This itinerary explores the Baixa, Lisbon’s downtown area. It takes you from the Rossio Square to Ribeira das Naus, a beautiful promenade by the River Tejo.
This self-guided tour covers all the places of interest, and some history facts. At a leisurely pace, it takes about 2 hours, including sights and a stop for eating.
The total walking distance is about 2.5 kilometres / 1.5 miles, and it’s nearly flat. Use the map below to locate the attractions.
The area known as Baixa was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of what was left from the medieval city. Marquês de Pombal, the King’s Secretary of State, imposed a pioneering grid pattern, very different from the former disordered medieval street plan. Starting from Rossio train station:
From Rossio Station to Carmo Convent
1. Start at the Rossio Station: With a horseshoe-shaped entrance, this 1891 Manueline building is Lisbon’s most central train station. Regional and international trains used to depart from here, but now Rossio Station serves only the urban train to Sintra and to Azambuja.
2. Stop at Teatro Dona Maria II: The National Theatre occupies a grand Neoclassical building on the north side of the square known as Rossio. The original theatre was inaugurated during the celebrations of Dona Maria II’s 27th birthday in 1846. Later in 1964, a fire completely destroyed it. The building that you see today is a 1978 reconstruction that preserves the original Neoclassical style from the 1840s.
3. Stop at St Dominic’s Church: Dating from 1241, this church survived the 1755 earthquake (only the sacristy and altar). It was rebuilt and a fire in 1959 destroyed its rich interior. When the church reopened in 1994, the marks of fire were left exposed on the church walls. Its unique interior is surprisingly different from the idea one makes of it from the outside.
Try a Ginjinha: Opposite St Dominic’s Church, Ginjinha do Largo de São Domingos (dating from 1840) is home of the famous cherry brandy. Together with the nearby Ginjinha Sem Rival, both shops will serve you the liquor in a shot glass “com” or “sem” (with or without) a cherry (your choice). Savour it outside the place.
4. Stop at Praça Dom Pedro V: Also known as Rossio, this open area was once the place for markets and fairs, military parades, political rallies, bullfighting, and even “autos-de-fé”, the public ritual of punishing heretics during the Portuguese Inquisition. Destroyed during the 1755 earthquake, it was converted into the rectangular shape plaza of today.
In the centre stands the statue of King Dom Pedro IV on top of a column – Praça Dom Pedro IV being Rossio’s other name. Two Baroque fountains can be found on either side. The Portuguese calçada (traditional pavement featuring mosaics of limestone and black basalt) dates back from the nineteenth century.
Sample some Portuguese sweets: If you have a sweet tooth, make a short detour to Confeitaria Nacional near Rossio to sample the famous Bolo Rei (King Cake), the crispy pastel de nata (custard tart) or some other cakes that are specialties of Lisbon.
5. Ride the Santa Justa Lift: Built in 1902, this giant lift connects the lower Baixa to the upper Carmo Convent by a passageway. A wooden cabin takes visitors 32 metres up inside an eccentric wrought-iron tower decorated with filigree work. On the very top, there is a stunning view.
Santa Justa Lift is usually very busy. If you don’t want to endure a long wait, walk up the hill for five minutes – do some window shopping in Chiado on the way – until you reach Largo do Carmo and its Convent. Next to it, there’s a passageway to a terrace with Santa Justa upper exit and some great views.
6. Stop at Carmo’s Archeological Museum: The museum is set on the ruins of the Carmo Convent, dating from 1389 and destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. A Neogothic intervention in the ninteenth century left exposed the beautiful arches. The museum contains an eclectic collection of archeological treasures.
From Carmo Convent to Ribeira das Naus
7. Explore Rua Augusta: This is Baixa’s main commercial street, stretching all the way from Rossio to Terreiro do Paço. Pedestrianised since the 1980s with Portuguese calçada, Rua Augusta is home to numerous fashion retailers, restaurants and cafés. Street performers are frequently found entertaining passers-by.
8. Stop at Rua Augusta Arch: To reach Terreiro do Paço, there’s an arch projected after the 1755 earthquake to celebrate Lisbon’s reconstruction (completed only in 1875). Take the lift to a small exhibition centre behind the clock. From there, go up the spiral staircase to the viewpoint for panoramic views of the Baixa grid on the north side, and of Terreiro do Paço facing the River Tejo on the opposite side.
9. Stop at Terreiro do Paço: With beautiful eighteenth century symmetrical buildings and arcades facing the River Tejo, Terreiro do Paço is one of Lisbon’s most important, and beautiful, squares. It is centred by the equestrian statue of King Dom José I who survived the destruction of the 1755 earthquake, and put Marquês de Pombal in charge of Lisbon’s reconstruction. The surrounding buildings are nowadays occupied by ministries and other government offices.
10. Enjoy Ribeira das Naus: This riverfront promenade connects Terreiro do Paço and the nearby Cais do Sodré. Walk along the river, stop for a drink or snack, watch the sunset and the people, admire the statue of Christ on the opposite bank, and come back many times.