The city of Lisbon has learnt to enjoy its proximity to the river. PDV take you on a long walk along the riverfront, from central Cais do Sodré to Belém, showing you which museums to visit, where to taste the local food, enjoy a late afternoon drink, party the night away or simply enjoy the scenery.
By Carolina Antunes and Pedro Garcia
Lisbon owes its existence to the river which has shaped the city’s destiny and given it its unique character. According to legend, the city was founded by Ulysses (the Roman name for Odysseus) in one of his adventurous journeys. It was also the Tagus that brought the crusaders who flocked here in 1147 to help the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, conquer the city from the Moors. From its shores departed the caravels that were to discover the world a few centuries later, and it was also from its waters that came the tsunami which swept over the city after the 1755 earthquake. The sad, melancholic Tagus is popularly celebrated in the fados sung in the city’s old, secluded taverns. Walk down any hilly street in Lisbon and chances are you’ll eventually come to the river.
An integral part of the city, nowadays the Tagus is also a unique area offering leisure, fun and culture. PDV outlines here a 7 km walk along the riverfront, from Praça do Comércio – Lisbon’s most iconic square – to the monument- and museum-filled district of Belém, which can either take a full day, if you follow all recommended stops, or a mere three hours. Either way, we’ll guarantee it’s a way for you to never forget Lisbon.
Outdoor cafés in the most beautiful of Lisbon’s squares
Praça do Comércio – also known locally as Terreiro do Paço – is the perfect place from which to start out on a walk along the north bank of the Tagus. This central district, one of Lisbon’s most noble areas which witnessed the departure of the carracks that sailed across the seas in the Age of Discoveries, was one of the areas worst affected by the 1755 earthquake, having been completely destroyed by the tremor and the ensuing tsunami. Its current design dates back to the city’s reconstruction under the leadership of the Marquis of Pombal during the reign of King José I, whose statue adorns the centre of the square.
While walking around the vast square you can think back to 1908 when, near the northern arcades, King Carlos I and his heir Prince Luís Filipe were assassinated, paving the way for the establishment of the Portuguese Republic in 1910. It was also here that, in the early hours of 25 April 1974, tanks loyal to the military coup sieged the ministries and started the process of ending more than four decades of fascist dictatorship.
Today, the main highlights of the recently renovated square are its new restaurants, like the pizzeria and ice cream parlour Nosolo Italia, the Quiosque Ginginha do Carmo – with old-time beverages such as capilé (made with water, sugar and maidenhair syrup) and the inevitable ginjinha – and even a nightclub called Lust, with two floors and a restaurant in a refined and elegant space. Also worthy of mention is The Sexiest WC on Earth promoted by toilet paper company Renova, which managed to turn black toilet paper into a trendy article worldwide. Besides these novelties, there is always the classic café and restaurant Martinho da Arcada, first opened in 1782 and a popular haunt of politicians and poets, the most prominent of which was Fernando Pessoa, one of the greatest figures in Portuguese literature.
Cais do Sodré: Lisbon’s new trendy district
Heading west along the riverfront, you’ll come to another of Lisbon’s key districts: Cais do Sodré. Once infamous for being one of the seediest quarters in the city, where sailors and prostitutes cavorted during its long nights, a recent facelift has turned it into an area of trendy nightclubs and bars. The Cais do Sodré train station, which offers regular services to Cascais, appeals to something entirely different: a nice rest. Many take advantage of the plastic seats along the riverfront to read or listen to music, while others stand patiently alongside their fishing rods in wait for the day’s catch. Close to the train station is Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon’s most iconic market, where you can find fresh fruit and veg, flower stalls and traditional Portuguese handicrafts.
Once past Cais do Sodré, you’ll come across a bicycle path that stretches along the river, connecting the city centre to the district of Belém. This is no ordinary bike lane: quotes by Fernando Pessoa have been stencilled on the ground bringing more life to a track which has become popular with those seeking exercise or simply to enjoy a great ride.
If you’re looking for a place to have a spot of lunch or dinner, the area has plenty to offer. The restaurant Meninos do Rio has all the features that make it one of the best options on hand: a trendy ambience, an excellent menu and the inevitable outdoor seating area facing the river. Meninos do Rio also includes a sushi restaurant – SushiRio – for those seeking more oriental flavours.
Close by, the TMN ao Vivo space is one of Lisbon’s most recent venues, which has hosted live acts by the likes of Two Door Cinema Club and Keane, besides other events such as the occasional party or screenings of football matches.
Nightlife on one side, ancient art on the other
Walking on along the riverfront, still with the 25th of Abril bridge ahead, you’ll come to one of Lisbon’s most popular nightlife spots. Urban Beach is a club located right in front of the river where hundreds flock to spend a summer night enjoying a few beers or caipirinhas that hosts regular, unique parties under the Lisbon sky.
From here you can already see Lisbon’s container terminal in the quays up ahead. On the other side of the busy Avenida 24 de Julho, is one of the city’s most renowned museums: the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art). Cross the street and walk up the stone stairway that leads to a public garden and the museum entrance, and enjoy some of its countless treasures, such as the mysterious St Vincent Panels, crucial to understanding Portuguese history and some of its key figures. On the way out, you can also enjoy the small public garden next to the museum or even café Le Chat, a glassed wall structure with one of Lisbon’s finest views over the river.
Back on the riverfront you might spot a cruise ship moored at one of the quays near the restaurant-bar Speakeasy, where live music and especially jazz are prominently featured. Many cruise ships that stopover in Lisbon dock in Alcântara, and here you can also book a short trip up the Tagus on a variety of boats. The views of Lisbon from the river are guaranteed to be second to none.
Outdoor cafés and restaurants at the docas
Carrying on along the riverfront you’ll come to the Santo Amaro quay (doca de Santo Amaro), or the docas as it is known to locals, which is home to a very popular string of bars, restaurants and clubs. Right next to a contemporary art installation featuring a swimming pool in the shape of Portugal designed by renowned visual artist Joana Vasconcelos, you’ll find the restaurant Doca de Santo which boasts a lush green lawn at the front where children can play as you enjoy your after meal espresso.
The number of bars in the docas might give an impression of variety, but many of these are in fact very similar. If you’re looking for something different, your best bet might be the Op Art Café, which is somewhat set apart from the other bars, almost directly under the 25th April Bridge, and thus enjoys greater privacy. It will definitely guarantee you a different and memorable evening, as resident DJs, keen on electronic music, are known to keep the place going until dawn.
At the western end of the docas, right under the bridge, you’ll find a new paddle tennis club, whose courts are open to anyone who fancies a game. Fully shaded during the day and offering first rate views over the river, they make a pleasant spot to practice paddle or try it out for the first time.
As you continue walking and come to the Italian restaurant Piazza di Mare, you’ll know you are not far from Belém. Right next door is the restaurant, bar and club Belém Bar Café (BBC), which is a relaxed place during the day and an all night club between midnight and 6am. Its stylish décor, glamourous ambience and full frontal view of the river are the perfect setting for a great evening.
Looking inland, on the other side of the road and railway line, you’ll see the conspicuously long building of the old Cordoaria Nacional, where ropes and other nautical equipment for ships used to be made. Today, it has been converted into a temporary exhibition hall open year round, and features many regular events such as Lisbon’s antiques biennial.
Further ahead from the BBC, also on the riverfront, stands the Museu da Electricidade (Electricity Museum), an old thermoelectric plant which is home to a permanent museum but also features regular temporary exhibitions, including the annual World Press Photo exhibit.
Once you reach the western end of the museum, you’ll find yourself in Belém, and at the end of this walk. This district is one of Lisbon’s most popular tourist destinations offering a dazzling variety of museums, monuments, gardens, cafés and restaurants, and is also home to the pastéis de Belém – Lisbon’s world famous egg tart pastries. From Belém you can either catch a train to Cais do Sodré, a tram back to the city centre or, if you’re not too tired after your long walk, carry on exploring this magnificent district and all it has to offer.