Post overview: A helpful roundup of the BEST things to do in Lisbon, Portugal
More than any other European city, Lisbon has my heart. My husband and I enjoy this charming city so much that we recently returned for a month-long stay.
We wanted to soak in the colorful splendor, easy-going locals and the plethora of things to do in Lisbon without the rush tight deadlines and busy schedules.
During our month in Lisbon, we discovered several gems and I would like to share that list with you today. Below is my personal list of the absolute BEST things to do in Lisbon, Portugal.
I hope you enjoy!
Helpful Lisbon Travel Tips
Portuguese is the official language spoken in Lisbon
However, it’s very easy to get by using English. Regardless, a little effort goes a long way. Here’s a few words worth learning and using during your visit to Lisbon.
- Hello = Ola!
- Goodbye: Adeus
- Please: Por favor
- Thank you: Obrigada
- Yes: Sim and No: Nao
Lisbon is all about enjoying the moment and taking it slow
So don’t rush your meal and don’t expect speedy service. Our meals ranged from 2 -4 hours and the experience was pure bliss, honestly.
Lisbon is budget friendly
Lisbon is considered one of the most budget-friendly cities in Europe. For example, a bottle of (delicious) house wine averages $15.
Public restrooms cost $1 to use
This is not uncommon in European cities, we just weren’t accustomed to paying for public restrooms. Just a heads up.
Drugs on the street
During our visit we noticed several folks trying to sell drugs. This mostly occurred in the evenings at main tourist attractions. A stern “no” was enough to end the conversation.
I mention this to give you a heads up, it wasn’t jarring so much as it was annoying. It wasn’t an issue for us.
Best Lisbon Souvenirs
Lisbon is known for cork, tiles and tinned seafood. All three make great souvenirs!
Is the Lisboa Card worthwhile?
The Lisboa Card is a gem we discovered during our last visit to Lisbon.
Visitors have the option of purchasing a 24 hour, 48 hour or 72-hour pass that covers unlimited rides on the Metro (trams, buses, trains), FREE admission to 35 museums (some of which are included on this list), Fast Track privileges, and additional discounts.
Honestly, getting the Lisboa Card is a no-brainer, we buy it everytime we visit Lisbon. There’s three places to buy the card: The Lisboa Welcome Centre, Lisbon Airport and Foz Palace.
Best Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal
#20. Visit the Lisbon Cathedral
Built in 1147, the Lisbon Cathedral is the oldest church in Portugal. This incredible structure miraculously survived the devastating earthquakes that have marred Lisbon over the years.
Admittedly the cathedral was severely damaged after the major 1755 earthquake, but it has been properly renovated over the years and was designated a National Monument in 1910.
The towering structure is a sight to behold and stands a stark contrast to the busy streets of Lisbon. As such, visiting this historic cathedral is one of the best things to do in Lisbon, especially for history buffs.
#19. Hop aboard Tram 28
You simply can’t visit Lisbon without taking a photo of the iconic yellow trams that run through the city.
The most famous is Tram 28, which ascends a steep hill and offers breathtaking views of the city and ocean below while making its way to the most beloved historic districts in Lisbon: Alfama, Baixa and Chiado.
Hopping aboard these vintage trams is one of the most popular things to do in Lisbon. And speaking from firsthand experience, I can’t recommend it enough.
You’ll comfortably travel through the hilly cobblestone streets of Lisbon and pass by some of the most iconic spots in Lisbon.
If you’re anything like me and spend the first day of a trip getting accustomed to a new city, there’s no better place to start than by riding Tram 28. For €3 you’ll be privy to the best the city has to offer, all within a one-hour ride.
Note: To be courteous to locals that use Tram 28 as an actual means of transportation, don’t use Tram 28 as a hop on/hop off experience.
#18. Get lost in the Alfama District
The Alfama District is one of the most charming (and oldest) areas in Lisbon. Thankfully it’s ripe for exploration, too!
In fact, during our month in Lisbon, we felt ourselves drawn Alfama almost daily. Between the warmth of the Portuguese culture, inviting al fresco restaurants, narrow streets and iron-clad balconies, we were smitten.
Wander aimlessly and you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by various viewpoints, old churches, people-watching opportunities, stores and cafes. There’s never a shortage of great things to see in Alfama, you can be sure of that.
All this to say, wandering the meandering streets of the Alfama District is one of the most exciting things to do in Lisbon. You won’t want to miss it.
#17. Explore São Jorge Castle
The São Jorge Castle (St. George’s Castle) is a popular landmark to see in Lisbon. Casting shadows on Alfama below, this impressive castle sits atop the highest point in Lisbon.
As you can imagine, the panoramic views of Lisbon from this vantage point are some of the best in the city. Try to catch sunset from here and you’ll be hooked.
The castle was originally built by the Moors but has been heavily altered by subsequent occupiers. Today it’s hard to find much of the original construction.
There is a €10 admission to view the grounds. The breathtaking views from the castle are worth the admission.
Love Portuguese castles? Then you’d love a day trip to Sintra, Portugal! Here’s 5 Picture-Perfect Sintra Castles You Can’t Afford to Miss
Image courtesy Pixels by Alexander Voss
#16. Take a stroll down Lisbon’s historic downtown district, Baixa
Teaming with lively restaurants and interesting small shops, Baixa is Lisbon’s charming and historic downtown. The area is clearly laid out in a gridded fashion and is well connected, so exploring is easy on foot or with public transportation.
While exploring Baixa, make sure to allocate an afternoon to Rossio Square. Built in the 13th century as a gathering place for locals, this remains one of the liveliest squares in Lisbon to this day.
So if mingling with locals tops your list of the best things to do in Lisbon, look no further than this.
#15. Enjoy some vinho verde
Vinho Verde literary translates to “green wine,” but really means “young wine.”
This specific type of wine originated in Portugal and is released 3-6 months after the grapes are harvested.
It has a distinct refreshing and tart flavor with a slight hint of fizziness. It’s the perfect pairing for seafood dishes (a specialty in Lisbon).
We enjoyed green wine so much, we started purchasing it in the US.
#14. Stroll down Pink Street
The official name of this Instagram sensation is Rua Nova do Carvalho, but it’s more commonly called Pink Street.
It can be found in the heart of Lisbon’s Red Light District, which is now referred to as the Pink Light District.
To better understand why the Pink Street exists, it’s helpful to remember that Lisbon has always been a working port town. As such, working men would look for ways to blow off some steam after a hard day’s work.
Like moths to a flame, these working men would congregate in the Red Light District to gamble, drink and then some. But overtime the city started to change and local officials sought to shed the reputation of this area by creating an attraction.
The solution? Pain the street pink. And you know what? It worked. New bars, restaurants and cafes started to fill vacant storefronts and the neighborhood became a cultural hub.
Today Pink Street is a very popular spot for bar hopping among tourists . In fact, it’s one of the most touristy spots in Lisbon during peak travel season — whether that’s a good thing or not is up to your discretion.
#13. Take a break at the Praca do Comercio
Praca do Comercio is a public courtyard with cheery cafes and restaurants that sits on the Tagus River. This is one of the most famous places to see in Lisbon, so it swells with people during the daytime.
You might hear locals referring to this place as still Terreiro do Paco (palace yard). That’s because it used to the location of the Pacos da Ribeira, a palace that was destroyed during the great earthquake of 1755.
If you’d like to rest your legs, head to Martinho da Arcada, the oldest cafe in the city. Sipping a cafe while people-watching at Praca do Comercio is one of the most relaxing things to do in Lisbon. Give it a try if you’re in need of a break.
#12. Listen to Fado
Fado is a unique style of music native to Portugal. Often found in restaurants during the late evening hours, the songs are guaranteed to serenade you while you dine over a candle-lit meal.
Fado dates back to 1820 and the most common area to experience it is in Alfama. If there’s only one thing you do in Lisbon, this should be it!
A talented vocalist sings a soulful (oft melancholy) poetic song while being accompanied by an equally talented musician on a guitar or mandolin. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
#11. Eat all the seafood you can get your hands on
Like most port towns, Lisbon is renowned for its incredible seafood, especially cod and octopus.
But it gets even better, the prices are reasonable (especially compared to American prices). We had a plethora of octopus dishes and they averaged $15-20 each, a steal of a deal!
There’s two traditional seafood dishes I recommend trying in Lisbon:
- Bacalhau à Bràs: flaked cod mixed with scrambled eggs, thinly sliced potatoes, parsley, and black olives.
- Polvo à Lagareiro (translates to octopus and olive oil): cooked octopus served with cooked potatoes, drizzled lavishly with quality olive oil, garnished with garlic and cilantro.
#10. Try the most renowned treat in Portugal, pastel de nata
My only regret after returning home from Lisbon was not eating more pastel de natas. So learn from my mistake and stuff those things in your pockets if you have to.
These sweet warm egg custard treats are served in flaky crusts and are absolutely heavenly. Seriously, they’re worth every last calorie.
There’s two places to get them and both of these bakeries are well-worth a detour:
- Casa Pastéis de Belém: This bakery is known as the birthplace of the pastel de nata, so you can’t afford to skip it.
- Manteigaria: There’s an outpost at the Time Out Market if you don’t want to wait too long, very delicious. I ALWAYS stock up when I’m nearby.
#9. Explore Bairro Alto & Chiado
Barrio Alto and Chiado are older parts of Lisbon chock-full of tiny cafes, colorful homes and interesting small shops. You’ll find narrow cobble-stone streets, large city squares and a cheerful congregation of locals and tourists.
The area is classy and fun to explore during the daytime, but it really comes alive in the evening. You’ll find tons of fun bars and trendy restaurants, not to mention the breathtaking view of the city at night.
#8. Visit the Gulbenkian Museum
Visiting the Gulbenkian Museum is one of the best things to do in Lisbon for history buffs. The impressive art collection spans 5,000 years and the building itself is a work of art.
The museum is named after Calouste Gulbenkian, an art collector that amassed a breathtaking collection over his lifetime. Visitors can join a guided tour or pick up an audio guide when purchasing admission (10€).
For more helpful information about the museum, read here.
#7. Bike along the Promenade in Belém
Belém is the Portuguese word for Bethlehem. This is a very history district in Lisbon and the very starting point of many expeditions during the Age of Discovery.
Many of these expeditions directly contributed to Portugal’s wealth, which was used to build impressive buildings and structures. You’ll find a high concentration of Manueline style buildings in Belém and one of my favorite ways to explore the area is by biking along the promenade.
One of the monuments you’re sure to pass is Padrão dos Descobrimentos, erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator.
And no, that’s not the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge in Belém!
#6. Just for kicks, check out the Elevador de Santa Justa
The Elevador de Santa Justa is one of the most unique things to do in Lisbon. Built in 1902 and towering a stately 150 feet, this iron structure offers one of the best views of the charming city skyline.
You might wonder why this incredible wrought iron structure exists. Well, Lisbon is a very hilly city and there’s a handful of public elevators peppered throughout the city to help folks navigate steep sections.
I don’t necessarily recommend riding the elevator (unless you feel compelled) because the lines are long and there’s an admission of €5.30. However, if you have the Lisbon Card, you can ride the elevator for free because the Elevador de Santa Justa is an extension of the public transportation network.
If you use your Lisbon Card to hitch a ride you will not have access to the viewing platform.
Did you know? The architect behind this masterpiece, Raoul Mesnier, apprenticed under French engineer Gustave Eiffel (the man behind the Eiffel Tower).
#5. Visit the São Vicente de Fora Monastery
Yet another incredible sight to see in Lisbon for history buffs is the São Vicente de Fora Monastery. The monastery was built between the 16th and 17th centuries and is considered one of the most impressive (and important) Mannerism style works today.
The striking glazed tiles are worth the visit alone!
#4. Explore the Tower of Belém
I have a special place in my heart for UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Torre de Belém (Belém Tower ) is no exception. The tower is a few minutes from the city center and definitely worth a visit.
Sitting on the Tagus River, the Tower of Belém was built in the 16th Century and stood watch over the city. Also, something a lot of folks don’t realize is that a lot of exploratory around-the-world voyages originated in Lisbon.
As such, Belém Tower was the last thing most explorers saw before sailing out to the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean.
So yes, visiting Belém Tower is one of the best things to do in Lisbon because it’s an important landmark. Plus, it gets you away from the busyness of the city, if you need a little break.
We chose to hop on city bikes and head over for sunset. This place is very popular, but the crowds were minimal toward the evening. I suggest visiting early in the morning or around dusk to avoid crowds.
#3. Visit the Monastery of Jerónimos
During the Age of Discovery Portugal accumulated a lot of wealth due to the lucrative profits from spice trades with India and Africa.
And like most countries, it wanted to show it off. The solution? Building breathtaking structures that would withstand the test of time.
The Monastery of Jerónimos is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 10+ years of travel. It’s no wonder this is one of the most visited places in Portugal.
The intricately details stone and wood carvings that cover every inch of this monolithic monastery are mind-boggling. Admission is €10 per adult and worth every penny.
Similar to Belém Tower, the Monastery of Jerónimos is an important example of the breathtaking Manueline style (a glorious mixture of architecture styles inspired from the travels during the Age of Discovery).
While exploring the monastery don’t skip the opportunity to admire the grandiose tombs of notable Portuguese.
#2. Grab a bite at the Time Out Market
The Time Out Market is a great food hall stuffed to the brim with vendors of all sorts. We’re talking 26 restaurants and 8 bars. We had delicious ceviche and great brews here.
Tip: Manteigaria (best pasteis de nata in Lisbon) is located inside the Time Out Market. The lines at this location are much shorter than the locations at the city center.
#1. Catch sunset at a Miradouro
You’ll be hard-pressed to find something more relaxing than an easy afternoon atop a Miradouro (viewpoint). It’s one of the most natural things you can do in Lisbon.
The city is full of sweeping Miradouros that both locals and residents enjoy. Watch the sunset over Lisbon’s colorful city skyline with a drink of wine in hand.
Not only will you get some phenomenal views of the city from a higher vantage but chances are high that you’ll pass by some cool places too – you just never know what you’ll come across. Getting from one Miradouro to the next is an adventure in an of itself!
Where to stay in Lisbon
Based on our personal experience, the two best areas to stay are Baixa and Chiado.
Baixa is a shopping district full of fun restaurants and big-name stores. We booked an airbnb in Chiado and our experience could not have been better. We were a mere three blocks from ten different bakeries and three gelato shops.
Best Things to Do Lisbon, Portugal (Post Summary)
- Find a miradouro
- Sample bites at the Time Out Market
- Monastery of Jeronimos
- Explore Belem Tower
- Have a traditional Portuguese meal
- Elevador de Santa Justa
- Bike along Parque das Nacoes
- Visit the Gulbenkian Museum
- Explore Bairro Alto & Chiado
- Eat pastel de nata
- Eat all the seafood!
- Experience Fado
- Take a break at the Praca do Comercio
- Take a stroll down Pink Street
- Try green wine
- Explore the historic district, Baixa
- Explore Sao Jorge Castle
- Get lost in Alfama
- See Tram 28
- Visit Lisbon Cathedral