Best Historic Sites in Lisbon

Historic sites in Lisbon, places to visit for their cultural significance.

There are several historical sites in Lisbon that merit special mention for their cultural or architectural significance. Largo do Carmo in Chiado is where the early days of the Carnation Revolution ere played out. The most poignant site perhaps is the King Carlos I assassination site in Terreiro do Paço. Besides being a murder, the event marked the beginning of the Republican uprising in Portugal. 

On the other side of the square is Café Martinho da Arcada. Inside you’ll find the restaurant table that Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa sat at and frequently used as his “office”. Under the streets of the Baixa (downtown) district, the foundations of a 13th-century wall, the D. Dinis Wall, can be viewed as part of a permanent exhibition. Nearby, the Núcleo Arqueológico is another fascinating underground archaeological, which is sited under a bank. 

Once a year in the same vicinity, the Galerias Romanas are opened up for the public to visit. It’s a long wait in a queue, but worth the effort! Remnants of Lisbon’s medieval town wall can be viewed at various sites throughout the city, especially near the river along Rua dos Bacalhoeiros. A little visited historic site is the geo monumento, the remains of a 20 million-year-old seabed found in Campo Ourique and located where the ocean once met the land. Meanwhile, over in Alfama, there’s the Museu do Teatro Romano, where the ruins of a Roman theatre can be viewed. And expanding the religious theme, the Igreja de São Domingos, known for its fire-damaged interior, is one of Lisbon’s most unusual historic sites.     



Revered by locals as a very special place of worship, the Igreja de São Domingos stands on the site of a long-ruined convent in Lisbon's Baixa (downtown) district. It's one of the oldest churches in the city, with foundations dating back to 1241. An earthquake in 1531 destroyed much of the building, but it was the great 1755 quake that left it entirely in ruins. Rebuilt in the 19th century, Igreja de São Domingos fell victim to yet another calamity when a fire swept through the structure in 1959. Rather than demolish the church, city officials decided to repair just the roof leaving the rest of the interior scarred and blackened for posterity. Today, the church is considered an important historical site after surviving such misfortune.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: While not the most attractive of Lisbon's many churches, Igreja de São Domingos stands out for its seemingly indestructible qualities against misfortunate.

Paul's expert tip: A display of old newspaper cuttings near the entrance illustrates the extent of the 1959 fire.

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This historic site, located in Lisbon's Alfama district, exemplifies Roman presence in the city. Combining a museum with the ruins of an ancient theatre, the Roman Theatre Museum works as a cultural space to promote the ruins, which date from 57 AD, as well as the finds excavated from the vicinity. The theatre was built when Emperor Augustus wielded power, and Lisbon was known as Olissippo. Abandoned in the fourth century AD, the structure was completely buried after the great earthquake of 1755. It was rediscovered in the 1960s, and archaeologists began in earnest to reveal the theatre's broken foundations. By using your imagination you can just about bring the sparse ruins back to life â€" the 'orchestra pit' is still discernible.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: A free attraction, the museum and adjacent theatre does a pretty good job in highlighting what the site would have looked like back in the day.

Paul's expert tip: As a curtain raiser, visit the museum first, which highlights Roman civilization in Olissippo from the 1st century up until the mid-5th century AD.

Read more about Museu do Teatro Romano →

Campo Ourique

A little known and rarely visited Lisbon historic site is the Geo Monumentos, in the city's Campo Ourique district. This is the remains of a chunk of coastline that dates back to at least 20 million years to the Miocene period â€" a rare example of where a much warmer and far cleaner ocean met the land, and where a shallow reef was created. As the ocean receded over millennia the once submerged reef was exposed to reveal the fossilized remains of bryozoan colonies. Bryozoa are filter feeding aquatic invertebrate animals that sieve food particles out of the water using a crown of tentacles. Layers upon layers of the skeletal fragments of these minuscule marine creatures gradually built up to create what we see today, a piece of ancient coastline that's set many kilometers inland and at a much greater elevation from Portugal's present Atlantic Ocean coast.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: An important geographical site that's sadly rather neglected, this unusual attraction allows visitors to ponder the evolution of the Earth in somewhat incongruous urban surroundings.

Paul's expert tip: Take the 28 streetcar to Prazeres, in the west of the city. The Geo Monumentos is a short walk from the tram stop.

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Remnants of Lisbon's old city walls can be admired at various sites throughout the city. Some of the best-preserved areas can be found along Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, near the river. Constructed during the late 14th century and subsequently strengthened during the Manueline (1495-1521) and Pombaline periods (after the earthquake of 1755), this defensive architecture is visible either set within contemporary infrastructure, built around segments of the wall to showcase the city's heritage, or as a stand-alone attraction like the Arco da Preguiça, a small gate for pedestrians that dates back to 1456 and which allowed access to access to a public fountain.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: The old city walls represent an important period in Lisbon's history and an excellent example of medieval defensive architecture.

Paul's expert tip: Visitors can follow the route of the Lisbon walls by following way signed information posts set at strategic points in the city. For more information and details about guided walk options, call the tourism office listed here.

Read more about "Cerca Velha" Wall →

Campo Grande/Campo Pequeno

Every March for three only the public is allowed access to one of the most remarkable historical sites in Portugal â€" the Roman Galleries. On this rare occasion, the Lisbon authorities unlock a trap door embedded in Rua da Prata in the city's Baixa district that is the entrance to a subterranean labyrinth of Roman-era vaulted galleries. The purpose behind the network of perpendicular chambers remains a mystery. Dated from around the 1st century AD, archaeologists believe the arched passages were used as a storage facility, though others argue they could be the foundations of the Forum or even a system of thermal springs used to supply wells for the Roman populace. The tunnels are normally flooded, but once a year the fire brigade drains the compartments in order to facilitate the thousands of visitors that queue up for hours for a glimpse of this beguiling underground tourist attraction.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: A unique feature of Roman Lisbon, the galleries remain one of the most unusual and least publicized of visitor attractions.

Paul's expert tip: Ignore the "Permanently Closed" Google notice. The galleries are accessible for three days in March, but are closed for the rest of the year. To secure a visit you'll need to inscribe yourself beforehand on the Museu de Lisboa website. Call the tourism office number listed here for more information.

Read more about Galerias Romanas →

A bank is probably the last place you'd expect to find one of Lisbon's great cultural assets, but hidden beneath the Millennium BCP branch in Rua dos Correeiros is an archaeological site that is layered with remarkably well preserved remains of Roman, Islamic, medieval and 15th to the mid-18th-century occupation. Visitors can follow a series of subterranean walkways built alongside and over the excavations. Of particular note are the tanks used by the Romans to make garum â€" fermented fish sauce. You can also gaze into a spooky 5th-century burial chamber, complete with the skeletal remains of an adult male. A small but engaging archaeological museum is set over the ruins, and exhibits include a number of remarkably well-preserved ceramics, coins, rings, hairpins, broaches and other assorted artifacts. The glass floor allows another perspective over the historic scene below.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: A unique historical site that reveals nearly 2,500 years of Lisbon history with an imaginatively conceived museum that truly enhances the visitor experience.

Paul's expert tip: You can join a free 30-minute guided tour that takes place daily at various hours depending on the language it's conducted in.

Read more about Núcleo Arqueológico →

Set underneath the Church of S. Julião in Lisbon's Baixa (downtown) district is the D. Dinis Wall, a section of medieval wall unearthed during the rehabilitation of the neighborhood in 2012. Constructed near the river on the orders of King Dinis in the late 13th as a defensive structure, the wall was in use for nearly 75 years. Its upper levels were later absorbed as the foundations of the Ribeira Royal Palace, built in the 16th century and destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. Buried for centuries, the excavated section now forms the centerpiece of a fascinating Interpretation Centre. Along with the wall, the exhibition also features a wealth of fascinating historical artifacts discovered during the restoration project, items such as fragments of mortar from the 2nd century AD, a 13th-century chess piece and a collection of medieval coins. The deconsecrated church forms part of the headquarters of the Bank of Portugal and future development includes the establishment of a money museum.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: This is the only medieval city wall in Lisbon that can be fully appreciated and understood in a purpose-built Interpretation Centre.

Paul's expert tip: Entry to the Interpretation Centre is free and also allows visitors access to the church where contemporary art exhibitions are held.

Read more about D. Dinis Wall →

Do you know where one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century used to hang out? Well, there's a café-restaurant in downtown Lisbon called Martinho da Arcada that is synonymous with a man called Fernando Pessoa, one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language. Born in 1888, Pessoa was a writer, critic, translator, publisher, philosopher… and a rather heavy drinker! Fortunately, his penchant for alcohol-fuelled rather than dulled his ability to put pen to paper, and his literary canon includes such works as Mensagem (Message), a collection of 44 short poems. Most of his writings, however, were published after his death in 1935 aged just 47, reportedly from cirrhosis of the liver. Pessoa was a frequent customer at Martinho da Arcada, a café set on Praça do Comércio, which became an "office" of sorts. It's here that the table he regularly sat at has been preserved for posterity, along with the coffee cup he drank out of and a shot glass that was rarely empty.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: Founded in 1782, Martinho da Arcada is one of Lisbon's oldest cafes. Its association with Fernando Pessoa has placed it on the world literary map.

Paul's expert tip: Visitors are allowed to take photographs of the table, but it's polite to ask first. Note that it's not permitted to sit at the table.

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By 1890 Portugal was broke. Revenue that once flowed generously back into the country from colonies in Africa and, more importantly, Brazil, had dried up. The country was in crisis. The government collapsed and society began to crumble. The Portuguese people began to leave the country in their droves. King Carlos, I instigated reformist measures and the prime minister, João Franco, ruled by decree. Democracy had evaporated. On February 1, 1908, the king, his queen and his two sons arrived in Lisbon. As their open carriage drove through the Terreiro do Paço, two bullets struck the Portuguese monarch, killing him instantly. A second assassin aimed at the heir, Dom Luís Filipe, mortally wounding the prince. The blood-splattered birth of the Republic had begun. A plaque in the northwest corner of the square marks the spot where the shootings took place.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: This historic site not only indicates the location of a murder, but it also signposts Portugal's irrevocable transition into a Republic.

Paul's expert tip: To better understand the history surrounding the assassination, and the consequences thereafter, join a guided walking tour that takes in Terreiro do Paço. Call the tourism office on the number listed here.

Read more about King Carlos I Assassination Site →

On April 25 1974, the Portuguese government headed by prime minister Marcelo Caetano fell to a coup known as the Revolução dos Cravos, or Carnation Revolution. The coup, initiated by the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), gave the signals for the military to take over strategic points of power in the country. Caetano sought refuge in the main Lisbon military police station at Largo do Carmo. The MFA, plus hundreds of civilians, quickly surrounded the building. Caetano eventually relented and ceded power. Not a shot was fired, and many of the insurgents had put carnations in their gun barrels, which gave the revolution its name. Portugal eventually emerged as a democratic country and April 25 (Freedom Day) is today a national holiday. Every year on the anniversary of the revolution people gather in Largo do Carmo to commemorate the bloodless coup.

Recommended for Historic Sites because: A pivotal moment in the history of Portugal, the Carnation Revolution was played out in a dramatic way in Largo do Carmo.

Paul's expert tip: The police station is still there, and houses a museum dedicated to the history of the Guarda Nacional Republicana, a civilian police force. You call also call the Tourism Office listed here for more details.

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Meet Paul Bernhardt

Paul Bernhardt cut his teeth as a press photographer in England before leaving the UK to settle in Portugal, where he has lived for over a decade, and where he started to focus on more...  More About Paul