Be Original in Lisbon — 6 Unusual Things to Do
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Be Original in Lisbon — 6 Unusual Things to Do

Publish date : January 16, 2023

I’ll take a wild guess here and say that many people want to discover a place like no one else has. Sure you might want to tick the unavoidable landmarks off your list, but nothing compares to the joy of experiencing a place in a unique way, of crafting your own original itinerary. So, if you were looking for the unobvious, the uncommon, the unconventional, you’ve found it! Let's ditch the guidebook and step off the beaten path as we explore Lisbon in a whole new light.

1. Eat at an illegal Chinese restaurant

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous at dinner time, you might want to visit one of Lisbon’s underground highlights: the illegal Chinese restaurants. There is a handful of them around Martim Moniz and they became popular because they serve copious portions of homemade food at low prices. Actually, there’s more to it. There’s something about being in a Chinese family's living room that no other dining experience comes close to.

To find them, scan Mouraria (Rua do Benformoso and the surrounding area) around meal times. You’ll see groups of people ringing the bell at an inconspicuous building. A closer inspection usually reveals some kind of sign — a Chinese character next to the doorbell or red Chinese lanterns hanging on the window.

2. Go for a stroll at the Prazeres Cemetery

Prazeres, which literally translates as ‘Pleasures’ (seriously) is one of the largest and most iconic cemeteries in Lisbon, where many personalities — prime ministers, presidents, and artists, among others — were buried. It stands out for the beautifully built mausoleums and tombs, the largest and oldest collection of cypress trees in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the magnificent bridge and river views. You can also join a guided tour organized by the city hall.

In addition, this will give you an excuse to visit Campo de Ourique, the residential neighborhood where the cemetery is located. Here, you can also explore the last house that was inhabited by the poet Fernando Pessoa and dine at the Campo de Ourique Market (similar to the Time Out market but more low-key).

3. Check out a serial killer’s pickled head

Granted, we’ve now crossed the line between quirky and outright weird. But how often can you stare right into a serial killer’s eyes from a safe distance? If you’re a real crime aficionado, seize your chance.

Diogo Alves went down as Portugal’s first serial killer. In the 19th century, fear reigned on the streets of Lisbon, particularly on the Águas Livres Aqueduct, which farmers crossed to go sell their produce in town. Alves operated there, robbing his victims and then pushing them off, thus ending their lives. At first, these crimes looked like suicides, but he was eventually convicted. He was incidentally the penultimate criminal to ever be hanged in Portugal. The head was severed and preserved in a glass jar in formaldehyde, currently sitting in the anatomical theater at the University of Lisbon's Faculty of Medicine.

4. Have a taste of Lisbon’s drag show scene

Finalmente is a veteran of Lisbon’s nightlife and its drag shows are the best in town. Its performers, including the magnificent Deborah Krystall (the host and often the main attraction), are a delight for sore eyes. The pandemic changed the usual program but the club is up and running with shows every day of the week, Sundays included.

5. Explore the Loreto Underground Gallery


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While most people explore the upstairs Lisbon, why not check what’s hiding under the surface? There’s an underground tunnel from Jardim das Amoreiras to the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint, literally below everyone’s feet. Its name, Loreto. It was once part of the Águas Livres Aqueduct water system but it’s long been deactivated. The Water Museum occasionally organizes tours both in English and Portuguese. You can either contact them directly and ask when the next ones are or keep an eye out for them on your favorite Lisbon cultural agenda. Alternatively, there are private companies delivering similar tours, a simple Google search will help you find them.

6. Find your zen at Lisbon’s UFO

Some call it the absolute best view in Lisbon. So why doesn’t everybody know about it? It’s a bit different from other belvederes.

Located in the Monsanto Forest Park in the outskirts, Panorâmico de Monsanto (aka Lisbon’s UFO) has had many lives since its opening in 1968 — that of a luxurious five-floor restaurant, a bingo hall, a nightclub, an office building, and a storage site.

Then, at the start of the century, it became abandoned and was deemed unsafe for the public, but it thrived as an urban art destination. In 2017, Panorâmico was refurbished for the first time and opened as a 360º viewpoint.

Rather than being turned into something entirely different, it’s kept its ‘UFO’ architecture and art panels, and it’s now combined with urban art pieces, including a Vhils creation. Unless there’s a special event happening (like the urban culture festival Iminente), you can visit the building for free within opening hours.

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