21 Unobvious Things To Do In Lisbon (True Hidden Gems) • Indie Traveller

To see the top highlights in Lisbon you need at least several days. But if you’re staying longer (or you’re based in Lisbon) you’ll have a perfect opportunity to see some of the lesser-known sights and areas.

Whether you’ve got a nose for secret off the beaten path spots, or you’re based in Lisbon and looking for some fun weekend activities, you’ll find there is always more to see and do. I’ve been living in Lisbon for four years now and I’m still discovering new things!

Here are 17 unusual things in Lisbon — what you might call the hidden gems, or simply which are not in the typical top 10 list. Don’t miss my other top things to see in Lisbon for first-time visitors.

1. Visit Queluz National Palace

Spend some time in Portugal and you’ll quickly learn this country has absolutely no shortage of ornate palaces. They’re all over Portugal, but Queluz is one that’s just outside of central Lisbon.

This 18th-century palace was once the royal residence for Queen D. Maria I and her husband Dom Pedro III. It has a Versailles-esque design, featuring glimmering golden ballrooms and historical gardens. It takes an hour or two to visit and chances are you’ll see virtually no tourists there.

How to get there: Take the train from Rossio Station to Sintra and get out after 20 minutes at Queluz.

2. Dine at a secret Chinese restaurant

Did you come to Lisbon to eat Chinese food? Of course not. But once you’ve sampled all the Portuguese cuisine, you may quite enjoy dining at a secret Chinese restaurant, which is an interesting part of immigrant culture in Lisbon.

Around Martim Moniz square exist many speakeasy-style Chinese restaurants, operating inside apartment buildings and sometimes inside the owner’s homes.

Going for a meal in a Chinês Clandestino is a fun experience. The staff probably won’t speak English or Portuguese, so you’ll have to point at pictures on the menu. You’ll get some cheap home-cooked Chinese food in a dining room-like setting.

If you type “illegal Chinese restaurant” into Google, you’ll easily find one, but this one isn’t so hidden nor very good. Ask a local instead, or explore the streets and alleys around Martim Moniz square (especially on the northeast side into Mouraria). Look for Chinese lanterns or find a doorbell with Chinese characters or a note saying ‘restaurant’. Press the buzzer and go inside.

3. See the dolphins in the Sado Estuary

This activity isn’t strictly in Lisbon but it’s within easy day-trip distance of the city.

Not many people know this, but the Sado Estuary south of Lisbon is home to several shoals of playful bottlenose dolphins. Since this is their permanent territory, you are almost guaranteed to see them on a dolphin watching tour.

The boat departs from the town of Setubal, which is easily reached from Lisbon by bus or car. From the deck of the catamaran, you will get great views of the dolphins as well as the Arrábida nature reserve. When I did this trip, we were lucky enough to see the dolphins display hunting behaviour, throwing fishes into the air and then catching them. It’s quite a magical experience!

4. Take the mini-train to Lisbon’s best beaches