Sandwiched between Cais do Sodré and Belém in Lisbon’s southwestern corner, this former outlying suburb of farms and palaces is now a bonafide bairro (neighbourhood) of the city. Granted, it is not as picturesque as Alfama or Mouraria, but Alcântara’s charm lies in its diversity. You can find everything from vintage trams and Asian art, to Fado Music Houses and artisan bakeries here, as well as the Portuguese capital’s archetypal terracotta rooftops and blush pink buildings. Old and new converge on streets like Rua 1º de Maio, where azulejo-clad buildings (the city’s famous ceramic tiles) juxtapose with murals by resident sprayers Vhils and Bordalo II.
Whether you’re exploring north of the railway track, in Alcântara-Terra, or Alcântara-Mar (the riverside zone), chances are you’ll be in the shadow of Golden Gate-lookalike, 25 de Abril. Fittingly, the bairro’s name derives from the Arabic word al-qantara, meaning bridge. Lisbon’s quaint 19th-century yellow trams that trundle along Alcântara’s Rua Cascais, together with its burgeoning startup community, also recall the Golden City. The spirit of “New Lisbon” is encapsulated in social spaces such as LX Factory, the Village Underground and the district’s crop of creative labs.
LX Factory, built on the site of a vast fabric plant and printing press, also serves as a portal to Alcântara’s industrial past. Metal stampers, tanneries, chemical and porcelain factories flourished here until deindustrialisation brought the area to its knees in the mid 1980s. A decade later the working-class bairro underwent a facelift and the old port of Santo Amaro Docks (Lisbon’s second largest marina), catalysed Alcântara-Mar’s regeneration.
Known locally as ‘Docas’, its waterfront warehouses have been reimagined as upscale restaurants like Doca Peixe and superclub Lux, co-owned by John Malkovich. For some cultural diversity and an alternative night out, leave the marina behind for Avenida da Índia and Rua Cascais in Alcântara-Terra. The city’s 13,000 Angolan population has spawned a cluster of nightclubs at this intersection, including Luanda and Mwangolé, where you can experience kuduro, an up-tempo Angolan style of music.
The Pestana Palace Hotel
The King of Spain, Madonna and Mick Jagger have all fallen for the old-world charms of this restored palace, built by a cocoa and coffee baron. Nestled in the sprawling grounds of a century-old estate, the hotel and National Monument is a 19th century vision of coffered ceilings, romantic frescoes and ornate ironwork. You can breakfast like a king in its ornate conservatory (with a live pianist for company), or dine on chocolate-covered foie gras in Valle Flôr, its ballroom restaurant. Guests transition from old to new in the 177 modern-wing guestrooms, accessed via two glass bridges that snake through its subtropical gardens. For the ultimate palatial stay, splurge US$1,500 on one of the four royal suites housed in Pestana’s original building.
R. Jau 54, 1300-312 Lisboa, +351 21 361 5600. pestanapalacelisbon.com
Then take a five-minute taxi to:
Admire horse drawn carriages, vintage buses and the city’s iconic yellow timber-lined streetcars at this eccentric museum located in the Carris tram depot at Santo Amaro.
Rua Primeiro de Maio 101, 1300-472 Lisboa, +351 21 361 3087. museu.carris.pt
After that, take a four-minute walk to:
A hotspot for Lisbon’s new wave of startups and popular brunch destination, Village Underground isn’t just another clichéd cluster of up-cycled shipping containers. Home to 35 or so co-working spaces for creatives, the open-air complex boasts a recording studio, skate ramp and warehouse exhibition space. Hop on board its repurposed double-decker bus (without even leaving its municipal tram yard base) for a DIY ‘Buzz brunch’ of oven baked eggs served up in an iron skillet, and a bottomless supply of Portuguese pastries.
R. 1º de Maio 103, 1300-472 Lisboa, +351 21 583 2469. vulisboa.com
Next, take another seven-minute walk to:
A post-industrial stage set with a Brooklyn-esque vibe sums up this achingly hip gastro-shopping hub on the grounds of one of Lisbon’s most prosperous textile factories. The machinery and threads are long gone, replaced by artist studios, home grown boutiques, street art by Lisbon native Bordalo II, and a slew of trendy eateries. You can ethically shop for Portuguese cork accessories at Rutz, get a trim at old-timey salon The Barber Factory, or savour a few ales under the arches of 25 de Abril Bridge at Café na Fábrica. Call in at labyrinthian Ler Devagar, a retired printing press turned temple to literature that has beautiful floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
R. Rodrigues de Faria 103, 1300-501
Lisboa, +351 21 314 3399. lxfactory.com
Now take a five-minute taxi to:
You’d be hard pushed to find a beer hall in the city more atmospheric than this converted 18th-century carriage tunnel, originally built for the Royal Chivalry. Chef and artisanal brewer, Adam Heller, is one half of the American-Brazilian duo behind the city’s second brewpub, Quimera. They offer a full line up of brews from tank to tap, including small-batch experimental beers that Heller yields with wild yeast grains in the basement. Their deli-style pairing menu of New York-style sandwiches, and cold cuts with select beers is no-nonsense but delicious. Try the Pastrami made with cured beef braised in Stout beer, served on sourdough from artisanal neighbourhood bakery, Gelba.
Rua Prior do Crato 6, 1350-261 Lisboa, +351 916 926 746. quimerabrewpub.com
Now take a twelve-minute taxi to:
Lisbon Sight Sailing
There are few better ways to romanticize Lisbon’s rich maritime heritage, than from the water. Setting sail from Alcântara’s Santo Amaro Docks, this three-hour-long trip along the Tagus river takes in Lisbon’s oldest district, Alfama, and Belem’s age of discoveries, aboard a stylish 46-foot sailing vessel. You can choose to party or just sightsee, with the Moorish Castle of São Jorge, the serpentine-like MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) and lemon-hued Praça do Comércio just a few of the tour’s highlights.
Doca de Santo Amaro, 1350-353 Lisboa, +351 21 605 1078. lisbonsightsailing.com
Now take a five-minute walk to:
Museum of the Orient
Portugal’s historic ties with the Far East are brought to life under the cavernous roof of this dried cod warehouse turned haven for Asian art. Thankfully, all traces of bacalhau (a Portuguese staple) were extinguished in the heritage building’s €30 million conversion in 2008. Rare artifacts, from Samurai armor and Namban art, to ritual masks and Indian puppet theatres, are showcased in its vast “Portuguese Presence in Asia” and “Gods of Asia” permanent collections. Like the idea of digesting art to an operatic soundtrack? Check out the second floor’s exuberant “Chinese Opera” exhibit, which runs till mid September.
Av. Brasília 352, 1350-279 Lisboa, +351 21 358 5200. museudooriente.pt
It’s your final and longest stop, but worth it – take the tram from Alcântara-Mar to Alcântara Terra station and then walk for 15 minutes to:
Viewpoint of Alvito
It’s no secret that Lisbon is well endowed with miradouros (viewpoints), but few are as crowdless as this one. Make a pilgrimage here at sundown, for an unobstructed panorama of
Tagus river, the 25 de Abril Bridge and the city’s Rio-inspired, Cristo Rei statue.
Just past the intersection of Estrada Alvito and Estrada Estrangeira, Lisboa
WORDS AND IMAGES: Sarah Freeman