Connected to centuries of history and the beating heart of the city, Lisbon has a number of beautiful squares where both locals and tourists cross their paths in the daily hustle and bustle of this vibrant city.
If you’re up to discovering the city while in Lisbon for UXLx this list will definitely come in handy.
Praça do Comércio
The square’s old name was Terreiro do Paço but the name changed when the city was rebuilt after the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755. However people still commonly use both designations, so remember that either if they say “Praça do Comércio” or “Terreiro do Paço” they’re actually referring to the same square.
Located downtown and by the Tagus river, this is probably Lisbon’s most famous square. For more than two centuries it was where the kings’ palace was located. Today there are a number of Government departments, museums, cafes and restaurants, and where several celebrations and cultural events (New Year’s Eve, concerts, etc.) take place.
In the centre of the square, there’s the statue of D. José I, King of Portugal. It was during his reign that the city was destroyed by the earthquake and had to be rebuild.
Right opposite to the river, there’s an iconic arch. If you walk under it you’ll find yourself in Rua Augusta, a bustling commercial street.
💡Insider’s Tip: For the best 360º view over the square, the river and most of downtown head up to Rua Augusta Arch. (🎟️ Ticket 3,5€)
In the square, but right next to the river you’ll find Cais das Colunas (meaning Columns Pier). For many years it was the noble entry way to the city, where chiefs of State would disembark. A favourite spot for both locals and tourists to enjoy one of the best sunsets of the city.
Also Dom Pedro IV square, the king we see at the top of the column sitting in the centre if the square. Besides looking at the buildings that surround it and to the ornate fountains, remember to look down. You’ll see a beautiful example of calçada Portuguesa (Portuguese pavement), that resembles sea waves. The highlights of the square include:
- D. Maria II National Theatre — The beautiful neoclassical building is where numerous performances and plays have been taking place since 1842. The theatre was built where was once a Palace that served as the headquarters of the Inquisition during the 16th century.
- Rossio Railway Station — Located at the left-hand of the theatre, it’s the primary station in Lisbon that connects the city with Sintra. Admire it’s ornate façade inspired by classical 16th century Portuguese Manueline architecture. Inside there’s not much besides the ticket offices and platforms.
- Café Nicola — Overlooking Rossio Square it’s one of the first cafés in Lisbon and certainly one of the most famous ones. Opened 200 years ago by an Italian man by the name of Nicola, it was frequented by writers, artists and politicians.
- A Ginjinha — A typical Portuguese sweet cherry liqueur. If you want to taste it this is definitely the best place to do so. “A Ginjinha” originally opened in 1840, and has been being run for the same family for five generations.
Very near two Rossio is Restauradores square, dedicated to the restoration of the independence of Portugal in 1640, after 60 years of Spanish domination. The 30-metre obelisk in the middle of the square carries the names and dates of the battles fought in the Restoration War, and two bronze figures depicting Victory and Freedom. The square is surrounded by 19th and 20th century buildings:
- Foz Palace — The former residence of the Marquis of Foz, now houses a national tourism office.
- Hotel Avenida Palace — Opened in 1892, it’s right next to Rossio Station and was build to serve the travellers arriving in Lisbon by train.
- Éden Teatro — This Art Déco building was a cinema/theatre in the 20th century, but was later converted into a hotel.
- Condes Cinema —Once a cinema room, the building now hosts the Hard Rock Cafe Lisbon.
If you want to go from the square to the Bairro Alto neighbourhood don’t miss the trip in one of Lisbon’s typical yellow funicular — Ascensor da Glória. It will take to the top of the hill in just 3 minutes.
Marquês de Pombal Square
If you’re in Restauradores and go all the way up Avenida da Liberdade (Liberty Avenue) you’ll find yourself in this big roundabout. The statue we see at the top of the pedestal is Marquês de Pombal, chief minister of King D. José I, and the man who led Lisbon’s recovery after the 1755 earthquake.
The square is the major roundabout of the city so there’s not much to see in the square itself. The buildings surrounding it are mainly headquarters of banks, companies’ offices and hotels. The most worthy are actually the streets north and south of the square — Avenida da Liberdade and Eduardo VII Park.
Avenida da Liberdade is a 1100-metre long boulevard, inspired by Paris’ Champs-Élysées. The tree-lined avenue is home of several embassies, luxury brands, hotels, theatres but also small kiosks selling food and drinks where you can take a break from wondering the city.
Eduardo VII Park is the biggest park in central Lisbon. The park was renamed after King Edward VII of England, when he visited Lisbon in 1903 (prior it was named Liberty Park). At the top there’s a viewpoint offering an amazing panoramic view of the city, where you can also see the biggest national flag in the country.
Located in the park it’s also Estufa Fria, a greenhouse garden filled with exotic species from tropical climates. Lisbon Book Fair is held annually in the Park (usually around May/June).
💡Insider’s tip: This year the Lisbon Book Fair is from 25 May to 11 June so if you happen to visit the park when your in town for UXLx and you’re also a book lover, you can pay a visit to the many publishers stands.
Before the 1755 earthquake, this was where the most important hospital of Lisbon during between the 16th and 18th century, All-Saints Royal Hospital, was located. When Lisbon’s downtown was rebuilt, the hospital was moved to a different part of the city and the square became the place of the city’s open market until the mid-20th century. Nowadays, although there’s still a market happening on the last weekend of each month, the buildings surrounding the square are now cafes, stores and hotels.
From the square you have a nice view of St. George’s Castle and you can hop on one of the yellow trams (popular touristic tram routes start here). You can also pay a visit to the peculiar Hospital de Bonecas (Dolls Hospital), a door repair shop opened since 1830, and indulge yourself with a cake from Confeitaria Nacional, the oldest pastry shop in Lisbon.
Luís de Camões Square
This small square is located between two of downtown’s neighbourhoods — Chiado and Bairro Alto. Being on the intersection of the typical neighbourhoods it’s quite a busy area with both locals and tourists crossing it to head their ways. It’s also a crossing point for some of the most emblematic trams in the city. The square is named after the 16th century epic poet Luís de Camões (a kind of Portugal’s Shakespeare) who’s represented in the statue in the centre.
On the street that goes from Praça Camões to Largo do Chiado (the next square on our list) don’t miss a quick visit to the two Baroque churches that face each other: Church of Loreto — also known as Church of the Italians, it was built by Italian merchants in Lisbon and today the mass is still held in Italian, and the Church of the Encarnação.
Largo do Chiado
Facing Luís de Camões square is Largo do Chiado. Best-known for A Brasileira — a cafe where intellectuals and artists used to gather. Right in front of the cafe, you’ll see the statue of a man wearing a hat and a bowtie, sitting in a chair. That’s Fernando Pessoa, a highly celebrated 20th century Portuguese writer. It recalls the days he used to write at this exact cafe. There’s an empty chair next to it where tourists usually sit for a picture.
This is a very lively square and some days you’ll likely to find groups of musicians performing on the street.
💡 Insider’s tips:
- Very close to Largo do Chiado you’ll find Livraria Bertrand, recognised by the Guiness World Records as the oldest functioning book store in the world.
- Also nearby there’s a store called A Vida Portuguesa selling genuine products of Portuguese design. Great for some original souvenirs! 😉
- Now here’s something you won’t find in a typical store. If you go to the last floor of the clothing store Benetton you’ll find a more than 100-old charming elevator. That’s because it was once an old department store (armazéns Ramiro Leão) opened in 1888. The elevator is in fact one of the first elevators in Europe.
Largo do Carmo
Although located in Chiado, one of the busiest neighbourhoods downtown, Largo do Carmo is a calm, charming square. It’s mostly known for one event that changed Portugal’s modern history — the 25 of April Revolution that lead to the downfall of the dictatorship in 1974.
Here you can have a relaxed lunch in one of the open-air restaurants, enjoy the shade under the beautiful jacaranda trees (that start blooming in the Spring) and admire the fountain, one of the oldest in the city.
The square is right in front of the Carmo Convent Ruins. The church and convent were devastated in the 1755 earthquake. It was the 1st of November, All Saints Day, so many worshippers where at the church celebrating the day when the earthquake stroke, causing the collapse of the roof. The subsequent fire, caused by the candles that knocked over, destroyed its interior. The church was never rebuilt and today only the Gothic arches still remain. The ruins that still stand after 300 years act as a reminder of the massive tragedy that hit the city.