The Baixa (lower town) district is the heart of Lisbon and stretches northwards from the imposing riverside Praça do Comércio square (otherwise known as Terreiro do Paço), to the beginning of the long Avenida da Liberdade avenue, encompassing the area lying between Cais do Sodré and Alfama.
The area to be affected worst by the devastating 1755 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, this riverside district marked the starting point for the construction of a new Lisbon. Under the guidance of then Prime Minister, Marquês de Pombal, innovative urban planning resulted in an area built in a grid system along the central axis of the now pedestrianised Rua Augusta. Featuring grand, open squares and uniform architecture, its perpendicular streets were named after the various tradesmen that worked in the area.
For many years the hub of commerce in Lisbon, its traditional haberdashers, cobblers, goldsmiths, family-owned retailers and numerous cafés and restaurants now share the area with a string of familiar high street names. Lisbon’s oldest café, the two-century old Café Restaurante Martinho da Arcada, is situated under the arcades of the northern side of Praça do Comércio. Originally founded as an ice-cream parlour, this atmospheric café has always been a favourite with prominent literary figures and artists, and to this day continues to reserve the table that was always occupied by its most renowned patron, poet and author, Fernando Pessoa.
Lying just off the bustling Rossio square in Largo de São Domingos, the captivating little bar, A Ginginha, is another delightful example of the traditional side of Portugal. Named after the cherry and brandy-based drink it sells, this was the first shop to sell this liqueur in Lisbon and has always been a favourite haunt with many of the local inhabitants.
For fabulous views of the Baixa area, head to the impressive Elevador de Santa Justa. Designed by a Portuguese apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, it was built to provide access from Baixa to the Bairro Alto and features a rooftop café that affords magnificent panoramic views of Lisbon.