25 Things to Do in Lisbon

Stretched languidly along the banks of the Tagus River, almost midway up Portugal’s west coast, Lisbon is magnetic. Consistently ranked among Europe’s top destinations for tourism and quality of life, Lisbon is a thriving city packed with contemporary attractions that sit comfortably among its time-honored facets, a city that effortlessly manages to blend tradition with trendy. Add exciting cuisine, welcoming hospitality, and first-class accommodations, and you get a hugely appealing destination. Here are the best things to do in Lisbon:

Rooftops in Alfama, Lisbon.
Rooftops in Alfama. Photo © Luis Ricardo Silva | Dreamstime.com

1. Take in a soulful fado show in the historic Lisbon neighborhoods of Alfama or Bairro Alto

This moving, soulful genre of music can be traced back to Lisbon in the early 19th century. Alfama is widely believed to be the birthplace of fado, but Bairro Alto is also popular for its maze of streets with intimate little fado restaurants and characterful bars.

2. Indulge in one of Portugal’s many regional delicacies

Any trip to Lisbon is incomplete without a mouthful of delicious pastel de Belém, the Belém neighborhood’s own version of the pastel de Nata, which still follows the original local recipe. It’s Portugal’s most famous sweet.

3. Visit the National Tile Museum, housed in a 16th-century convent

See a collection of traditional hand-painted azulejo ceramic tile plaques, some dating from the 15th century.

4. For a museum experience without major crowds, hit the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

One of Lisbon’s less-celebrated treasures, its collection ranges from Greco-Roman antiquities to contemporary pieces.

5. Sample some of Portugal’s unique, indigenous wines and spirits…

…like vinho verde, a slightly fizzy, fruity, crisp young wine that originated in the Minho region, or Madeira wine, a fortified wine that is baked to a thick, sweet consistency.

6. In the main downtown area, explore famous Comércio Square and its museums and landmarks—they’re all within walking distance

Make sure you climb the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the Triumphal Arch on Rua Augusta; its viewing terrace offers sweeping views of the plaza.

7. Book in advance and take a free guided tour of Roman ruins beneath the streets of Lisbon

Overlooked by many tourists, the Archaeological Center of Rua Correeiros showcases a wealth of Roman artifacts uncovered during the construction of the bank next door.

Lisbon's Belém Tower
Lisbon’s Belém Tower. Photo © Bogdan Lazar | Dreamstime.com

8. Climb to the top of Belém Tower

At the mouth of the Tagus River, this fortified tower was the last and first sight the country’s intrepid sailors had of their homeland when setting off and returning from their voyages.

9. For lunch, head to the bustling Time Out Market Lisboa, set back from the Cais do Sodré quay

Despite being more than 100 years old (it first opened in the 1890s), this market is livelier than ever, with a huge, often chaotic food court that boasts a vast variety of gourmet stalls showcasing innovative and traditional Portuguese fare.

10. Spend an afternoon wandering Jerónimos Monastery, Belém’s breathtaking centerpiece

A prime example of ornate Manueline architecture, with the stately Imperial Square Gardens sprawling in front of it, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

11. Kick back at Cervejaria Trindad

This beautiful brewery and banquet hall dates from the mid-1800s, when it was the place of choice for writers, poets, and politicians.

12. Wander the ruins of Carmo Convent, once the largest church in Lisbon

It starkly shows the devastation of the 1755 earthquake that razed the city and large swaths of Portugal. Today only its naked Gothic ruins still stand.

13. Stroll the Avenida Da Liberdade

An appealing mix of historic and contemporary buildings, high-end boutiques, and tree-shaded cafés lines the country’s most famous avenue.

14. Travel back to 1930s Lisbon at Café Nicola

Frequented by poet Manuel du Bocage, this art deco landmark epitomizes European coffee culture with its excellent coffees and top-notch breakfasts.

15. Catch a ride up one of Portugal’s many hills

In the modern Park of Nations (Parque das Nações) neighborhood, cable cars run between the Oceanarium and the modern 145-meter (476-ft) Vasco da Gama tower, gliding over the waterfront.

16. Take the elevator up to the observation platform of the Christ the King Statue

Arms outstretched high above the Tagus River, this iconic statue affords dazzling views over the city.

17. Bar crawl in historic Bairro Alto

The area has reinvented itself as the city’s liveliest and coolest nocturnal hangout, with chic wine bars, historic fado houses, and renowned jazz clubs.

18. Explore São Jorge Castle

On a hilltop in the heart of Lisbon, this imposing Moorish monument commands spectacular views of the historic city center and the Tagus River.

Outside the city

Pena Palace
Tour Pena Palace in Sintra. Photo © Leochen66 | Dreamstime.com

19. Tour the out-of-this-world Pena Palace in Sintra

Perched on a rocky peak often shrouded in clouds, the colorful, whimsical Pena Palace is the stuff of magic. This is Portugal’s finest example of 19th-century Romantic architecture.

20. Visit the ancient Almendres Cromlech outside Évora

This mysterious set of standing stones thought to be older than Stonehenge.

21. Immerse yourself in Templar history at Tomar’s massive Convent of Christ

Looming over the historic town of Tomar, this 12th-century complex is one of Portugal’s greatest works of Renaissance architecture, famous as the local headquarters of the Knights Templar.

22. Spot wild dolphins, along with more than 200 bird species, in the glistening Sado Estuary

The Sado Estuary is one of very few known estuaries in Europe to be home to a large pod of resident bottlenose dolphins.

23. Hop on the convenient Transpraia tourist train

Ride along Costa da Caparica’s beaches, a 30-kilometer (19-mile) stretch of pristine sand.

24. Walk paths where dinosaurs once roamed on the eerily remote and rugged Espichel Cape

Wind-battered and wild, Cabo Espichel is the Setúbal Peninsula’s most southwesterly headland, a barren cape with massive cliffs and an eerie, untamed feel.

25. Stroll the alluring Estoril-Cascais boardwalk

It’s a perfect way to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Lisbon’s most famous coastal retreats.

Start planning your adventure today.

Carrie-Marie Bratley

About the Author

Carrie-Marie Bratley moved to sunny Portugal from not-so-sunny South Yorkshire as a child and credits Portugal’s incredible weather, beaches, food, and drink for keeping her moored there. She has worked as a journalist and writer since 2004 and is a newscaster for an Algarve radio station, interpreting, researching and reporting on affairs in Portugal.

Carrie-Marie has traveled Portugal and its islands extensively (her absolute favorite place in Portugal is the heavenly island of São Miguel in the Azores), and has expanded her travels to South Africa, the Caribbean, Morocco, and of course, the UK, which she visits frequently to fill up on the traditional British delicacy of fish and chips. She loves photography, local festivals, and an early night with a good book.

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