Updated Sept. 3, 2023. Here is everything you need to know about Lisbon’s downtown – the Baixa district, and its historic sites, great squares, sunsets, transport hubs, shopping, food, and lodging options.
Baixa – the lower town or downtown is also the most central part of Lisbon. Baixa offers a lot for tourists, and it is a convenient, flat base for getting around this city of hills.
The history of Lisbon’s downtown – Baixa
Lisbon’s downtown was completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake.
Candles fell and set fires all over the city during the earthquake.
And then there was a tidal wave that washed through the city.
Lisbon set out immediately to rebuild itself under the direction of the Marquis de Pombal.
He insisted that the new city be resistant to future earthquakes, so he and his team of engineers brought earthquake-resistant architecture to Europe.
A military man, he designed Lisbon’s new downtown in a grid pattern.
All of the buildings in the new Baixa Pombalina were blocky, four or more stories, with thick concrete walls.
Generally, there were shops on the lower levels, and people lived in the upper levels.
The Baixa district is a valley, wedged between Lisbon’s two highest hills. To the west is Bairro Alto, and to the east is Mouraria and Alfama.
The Tejo River is to the south, and more modern neighborhoods such as Campoelide and Campo Pequeno lie to the north.
Praça Marquês de Pombal
Named in his honor, there is a large roundabout at the northern end of the Baixa district.
Just beyond the roundabout is the grand Parque Eduardo VII, which slopes downhill from north to south and has great views of downtown and the river.
For more information on the park, read my Parque Eduardo VII | Lisbon’s Central Park – What you should know
Beyond the park lies a central and more modern Lisbon.
The metro’s blue line stops at the Parque metro station and the Marquês de Pombal metro station. Here you can also connect to the yellow line of the metro.
Avenida da Liberdade
Moving south from Marquês de Pombal, you travel down the Baixa’s central artery – Avenida da Liberdade.
Nearly a kilometer long (more than half a mile), the street has some of the most expensive real estate in Portugal.
Here you’ll find late 19th century and early 20th century mansions, some of Lisbon‘s most fashionable hotels, and high-end shopping.
See my article Where to shop in Lisbon? Lisbon’s best malls and shopping for a detailed list of shops along Avenida da Liberdade.
The boulevard is well-manicured with lots of green space and black and white Portuguese pavement.
The metro blue line travels underneath the street, and you can pop up at the Avenida metro station.
Praça dos Restauradores
At the southern end of Avenida da Liberdade, just past the Hard Rock Cafe and the Condes Cinema, you will find Praça dos Restauradores, the Restauradores Square.
This cobblestoned square and obelisk celebrate the restoration of Portugal’s freedom from Spain in 1620.
Here you can find multiple banks and the Palácio Foz is the home of the tourist information center. You will also find the Restauradores metro station (blue line).
South of the Restauradores metro station, you will find Lisbon’s famous five-star Avenida Palace Hotel.
South of the hotel, is the Rossio Train Station – not to be confused with the Rossio metro station at Rossio Square.
From this train station, you can get a Comboios Portugal train out of town, perhaps to Sintra How to plan a day trip or overnight trip to Sintra from Lisbon or even Porto, Not Lisbon OR Porto, vacation in Lisbon AND Porto!
Across from the Condes Cinema is the Elevador da Glória, a funicular that carries people up the long, steep hill to the São Pedro de Alcântara overlook and the hilltop nightlife of Bairro Alto.
To learn more about the Elevador (Ascensor) da Glória, read my article How to get to Bairro Alto? (Hint: Take the Glória Funicular)
East of Restauradores Square you will find Rua das Portas do Santo Antão with its many restaurants.
Rossio Square (Praça Dom Pedro IV)
The central square of Lisbon and always a busy spot, there was a racetrack here during Roman times. In the 15th century, the Todos os Santos Hospital was located on the square.
In the center of the great square is the Column honoring Dom Pedro IV.
The square is paved in an undulating pattern of black and white cobblestones.
On the north end of the square is the Dona Maria II National Theatre.
Northeast of the theatre are the restaurants of Rua das Portas do Santo Antão.
Southeast of the theatre is Lisbon’s oldest Ginjinha bar.
You can learn more about ginjinha in my article Your questions about Ginjinha answered here
To the east, you will see the São Domingos Church which was a flashpoint in the execution of Lisbon’s Jews and the during the Portuguese Inquisition.
The church has been heavily damaged by fires and earthquakes, and today is a meeting point for the Africans from Portugal’s former colonies who have settled in Lisbon.
On the east side of the square is the entrance to the Rossio metro station (metro green line).
The square is also a hub for many of Lisbon’s Carris city buses, and the Aerobus airport bus stops here as well. For more information on Rossio Square, see my article Rossio Square – Praça Dom Pedro IV – What you need to know – lisbontravelideas.com
On the east side of the building is Praça da Figueira (Fig Tree Plaza).
South of Rossio Square is Rua Augusta.
Praça da Figueira
This smaller square is a transportation hub. The east side of the Rossio metro station empties out onto this square. You will find buses and the first stop for Tram 15E on its way to Belém. How to get from Alfama to Belém (Hint: Tram 15E)
Once a month you will find a farmers market set up in the square.
You can always find Confeitaria Nacional, a bakery that has been operating on this square since 1829.
The bakery is famous for its Bolo-rei (Kings’ cake) during the Christmas season.
Rua Augusta – a focal point in Lisbon’s downtown or Baixa neighborhood
Rua Augusta is one of the busiest, yet most pleasant streets in downtown Lisbon.
The north-south running street connects Rossio to Praça do Comércio, one of Europe’s largest squares.
Today Rua Augusta is a beautiful pedestrian boulevard lined with shops and restaurants operating out of 18th-century buildings.
There are plenty of places to eat with outdoor seating and great people-watching. Don’t expect locals’ prices though.
You will also find fantastic street performers and con men trying to entice tourists into buying drugs. In spite of these characters, this is not a dangerous area at all.
At the south end of the street is the massive Rua Augusta Arch, framing the Tejo River and the statue of José I on horseback. José was king of Portugal at the time of the earthquake.
You can go to the top of the arch for 360-degree views of Lisbon and the river. To learn more about the arch, read my article What is the story behind Lisbon’s Rua Augusta Arch?
Praça do Comércio (Terreiro do Paço)
This square has long been important to Portugal’s history.
Aside from being the royal courtyard for more than 200 years, the square also saw the assassination of King Carlos and his son Luis Filipe in 1908 which led to Portugal becoming a republic.
The square played a role in the 1974 coronation revolution that overthrew the dictatorship and allowed Portugal to become a democracy.
The square has received Queen Elizabeth II and other heads of state, whose boats docked between the two columns standing in the Tejo River.
Why are there columns in the water in Lisbon? Formerly part of a pier, the columns and the stairwell that goes down to the river make a fantastic place to think or watch the sunset.
Pope Benedict said mass in the square in 2010,
Today the yellow arcaded buildings house a variety of shops and cafés such as Lisbon’s oldest café, Martinho da Arcada. There are boutique hotels, wine shops, and government offices.
You can find the Terreiro do Paço metro station (blue line) off the southeast corner of the square.
For more information on Praça do Comércio, read my Praça do Comércio – Everything you need to know
Side streets in Baixa
The side streets that parallel Rua Augusta are named after different trade guilds. You will find:
- Rua dos Fanqueiros (cloth merchants)
- Rua dos Sapateiros (cobblers)
- Rua dos Douradores (gilders)
- Rua dos Correiros (saddle-makers)
- Rua da Prata (silver)
- Rua do Ouro (gold)
Elevador da Santa Justa
Off of Rua do Ouro you will find the 98-foot-tall Santa Justa Lift (Elevador da Santa Justa).
The wrought-iron lift was built by Gustave Eiffel’s student Raul Mesnier du Ponsard in 1900.
A popular tourist attraction, the elevator takes people to the Largo do Carmo on the hilltop where you can visit the Convento do Carmo ruins.
The elevator also has a rooftop viewing deck, which is another great sunset spot in Lisbon’s downtown. For more information on the elevator, read my Elevador de Santa Justa | Everything you need to know
If you don’t want to pay the admission fee for the historic elevator, but still want to head up to the hills, there is a free elevator one block west.
My favorite restaurants in Lisbon’s Downtown – Baixa District
If you are on a budget and looking for value for your euro, look no further than Buffet Do Leão. An all-you-can-eat buffet featuring salads, pasta, grilled meats, and desserts for €9. Located at Rua 1 de Dezembro, one block west of Rossio Square.
Another option if you are on a budget is Europe’s best fast food – the Doner Kebab – In Lisbon!
If money is no option and you are looking for a meal that you will never forget, check my article Introducing Lisbon’s Michelin Star Restaurants, 2022 edition
For a delicious, yet quirky experience at a family-owned restaurant, have the seafood rice at Marisqueira Uma. Rua dos Sapateiros 177.
Expect to pay €15 per person. Make reservations or come early.
My favorite place to eat in the Baixa neighborhood is another family-owned seafood place on Rua dos Sapateiros at number 161 – O Arco.
(Be careful, there is another Arco Restaurant on the same street – you want the one with wood paneling, money stapled to the walls, blues music playing, and a friendly Portuguese father and son running the place).
Their octopus is consistently one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Again, make a reservation or come early.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, check this article How to fit vegan restaurants into a day of site-seeing in Lisbon for nearby options.
Lodging in the downtown Baixa District
There are so many fantastic lodging options in the Baixa neighborhood.
The neighborhood is so conveniently located to the things you will want to see in Lisbon.
Here are a few of the places that I think are interesting, at different price points.
5 Star Hotels in the Baixa
The One Palácio da Anunciada
Torel Palace Lisbon
Hotel Avenida Palace
Hotel Altis Avenida
Pousada de Lisboa
Located in one of the yelloow arcaded buildings in Praça do Comércio. Rooms start at $264 per night. https://www.booking.com/hotel/pt/pousada-de-lisboa.en.html?aid=7930224&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2
3 Star Hotels in Lisbon’s Baixa
The Lift Boutique Hotel by RIDAN
Rooms start at $135 per night. Located near the Santa Justa Lift. https://www.booking.com/hotel/pt/the-lift-boutique.en.html?aid=7930224&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2
HF Fenix Music Hotel
Bessa Hotel Liberdade
Two Star hotels in Lisbon’s Baixa district
Easy Hotel Lisboa
Ibis Styles Marquês de Pombal
From $70 per night.
Hostels in Lisbon’s central Baixa neighborhood
Lisbon Destination Hostel
Lisbon | Destination Hostels The hostel is located on the top floor of the Rossio train station. Beds in the dorms go for $30 – $40 per night. Private rooms start at $96.
Yes! Lisbon Hostel
Voted the best hostel in the world in 2010 and 2019. https://www.booking.com/hotel/pt/yes-lisbon-hostel-lisboa.en.html?aid=7930224&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2 Dorm beds start at $36 per night.
I recommend the Baixa neighborhood because it is so central, so vibrant, and so connected to public transport.
Also flat, very central, and rather elegant is Avenida da Liberdade | Everything you need to know
Uphill to the west is Lisbon’s nightlife district, Bairro Alto – An overview of Lisbon’s most vibrant neighborhood
On the hill to the east, below the castle, is Alfama. The Alfama District – A complete guide to Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood
You might also consider staying in the Belém neighborhood, because it has so much history and several interesting museums. For more information on what Belém has to offer, see my article Lisbon’s historic Belém neighborhood | Everything you need to know
For a comparison of the different neighborhoods that are popular among tourists, you can read my article Best neighborhoods to stay in Lisbon
Thank you for reading about the Baixa District – Lisbon’s downtown. Prices may change over time. If you book one of the hostels or hotels mentioned on this page, I may receive a commission, which does not affect the price you pay.