I have been living in Lisbon for four years, and during that period of time I have lived in three different areas of the city. I first lived uptown by the Gulbenkian Museum (in whose gardens I spent much of my free time reading), and later moved by the Chiado district. While I loved living in the center of the city (with the sound of the trams passing by, Bairro Alto‘s restaurants and bars as substitutes for my kitchen or living room…), I recently moved to the Lapa district, right behind the Basilica of Estrela. As I wandered around this mostly residential neighborhood a few days ago, I ended up in the neighboring district of Alcantara and the 18th century Necessidades Palace. This former royal residence was also once a convent, but is now Portugal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It may not be visited inside, and with the surroundings being residencial buildings, there seems to be no reason for tourists (or locals) to pass by. It is therefore never mentioned on any guidebook, but I discovered that it is in fact worth taking a detour to this overlooked hill of Lisbon.
The terrace in front of the palace is yet another of the city’s unofficial viewpoints, standing right above 25 de Abril Bridge. The view over the river and its bridge is nice, but the biggest attraction stands across the street, to the left of the palace, behind a gate. That is the Necessidades Park (or more like a small forest), that is one of Lisbon’s best-kept secrets. This is such a little-known place (even for many locals), that I was the only person there on a weekday afternoon visit. I found exotic trees, some of the oldest cacti in Europe, a green water pond, a deserted tennis court, abundant vegetation, a view of the river and the bridge, and a nice green lawn that is ideal for a picnic — in fact, the entire park was originally created as a place for the royals to picnic.
Since this is such an unknown and little-visited park, there are some neglected areas with drying/dying plants, but overall, it is a beautiful and pleasant green space in which to relax.
I do have Estrela Gardens just about a 5-minute walk away from home, but Necessidades Park will now be my own private oasis or retreat in Lisbon. I could keep it all for me, but this is a place that is worth recommending and sharing. Pass by if you wish to go way off the beaten path.