Part of the fun for us when visiting a new city is in poking around the shops and markets, looking for the odd things that you just don’t see at home. As with any large place, Lisbon has several markets that are worthy of mention. On our trip, two in particular stood out and are worth planning a visit. The LX Factory Market and Feira da Ladra both can provide several hours of browsing and maybe even shopping, if you have room, in your no doubt over packed case, to take something home with you.
LX Factory - Sunday Market.
Based virtually underneath the spectacular Ponte25 de Abril (the older and shorter of the two bridges that cross the River Tagus), this is located in a classic bit of urban renewal. A huge old textile factory complex has been converted into one of those all-important creative hubs, which are ideally located in a former industrial complex. A collection of former textile buildings is now the centre for all sorts of business and creative ventures, along with the compulsory collection of interesting food and drink outlets. It’s also home to lots of great visual art and a stunning bookshop which is well worth checking out even if, like us, you can’t read Portuguese.
All this is great but it’s on Sundays that the place really kicks into life. The long central walkway between the buildings is home to a host of stall holders selling a vast array of items. Clothing, sunglasses, furniture, homeware and of course lots of pop up culinary treats. To the left and right of this walkway you find yourself distracted by the permanent units. You could buy some outrageous furniture, some local wine or have a haircut. We didn’t do any of those things but did enjoy some brilliant home-made lemonade, some great Argentinian empanada’s and had some incredible cheesecake in unit that also sold glasses. The first time that I’ve come across the classic cheesecake/glasses crossover market.
Although a little away from the centre of town the LX Factory is easily reached by bus, tram or even train from Cais de Sodre.
Feira da Ladra – Tuesday and Saturday Market
This is probably the most famous market in Lisbon, as I understand it Feira da Ladra translates as “Market of Thieves”, sounds like a good place to visit! It’s a crazy sprawling market with a ridiculous array of things for sale. The market is in the shadow of the enormous dome of the National Pantheon wrapping around the delightful small park of Botto Machado on Campo de Santa Clara, just on the edge of the picturesque Alfama district.
We were staying a five-minute walk east of the market, so approached it via R. Mirante and were initially somewhat surprised at what we saw. People had blankets on the ground, no tables, selling what would reasonably be considered junk. Old taps, broken dolls, torn picture, badly worn shoes it was all really dreadful stuff. “is this it?” We thought.
As we rounded the corner of the park and headed uphill, it was more of the same. There were proper stalls to our left, beneath the elevated park, we decided to save those for later and made for the excellent Clara Clara café, in the park. If you are in Lisbon for any time at all you undoubtedly eat several of the famous Pasta de nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts), which are virtually omnipresent. I have to say, that the ones that made their way to our table here, just after popping out of the oven, were right up there with the best that we had on our trip. Lovely firm crisp base and crust, filled with a delicious egg custard, a little sprinkle of cinnamon and icing sugar and you have small piece of heaven.
Suitably fortified we headed back out to the market and took our time to wander amongst bizarre and the wonderful. Great kitchen utensils, amazing maps, art deco wall lights, great swathes of magazines and books, beautifully painted earthenware pots, carpets, chandeliers, dodgy looking laptops and mobile phones, broken chairs. The classy and the crass, side by side.
Round and round you go, never quite knowing what you will see next. At the east side of the Botto Machado park is a structure which looks like an old market hall. Around the edge of this place are some densely packed shops selling brilliant kids toys, film posters, inventive ceramics, creative handmade dresses and even the occasional genuine antique and pricey piece of furniture. Within the large building itself are a few tables and chairs and a café feature cheap and authentic regional dishes. Oddly you pay at the front of the building then (if your grasp of the local language is not great), try to explain to the ladies serving the food, what you have paid for.
On leaving we found the market was even more crowded with browsers, hawkers and the occasional musicians. Thankfully though there was no sign of any of the famous thieves.
The market is close to Santa Apolonia station, so handy for the bus and metro although the walk from there is very much uphill. Then again that’s Lisbon for you, there must be just as much downhill walking somewhere, we just didn’t appear to find it!