In our 5 Shops series, we’ll point you in the direction of our favorite independent shops across some of the world’s best cities. From food markets to bookshops, vintage and homegrown design, we’ve found a diverse and exciting mix of local retailers where you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.
Lisbon’s cobblestone alleys, domed churches and street art make it one of the most photogenic and simply delightful cities in the world.
Visitors take in a vibe of old-fashioned elegance combined with creative buzz as they explore Lisbon’s streets – a mix perhaps best expressed in its quintessential retail outlets. Which are the spots that best embody the city’s spirit? Read on for our picks for Lisbon’s five best independent shops.
Pick up a memorable gift at A Vida Portuguesa
The Portuguese-language sign out front says “Welcome to the Most Beautiful Shop in Town” – and I would up the ante to “in the World.” A Vida Portuguesa occupies a former tile factory filled with brick archways and iron pillars, with tile-lined walls, warm lighting, old advertisements and apothecary-like displays. It’s like traveling back in time.
This is essentially a souvenir shop – yet this term doesn’t do justice to the eclectic, elegantly curated selection of goods and legacy products sourced from across the country. Think rustic, hand-woven wool rugs from Portugal’s south, old-timey toys, uniquely Portuguese kitchen tools, quirky ceramics, fragrant soaps, even beautiful tins of metal polish. I always make a beeline for the section that sells food and food-related items like obscure cookbooks, tinned seafood, regional sweets, wines. And A Vida Portuguesa is even where I bought my shaving brush and aftershave.
Get your knit on at Retrosaria Rosa Poma
Retrosaria is Portuguese for haberdashery, the type of store that specializes in thread, needles and buttons. Retrosaria Rosa Pomar is this eponymous Portuguese artist’s effort at the genre, with a distinct emphasis on wool. There are a few prêt-à-porter items available, as well as some bolts of cloth (including Portuguese flannel with handsome, traditional patterns), but the majority of stock here consists of beautiful balls of yarn made from Portuguese sheep.
If you’re new to knitting, a good starting point is the Badana Hat Kit, which includes yarn from the churra badana sheep, instructions on knitting a cap, and a leather badge, the package Rosa’s effort to prevent the extinction of this rare, indigenous breed.
Lisbon’s best vintage shop is Dona Ajuda
Lisbon has seen a small explosion of vintage and secondhand shops in recent years – and my favorite is Dona Ajuda. It’s a legit not-for-profit, staffed almost entirely by volunteers and with a policy that sees items donated to people in need every month (in 2022, it helped out more than 1600 families).
Located in a former market, it has a fun atmosphere, as well as a diverse, high-quality and ever-changing selection of goods. Women’s clothing, menswear, children’s clothing and kitschy knick-knacks occupy spaces that used to house butcher shops, while books and a small selection of furniture can be found in an adjacent market hall. The section I always head for is a small room filled with kitchenware: in particular, I love the selection of rustic, ceramic Portuguese cooking vessels, plates, pots and trays.
Sip wine at and leave with superb groceries from Comida Independente
Comida Independente exists in a zone between a wine bar and a mercearia (a small Portuguese grocery store). Regulars pop in for a chilled glass of wine and a snack – or (and?) to do a bit of grocery shopping. For me, the latter often means now-staples like a tub of Rainha do Pico butter – maybe the best butter in the world – and a tin of Pinhais sardines – maybe Portugal’s best brand for tinned fish. There’s also a really excellent selection of wines, with an emphasis on small producers. Comida Independente also functions as a community, with a weekly Saturday open-air market bringing together farmers, harvesters and food makers.
Dream up your next trip at travel bookstore Palavra de Viajante
This handsome, cozy bookstore stocks one of the most comprehensive collections of travel literature I’ve ever seen. Beyond guidebooks, the selection extends to travel-related fiction, current events, history, photography and (of course) Portugal, with lots of titles in English. There’s even a section of travel books for kids – and (my favorite part) a corner with cookbooks of cuisines from around the world. Owner Ana is knowledgeable and helpful, and has also positioned Palavra de Viajante as a cultural center, with a space that plays host to travel-themed art exhibitions, book launches and talks.