Terrace above Alcântara, outside Capela de Santo Amaro
The waterfront district of Alcântara is located between the city center and the monuments of Belém, in the shadow of 25 de Abril Bridge. Until recently, tourists had few reasons to come to this industrial and residential part of town, but there are now a number of worthy attractions. The lower part, around Largo do Calvário (the main square), was transformed in the 1990s, with restaurants and clubs taking over old warehouses. More recently came Lx Factory, a site of former factories, storerooms and workshops, that are now occupied by many of the city’s trendiest restaurants and shops, as well as design studios and art spaces.
The warehouses facing the dock directly below the bridge, across the train tracks, have also been restored and are restaurants and bars with terraces. It’s worth coming here in the afternoon for the picture-perfect views, and it’s also a good starting point for a waterfront walk to Belém (it takes about 15 minutes).
Terrace outside Tapada das Necessidades
High on the eastern side of the Alcântara valley is a former royal palace that’s closed to the public, but has a pleasant park and a viewpoint with a good panoramic view of the bridge. Down on the waterfront, across the road and the train tracks, is the interesting Orient Museum, which took over a large 1940s warehouse in 2008.
What to See and Do in Alcântara
At first sight, the 25 de Abril Bridge seems to have a curious resemblance to the Golden Gate, but it was actually inspired by another San Francisco bridge, the Bay Bridge. It was, however, built by the same company as the Golden Gate, and inaugurated in 1966. It links Lisbon to the south of Portugal, and especially to the beaches of Costa da Caparica. Inside one of the pillars is an exhibition about the bridge’s history and mechanisms, plus an observation deck for close-up and panoramic views.
See the 25 de Abril Bridge Visitor's Guide.
An abandoned factory complex from 1846 has turned its industrial spaces into offices, shops, cafés and restaurants. Most preserve the original interiors, and are decorated with vintage pieces or contemporary design. It’s one of Lisbon's trendiest addresses, not just for shopping and dining, but also as a street art gallery.
See the Lx Factory Visitor's Guide.
If you want to take the perfect photos of 25 de Abril Bridge, head to the dock below it. It’s home to a number of old warehouses that have been restored and turned into restaurants and bars, some of them serving drinks and meals throughout the day.
See the Docas de Santo Amaro Visitor's Guide.
Portugal was the colonial power with the longest presence in Asia (Macau was finally handed over to China in 1999), and this museum presents the arts that arose from the historical encounters between the West and the East, and shows how Portuguese and Asian cultures influenced each other. The collection includes Japanese screens, Indo-Portuguese furniture, Chinese porcelain, masks, paintings, textiles, and religious artifacts. The building is a large warehouse from the 1940s, which also has space for occasional concerts of Asian and world music, conferences and other events.
See the Orient Museum Visitor's Guide.
Carris is Lisbon’s public transportation company, and its main tram terminal doubles as a museum telling the story of the city’s trams, buses and metro. It displays vehicles originally drawn by horses, the first electric trams, and double-decker buses, and also shows how the Lisbon Metro evolved over the years. A beautiful old tram takes visitors between the different buildings of the museum. Behind it is Village Underground, a coworking space and cultural center made up of two piled old buses and 14 containers.
See the Carris Museum Visitor's Guide.
This pretty hilltop hermitage was built in 1549 but is known for its polychrome tile panels added in the early 1600s. They tell the life story of St. Maurus (“Santo Amaro”), and cover the porch, behind 18th-century wrought-iron gates. The terrace in front is a quiet viewpoint, with a fine view of 25 de Abril Bridge.
On the eastern side of the Alcântara valley, close to the Estrela district, is the pink Necessidades Palace, a royal residence from 1770, that’s now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and therefore closed to the public. However, the former royal hunting grounds next door are open, and despite some neglect (with its abandoned cages of a former royal zoo), it has a notable collection of exotic plants, including one of Europe’s biggest cactus gardens. Concerts are often staged on the lawn on summer weekends, but at other times it’s nearly deserted. Édouard Manet passed by in 1859, and it's said that it was here that he was inspired to paint his famous masterpiece “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” (“The Luncheon on the Grass”), now at the Orsay Museum in Paris. Outside the palace and the park is a terrace with a tall obelisk and fountain from 1747, from where there’s a view of 25 de Abril Bridge.
How to Get to Alcântara
You can be in Alcântara in just 4 minutes by train from Cais do Sodré station (it’s the Lisbon-Cascais train that departs every 20 minutes). When you step off the train in Alcântara-Mar, you may exit the station to the left to go to Docas de Santo Amaro, or to the right to cross the road towards Lx Factory.
Bus 714 and tram 15, which both depart from Praça da Figueira, also stop in Largo do Calvário, in the center of Alcântara. Bus 714 departs every 16 minutes and takes 23 minutes to reach the Calvário stop, while tram 15 departs every 12 minutes and takes 22 minutes. Both the bus and the tram tend to be too crowded, so the train is the better option (more comfortable and faster).
You may ride the train, buses and trams for free with the Lisboa Card.
Where to Stay in Alcântara
A magnificent palace from the 1800s, classified as a national monument, is now one of Lisbon's most luxurious hotels and the choice of visiting celebrities (Madonna stayed here twice and it is featured in her "I'm Going To Tell You A Secret" documentary). It's surrounded by lush landscaped gardens and offers a health club, indoor and outdoor pool, and even a stained-glass chapel. All of the 174 rooms have a sumptuous Louis XV and Louis XVI décor, and its restaurant serves refined Portuguese cuisine.
With its conference facilities and location between downtown and the monuments of Belém, this opera-themed hotel is a good choice for business and leisure travelers. Each room is named after a singer, and some offer views of 25 de Abril Bridge. The restaurants of Lx Factory are about a 10-minute walk away, but the hotel also has a restaurant which often presents live music. Other facilities include a fitness center, an indoor pool and a spa.