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Bairro Alto District

Bairro Alto District (27)

Day and night are two separate worlds in one of Lisbon’s most famous districts: the Bairro Alto. Both are fascinating, magic and cloaked in their very own particular authenticity. Be sure to adventure among the neighbourhood’s narrow alleys, found at the end of the street “Rúa de las Gloria”, because there is so much to discover. Explore!

This does not mean that the area is full of churches, palaces and museums. Nothing of the kind. What is most important and brings the most enjoyment is wandering the streets without a fixed destination in mind, getting lost among paved alleyways and finding yourself suddenly inside an artisan’s ceramic workshop, while the next moment stopping at a tavern for a quick glass of port. Out in the street again, you will soon come across one of the district’s most fashionable bars. All of which sums up the Bairro Alto.

It was built according to a square design at the end of the 16th century. At the start, the people who lived in the area were comfortably-off Lisbon families that had moved here from the working district of La Alfama, which was becoming decadent and rowdy. Few knew that centuries later, decadence would arrive to the Bairro Alto.

During the 19th century, the neighbourhood was home to the offices of publishers and newspapers, something which is shown in the names of some of its streets, like the “Rúa Diario de Noticias” and the “Rúa do Século”.

If the journalists of the time brought elegance to the district, the locals did not have the same opinion of some of the other visitors found here. Among those that walked its streets were prostitutes, gamblers and disreputable bohemians.

This is all in the past though. There is now a completely different set of locals living in the Bairro Alto and a strong community spirit has been forged. The area has experienced various restoration projects over the years and is now a joy to visit.

If you come here in the middle of the day, you will find antique shops, sail shops, craftwork boutiques recently set up, decoration and trend-setting establishments as well as working spaces for young innovators. There are also bars and cafes with dishes of the day, tourist menus and a relaxed, family atmosphere. 

However, even if you have passed through in daytime, make sure you return when the sun goes down and the lampposts are lit and reflect down onto the puddles of the narrow pavements. 

The meeting point for the city’s young is the “Sao Pedro de Alcántara” viewing point, from where you can see the lit-up old stones of the “Sao Jorge” castle. You can arrive here on the Gloria elevator tram, or on foot, climbing the steep incline of the street “Rúa de la Gloria”.

The most atmospheric fado bars are hidden here in this neighbourhood, while there are also jazz clubs, pubs and nightclubs. If the weather is fine, you will find the streets full of people drinking mojitos or “Imperials” the Portuguese beer, in a pleasant atmosphere of conversation and laughter. The music that floats out to the streets from the doors of bars is the final ingredient of the Bairro Alto recipe, cooked on a slow flame over many years, and intended to be enjoyed to the maximum. You might even have seconds.

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