Things to Do in Lisbon You Can’t Miss!

September 15, 2022

things to do in lisbon

Sunny Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Strategically standing on the estuary of the Tagus River, the city has a long and rich history dating back to the Romans. It’s a safe city with old-world charm, a temperate climate, delicious traditional cuisine, and many things to do in Lisbon to attract first-time and repeat visitors.

The capital of Portugal is spread out over seven hills and is divided into two parts by the Tagus River. The bridges “Ponte 25 de Abril” and “Vasco da Gama” connect two coasts.

The captivating and bohemian city is awash with historic tales, from a cliff-top Moorish castle, Roman imperialists, and new world explorer Vasco de Gama, to Reconquista knights and fierce Berber pirates.

In 1755 Lisbon was hit by a terrible earthquake, which destroyed 85% of buildings and took more than 60,000 lives. It took a long time for the city to rebuild and recover.

Lisbon at a Glance

lisbon

  • Elevation: 6.562′
  • Area: 38.63 mi²
  • Population: 504,718 (2016) United Nations
  • Best neighborhoods: Alfama, Alto, Baixa, Chiado

Here are the ten best things to do in Lisbon (plus one bonus!):

10 Santa Just Lift

Perhaps the world’s most beautiful elevator, the vertical lift designed by Portugal native Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, made its debut in 1902. Mesnier du Ponsard was inspired by the iconic tower in Paris that his colleague Gustav Eiffel created.

Located in the downtown district, the French-inspired cast iron and filigree structure lifts visitors to a platform where they can enjoy gorgeous panoramic views of Lisbon and continue on to attractions like the ruins of a gothic church located high on the hill without having to climb on foot.

Take note…there is a seemingly endless queue to pay and ride the elevator. But don’t despair, it is not difficult to climb the steps to get to the top, and is well worth the effort for the views of the Baixa neighborhood. And, you can always take the elevator down if you so choose.

9 Pink Street

pink street lisbon

This picturesque street has become an Instagram sensation. Rua Nova do Carvalho aka “the Pink Street” is located in the Cais do Sodre neighborhood.

This trendy spot was once the seedy red light district of Liston. They began painting the street pink in 2011 in an effort to improve the area. Their efforts worked as shady brothels and bars closed, replaced by a new, hip nightlife.

8 Tram 28

Tram 28 has been working its way up the steep, rickety tracks into the oldest parts of the city for decades. Once the primary mode of transportation in Lisbon these vintage “eléctrico” streetcars, wooden and painted yellow, are a throwback to another era. to Lisbon what red telephone boxes are to London

The one-hour journey starts at Martim Moniz and passes the clifftop São Jorge Castle, the medieval Monastery of St. Vincent, Basilica de Estrela, Feira da Ladra flea market, the Palacio de Sao Bento, and more, not to mention the spectacular views along the route.

Tram 28 is a vital part of the public transport grid and is still used by locals for their daily commute. Combined with it being an iconic tourist attraction, it is always jammed and you can wait in line for an hour or more to get on, depending on the time of day

7 Praca do Comercio

One of the star attractions of Lisbon’s downtown waterfront, the Praca do Comercio is an expansive plaza flanked by elegant 18th-century colonnades, a triumphal arch, trams, and an equestrian statue of King José I.. Before the earthquake of 1755, it was here where one found the royal palace. Today, with its sunflower yellow buildings, arcades, and a commanding statue of Dom José I, the aura is just as majestic.

Locals still refer to the square as the Terreiro do Paco or “yard of the royal palace.” Portugal’s Dom Jose I made his home here until the earthquake of 1755 reduced it to rubble.

A large triumphal arch completed in 1873 anchors leads to Rua Augusta, a busy boulevard filled with outdoor restaurants and boutique shops. The panorama from the top of the arch combines fantastic views of the surrounding landscape. To reach the top of the arch, visitors can first take an elevator but then must climb a spiral staircase to reach the top of the monument where a 360-degree river and downtown views await.

6 Convento do Carmo

Convento do Carmo is the ruins of a former Catholic convent damaged during the 1755 earthquake. Founded in 1389 as a convent for the Carmelite order, the arches and pillars of its gothic nave stand open to the sky, lending a mysterious vibe to the site.

In the archaeological museum, you can see a chapel, beautifully tiled with Baroque azulejos (glazed, decorative tiles) as well as relics, tombs, mummies, and pre-Columbian pottery.

5 Rossio Square

rossio square

Officially Pedro IV Square, tree-lined Rossio Square is the heart of the Pombaline Lower Town district. the “Rossio,” has been the city’s main gathering place since the Middle Ages when public beheadings and bullfighting showdowns were held on its cobbles.

The vibrant square features a central monument dedicated to former Portuguese King Dom Pedro IV. Around the plaza, visitors walk on wavy-designed paving as they admire elaborate fountains and beautiful buildings. It’s an ideal place to begin your day sipping coffee at one of the cafés.

4 Belem District

You’ll have to drive or take public transportation to get to the Belem area, but the sheer number of attractions there makes it worth spending some time here.

Torre de Belem

belem tower

UNESCO World Heritage Site Torre de Belem (Belem Tower) perched on the waterfront was built River between 1514 and 1520 by architect Francisco de Arruda to protect the port. The iconic tower attracts visitors for its attractive fusion of architectural styles from the Mudejar to the Moorish, the Gothic to the Romanesque, as well as its role in history and 16th Century battles for control of the harbor and city.

Built in the Age of Discovery the four-story limestone tower with dome and cannons is said to have been the last sight adventurers like Vasco da Gama would have seen as he drifted out discoveries.

There is very little to see inside the tower, but if you’re willing to climb the five floors of narrow stairs, you’ll be rewarded with great views at the top.

Monument to the Discoveries

The Monument to the Discoveries is made up of a group of sculptures that honor the Portuguese’s Discoveries. The structure represents the prow of a sailing ship that brave Portuguese navigators would have used to cross the oceans and discover new lands.

Leading the ship is Prince Henry the Navigator and behind him more than 30 statues of historical figures who played a big part in Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. These include King Alfonso V, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Alvares Cabral and Ferdinand Magellan.

Visitors can ride an elevator to enjoy the view from the top of this Lisbon landmark.

Monastery of Jerónimos

things to do in lisbon

Jerónimos Monastery has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and is the most important monument in the Belém area. Commissioned in 1501 by King Dom Manuel I, to mark Portugal’s most glorious age which was called “The Golden Age of Discovery.” it is a symbol of the Portuguese Discoveries and Vasco da Gama’s pioneering sea voyage to India in 1498.

Built in a fanciful fusion of architectural designs known as Manueline style, the gold limestone masterpiece has ornate spires, intricately wrought stonework, carved stone portals, intertwined arches, vaulted latticework ceilings, and twisted rope turrets in the cloisters.In the nave of the church is the tomb of world-renowned navigator Vasco da Gama, whose voyages to India made Lisbon a wealthy maritime city.

Pastais de Belém

pastel de nata

To try Portugal’s signature confection (see #3 below), this is the best and original vendor. These absolutely incredible cinnamon-dusted egg custard tarts are entrenched in Portuguese history. Originally part of a sugar refinery, this shop has been cranking out the only proprietary recipe passed down by monks of the adjacent Jerónimos Monastery since 1837. All others, while also good, are reasonable fact similes.

Like everyone else, we waited in line to be seated inside the retro blue and white tiled restaurant (waiting for takeout is much longer). We purchased a six-pack and coffees…ahhhh, foodgasm!

LX Factory

lx factory

Just a short walk from the above attractions in Belem, in the port neighborhood of Alcântara, you’ll find the LX Factory is former textile complex from the 19th century that’s been reborn as a trendy, bohemian collection of boutique shops, restaurants, bars, and office spaces. It’s worth a stroll-through after visiting the attractions in Belem.

3 Traditional Food

food in lisbon

The fact that this is listed as number three is significant; I’m not a foodie. However, I was bowled over by the deliciousness of Lisbon’s cuisine. Here are my favorites:

Pastel de Nata – don’t leave Lisbon without trying these, or, in my case, gorge on them every chance you get!  These delicious sweet egg custard tarts are served warm and doused with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Bacalhau – salted codfish that is one of the quintessential ingredients of Portuguese gastronomy. It’s served in a variety of ways, but my favorites were pastéis de bacalhau (fritters made with a batter rich in shredded cod, mashed potato, bound together with eggs, and cheese) and deep fried (watch out for the bones!).

Garlic shrimp – while you can find this in other seaside destinations, it cannot be any better than this. It’s served in a cast iron pan with lots of butter and garlic and crusty bread for dipping the excess sauce.

You might also want to also try the local liquor called ginjinha, a tart drink made from sour cherry.

2 Castelo de Sao Jorge

castelo sao jorge

One of Lisbon’s oldest treasures, St George’s Castle is undeniably the most visible landmark of Lisbon’s historic center. Standing sentry over the streets of the old Alfama District on the city’s highest hill, the great medieval citadel was first built by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. The castle has a long and turbulent history. For centuries, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, and Visigoths also used these fortifications. After Dom Afonso Henriques became Portugal’s first king in 1147, it became the domain of royalty,

castelo sao jorge

In addition to the castle itself, there are palisades and crenulated towers, parapets, archeological ruins, a terraced square, gardens, an encircling dry moat, and other anti-siege features.

things to do in lisbon

Climbing the castle ramparts reveals why this is the most-visited tourist site in Lisbon. The views of the red rooftops of Lisbon and the River Tagus from the parapets and battlements are magnificent.

1 Get Lost in Old Town

things to do in lisbon

Hands-down, my favorite pastime was just wandering around the old town neighborhoods of Baixa (where we were staying) and Alfama (the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon).

Baixa

baixa

Nestled between the city’s two tallest hills, Baixa is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Lisbon and its historic heart and commercial center. Neoclassical structures built after the 1755 earthquake surround grand plazas. Bustling pedestrianized streets juxtaposed in an orderly grid next to fascinating historical sights and an endless cluster of traditional umbrella restaurants, souvenir shops, and boutique hotels.

things to do in lisbon

It’s the most touristy part of town, with the city’s main pedestrian street (Rua Augusta) linking the grand 18th-century squares:

  • Praça do Comércio on the waterfront is one of Europe’s largest and most delightful squares, often compared to Venice’s Piazza di San Marco.
  • Praça Rossio, the city’s centuries-old center, is notable for its black and white mosaic wave-patterned pavement and two impressive fountains brought in from Paris in 1890.

Alfarma

alfarma

Alfama is a medina-like neighborhood of narrow and maze-like streets at the foot of Castelo Sao Jorge.You can’t go wrong just wandering through the charming medieval streets that are about as close to the old town centers of Europe’s other ancient capitals as you’ll get.

It’s the oldest quarter in historic Lisbon, dating back to the Moors of Africa. When most of Lisbon was rocked by the 1755 earthquake, the old Moorish quarter of Alfama stayed standing.

things to do in lisbon

Lined with twisting, cobbled alleys leading to traditional houses transformed into lovely pastel-colored apartments, tasty eateries, lively taverns, and Fado clubs with melancholic Portuguese folk music wafting from the doorways, Alfama is Lisbon’s most charismatic neighborhood.

Alfama’s labyrinth of twisted cobbled alleys is the soul of the city and the kind of magical place you will dream about long after you’ve gone.

Miradouros

things to do in lisbon

The exhausting hike up the seven hills to Lisbon’s miradouros (lookout viewpoints) is worth it for the killer views that await, at sunset or any time of day really. Officially, there are 16 miradouros, but you will not likely get to all of them – we only got to two, but with meticulous research, we were happy with the ones we chose.

things to do in lisbon

View from Porto do Sol, Alfama

  • Portas do Sol has an astonishing vantage point over Alfama and the Tagus River
  • Castelo de São Jorge has amazing vistas over the red-tiled rooftops of the city and the Tagus River

11 Day Trip to Sintra

things to do in lisbon

Sintra is the day trip from Lisbon that you must absolutely add to your itinerary. Just a half-hour drive by car, it’s a magical place with a charming old town, baroque churches, colorful mansions, historic palaces, and an unforgettable romantic castle.

sintra

Sintra became a popular destination for Europe’s elite during the 19th century. The picturesque town is situated on the Portuguese Riviera within the hills of the Serra de Sintra.

Here are the places in Sintra to visit (note, you will not be able to see all of these in one day, but will have to choose your favorites):

  • Pena Palace
  • Quinta-da-Regaleira
  • Castle of the Moors
  • Palace of Monserrate
  • Chalet Bister
  • Palacio National
  • Cabo de Roca

pina palace

The highlight, of course, is Pena Palace. Of Sintra’s extraordinary number of Romantic era palaces, villas and castles, none is more exuberant than Pena Palace. King Ferdinand II’s avid imagination gave rise to this fantastical Moorish-Manueline creation with its riot of candy-colored domes and spires set on a high hill surrounded by forests and botanical gardens.

pina palace

We booked a full-day customizable tour and we absolutely loved it. Tania, our local guide was knowledgeable and fulfilled our every whim! Plus, as a local, she understood the moody weather of Sintra and reversed some of our activities so that we’d be able to get the best possible photos. She also included stops in Cascais and Boca Inferno on the way back to Lisbon.

cabo da roca

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About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

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