Losing your way in Lisbon is something of an initiation for visitors. Wander through its labyrinths of pretty, cobbled side streets to glimpse stunning architecture and charming vignettes of daily life. Don’t turn back, though—every road in Lisbon leads to a unique treasure. From a microscopic bookshop to a cocktail bar masquerading as a museum, join us on an insider tour of secret Lisbon.
A miniature bookshop—the world’s smallest, no less—Livraria Simão can usher the sum total of one customer at a time through its door. Located on St Christopher’s Stairs, it’s housed in a former tobacconist where a diminutive, graffiti-covered door opens to a surprisingly hefty collection of 4,000 books. Owner Simão’s stock largely comprises pre-loved tomes by Portuguese authors, with some rarities and international books for those with the patience to look. Livraria Simão is a must-see for literary types.
A unique blend of macabre and cute, Lisbon’s Doll Hospital has been tending to damaged Portuguese dolls since 1830. Dollmaker Carlotta was the original doctor—her dab hand with a needle and thread led her to open a hospital to repair local casualties. Today, it’s a museum where cabinets and drawers overflow with vintage doll parts, from loose limbs to eyeballs and heads. The Doll Hospital is a captivating window into the evolution of toys over the last two hundred years.
Lisbon’s street art is on a par with London’s and New York’s, so much so that the municipality has given graffiti its official seal of approval. While a street art gallery may sound like something of an oxymoron, Lisbon’s Galeria de Arte Urbana is a dedicated collection of sites across the city adorned with some of its best murals. Façades, walls and even waste collection trucks are the canvas upon which the city’s most established graffitists make their mark.
Lisbon is peppered with pretty parks and gardens, but its elegant Jardim Botânico da Ajuda is an immaculately manicured delight. Tucked away in Ajuda to the far west of the city, the 250-year old garden is secret Lisbon’s botanical escape, where peacocks roam within topiary borders and fountains sparkle under the midday sun. What makes Jardim Botânico da Ajuda so unique is its magnificent collection of over 100 plant species from all over the world, making this a rewarding spot for a picnic.
The best place to get a whistle-stop history of the city is from a rather witty public mural. Depicted in a quirky comic strip style by illustrator Nuno Saraiva, the wall art spirits through centuries of Lisbon’s history, from the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 to the Carnation Revolution in 1974. Find it at the Arch of Rua Norberto de Araújo, near the Portas do Sol Miradouro.
An intriguing blend of oddity museum and home of an eccentric hoarder, Pavilhão Chinês is a hidden bar that’s the best-kept secret in Lisbon. Every nook bristles with curios from the last few centuries; dolls and model airplanes jostle for space with militaria and porcelain plates. Call in for a cocktail and pore over the cabinets of collectibles that occupy every spare inch of wall. Located in the Bairro Alto on R. Dom Pedro V, Pavilhão Chinês hides behind a red door. Press the buzzer to enter.