurant serves, among other things, Portuguese specialities daily and very fresh fish. Weather permitting, you can dine outdoors in an attractive little plaza. Tasquinha means "little dive," but this place is much better than that, and its meals are priced accordingly. Closed Sunday. $30. Largo do Contador Mor 5-6-7; 887-6899.

Casa Da Comida
Not far from Eduardo VII Park, this restaurant has a nice patio and reasonably good food, but the service needs polish and wine offerings need improvement. In a restaurant this expensive, you don't expect, as a fellow diner commented, to be served "a white from a château that has no white." Lots of seafood, steak, duck, and game. $110. Travessa das Amoreiras 1; 388-5376.

Two Excursions

Hotel Palácio De Seteais
Sete ais means something like "seven sighs," and this hotel outside the hilltown of Sintra, about 35 minutes northwest of Lisbon, is indeed something to sigh over. Built as a nobleman's villa in the 18th century, remodeled in 1992, the Seteais sits in its own spacious and verdant grounds, with a view of a 19th-century pseudo-Moorish castle. The Espírito Santo Silva Foundation was engaged to carry out much of the villa's decorative repainting and refurnishing, and every room is done up in 18th-century style. Though not as fine as the rest of the Seteais, the restaurant is good-a welcome surprise in a Portuguese hotel. Staying here is an aesthetic experience, but with one proviso: The Lisbon coast still has insufficient roads, so unless you love traffic jams, keep away from Sintra on weekends and holidays. $200-$314. Rua Barbosa du Bocage 10, Seteais, 2710 Sintra; 923-3200; fax 923-4277.

Porto De Santa Maria
This superb restaurant by the sea is in the pretty former fishing village of Cascais-now a fashionable, crowded resort. The large room is simple and modern, and the cuisine is pared of all excess, stressing extreme freshness. Fish will be brought to your table for your inspection, then grilled, or perhaps roasted in a crust of salt or in bread to seal in the juices. Try the shellfish, the spider crab, the grilled sea bass, the hazelnut mousse. Thirty-five minutes south of Sintra (though this is a drive only the super-patient would attempt on weekends or at rush hour). $70. Estrada do Guincho, 2750 Cascais; 487-0240; 487-1036.
Click here for more info (Site mostly in Portuguese)


Café A Brasileira , founded in 1895 and one of Lisbon's oldest cafés, has long been a central meeting place and is a great spot to sit outside and people-watch. In the Bairro Alto. Rua Garrett 120; 346-9541.

Café Pastelaria Benard, next-door to A Brasileira and with a pleasant outdoor terrace, is a fine substitute if the latter is too crowded; both cafés have evocative interiors. Rua Garrett 104; 347-3133.

Bar Cerca Moura, in front of the Espírito Santo Silva Foundation, has the loveliest view of any café in the city. It overlooks the Alfama district and River Tagus. Largo das Portas do Sol 4; 887-4859.

Cervejaria Trindade is the place to stop for drinks and snacks, especially seafood, while searching for antiques in Chiado. It has a vast interior and huge azulejo panels. Rua Nova da Trindade 20c; 342-3506.

Other Decorative Arts Museums

Museu De Arte Popular
This huge, antiquated gallery of folk art and traditional handicrafts, situated in the Belém quarter, has especially good collections of rustic pottery. Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m-12:30 p.m.; 2-5 p.m. Avenida de Brasília; 301-1282.
Click here for more info

Museu Nacional Do Azulejo
Fifteen minutes by car from the Museum of Decorative Arts, this is Europe's most important museum of tilework. Housed in the splendid old Madre de Deus convent, its decorative tiles, panels, and photographs portray the evolution of tilemaking from Moorish times to the present. Tues. 2-6 p.m., Wed.-Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Rua da Madre de Deus 4; 814-7747.
Click here for more info

PaláCio Fronteira
This wildly charming hunting lodge, on the border of Florestal de Monsanto Park, was built for the first Marquês de Fronteira (João de Mascarenhas) in 1640. Both the manor house and garden boast striking displays of azulejo. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Largo São Domingos de Benfica 1; 778-2023.

Museu Da Cidade
Diehard decorative arts enthusiasts can lose themselves in the wandering, heterogeneous collections of Lisbon's municipal museum, situated in the 18th-century Palácio Pimenta, not far from Palácio Fronteira. Especially good faience. Campo Grande 245; 759-1617.
For more information in Portuguese click here

At Your Service

If you're hoping to buy an important piece—a tilework plaque, a painted statue, an 18th-century faience bowl—Stephan Gratwohl is the guide and agent you need. A Swiss trained in art history, Gratwohl moved to Lisbon eight years ago and opened a superb little antiques shop, Portas Verdes, which he ran largely as a sort of mini-museum of his taste. What he really loved, however, was to help people build collections, to go out and find them what they longed for.

Recently Gratwohl closed his shop—he now serves as the public-relations officer of the Espírito Santo Silva Foundation—but he still does a certain amount of trading in top-quality pieces. He knows all of Lisbon's major antiques merchants, as well as the preferences and commercial background of every one of its major shops. Fluent in English and Portuguese, he also understands the cultural differences between American buyers and Portuguese dealers. He offers, for a modest fee, to accompany clients to Lisbon's auction houses and also to help them hunt through the city's antiques shops.

Disclaimer: The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in March 1999, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.

About This Guide

PricesIn U.S. dollars.
Hotel PricesHigh season double occupancy, not including taxes, unless noted.
Restaurant Prices Three-course dinner for two without beverage, service, or tax.
Menu Items Cited May have changed by the time you dine at the restaurant.
Telephone Numbers Only the local number is given. See Lisbon Basics for country and city codes.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS)
For assistance, call 800-443-7672. From abroad, call 602-492-5000 collect.


Hotel/resort is member of Platinum Card Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas. Must be booked through PTS to obtain benefit.


Stephan Gratwohl, The Fine Art of Consulting, Rua dos Navegantes 34, First Floor; cell phone 936-42-3381; fax 390-3713.


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