Baixa: Lisbon’s Lower Town

September 11, 2012 by

Local Recommendations, Sightseeing, Things To Do, Top Attractions

Comercio Square

Comercio Square

The main shopping district of Lisbon is Baixa, the downtown area which is literally down, being the flat part of the city between the hills on either side.

Baixa runs from the river at Comercio Square up to Rossio Square with straight avenues of neo-classical facades running between. Some of the buildings have the distinctive azulejos or tiles on their exteriors, and many of the street pavements have mosaics laid into them so don’t forget to look both up and down as you wander through Baixa!

The whole area was rebuilt after the massive earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755 which is why it has such a uniform and planned appearance. This area includes Áurea Street, Augusta Street and Fanqueiros Street, and the Rossio, Figueira and Comércio Squares. Currently the city council are applying to have Baixa and some of the surrounding parts of Lisbon declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural and architectural importance.

Begin your visit with a coffee under the arches of Comercio Square and watch Lisbon’s distinctive yellow trams come and go. Then head through the archway into Rua Augusta and begin exploring. You’ll find all kinds of shops, cafes, even street performers.

One of the real highlights is the Santa Justa Elevator, a wonderful piece of engineering by a student of Gustav Eiffel (Eiffel Tower in Paris) which takes you from Baixa up to the hilltop district of Bairro Alto. Ride up 147 ft (45 m) on this unique piece of public transport. The neo-Gothic tower even has a bar at the top for excellent views back over Baixa and the river and across to Alfama and the Castle of Saint George.

Back down in Baixa,if you’re hungry stop at the Casa do Alentejo restuarant at Rua das Portas de Santo Antão, 58. Don’t let the plain exterior fool you—when you step inside you are in a 17th century Moorish palace complete with extravagant decoration and a courtyard. You can sample good Portuguese cuisine here.

When you reach Rossio Square you’ll probably be ready to sit at yet another of the wonderful outdoor cafes and watch the world go by. This square has been at the heart of Lisbon life since the middle ages. Nearby is the newer Figueira Square which is only a few centuries old, having been constructed as a marketplace after the 1755 earthquake and then opened up as a square since 1949. This is also full of cafes and is an important bus hub. From the statue of King John 1 you can see right back down through Baixa to Comercio Square.

- Philippa B.

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