I’ve traveled the world far and wide, yet 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 also a ton of things to do in Lisbon. While many people visit on a short city break, you can easily spend a long time in Lisbon without getting bored.

In fact, I’ve been living here for a few years now and still keep discovering new things! I’ll share with you some of my favorite tourist highlights, as well as some cool alternative things to do if you’re staying in Lisbon a bit longer.

Overtourism Alert! The touristy center of Lisbon (Baixa, Alfama, etc.) gets super packed in late July and August. You can still avoid the crowds by exploring other areas, but my favorite times to be in Lisbon are from April to June, or in September and October, when it’s relatively quieter.

How to best enjoy Lisbon

Before we dive in, I want to share with you my most important tip: the best way to see Lisbon is to walk. If you’re the kind of traveller 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 listicles (like this one!) deceive you into thinking you need to have a perfect plan; half the fun is just to explore at random. 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. Be bold and explore!

Oh, by the way, you might want to skip some of the tourist traps.

Whatever people say, you don’t have to ride the famous Tram 28. Queuing takes ages — it’s probably not worth your time, and the locals actually need that tram to get around. Don’t have a meal in Baixa (the grid-like area in the very center, specifically around Rua Augusta) as it’s where some of the worst tourist restaurant are. And you don’t really need to go to Belém Tower — you can just see it from the outside, as inside there isn’t much to see!

If you’re in Lisbon for a longer time, be sure to ask everyone you meet for their favorite places. I’ve been to many hidden spots where my friends would say, “dude, if you put this on your blog I will kill you.” To avoid their wrath, I’ve not quite given away all the secrets here, but know Lisbon is filled with little discoveries. Ask and you shall find!

Looking for a place to stay? See my guide to Lisbon’s best hostels.

 

Old Center of Lisbon

See the Praça do Comércio from above

mapunderneath Arco da Rua Augusta

The Praça do Comércio is the central square of Lisbon. It was once the site of a port and the administrative buildings that controlled all the commerce between Portugal and its colonies. What not many people know is that you can have an amazing view of the square, as well as the river Tejo, from the roof of the Arco da Rua Augusta. (Is that a piece of chewing gum stuck under the statue’s foot?)

Get a view at a Miradouro

mapMiradouro da Graça

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.

If you’re in Lisbon for a while, ask a local about other miradouros; there are a few really hidden ones!

Stroll through 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.

That said, it’s also a highly contradictory place. 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 and anti-Airbnb graffiti sprayed on some of the walls.

Despite this, I should still mention Alfama as one of the first places to see in Lisbon. There are a couple of specific sights in these parts, such as the Sé Cathedral and the National Tile Museum, but the best thing you can do is to simply wander around and enjoy the atmosphere.

Tip: you can be more respectful to the locals by avoiding big tour groups in Alfama and not engaging in intrusive photography. If you’re staying in an Airbnb, remember that other people live nearby.

Make your own Pasteis de Nata

Book it at Airbnb

Pasteis de Nata are Portugal’s famous egg tarts. 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.

Another way to get to know this iconic pastry is to go on a workshop run by Joao, the owner of Pastelaria Batalha in Largo Camoes. You’ll get to make your own pasteis de nata while hearing amusing anecdotes from Joao’s life as a baker. You can book it at Airbnb Experiences.

Find antiques at Feira da Ladra

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 ripped off a historical building somewhere. There has been a campaign against azulejo theft, but it’s still best not to buy them in order to preserve the city.

While you’re there, grab lunch at Focaccia in Giro, which has the best damn sandwiches in Lisbon.

Grab cocktails at Topo

mapTopo 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.

Listen to 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.

Take a cruise on the Tagus

Book your cruise at GetYourGuide

Get some wind in your hair while cruising the Tagus river, giving you amazing 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.

Explore the Natural History Museum

mapR. da Escola Politécnica 56

Great for a rainy day, this museum has some wonderful exhibitions that will keep you busy for a couple of hours. Half the fun is just seeing the amazing building with its old science lab, lecture hall, and numerous cabinets stuffed with samples, taxidermy, fossils, and more.

Don’t miss the beautiful botanical gardens next door either (you can get a combined ticket for both).

Eat at a secret Chinese restaurant

??? mystery

You may not have come to Lisbon to eat Chinese food, but you might nevertheless enjoy this interesting part of immigrant culture in Lisbon. Around Martim Moniz exist many speakeasy-style illegal Chinese restaurants, operating inside apartment buildings and sometimes inside the owner’s homes.

Going for a meal in a Chinês Clandestino is a fun experience. The staff probably won’t speak English or Portuguese, so you’ll have to point at pictures on the menu. You’ll get some very cheap home-cooked Chinese food in a dining room-like setting.

If you type “illegal Chinese restaurant” into Google, you’ll easily find one, but this one isn’t so hidden nor very good. Instead, ask someone who knows, or explore the streets and alleys around Martim Moniz square (especially on the northeast side into Mouraria). Look for Chinese lanterns or find a doorbell with Chinese characters or a note saying ‘restaurant’. Press the buzzer and go inside.

See the Jardim Botanico de Lisboa

mapR. 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 it 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.

Shop at Embaixada

mapPraça 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.

Party in Bairro Alto

map

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.

If you’re a student or partying on a budget, try the bars around the Erasmus Corner.

Party in Pink Street

mapRua Nova do Carvalho

Bairro Alto is a big bag of fun, but what often ends up happening is you’ll crawl from bar to bar forever without ever staying in one place. For a more localized party spot, simply go to Pink Street in Cais do Sodré. The street is 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 decor 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.

Peek inside Casa do Alentejo

mapRua das Portas de Santo Antão 58

Back in the day, Lisbon had different meeting houses for people from all the provinces of Portugal — a bit like cultural embassies for the regions. The Casa do Alentejo served this purpose for the Alentejo region and is worth seeing for its wonderful building. Its courtyard is publically accessible and feels like a Moorish mansion, but don’t miss the restaurant on the second floor with its amazing ballroom with intricate tile paintings.

Visit the strange Pavilhão Chines

mapRua Dom Pedro V 89

This incredibly quirky bar is not to be missed. Its five rooms are absolutely filled to the top 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 (it’s not actually a museum!) so be sure to sit down and get yourself a nice cocktail.

Take a sip 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!

The tiny Ginjinha Espinheira bar near Rossio Square is a popular spot to grab a ginjinha as a night cap after going out. Another good place to try it is at Ginja de Óbidos, just outside of the TimeOut market.

Try food at TimeOut market

mapAv. 24 de Julho

This amazing food court project has brought together some of the best food of Lisbon under one roof. While I prefer the smaller Campo de Ourique Market myself, I can’t deny that the TimeOut market (also known as Mercado da Ribeira) gives tourists a better chance to easily sample some of the local food from the 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.

See the sunset at PARK Bar

maptake the elevator inside the parking garage

Some people complain that it turned totally into a tourist bar, but I still love bringing people up to this hidden spot! 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 stunning and there are cocktails and DJs at night, but it’s a really nice place to go during the day as well.

Unknown this place is not, but cool and hidden it definitely is.

Be fancy at Palácio Chiado

mapR. do Alecrim 70

The Palácio Chiado might just be the most opulent place in Lisbon. Its palatial rooms and giant 18th-century murals are already impressive, though the interior decorators took things up another notch — for instance, by hanging a big golden lion with wings from the ceiling.

Despite its extravagant appearance, you don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy the Palácio. The gourmet food court and champagne bar are reasonably priced, making this a fun and fantastically over-the-top place to enjoy some good drinks and dinner.

West Lisbon

There isn’t really an area known as ‘West Lisbon’, but the sake of this post I’ve grouped together areas like Alcantara, Ajuda, Belém, and Alges. Basically, places around the 25th of April bridge and further West.

Eat at the Campo de Ourique Market

mapR. Coelho da Rocha 104

The TimeOut Market may be Lisbon’s most famous, but I prefer this smaller market, which is in a residential neighborhood. Part of the market still sells fish and fruit, while the other part has many gourmet food stalls with bar stools where you can sample some great Portuguese and international dishes.

Explore the creative hub of LXfactory

mapR. Rodrigues de Faria 103

In the up-and-coming Alcantara neighborhood, old factory halls 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 fun little wander. (If you ask me, none of the restaurants in LXfactory are particularly great, though. The place is best enjoyed for its bars, cafes, shops, and street art.)

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.

Go to the MAAT museum

map

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.

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.

Get on top of the Lisbon bridge

mapPilar 7 Bridge Experience

It probably hasn’t escaped you that Lisbon has a beautiful suspension bridge reminiscent of the slightly more famous one in San Francisco. (Fun fact: it was constructed by the same company as the Bay Bridge, but not the Golden Gate Bridge.) The bridge was originally named after the dictator Salazar, but it changed to become the 25th of April Bridge, commemorating the revolution of 1974.

A museum opened in 2018, giving you some background on its construction. It also lets you go inside the impressive concrete structure that houses the enormous cables and take an elevator up to the bridge itself where you can stand on a transparent platform and catch some epic views of the bridge, the river, and the Christ statue across the bay.

Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

mapPraça 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 exceptionally long, so you may wish to get a skip-the-queue ticket in advance, or go in the early morning when it’s peaceful and quiet.

Discover the Tapada das Necessidades

mapNear the last stop of Tram 28

This gorgeous park has an abandoned feel and is empty most of the time, which is strange given its location and beauty. Truly a gem hiding in plain sight, it’s apparently where Don Joao V went for picnics in the 17th century. The place is a bit neglected, but it has one of the oldest cacti gardens in Europe, a beautiful old circular greenhouse, and phenomenal views of the bridge.

Visit the free Berardo modern art museum

mapPraça do Império, Belem

The Berardo museum is a phenomenal modern art museum, featuring works by iconic artists including Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Pollock, Mondriaan, and many more. It’s one of the best cultural sights in Lisbon, and entry is free.

Go to Lisbon’s other aquarium

map Vasco de Gama Aquarium, Alges

The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the world’s biggest and you can find it in Parque das Nações, which was once the exhibition grounds for the Expo ’98. But there is another much smaller aquarium in Alges living in its shadows, even though the Vasco de Gama Aquarium is surprisingly good fun (and devoid of any tourists). It’s perfect to go with young kids or if you’re just a curious local. It feels more like a private collection, with many amphibians and fishes on display in a charming old building.

Stroll the Jardim Botânico d’Ajuda

map Calçada da Ajuda

Lisbon is so spoiled for botanical gardens that such a gorgeous one as this one can still manage to fly under the radar. It was built by Marques de Pombal in 1768, who filled it with trees and species from Portugal’s former colonies. It’s the oldest garden in Lisbon and now managed by the agricultural university, but it’s publically accessible any day until about 5pm (entrance 2€). It’s an off-the-beaten track place just up the hill from Lisbon’s museum quarter of Belem.

Check out the Museu do Oriente

map Av. Brasília 352

This museum has a collection of Asian artifacts from the Portuguese ‘age of exploration’, mostly from China and Japan. Besides the permanent exhibition, you’ll often find very interesting temporary exhibitions here. Since it’s on the riverside docks it’s easily overlooked, but it’s well worth spending an hour or two. Good for a rainy day or if you’re living in Lisbon and up for something a bit different.

 

South of the river

Discover the riverside area of Almada

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).

Enjoy a different view of Lisbon

map R. do Ginjal 72, Almada

Just a bit further from Almada you can take the Elevador Panoramico da Boca do Vento to get high up on the cliffs, giving you great views of the bridge and Lisbon’s old center. Next to the elevator is the Casa da Cerca [map], a mansion turned into a contemporary art center. It also some nice botanical gardens and a lovely place to have a coffee with a view. Entry to Casa da Cerca is free.

Surf at Costa de Caparica

map

Caparica is a resort town south of Lisbon. The town itself is not amazingly pretty nor at all historical, but it’s not the town that matters most, but the beach! Unlike some of the smaller city beaches in Lisbon (like Carcavelos), the beaches in Caparica are very wide and lined with dunes (and even rocky cliffs further south – see next item).

Costa de Caparica is an awesome surf spot, with loads of beginner classes available if you just want to spend an afternoon in the water. You can do Costa de Caparica on a day trip, though I can also highly recommend the excellent 7 Waves Hostel, which has a homely feel, a great swimming pool, and cheap daily surf lessons.

Take the mini-train to Lisbon’s best beaches

map R. Parque Infantil 1, Costa da Caparica

I lived in Lisbon for 3 years before I finally learned of the mini-train — and now it’s my favorite thing!

The Transpraia train runs in the summer months, connecting Costa da Caparica to a dozen or so beaches. The rickety old tourist train ends at Fonte da Telha, which is possibly the most beautiful beach near Lisbon. Normally you need a car to get there, but not when the mini-train is around.

If you’re a tourist in Lisbon only briefly then it’s better to go to Carcavelos beach, as it’s much easier to reach. But if you want to get to this local gem, it simply goes like this: first, take the bus to Costa de Caparica from outside Alcantara Terra station (bus 161 or 153). Then, walk to the mini-train departure point (here on the map). It goes every half hour from June 1 until September 30.

 

 

Central Lisbon (Red Metro line)

These things to do are all in the center of Lisbon, but beyond the oldest part of the center where most tourists stay. Areas like Saldanha, Avenidas Novas, Arroios and further up to Marvila and Parque das Nacoes.

Visit the Calouste Gulbenkian museum

map Av. de Berna 45A

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 2pm.

Stroll the amazing Estufa Fria greenhouse

map near Parque Eduardo VII

The Estufa Fria is a large semi-open botanical greenhouse. It’s secretly one of the most pleasant green spaces in the city!

You’ll feel like you’re walking in a Garden of Eden with beautiful flowers and plants surrounding ponds, a waterfall, a cactus garden, tunnels, and other features. Open until 7pm in summer, 5pm in winter. €3 to enter.

Explore Marvila, Lisbon’s brewery district

map

They keep saying Marvila is ‘up and coming’ and that it’s soon going to be the cool new neighborhood of Lisbon. Maybe it’s heading that way, just waaaay more slowly than all the trendwatchers are saying. Still, 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 some cool parties and events going. Who knows — maybe Marvila is the next Alcantara.

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.

Take the cable car in Parque das Nações

map on Esplanada Dom Carlos I

The Parque das Nações (Nations’ Park) area of Lisbon is relatively modern, so it’s not always the first area that tourists seek out. It’s nevertheless an interesting area, as it once hosted all the pavilions of the Expo ‘98. It’s filled with boulevards, striking architecture, and is home to the impressive Oceanarium. Another leftover from the Expo ’98 is the 18 meter high cable car (Telecabine), which gives great views of the Tagus river and the Vasca de Gama Bridge, currently the longest in Europe.

Visit the stunning Oceanarium

map on Esplanada Dom Carlos I

Opened in 1998, the Oceanarium was the center piece of the world’s fair. It is to this day the biggest indoor aquarium in Europe, featuring a huge main tank which the walking paths snake around via two seperate levels. The tank houses many schools of fish, reef sharks, and rays. It’s an utterly stunning aquarium where you’ll see many a child’s nose pressed against the windows in awe, though it is equally of interest to older visitors.

 

In various places in Lisbon

Dance and eat sardines during the June Festas

June is an excellent time to be in Lisbon as it is when much of the city changes into one big street party. There’s colorful bunting everywhere and stages are set up where mostly Pimba music gets played — which is basically very bad but fun-loving carnival music. The sardine harvest arrives, meaning you can get grilled sardines on the streets everywhere.

The windy streets of Alfama have most of the festivities (and crowds), though you can find many street parties in Mouraria, Bica, and many other neighborhoods, which are much less crowded. Events take place throughout June, though it’s busiest on the day of Santo Antonio, when there is a big street parade going through the city.

Picnic and chill at OutJazz

If you’re in Lisbon anywhere from May until September you can enjoy the free festival of OutJazz, which takes place every Sunday (in a different park in Lisbon each month). Unlike what the title may lead you to believe, it’s not really a jazz event (though occasionally there is jazz). Expect various eclectic music and a relaxed atmosphere. Most people come just to picnic in the park and listen to the music — and while there are food and drinks stands available, it’s okay to bring your own.

A few Lisbon travel tips

Finally, a couple of general tips for your stay in Lisbon.

Some tourists are shocked to find there are drug dealers on Praça do Comércio or Rossio Square. Most of these guys are actually scam artists targeting tourists. They’re annoying but harmless; simply say no thanks or ignore them, and they’ll go away.

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 and they’re usually pricey!

Apart from the oldest generations, most Portuguese speak either good or excellent English. Don’t assume speaking Spanish will earn you brownie points though; it’s very different from Portuguese, and English is really the most widely spoken and favored foreign language. Avoid using Spanish, and speak either English or Portuguese.