10 Monuments and Attractions in Lisbon That Tourists Never See

Fonte Luminosa, Lisbon

Everyone passes underneath it on the metro (it’s where two lines meet, one of them connecting the city center to the airport), but no one imagines what’s above ground. This is Alameda, one of the main open spaces of the Avenidas Novas district and its main attraction is this monumental fountain. Built in 1940 during WWII when Lisbon was a neutral safe haven, it was named “fonte luminosa” (luminous fountain) because of its light displays at night. Recently the water disappeared for some time as the monument was cleaned up, but the beloved waterfall was back and running by late 2012. The water shows take place in early-afternoon at lunchtime and again after the sun goes down. In daylight or lit up in the darkness of the night, the effect is quite impressive.

Parque de Santana, Lisbon

Ask most people in Lisbon where you can see these charming windmills, and they won’t be able to tell you. If locals don’t know about them, it’s only natural that tourists never see them either. They’re found in a neighborhood park in the Ajuda district above Belém, and date from the 18th century. At that time this was farmland and while others were destroyed in order to build the apartment buildings that now surround them, these two survived at the top of the park. The entrance is through Rua Tristão Vaz and you can enter until 6PM in winter and 8PM in spring and summer.

Mãe D'Água, Lisbon

Lisbon’s huge 18th-century aqueduct had several reservoirs around the city and this is one of them. Found by the Rato metro station, it’s part of the Water Museum and includes a beautiful underground waterfall, but the best part is perhaps going up on the terrace for city views that very few get to see.

Capela de São Jeronimo, Lisbon

It was completed in 1514 by the same architect as the Jeronimos Monastery found down the hill, but this is one of the most overlooked monuments in the city. The reason is that the interior can only be visited by appointment, but the main attraction is not really what’s inside. The real reason to head up here from Belém (directly up the avenue across from Belém Tower) is the view of the river and of the city’s most monumental district.

Monsanto, Lisbon

It’s the largest urban forest in Europe but you won’t find any tourists there. It’s mostly frequented by picnicking families on weekends but you’ll also see groups playing soccer, basketball, skating or jogging in the several special sports areas. Best of all is the natural amphitheater overlooking the 25 de Abril Bridge. There is no metro station nearby but you may reach it on bus 711 from downtown.

Igreja da Pena, Lisbon

Lisbon’s least-known funicular (the “Elevador do Lavra”) leads to the small garden viewpoint of Torel up the hill which locals head to for a relaxing break at the kiosk café. What few know about it that a small church nearby hides one of the first golden baroque interiors in Portugal. Dating from 1705, this was the first monument in Lisbon covered in gilt which came to be one of the city’s main architectural features.

Capela Bemposta, Lisbon

When the former queen of England (Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza) returned to Portugal in 1693, she needed a new home fit for the queen that she was. She had a palace built at the top of one of Lisbon’s hills (on a street now called “Paço da Rainha” or “Queen’s Palace”) which is now occupied by the Military Academy and therefore not open to visitors, but the chapel at the center of the building is open to all for church services. You may see it on Sunday mornings, past marble statues at the entrance, with a baroque interior that includes a beautifully-painted ceiling and portraits of members of the royal family by Irish artist Thomas Hickey.

Monte Agudo, Lisbon

Lisbon is known for its beautifully scenic hilltop terrace viewpoints and there are so many of them that the less central ones are completely forgotten. This one is found close to but outside the tourist center (Rua Heliodoro Salgado) and was renovated in 2009, now attracting many locals, especially for its more recent café terrace. Here you can overlook the rooftops of Lisbon’s older and more modern districts all the way to the river, always with the scent of the pine trees behind you.

Igreja de São Sebastião, Lisbon

A short walk from the Spanish El Corte Ingles department store uptown (on Largo de São Sebastião da Pedreira) is this small church that’s completely unremarkable outside, but quite impressive inside. Mixing gold leaf and blue ceramic tiles, it creates an unexpected show of Baroque architecture from floor to ceiling. It’s one of the rare survivors of the 1755 earthquake and is dedicated to St. Sebastian whose life is illustrated on the ceiling.

Mouraria, Lisbon

Known as Lisbon’s most rundown neighborhood, Mouraria has been renovated over the last couple of years and locals are discovering the charm of one of the city’s oldest districts that’s now its most multiethnic. It’s a curious mix of Chinese and Indian businesses with authentic Lisbon soul, as this is the recognized birthplace of the city’s Fado music. There are many picturesque alleys, little squares, and architectural details, with the most noteworthy being a gothic home behind the church of São Cristovão, one of the oldest buildings still standing in Lisbon and such a rare survivor in a European capital.