I recently found myself with a little time to spare whilst in Lisbon, so I thought I’d try a very popular guided walking tour of Lisbon and I’m so pleased I did!
This half day, small group tour is a fun introduction to Lisbon, involving some off the beaten track locations, tasty food and drinks, a trip across the river and lots of interesting information about Lisbon’s fado singers and poets.
Upon meeting our guide, Ana, in the multicultural Martim Moniz square, she explained how the Mouraria neighbourhood came about. Essentially, after the Reconquista, in which Christian forces took control over the territory now known as Portugal, the resident Muslim population was forced to live outside the city walls.
Always a place for ‘outsiders’, the ancient neighbourhood currently has the highest ethnic diversity in the city. The square itself is named after the king’s knight, Martim Moniz, who martyred himself by squeezing into a gap in the citadel gates and preventing the Muslims from closing it. This enabled King Afonso’s army to break through the defenses and conquer St. Jorge’s Castle.
After learning a bit of Lisbon’s history, we went to a hidden café for a “second breakfast”. Ana explained the importance of a morning coffee in between leaving home and starting the work day and introduced us to the Mouraria cake (pastel de Mouraria). This is made from white beans so that it’s not too sweet, in a thin pastry case.
Suitably caffeinated and dosed up on sugar, this walking tour of Lisbon headed to a small square to learn about Fernando Maurício, the “Uncrowned King of Fado” and the origins of fado vadio, i.e. raw and untamed fado. This genre was originally by the people and for the people who lived in and frequented the seedier parts of Lisbon.
Coincidentally, he was born in the house opposite that of another fadista who had enjoyed notoriety 100 years previously. Maria Severa was a local prostitute with an amazing voice who, thanks to the patronage of her lover, a count, became something of a diva and brought fado to the fringe of ‘respectable’ audiences.
I was intrigued to learn how Amelia Rodrigues, the darling of modern-day fado, made it clean and mainstream, and ultimately a national treasure during Salazar’s dictatorship.
Next stop was the wavy paving of Rossio square, where we learned about the 1755 earthquake and the subsequent reconstruction of Lisbon as well as the amazing urban planning skills of the Marquis de Pombal.
Walking through Chiado enabled us to see some of Lisbon’s historical shops, aka ‘Lojas com História’, such as Ulisses glove shop and the Paris em Lisboa fabrics shop before reaching the upper level of the Santa Justa Elevator.
I’ve ridden this elevator from the ground level in the past and can honestly say that the experience does not warrant the long queue that usually forms at its base. You can see the elaborate ironwork and admire the views for free from the upper platform.
Right next to the elevator is the ruined Carmo church, which has remained roofless since the 1755 earthquake as a memorial. We sat at the kiosk in Largo do Carmo, (a very Lisbon pastime), for a drink and learned more about the church and the museum that’s inside it.
Next up on this guided walking tour of Lisbon was Largo do Chiado, famous for the bronze statue of Fernando Pessoa, beloved poet and writer, and the A Brasileira Café, which is largely responsible for Portugal’s coffee drinking habits.
On the way to the ferry terminal at Cais do Sodré, we met a few more of Portugal’s literary heroes, including Luís de Camões and Eça de Queiroz.
Blessed with good weather, we enjoyed a smooth ferry ride across the River Tagus with lovely views of the pastel colours and red rooftops of Lisbon.
Lunch was a dish of seafood rice, something I enjoy but don’t often get to eat as it’s usually served for 2 people and Mike’s not a fan. Washed down with a glass of effervescent vinho verde, it was a great way to end the tour and learn more about local attitudes towards food and socialising.
A quick ferry ride later and we were back at Cais do Sodré.
Overall, it was a nice mix of interesting aspects of daily life, culture and history.
There was a fair amount of walking on this Lisbon tour, some steps and a hill but not too onerous if you’re reasonably fit and have comfortable shoes.
If you’re happy with small groups of up to 14 people and want to get an overview of Lisbon, I recommend this Best Of Lisbon Guided Walking Tour.
For more inspiration when staying in Lisbon, see my 34 Things To Do In Lisbon article.
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