How to plan a bar crawl in Lisbon's buzzy Bairro Alto

Go on a bar crawl in the city’s Bairro Alto, where local haunts are set in everything from a former gothic chapel to an ex-brothel.

View over Lisbon's rooftops.

Photograph by Getty
By Kerry Walker
Published 1 Nov 2022, 06:03 GMT

It’s no secret that Lisbon is always up for a festa, with a nightlife scene to rival anywhere in Europe — and its star is still rising. Sitting astride seven hills and the broad Tagus River as it flows out to sea, the Portuguese capital never looks lovelier than from a rooftop bar, as the sunset lights up your cocktail and the city’s jumble of pastel houses.

Yet, the city really comes to life after midnight (many locals don’t even bother going out before then), particularly in the Bairro Alto’s warren of narrow alleys, where bars sit cheek by jowl and the fun spills out onto the cobbles. There’s no clear divide between pub and club, so hop between bars where the mood and music take you and dance wherever you please.

This bar crawl dives into the lanes of Bairro Alto and shines a light on Lisbon’s speciality: reinvention. Discover everything from born-again chapels and brothels to functioning barbershops, where craft beer, wine and cocktails are served with good vibes and a slice of the city’s soul.

1. Park 
There’s no better place to watch the sun set over the Tagus River and Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge than this hip rooftop bar. Park is set above an unassuming multistorey car park — to find the unmarked staircase to its entrance, simply follow the trail of people disappearing into the lot. Sink a cocktail or sangria in the foliage-draped terrace, as the city’s lights go on to a soundtrack of jazz, hip hop and Afro beats. 

2. By the Wine
Just a quick toddle down the hill, this wine bar is a corker, with a vaulted ceiling lined with backlit bottles, and a long wooden bar adding a shot of sophistication to the night. You’ll find the entire range of Sogrape wines here, from big Douro and Dão reds to zingy Alentejo and Vinho Verde whites. Vinhos, starting at around €3 (£1.6) a glass, are paired with tapas-style dishes such as salmon ceviche and spicy pica-pau steak bites. 

3. Pensão Amor
A few minutes’ walk downhill is this former brothel, now a happening bar. The decor here is riotously over-the-top, with lashings of velvet, gilt-framed mirrors, beaded chandeliers and paintings of nudes harking back to its past life. Set on the corner of Lisbon’s ‘Pink Street’, once the haunt of sex workers, sailors and drunken rogues, it now lures punters with DJs, burlesque shows and punchy cocktails. 

4. O Bom O Mau e O Vilão
Right next door, set in a revamped Pombaline town house, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ always has a great buzz, but go after midnight and you’ll find it packed. Its rooms playfully juggle period features and backlighting, contemporary art and tables for conversing — a rare find in Bairro Alto’s bars. DJs here spin a mix of jazz, funk, soul and electronica, while fresh-fruit cocktails are matched with Mexican appetisers. 

5. A Capela 
Dive into the mazy lanes of Bairro Alto, a short walk north, and pray you’ll be able to squeeze into A Capela. This former gothic chapel might just be party heaven, especially after 2am: cheap beer and mojitos flow freely, while flamboyant murals give you the chance to rub shoulders with a Renaissance nude. The DJ generally plays funky house and electronica but sometimes strays into more mainstream disco, too. 

6. O Purista Barbière 
A few minutes’ stroll east of A Capela, this bar set in a grand old barbershop combines razor-sharp decor with mellow DJ-spun tunes. Visit in the early evening to get a short back and sides with your beer, but O Purista is also a great place to end a late night. Bartenders with impressively groomed facial hair pour Belgian and Portuguese craft beers and mix excellent gin cocktails. 

Did you know?
Sidling up to Bairro Alto, Príncipe Real is the heart and soul of gay Lisbon, where you can drift from disco to drag club as you fancy. Cerveteca Lisboa is a hotspot for craft beer, while Cinco Lounge whips up some of the city’s most imaginative cocktails. 

Published in the November 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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