7 Unusual Things to do in Lisbon

Like A Local Guide • 28 Aug, 2020

If you want to experience an offbeat adventure, there is no better place for you than the capital of Portugal. This colorful city harbors a plethora of fun places, activities, and people. The Bohemian atmosphere of Lisbon won’t leave you unimpressed.

Sample Delicacies at Conserveira de Lisboa

conserveira-de-lisboa-1Photo credit: Heather Cowper

There’s no better place in the world to buy canned fish than the Conserveira de Lisboa. The business started out as a small family-run grocery store in the 1930s. Shortly after, the family decided to specialize in nothing but canned fish. Today, it attracts fish lovers from all over the globe.

The colorful tins stacked in quaint wooden shelves hold some of the best Portuguese mackerel, sardines, cod, tuna, and eel money can buy. Thanks to their fashionable retro packaging, they are a treat for the eyes as well as for your taste buds.

Here, you can sample some of the best Portuguese delicacies preserved in spicy tomato sauce, lemon, olive oil, and a range of other tasty mixes. Just like in the old days, you can pick out your favorite canned fish and watch the clerk neatly wrap it up for you.

Buy Some Books at Livraria Simão

If you are looking to expand your Portuguese vocabulary, pay a visit to one of the smallest bookstores in the world. Here you can choose from 4,000 titles, mostly in Portuguese. And, all of these books are stored in a tight space of less than four square meters.

The bookstore features some of the most important Portuguese writers, such as Eça de Queirós, Camões, Saramago, and Fernando Pessoa. If you are not well-versed in Portuguese, there are also books in English, Chinese, Italian, and Spanish.

If you want to see a book up close, the clerk will have to step out with it outside the bookshop to show it to you, but that is something they are used to by now.

Check Out The Preserved Head of Diogo Alves

Long before true crime shows became a thing, Portugal had been fascinated by serial killers—or so it seems. Perhaps they took their fascination a bit too far when they decided to preserve the head of Portugal’s first serial killer and put in on display.

If you are into the eerie, you can check out this unusual vestige from the 19th century at the University of Lisboa. Warning: this bizarre exhibition may not be for the faint-hearted because the head of Diogo Alves is still in alarmingly good condition.

If you want to check it out, do know that this part of the university is not typically accessible to the public, only to students. However, you should be able to find a local guide that can take you there.

Start an Epic Pilgrimage

Your visit to Lisabon can be the start of an even bigger adventure. Most people know Lisbon for its trams, architecture, and street art, but the city is also famous for being one of the possible starting points of Camino Portugues—an ancient pilgrims’ way that leads to the shrine of Saint James in Santiago the Compostela.

Thousands of pilgrims, religious and non-religious alike, walk the Portuguese Way of Saint James every year. If you are looking to meet new people, build up your stamina, and experience all sides of Portugal, Lisbon is a great place to start your Camino.

Pay a Visit to the Doll Hospital

doll-hospital-1Photo credit: Jeremy Thompson

Not only does Lisbon have something as quirky as a doll hospital, but it has the oldest doll hospital in the world. Founded in 1830, Hospital de Bonecas is still standing at its original location. If you are feeling sentimental about your favorite childhood doll, you can bring it here for a makeover.

The resident certified “doll surgeon” Manuela Cutileiro, whose family has been running the businesses since it launched, will make sure it receives a new lease on life. Just don’t ask her if they keep the Bride of Chucky, they get that every day.

Whether your doll is made from fabric, wool, wood, metal, porcelain, or plastic, you can rest assured they will patch it up. But do know that the waiting list runs up to four months.

The Doll Hospital features an extensive museum of unclaimed dolls that have piled up over the decades. Most of them are half-finished “patients” from over a century of styles of dolls. For only 2 euros, you can see a wild and wooly collection of doll eyes, limbs, and heads. You will leave the Doll Hospital feeling both nostalgic and astonished.

Party With Sardines

If you ask the locals to recommend some unusual activities in Lisbon, the annual Sardine Festival probably won’t even cross their minds, but you can rest assured that it is far from the ordinary.

If you want to party like Lisboans, prepare to be eating a lot of fish in one sitting. Each year, the locals organize this one-of-a-kind feast in honor of St Anthony. On this day, there are floods of dancers and performers in the streets of Lisbon. And, somehow, sardines came to be the center point of these street parties.

If you visit Lisbon in June, be sure to take part in the festival. The locals really love it when visitors join in on the event, and they will make sure you have an unforgettable time.

Have a Drink at Pavilhão Chinês

pavilhao-chines-1Photo credit: Vitor Oliveira

Part bar, part museum, and part curiosity shop, Pavilhão Chinês is one of the lesser-known icons of Lisbon. The place used to be a grocery store that sold teas and spices, hence the name “Chinese Pavilion.”

In 1987, the current owner decided to turn it into a unique cabinet of curiosities. It is housed in a 1901 building and you have to ring an ancient bell if you want to get inside.

The bar features five quirky rooms that are decorated with vintage oddities and collectibles. There are model boats and planes hanging from the ceiling, shelves with all sorts of action figures and dolls, vintage paintings on every wall, and rows of military uniforms and helmets.

Behind the bar, there are many interesting porcelain figurines and china plates. On your way to get a drink, you will be greeted by a British palace guard mannequin. This spirited curiosity establishment is a great place to have some “bacalhau” and a glass of wine.

Cover photo credit: Andreas Brücker

imageI’m Rebecca, a translator and avid traveler, a book worm and horror flick enthusiast. My job has given me the amazing opportunity to travel to dozens of countries around the world, and writing on Rough Draft gives me a chance to try to showcase some of them.


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