This Lisbon neighborhood is not to be missed…
July 2019 was the very first time Won and I had ever been to Portugal. We spent four days in Lisbon before heading off to meet a passel full of friends for a river cruise up the Danube. We included a visit to Lisbon on that trip because we thought it might be important to see the place we had made the decision to move to earlier that year. [This would be a good spot to include an eye rolling emoji…if only WordPress had one.]
On that very first trip we stayed in a cute little boutique hotel right in the middle of Chiado just up the street from Praça de Luís de Camões. With the iconic yellow trams passing by the front of the hotel, a darling little pastelaria (bakery) across the street, and a grid of narrow alleyways filled with restaurants to explore behind us, we instantly fell in love. The funny thing is, even though we spent four days in Lisbon, we didn’t get the chance to really focus on Chiado. Won had an overly ambitious itinerary in order to help us determine where we might want to live. Our time was spent crisscrossing the city, exploring beach towns on the other side of the river, and driving west along the coastline to see Cascais and Sintra. It was a jam-packed four days.
After my post last week focusing on Tram 28, which goes through Chiado, it rekindled our interest to go back, take our time, and really explore this fascinating area. So, that’s what we did this week.
First, I think it is helpful to know how to pronounce Chiado; she-ah-doo. Second, I could not find anything official that defined the borders of the neighborhood. However, I did find a map that does a fairly good job of outlining where it is within Lisbon and in relation to other well-known parts of the city.
As with many areas of Lisbon, Chiado is hilly and those hills are steep. It starts in the Cais do Sodré area (close to the river front) and then goes up from there. Chiado is an important cultural and commercial district, known for its luxury shopping, historic landmarks, and numerous theatres and museums so there is no shortage of things to do or see.
People have been referring to this part of Lisbon as “Chiado” since about 1567. No one knows exactly where the name came from, but the most widely cited origin relates to António Ribeiro (c.1520–1591), a popular poet from Évora who lived in the area and whose nickname was “chiado” (which means ‘squeak’). A bronze statue of the poet was placed in Chiado Square in 1925. [By the way, there’s an important lesson in this for all of us…beware of what nicknames get assigned to you, they could follow you for centuries.]
An interesting fact about Chiado is that it has suffered two significant and destructive events. The first was the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and the second was a massive fire in the 20th century.
In the early hours of August 25, 1988, a fire started at the Grandella department store and quickly spread to 17 other buildings (an 8000 m2 area). The department store and ten other structures, some historic, were completely destroyed.
The fire was fought by 1680 firefighters from throughout the country, and was put out by 16:00 local time. Two people were killed and 73 injured (60 of them firefighters). Approximately 300 people lost their homes and close to 2000 lost their jobs. In terms of the impact to Lisbon and the number of destroyed buildings, the Chiado fire is often considered the worst disaster to strike the city since the 1755 earthquake. The cause of the fire was never fully determined.
The rebuilding effort began in 1989 and was mostly completed by 1999. It included the new Baixa-Chiado metro station as well as other new public spaces. The exterior look of the damaged buildings was restored, while the interiors were completely rebuilt according to modern construction techniques and safety regulations.
On Tuesday morning of this week we drove to Lisbon and parked at the riverfront right next to Time Out Market, which is not a market by the way, but a huge food hall showcasing the best chefs and local restaurants in Lisbon. Time Out Market also holds cultural events and cooking workshops; it’s pretty cool. To learn more, click here.
We walked one block inland to find the Bica Funicular which would take us all the way up to the primary area of Chiado. As we stumbled around looking for it, we nearly missed it because the station is located inside a doorway. [Apparently the GIANT sign over the door wasn’t quite big enough for us. I really need that that eye rolling emoji…] We purchased two round trip tickets for 3,80€ each (7,60€ total). The price was a bit ‘steep’ for a five minute ride up a hill (ha! did you see what I did there?!), but we didn’t care. We thought it was worth it since we planned to do a lot of walking and needed to save our legs.
A plaque outside the door of the station informed us that Bica Funicular is the most recent of Lisbon’s funiculars having been inaugurated on 28 June 1892. (That’s funny, isn’t it? That they call something nearly 130 years old “recent”.) It was designated a national monument in 2002.
That was fun(icular)! [I bet you’re wishing there was an eye rolling emoji now.]
From the top of the hill where we disembarked, we walked over to Rua do Almada and headed for the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. Due to the narrow streets and ancient infrastructure of this part of Chiado, they restrict car traffic. Each entrance has a retractable barrier and an intercom system you have to use to gain permission to enter. There are no restrictions for people on foot. In the image below you are looking down Rua do Almada with the Frutaria Saldanha café on the right. All the streets in this area are narrow like this.
Do you remember when I said that you should not pass up any miradouro (viewpoint) opportunity in my last blog? Well, I might have been overly enthusiastic with that advice. We walked to the Miradouro Santa Catarina to take a gander, and while this one had views of Lisbon, the river, and of the Ponte 25 de Abril (the one that looks like the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco), they did not seem that impressive. (Could it be because we had been dazzled the week before as we looked out across Alfama?)
In addition to the river and bridge, this view included the container ship port and a lot of construction cranes. Kind of disappointing. The only things I felt worth taking pictures of were two seagulls hanging out on top of a building, the miradouro terrace, and a really interesting sculpture of Adamastor (which means “northwind”). Adamastor is a mythical figure created by Luis Camões, a 16th c. Portuguese poet, to symbolize the Cape of Torment. (By the way, the Cape of Torment was the original name of the Cape of Good Hope. It was the site where many Portuguese ships were wrecked. It was renamed after it was successfully navigated, giving sailors new hope.) I have read that the terrace and miradouro are great places to watch the sun set. Perhaps the views are more compelling at night when the city is lit up. We will have to check that out on a future outing.
Not only is it a challenge to get up to Chiado, it can also be a challenge to traverse it. Here is an image looking across the length of Travessa da Laranjeira (Laranjeira means orange; travessa means secondary or narrow street). You can see how the street got its name; those are orange trees on the far end directly across from us. This should also give you some idea of how steep these hills are.
While doing some advance research on Chiado, I learned about a very highly rated shop called Landeau Chocolate on Rua das Flores. One of their signature desserts is a delectable chocolate cake. Unfortunately, it was closed the day we stopped by. Groan…I was really looking forward to having a bite of that heavenly cake (the image of the cake below is not mine). I hope they didn’t close permanently and will reopen soon. I’ll keep you posted.
Feeling totally bummed, I slowly turned and started to trudge back up the hill toward Rua Horta Seca, but instantly perked up when I saw a Fabrica Coffee Roasters just across the street. It was a good time for a coffee break so we stopped in. We immediately agreed to share a slice of warmed banana bread with butter. [During editing, Won insisted I include that it was warmed and slathered with butter…where is that eye rolling emoji?!] Won ordered an espresso, but I wanted something cool and refreshing. The barista recommended I try a special concoction they had created of iced black tea with an infusion of mint, orange and macerated red berries topped with a few frozen blackberries. Sounded good so I ordered one. Boy, what a treat! That drink was tasty!
Rested, refueled, refreshed, and ready to go – off we went! We walked up toward Rua Horta Seca passing a couple of cute shops.
Our route took us right to Praça de Luís de Camões (Tram 28 makes a stop there). Even though we have been to this plaza a few times, it never ceases to charm. You can also very easily walk to Rua Garrett, a popular shopping and dining area, from the praça. The area around Praça de Luís de Camões has two churches that happen to face each other, loads of stores, cafés, and lovely places to sit outside where you can sip your espresso and nibble on a treat. However, because these areas are also tourist draws you will see people pandering (we saw three) and it is always good to keep an eye on your personal items, especially when the country reopens and there are more visitors.
One of the places on my “must-see” list was the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. I know, I know, another miradouro, but this one I knew would not disappoint (I had been there for literally two minutes last year when Won let me jump out of the car to get a picture).
However, before we got there, we stopped in to see Igreja de São Roque. The austere façade of this church belies what is inside (it was so non-descript that I did not even bother taking a picture of it). The church was built in the 16th century and was one of the very first Jesuit churches in the world. Another distinction is that it was one of just a few buildings that survived the 1755 earthquake relatively unscathed. The church has a rather unusual layout because it was originally meant for teaching (not surprising to learn knowing what the Jesuits are all about). Two rows of narrow pews sit under a gorgeously painted coffered ceiling and are flanked on both sides by over-the-top, ornate, heavily gilded side chapels.
Here are just a few images…
After seeing all that gold, the sun seemed a bit less bright when we stepped back outside. Just around the corner from the church was the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. This miradouro also includes a jardim (park) with two levels. Unfortunately, the park on the lower level was in desperate need of some gardening care (which I hope the city of Lisbon addresses soon), but it didn’t impact the amazing views.
There were young school children enjoying playtime on the lower level all dressed in matching light blue smocks and red bucket hats (adorable!!). The expansive views from this vantage point look out across Lisbon and include Castelo de São Jorge, the domes of Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, and the Rio Tejo. (I included the picture I took when I jumped out of the car last year. It was just as the sun was beginning to set and the lights were coming on. So pretty. I had to share.)
At this point, we agreed that it was time to start heading back, which meant we would finally be going downhill vs. up. On our way, we passed some cute places like…
The Rebel Café with a sign on the door inviting humans and dogs to come in (I also love their winter hours)…
Pateo – Bairro do Avillez, a great place to dine al fresco. Three follow up notes on this place: 1) I looked them up when we got home and learned they are highly rated and have a great interior space (I pulled an image from the Internet to show you), 2) I didn’t know why the street was painted blue and found out that Lisbon has designated certain streets as pedestrian only and painted them blue to signify this, and 3) we’re definitely going back to eat there…
…and, just in case we weren’t sure about the gender focus of Refém, they informed us right up front.
Knowing I would be taking loads of pictures that day, I made sure to bring my external battery. And, as expected, my phone died just after I had taken a few pictures of the Carmo Cathedral, Chafariz do Carmo (a Baroque fountain in front of the churches’ ruins), and the Elevador de Santa Justa (which is currently closed).
I confidently pulled the external battery from my purse to plug it in to my phone only to realize the cord I needed to connect the two was in the car. Unbelievable. (Here’s another great place for that eye rolling emoji.) And, the worst part? I didn’t get credit for all the steps we took to get back to the car. Waaaaaaa!!!
I promise to do more on the ruins and museum of the Carmo Cathedral and the Santa Justa lift, which has great views over the city, in a future post. Until then, here are the images I took before my phone died.
Well, that wraps up our time in Chiado. Won and I will definitely be going back to check out some of those restaurants we found and I am still dreaming of that chocolate cake I did not get. If you have any questions about the places mentioned in this post, please let me know. I love receiving comments and encourage you to share your thoughts and reactions (I reply to every single one I receive).
I hope you enjoyed learning about this delightful part of Lisbon and encourage you to add it to your list of places to see anytime you are here. Here is one more look at that gorgeous view…
Until next time, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch!
From Portugal with love,