Living like a local in Lisbon

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Alcântara's Praça CalvárioWhen we decided to return to Portugal for a month-long stay, Anita and I wanted to be based in Lisbon, but away from much-touristed Alfama. After some looking around the internet, we settled on an apartment in Alcântara, and looked forward to our view of the Tagus, easy access to transport, and a creative vibe. We found all these things and more.

Trendy, bustling Alcântara

Alcântara ‘s LX Factory compound was just a stroll away from our temporary digs. One of Lisbon’s most interesting bookstores, several restaurants and the creative space in an old fabrics factory made this a repeat destination. We joined the locals in catching buses and trams in both directions, and found our under-the-bridge location to be every bit as convenient as we had hoped.

25 de Abril suspension bridge
Completed in 1966 and originally named after dictator Salazar, the 25 de Abril suspension bridge across the Tagus River changed its name after the revolution of April 25, 1974. It has the longest central span of any bridge in Europe.
Alcántara
Commuters line the sidewalk at Praça Calvário, in Alcántara.
Ler Devagar
Ler Devagar (“read slowly” in English) rambles through two floors of industrial space in the LX Factory complex. It’s a great place for browsing a large selection of books and magazines, especially arts and culture in various languages.
LX Factory fashion
The atmosphere at LX Factory is eclectic, the ambiance laid-back. A roomy retail space near the entrance to the complex offers women’s clothing with bohemian flair.

Finding food

There are a number of tourist spots around the marina and in LX Factory, and we tried a few. We also quickly found a favorite local cafe for excellent coffee, pastel de nata and pastéis de bacalhão. Just a few blocks out the tram line, another neighborhood restaurant serves up a very good seafood rice–plus, its family owners are from Ponte de Lima, one of our favorite places in Portugal. Tile paintings of that city decorate the walls. We also frequented the neighborhood’s vegetable market and butcher shop, for meals to make “at home” in our apartment kitchen.

Restaurante Sto. Amaro
José Fernando, proprietor of the family-owned Restaurante Sto. Amaro in Alcántara. A specialty here is fresh fish, and the seafood rice is especially tasty.
Restaurant Cantina
Restaurant Cantina LX is a funky venue with a wood-fired oven and advertisements plastering the walls. The restaurant is perfect for a filling home-style meal at reasonable prices.
Butcher shop
Butchers taking morning delivery at their shop on Praça Calvário.

Gritty charm

Many buildings in Lisbon have not been maintained over the years, and neglect has generated an atmosphere of gritty realism that loves to have its picture taken. Take a look.

Alcântara
A wall near LX Factory
Alcântara
This door, like many in Lisbon, has lost its sheen, but retained its charm.
Peeling paint
Peeling paint and stucco catch afternoon sun and shadow, framed with arched windows and ironwork.
LX Factory
Behind an iron gate, the cobblestoned street and re-purposed industrial buildings of LX Factory. The street fills with pedestrians in the evening.

Tram central

Lisbon’s famous Tram 28 (and the 18 and 25) pass through Praça Calvário, the latter two on a regular route and the 28, on its way to and from the Carris maintenance yard. In the evening, when many of the city’s vintage single-car trams come into the yard, it is easy to imagine a time gone by, when those were the only ones in operation. It’s still impressive to think how many of the trams make their way up and down Lisbon’s hilly routes.

Tram stop
Praça Calvário is just 10 minutes from Lisbon’s Cais de Sodré terminal by tram or bus.
Tram maintenance yard
Vintage trams are housed alongside modern ones in the Carris maintenance yard in Alcântara, Lisbon.

Street art and symbolism

Our part of Alcântara sprawls beneath the Ponte 25 de Avril, and as elsewhere in Lisbon, there is plenty of street art on view. Here are just three examples:

Street art
Newly minted street art beneath the Ponte de 25 Abril bridge celebrates 40 years of democracy.
Street art
Street art covers every post and most walls under the Alcântara Mar train station.
street art
The Ponte de 25 Abril bridge soars above artwork shared by LX Factory and the Carris Museum. The museum is located in the Santo Amaro Depot which still houses Lisbon’s trams today.

At home in Alcântara

If there was a negative to our choice, it would have to be the noise factor. In our third-floor walk-up, with its lovely sunrises and view of the bridge and river, we shared our meals on the balcony with every plane approaching the Lisbon airport. And we experienced firsthand, the whirring of vehicles of all sorts over the stunning bridge. Despite these distractions, the hourly chiming of church bells–just as those from Basel’s Munster and Rathaus–made us feel right at home.

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We love Portugal! To see all our travel stories from this wonderful country, click here

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4 COMMENTS

  1. We also stayed in Alcântara once and liked it. We had a swanky duplex loft apartment in a converted factory just off the main road so the noise wasn’t too bad. It’s great to have the choice between the traditional local cafés and restaurants and the more dynamic and intriguing LX Factory.

    Have you made it to the Tapada das Necessidades park yet? There was an outdoor concert going on when we stumbled across it but probably nothing going on in autumn. There’s a viewpoint just before you get there and it’s a pleasant place for a stroll and a fix of greenery.

    And if you’re still in Alcântara, try the little Nepalese restaurant on Rua do Sacramento.

    • Thanks, Julie! We ate at the Nepalese resto last week, and enjoyed the friendly service there…no concerts in the area at this time, but it’s not far to Belem, where we had a great evening tasting wines from Alentejo!

  2. I’d love to live like a local in Lisbon even with a few noisy distractions. Actually, I’d be happy just to have a short visit — sometime soon, I hope. I’m intrigued with the black and white photos of scenes that I’m sure were very colorful. Something very cool about that and how it makes me think of the scenes as I look at them. Well done!

    • Hello Cathy,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I am happy you liked the photos. Yes, Black & White photos make you look at the scene differently, sometimes color can be a distraction. There is a lot of color in Alcântara but I used Black & White to bring out the gritty feel.

      Good luck on getting to Lisbon, it is a fun city with a lot of great food and culture.

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