Get ready for the most traditional walk of Lisbon with this Free Lisbon Walking Tour guide. You will experience the Lisbon city center walk as a local.
This walk started to be a routine of the locals from the 18th century, to wonder the new downtown Lisbon, in the 19th century. Lisbon city center had to be almost completely rebuilt after the huge earthquake in 1755, which destroyed most of downtown Lisbon, and at the same time, because most of the houses had candles lit and the construction of the houses was mostly wood, downtown Lisbon started to burn. An hour later, a tsunami hit Lisbon.
So on the same day, old downtown Lisbon trembled, burned, and then was washed away.
For the reconstruction of downtown Lisbon, modern concepts were used, with techniques that Portuguese architectures learn from the golden age of the discoveries, like earthquake-proof building construction, long straight streets, large avenues, and identical blocks of buildings.
Table of Contents
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Free Lisbon Walking Tour map:
Free Lisbon Walking Tour stops:
Our tour starts in Marques de Pombal square. A magnificent square dedicated to the most important person on the reconstruction of the brand new downtown. Just look up to the statue and you will see his statue with his hand on a lion. This statute, high as 40 meters, was only created in 1934.
The lion represents a symbol of power and represents the difficulties he had to convince the noodle of that time to agree with his vision of the new Lisbon downtown.
If you notice Marques de Pombal is facing the downtown area as if he was admiring his complete work. And that’s the way you are heading now.
Starting going down the main avenue of Lisbon, the Avenida da Liberdade (Liberty Avenue), and admire the vision of Marques de Pombal. At the time he presented his plans for the Portugal King, he thought Marques de Pombal was a bit crazy for designing big avenues and large streets, which was not necessary at the time. His reply was, they are not necessary today, but they will be small in the future. And he was right. Most of the streets he planned are major traffic nightmares these days or were completely close to traffic at all. So, after a couple of centuries, Marques de Pombal was proven right to the King.
For centuries Avenida da Liberdade was the residence to have for the higher class of Portuguese wealthy and although most of the 19th-century buildings has been replaced by office building and hotels, you will still see many old beautiful buildings and stores.
While walking down this majestic avenue, inspired by the big boulevards in Paris, enjoy the stone sidewalks, the shades from the trees, and simply absorb the environment of Lisbon.
At the end of Avenida da Liberdade, you will find the Praca dos Restauradores square. It is impossible to miss it, because of the 30 meters high obelisk.
Built to represent the independence of Portugal from Spain in 1640, the bronze figure on the pedestal, with a palm and a crown, represents Victory and the other one represents Liberty.
While you are walking on the sidewalks of this square, look down at your feet and gaze at the beautiful artwork of the cobblestones. And you will understand why the Portuguese cobblestone is so world-famous.
Just continue walking down the main street.
A few meters at the end of the Praça dos Restauradores you will find the Rossio Train Station on your right side. One of the most beautiful and iconic train stations in Portugal.
Inaugurated in 1890, this train station is a facade that is a great representation of the Portuguese Manueline design: a mixture of Portuguese art, Gothic, and Italian Renascence.
Go inside and explore the inside of this train station, where the 4th President of the Portuguese Republic, on the 5th of Dezember of 1918 was assassinated, right at the beginning of the train’s platforms.
When you are done exploring and admiring the industrial design of the inside go back to the main street and turn right, and you should see another square.
But before heading that way, look back at the facade of the train station and notice the void between the two main gates. In 2016 a tourist climbs the statue that used to be there, to take a picture. The statue of the Portuguese King D. Sebastiao fell and broke into pieces. Now we are still waiting for the completion of the statue and its return safe home.
Welcome to the central and historic square of Lisbon. On the rebuild of the city after the 1755 earthquake, it was decided to keep the square as it was, rebuilding only the buildings around it.
This square started out as a racecourse of horses and chariots in Roman times (observe the square layout and it will be obvious to you) and from early on it has been a stage for the most important and controversial events in the history of Lisbon. From bullfighting, festivals, markets, military parades, and people uprisings.
A bit of darker history of this square, if you look at the north side of the square you will see the National Theatre building. This Theatre was built after the earthquake destroyed the Estaus Palace. Built originally for the accommodation of nobility and ambassadors, it was later used as the Inquisition Court of Lisbon. So in this square happened a lot of executions during the inquisitions and “Autos-de-fe”, the public penance ritual of heretics and apostates.
Looking at the Theatre, on the opposite side that you came from, you will find Largo de Sao Domingos.
In this small square look at the Igreja de São Domingos, built in the 13th century but after recurrent reconstructions, it has lost its original medieval look. And lastly, in 1959 this church burned and the interior was lost. During the reconstructions, it was decided to keep the traces of the fire inside the church So take a look inside this church, notice the cracked columns from the fire and get ready for a horrible history lesson.
Here in this church was where the Lisbon Massacre of 1506 started. On the Sunday of 19th of April off 1506 during the mass on this church, while everybody was praying for the end of the dry season and the end of the plague, a faithful started to scream that he saw the picture of Jesus Christ illuminated on the church altar and it was a miracle. A new-Christian (the name was given to Jews that converted to Christianism), present at mass, tried to explain that Jesus Christ’s picture was illuminated by the light reflecting on the glass murals. But he stopped because a mob beat him to death.
After this murder, the people present in this church started to scream and persecute the Jewels in Lisbon, beating them to death, with the priests backing this violence, promising that if the mob killed all the Jews in Lisbon, they would be granted a 100 days sins pardon.
The King and his court were exiled in a city about 50 kilometers from Lisbon, because of the plague. As soon as he knew what was happening, he sent Magistrates to Lisbon, in order to stop the massacre. But these envoys were expelled by the rioters from Lisbon.
Over 4000 men, women, and children were tortured and killed in improvised fires in the Rossio Square.
After three days, the King finally succeeded to impose his authority and stop the massacre.
He ordered the death of all the most influential responsible for this massacre, most of them priests, nuns, and monks, and hung them in Restauradores Square.
Outside the church, you will see a peculiar monument, in the middle of the square with the Judaism cross. And here you will be able to read: Lisboa, Cidade da Tolerância. I’m not going to translate, because this phrase is written in this monument 34 times, In 24 different languages. So go, find your language and try to imagine.
After all of this, nothing better than some sweet alcohol… literally. On the facade to your left, when you leave the church, you will see one of the oldest places in Portugal to drink Ginginha.
Ginjinha is a traditional drink made from ginjas (a kind of berries) sugar and brandy. And it is customary to drink a glass of ginja with one ginja inside. I would say to go inside, but this traditional shop is so small, there are no tables.
Go to the counter and ask “Uma com elas” or “Uma sem elas”. This means One with them or One without them (Ginjas = Berries).
Now go back to the Rossio Square and walk down but through the middle of the square, to view the cobblestones artwork picturing the waves of the sea. Right at the end of the square, you will see a small arch on the south facade. Go through it.
At the first intersection look right and you will see the Elevador de Santa Justa.
Going 40 meters high, this early 20th-century elevator was built to take people from Baixa (low part of the city)to Bairro Alto (High part of the City).
The elevator ride is nothing spectacular because the inside of the elevator is not transparent, but it is possible to go to the viewpoint on the top. The views are spectacular there.
On this tour is not recommended to go up the Elevador da Santa Justa, as you will be going to another viewpoint further ahead, but if you want to know more about the Elevador da Santa Justa, feel free to read our Bairro Alto Walking Tour here.
Going back to the same intersection when you saw the Elevador da Santa Justa, turn left instead and then the first right. You are now in Rua Augusta, the most famous street in downtown Lisbon. This is a great example of the vision of Marques de Pombal for the reconstruction of downtown Lisbon. And now look at this street, one of the largest in this area, and imagine the King telling Marques de Pombal not to build such a larger avenue because there was no need. Who do you think was right?
It is one of the most lively streets in Lisbon. Enjoy the performers, the old and new stores, the cobblestone art, and be harassed by sellers and restaurant employees.
At the end of Rua Augusta you will see the triumphal arch of Rua Augusta. Marques de Pombal was on a tight budget for the reconstruction, but on the entrance of Lisbon, an imposing arch had to be built, in order by the King. And even the construction started in 1759, maybe that’s why the arch was only completed in 1873,
When you are approaching the Arch, on the left side you will find the entrance to go up to the viewpoint. The ticket price is 3 euros, but it is worth it. And the tour continues up there.
A Grand Vision of Lisbon
On the top of the Arco da Rua Augusta, enjoy the clear sight of the views over Lisbon. Now that you are here, you can admire the work of Marques de Pombal, from a privileged viewpoint.
He was a military man and now you will probably notice that the downtown is built like, at that time, a modern military fortress.
And while you are on the top of the arch, look around and see why Lisbon is called the city of the seven hills.
On your way down you need to walk through this huge square. Built to accommodate the merchants, that were arriving every day by ship for trading, back in the day. This square was the heart of the Portuguese economy and a symbol of Portugal power in trading over Europe.
Now imagine this square filled with sellers, customers, and sailors, hoping to make a living.
While you are here, walk to the riverfront and look to your right. The entrance of the ships coming from the Atlantic Ocean. And now look back at the square and wonder the image you have been seeing since you started to search for things to do in Lisbon.
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