I’ve traveled the world far and wide, but no place has stolen my heart quite like Lisbon. The pastel-colored houses, hilltop views, vintage trams, and windy cobblestone streets all conspire to make it an utterly charming place.
There are a ton of things to do in Lisbon. While 3 days is the minimum length of stay that is usually recommended, you can easily spend a week or more in Lisbon without getting in any way bored.
In fact, I’ve been living here for a few years now and still keep discovering new things! In this Lisbon travel guide I’ll share the essential highlights, but you can also check out my alternative things to do in Lisbon if you have more time to explore.
Find a place to stay in Lisbon
How to best enjoy Lisbon
If I can give you just one tip it’s this: the best way to see Lisbon is to walk!
If you’re the kind of traveler who enjoys puttering along cobblestone streets, sitting down at a cafe patio for some people-watching, or just getting lost on purpose, then you’ll feel right at home in Lisbon.
Don’t let lists of top things to do — such as the one I’ll share here — deceive you into thinking you need to tick every box. My favorite thing about the city is that you can discover small interesting things everywhere.
Turn a corner and you won’t know what you’ll find next: maybe some colorful traditionally tiled buildings, a quirky crafts shop, a spectacular view of the river Tejo, or maybe some incredible street art.
It’s good to know that Lisbon has lot of hills. After my first visit to Lisbon, my legs were killing me! Be sure to bring some comfortable walking shoes.
Luckily, taxis or hailed rides are very cheap in Lisbon, as is public transport, so that can help you cover more ground. A ride from one side of the center to the other will cost about €5 – 7.
Best tours in Lisbon
While Lisbon invites random exploration, it is still worth going on at least one organized tour. This will give you historical and local insights you won’t get on your own, and lets you see Lisbon from a different perspective. These are several tours I recommend:
- Private 1.5-Hour Kickstart Tour w/ a Local – start your Lisbon visit with a great introduction to the city (private tour, not a group)
- Sunset Sailing Tour on the Tagus River – this is a great way to see Lisbon from another perspective.
- Lisbon Bike Tour: Downtown Lisbon to Belém – the perfect way to see the riverside and Lisbon’s museum quarter
- 2.5-Hour Hills Tour by Electric Bike – Lisbon has a lot of hills. This way you’ll see more with less tired feet.
Lisbon travel tips
Lisbon is a very safe and relaxed city, so don’t worry, you’re going to have a great time.
Still, there are a few things to know before you go.
First, remember you are absolutely not in Spain. Portuguese is also a very different language from Spanish. Avoid using Spanish as this won’t earn you any brownie points. English is widely spoken and is by far the preferred language to use.
If a restaurant places bread, olives, or other side items on your table, know that these aren’t free tapas. If you touch them you have to pay for them. They’re usually pricey! This isn’t a scam or anything, it’s just how this works in Portugal.
Some tourists are shocked to find drug dealers on Praça do Comércio or Rossio Square. Most of these guys are actually scammers targeting tourists. They’re annoying but harmless; simply say no thanks or ignore them, and they’ll go away. Speak to them only if you’re in dire need of baking powder or oregano.
Finally, there are some sights that I would call tourist traps at this point. Most importantly, you really don’t have to ride Tram 28. Queuing takes ages — it’s probably not worth your time, and the locals actually need that tram to get around. Belém Tower is also quite ho-hum. Despite the long queues, there is not much to see inside.
However, the following sights and activities I do very much recommend.
Things to do in Lisbon
1. Visit St. George’s Castle
Sitting on top of one of Lisbon’s 7 hills, the Castelo de São Jorge is a great place to hit up first, as it offers spectacular views of the city — and the windy streets leading up to it, once part of the citadel, are such fun to explore.
The location has been inhabited since at least the 8th century BC. It’s from this hill that Lisbon grew in every direction.
The castle site is pretty extensive and includes a museum, a bar, a restaurant, and a lot of resident peacocks (keep your eyes on the tree canopies where they like to hang out in bunches). Regular entry costs €10, free for Lisbon residents.
2. See the Santa Justa lift… from above
This historic cast-iron elevator built in 1902 connects the lower streets of Baixa area with the Largo do Carmo. Originally it was steam-powered, until an electric motor was installed in 1907.
The Santa Justa lift is a fantastic attraction and a great viewpoint, though you don’t have to queue up at the bottom if you don’t feel like waiting. Simply walk to Largo do Carmo and you can access the top deck of the elevator without any queues.
3. See the Praça do Comércio
map – underneath Arco da Rua Augusta
The Praça do Comércio is the central square of Lisbon. Here was once the harbor and administrative hub from where Portugal controlled commerce with all its colonies.
A little secret: you can get on top of the roof of the big arch, called Arco da Rua Augusta, where you’ll have an amazing view of the square and the river Tejo.
4. Stroll through the maze-like Alfama
The neighborhood of Alfama is a beguiling maze of narrow cobblestone streets, sprinkled with chalk-white chapels and cozy squares shaded by orange trees. It feels like a village inside a city, and getting lost here is just a delight.
In some ways, Alfama is the most typical part of Lisbon, with grandmothers gazing out the windows and musicians performing traditional melancholic fado music. At the same time, it’s also the most touristy area, with many tour groups jamming up the narrow alleys in summer — at least, in the pre-pandemic days.
Despite this, I must highly recommend exploring Alfama. There are a couple of specific sights in these parts, such as the Sé Cathedral and the National Tile Museum, but it’s best to simply wander around and get lost.
5. Try the Pasteis de Nata
The Pastel de Nata is Portugal’s famous egg tart. You absolutely have to try these yummy treats! They are sold in many bakeries and cafes, though some are known for making some of the best pasteis (try them at Manteigaria, for example). You can also check out this complete guide to the best pasteis de nata.
6. Listen to traditional Fado
Fado is a typical Portuguese style of melancholic music. It’s all about saudade, a word that has no English translation, but which relates to nostalgia, longing, or the bitter-sweetness of life. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you can easily feel the intense emotion of the songs.
Most Fado places can be found in Alfama and Bairro Alto, where you can dine while listening to various singers perform. Avoid the overpriced Clube de Fado in Alfama and try to catch some fado at a smaller restaurant somewhere.
7. Hop between miradouros (viewpoints)
Lisbon is built on seven hills, which means there are lots of viewpoints (in Portuguese, miradouros) all around the city.
My favorites in the center are the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and the Miradouro da Graça, both of which offer great views of the castle of Sao Jorge. Another amazing viewpoint is the Miradouro das Portas do Sol.
Ask locals about their favorite miradouros. There are some hidden ones!
8. Take a cruise on the Tagus
Book your cruise at GetYourGuide
Get some wind in your hair while cruising the Tagus river, giving you exceptional views of the historical center and the 25th of April bridge. There are three marinas from which tours depart, usually timed to catch the sunset. You can book a 2-hour river sunset cruise on GetYourGuide.
Oh and yes, that’s me in that photo. I was just… really enjoying a grape.
9. Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
map – Praça do Império, Belem
This former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome near the Tagus river is one of the must-see places in Lisbon. The architecture is stunning with intricately detailed columns and arches. In high season the line to get tickets can be long, so you may wish to get a skip-the-queue ticket in advance, or go in the early morning when it’s at its most peaceful and quiet.
10. Take a day trip to Sintra
Okay, this technically isn’t in Lisbon, but since it’s only 40 minutes away by train, you really can’t miss it. Sintra is a fairytale-like place filled with stunning gardens, palaces, and castles. It’s where the Portuguese noble class would hang out in ye olden days — and now it’s this whole wonderland to explore. You can read more in my complete guide to visiting Sintra.
11. Check out the Thieves’ Market
map – Tuesdays & Saturdays
Locals joke that if you get anything stolen, this is where you’ll find it for sale the next week. But these days the Feira da Ladra, or thieves’ market, is maybe not quite so criminal anymore — it’s really just a nice flea market with antiques, crafts, and second-hand items that’s held every Tuesday and Saturday.
By the way, don’t buy old Portuguese wall tiles (azulejos) here, as they may have been stolen from a historical building somewhere. There has been a campaign against azulejo theft, so it’s getting rarer to see them, but it’s still best to avoid buying any tiles at this market in order to preserve the city.
While you’re there, grab lunch at Focaccia in Giro, which has the best damn sandwiches in Lisbon.
12. Party in Bairro Alto
The cobblestone labyrinth of Bairro Alto is quiet by day but transforms into essentially one big open-air party at night (mainly on Thursday to Saturday, but with some activity on other days as well). It usually doesn’t truly kick off until midnight, when the streets suddenly fill with people. Some of the small grungy hole-in-the-wall bars have live music or a small dance floor inside, and many sell pints for as little as one Euro.
Sadly, this area is much more timid while the world is coping with covid-19, but it’s still great to wander around and have a traditional Portuguese meal at one of the many small restaurants.
13. See the Jardim Botanico de Lisboa
map – R. da Escola Politécnica 58
Located centrally near Principe Real square, this botanical garden was fully renovated in 2018 and well worth a stroll. It’s possibly the city’s most beautiful one (which is saying something, as Lisbon has quite a few!).
Founded in 1878, the garden is home to about 1500 species from the four corners of the world. Look for the pine cones of the Bunya, a large Australian tree, which can weigh up to 10 kg each.
14. Shop at Embaixada
map – Praça do Príncipe Real 26
This shopping gallery is located inside the Ribeiro da Cunha Palace, hosting all sorts of boutique and concept stores, restaurants, and a trendy gin bar. It’s easy to miss if you’re just walking past, so be sure to step inside to see the beautiful building and browse all the interesting independent stores.
The restaurant at the back, Atalho Real, has a wonderful patio adjacent to the Jardim Botanico de Lisboa.
15. Sip cocktails at a rooftop bar
map – Topo Martim Moniz, inside Centro Comercial Martim Moniz
What better way to enjoy Lisbon than with a cocktail in hand and an amazing view of the Castelo de Sao Jorge? Well, you can do just that at Topo Bar, which has two locations in central Lisbon.
Topo Chiado is near the Convento do Carmo. Topo Martim Moniz is a bit more hidden; you have to go inside the Centro Comercial Martim Moniz, a mostly Chinese shopping mall, and take the lift to the top floor.
16. Drink at the quirky Pavilhão Chines
map – Rua Dom Pedro V 89
This very quirky bar is not to be missed. Its five rooms are absolutely filled top to bottom with historic toys and unusual artifacts, making you feel like you’re in a crazy Willy Wonka-esque antique museum.
They don’t like it if you just come in to take pictures (as it’s not actually a museum) so be sure to sit down and get yourself a nice cocktail while you gawk at all the crazy decoration.
17. Take a swig of Ginjinha
Ginja is a sweet cherry liqueur that’s local to Lisbon and a few other Portuguese places (like Óbidos). It’s a strong and sweet drink, served from a shot glass but meant to be sipped. Sometimes it’s served from a little cup made of chocolate!
18. Try the food at TimeOut market
map – Av. 24 de Julho
This amazing food court project (also known as Mercado da Ribeira) has brought together some of the best food in Lisbon under one roof. It’s a busy place these days, but as a tourist, it lets you easily sample some of the local food from the many dozens of stalls.
The concept for the market was originally developed in Portugal, which TimeOut has since exported to Miami, New York, and Boston.
A fun time to go to TimeOut is on the first Friday of every month. From 22.00 to 01.30, many people will be dancing Brazilian forró in the central area — and everyone’s invited to join the party.
19. See the sunset at PARK Bar
map – take the elevator inside the parking garage
I love bringing people to this hidden spot. To get to PARK, you’ll need to go inside a parking garage, take a graffiti-covered lift to the top floor, and then you’ll find this cool bar up on the roof. The view is phenomenal and there are cocktails and DJs at night.
20. Party in Pink Street
map – Rua Nova do Carvalho
This street is pretty quiet during the day but turns alive once darkness falls. It was once the city’s red-light district, but it’s a regular nightlife area today (well, perhaps apart from Viking Bar, where there’s still a show every night by Monica, Lisbon’s favorite stripper).
Some of the bars still retain some of the original decors from when they were brothels. Pensão Amor is especially interesting as it has multiple floors and a cool burlesque-style interior. Many bars and clubs along Pink Street stay open until early morning, so when Bairro Alto closes many people move here.
21. Explore the creative hub of LXfactory
map – R. Rodrigues de Faria 103
In the hip Alcantara neighborhood, old factories have been turned into a vibrant creative hub with various cafes, workshops, and small quirky businesses. The refurbished spaces and the cool location under the April 25 Bridge make this a great place to go. It may remind you a little bit of Berlin, but Portuguese-style.
Don’t miss the Ler Devegar book store which still has huge printing presses inside. Go up to Rio Maravilha for cocktails and rooftop views of the bridge. The main street of LXFactory also turns into a market fair every Sunday.
22. Rent bicycles and ride down the waterfront
Close to the MAAT museum is the small bicycle rental service Biclas Belem. Grab a bike and cycle along the Tejo, past the MAAT museum and further west. The bike path can be a bit confusing sometimes (it shares the pavement in a few places), but you can ride a long way along the embankment.
Prefer to do this as a tour? Just book it with GetYourGuide. You’ll start in central Lisbon, make your way to the river, then end in the museum quarter of Belem.
23. Go to the MAAT museum
You can see the MAAT from miles away, thanks to its futuristic white building that sits like a giant manta ray above the Tejo riverbank. The architecture is stunning and worth a visit alone.
The exhibits inside do tend to be a mixed bag, but you can visit the adjacent (and often much better) Tejo Power Station, which has a great permanent exhibit on the history this former coal plant as well as interesting temporary art exhibits. You can get a combined entry ticket for MAAT and Tejo.
24. Discover the southern riverbank
map – Cais do Sodré station (take the ferry here)
Almada [map] is just across the river from central Lisbon, but don’t worry, it’s very easy to get to. Ferries leave from behind the Cais do Sodré train station all the time and they take just five minutes (just get the boat to ‘Cacilhas’).
The town of Almada has plenty of cute restaurants and shops, as well as a marina with an old frigate and submarine. Walk along the docks past abandoned warehouses for beautiful views of Lisbon as well as two superb restaurants: Ponto Final and Atira-te Ao Rio, both right on the waterfront with amazing bay bridge views (reservation recommended if you’re going for dinner).
25. Sun & surf at Costa de Caparica
While most tourists go to Carcavelos beach, as it has a direct train connection, I prefer the resort town of Caparica that’s just a stone’s throw from Lisbon. The town itself is not so noteworthy, but the beach is far more spacious and lined with dunes and cliffs.
Costa de Caparica is also a great surf spot. There are loads of beginner classes available if you just want to spend an afternoon in the water learning to surf.
To get to Caparica is easier than you might think. If you’re already in the center of Lisbon, you can take the ferry from Cais do Sodre station in Lisbon to Cacilhas. Take the TST 135 bus (faster) or TST 124 bus (a bit slower). You can also take direct buses that go across the bridge, such as TST 161 or TST 153, from outside Alcantara Terra station.
26. Explore Marvila, Lisbon’s brewery district
They keep saying Marvila is ‘up and coming’ and that it’s soon going to be the coolest new neighborhood of Lisbon. This does seem to be happening, albeit quite slowly. It’s a cool area to have a wander, as several craft breweries opened in some of the former warehouses, a co-working space has set up shop, and the Braço de Prata Factory has cool parties and events going on.
Be sure to try the local craft beers with the 5-beer taster menu at Dois Corvos’ tap room, check out MUSA’s tap room, and keep an eye out for the beautifully decorated That Place That Does Not Exist restaurant.
27. Visit the Calouste Gulbenkian museum
map – Av. de Berna 45A
Most visitors to Lisbon come for the sunshine and atmosphere, but if you’re dealing with a rainy day, then this art museum is worth a visit. The Gulbenkian is one of Lisbon’s top museums, housing an outstanding collection ranging all the way from Rembrandt to ancient Greco-Roman art, largely originating in the private collection of oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian. Entry is free on Sundays after 2 pm.
28. Visit the stunning Oceanarium
map – on Esplanada Dom Carlos I
Opened in 1998, the Oceanarium was the centerpiece of the world’s fair. It is to this day the biggest indoor aquarium in Europe, featuring a huge main tank with two levels of observation deck. The tank houses many schools of fish, reef sharks, and rays. It’s a stunning aquarium where you’ll no doubt have the urge to press your nose against the glass many times.
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