Lisbon is a city that we fell in love with. For a busy capital, it has a very relaxed vibe and the architecture is stunning on every corner. It’s also a very colourful place! If you’re planning a holiday, read on for our list of what to do in Lisbon, including the top places to visit, activities to try and some excellent day-trips. There’s plenty to keep you active for a full week so choose wisely and pick the top Lisbon attractions that suit your interests!
Take a tram tour on route 28
As soon as you arrive in Lisbon, you’ll notice that the streets are lined with colourful trams. They make the perfect photo opportunity and are simply the coolest way to get around! They may not be as fast as the Metro or bus; however, the open windows give you a nice cool breeze and you’ll get a great view of the sites as you travel between destinations. The most popular tram route is the number 28 for its brilliant tour of the old town streets and city centre sights. Hop on board and spend a morning seeing the city from the comfort of this traditional mode of transport. The 28 route is extremely popular so make sure you arrive first thing in the morning to avoid queues! The stop “Martim Moniz” is the best place to board the tram in hopes of getting a seat and you can buy tickets at any Metro station.
Excite your taste-buds at Timeout Market
If you’re a foodie or just want to immerse yourself in a vibrant market atmosphere, the centrally located Timeout Market is the place to go! Walk around the bustling and modern market stalls and sample local fish dishes and plenty of Portuguese treats. You’ll find delicious local foods, but also a selection of international favourites. There’s something for every taste and budget and it’s a nice place to stop-off for lunch. Our top food recommendations are Bacalhau (salted cod), Prego (steak rolls) and Feijoada (pork and bean stew). You also can’t go wrong with any of the desserts.
Explore Jerónimos Monastery and Belem Tower
Take the tram from the city centre along the riverside to the historic area of Belem. You can catch a quick Metro or bus but the tram is much more enjoyable! The Parish of Santa Maria de Belém should be the first stop on your trip. This stunning 1500’s church has impressive architecture inside and out. Wander the church crypts, pray at the alter or delve deeper into the parish for ancient religious art and sculptures.
Next, head next door to Jerónimos Monastery, a key historic attraction in Lisbon and the Late-Gothic living quarters of Portuguese monks. The monastery is beautiful to marvel at and has a distinct style that resonates with architecture of its era. Entry costs 10 euros per person.
Finally, walk across the motorway bridge to the must-see Belem Tower. This site is featured on many postcards and pictures of Lisbon and a visit wouldn’t be complete without stopping by. Take pictures and relax next to this impressive sight before heading back to the city. Whilst you can pay to enter, the outside is the main attraction and we recommend only paying for entry if you’re keen to see the interior. All 3 sites are in the same area.
Tour the city centre sights on a walking tour
We always recommend a walking tour on your first day in any new city and that’s especially the case with Lisbon! As the city centre is quite compact and many of the top sights are centred in one area, a leisurely tour with a knowledgeable guide is a fun way to welcome yourself to the city. There are different walking tour routes that cover downtown, Belem and Alfama, however we recommend the Baixa/Chiado tours of the downtown centre. You’ll see more of the main sites and it’s the most historic area. Typical walking tours start at the bustling Praça do Comércio and onwards to the steep climbs of the old town streets, churches, squares and historic buildings. The best thing about a walking tour is the background story behind the sights – you’ll get a really good grasp of Lisbon’s history. We recommend Hi Lisbon Walking Tours. They’re free and you only tip the amount that you think is most appropriate. ?
Try a Pastel de Nata pastry at the best bakeries
You may have heard of the legendary Portuguese custard tart known as Pastel de Nata. It was born in Lisbon and tastes absolutely delicious! You’ll stumble upon Pasteis de Nata at every bakery in Lisbon, however there are specific places that are known as the best of the best. Head for Manteigaria bakery to try the original bake and stop off at Pastelaria de Belém when you’re in the Belem area. Both are worth trying!
Take a Tuk Tuk to the Castle of São Jorge
Castelo de São Jorge is the mighty 2000-year-old castle that dominates the Lisbon skyline near the Alfama district. After facing countless battles and invasions throughout the ages, the castle was restored in the 1940’s and is now a popular tourist attraction. Arguably the most impressive part of the castle is the exterior, so we recommend taking a Tuk Tuk up the hill to the castle and catching the scenic view from the roads and gardens below. Climb the castle walls and turrets for some excellent views of the city below and learn about the history of the building on a guided tour. We recommend arriving early as it can get busy.
Wander the quaint streets of the Alfama district
Alfama is one of the oldest districts in Lisbon and a part of the city that wasn’t as affected by the infamous earthquake and tsunami of the 1700’s that almost destroyed the city. Climb up the hill or catch the tram and ascend to Alfama for some of the best views of Lisbon and the River Tagus. Miradouro de Santa Luzia viewpoint is the place to start your visit. Relax on a park bench in the beautiful garden or peer over the wall and take pictures of the terracotta rooved houses below. Spend the remainder of your time here getting lost in the narrow alleyways, browsing boutique shops and stopping off at a corner café for a coffee. It’ll be one of your favourite areas in Lisbon!
Visit one of the iconic museums
If you’re a museum lover, you’ll get lost in Lisbon’s seemingly endless variety of galleries, museums and exhibits; both modern and historic. Explore Lisbon Guru’s top museum list here to see what catches your eye! In addition to the numerous niche or specialised museums, the top places to check out are Museu de Marinha, a museum dedicated to Lisbon’s seafaring marine past. There’s also the Carmo Archaeological Museum (which has a brilliant evening show – as mentioned below) and the impressive National Museum of Ancient Art. Museu Colecao Berardo is the place to go if you prefer modern art.
Experience a unique light-show under the stars at Carmo Ruins
An attraction that many tourists seem to miss but is well worth seeing is the unique ‘Lisbon Under the Stars’ light show, which takes place at Carmo Ruins. The 1700’s Lisbon earthquake destroyed the building’s roof; however, it was never rebuilt and has since been transformed into a museum by day and is the setting for the light show on an evening. Book tickets in advance or pay on the door to enjoy a spectacle of special effects under the moonlight. Spectators sit on the stone floor and look up to marvel at a 35-40-minute show that tells the story of the history of Lisbon, in the form of music, projections and coloured lights. If you like performances and musicals, this is a must-see! Entry costs 15 euros per person and you can buy tickets online here.
Go for a drink in Bairro Alto
Bairro Alto has earned a reputation as the nightlife hub of the city, where locals celebrate annual festivals alongside tourists and you can buy a large beer for only 1.50 euros! The culture of Bairro Alto is to order a drink at one of the small bars that line the streets and then stand outside to drink, talking to your friends on a warm summer’s night. The streets of the neighbourhood are lined with festival banners and are an array of colour! Check it out during the day for some cool pictures and return on an evening to sample the eclectic nightlife.
Join the locals for a night out on Pink Street
Bairro Alto is great for casual nightlife, drinking outside and catching up with friends; however, if you want an active nightlife and to dance all night until the early hours, suitably named Pink Street is the way to go. The street’s pavement is painted a bright pink colour, setting the stage for a night out and providing a cool photo op. During the day there are restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat, before they transform into bars on an evening. There’s bars and clubs for every style of music taste, from Reggae to Trance and Hip Hop to Latin beats, and you can’t go wrong with any you choose. It can get pretty busy so arrive early to beat the club queues and party until 6am.
Enjoy the best brunch in town at Nicolau
This photo of Nicolau Cafe is courtesy of TripAdvisor
The trendy Nicolau café deserves its own spot as an attraction on our list as it’s simply so good! Come here for breakfast, lunch or brunch (it closes early evening) and indulge in a delicious yet healthy feast in a cool tropical environment. Fruit smoothies, Açaí bowls, avocado and poached egg on toast and waffles and bacon are the type of treats on the menu here and dishes are beautifully presented. It’s also quite inexpensive! If you’re feeling like a hearty, healthy brunch one morning, this is the place to go!
Get emotional at a traditional Fado performance
Fado is the traditional music of Lisbon that was born in the 1800’s. It’s a slow type of soul/folk music that’s best enjoyed with a glass of red wine, tucked up in a cosy bar in the old town. The people of Lisbon like to let their emotions go at this somewhat sad music, but it’s also a nice way to bond with friends or your partner over a drink. Listen to like Fado music like a local at Casa de Linhares. It’s regarded as one of the best spots in town.
Shop til’ you drop at Centro Colombo
It’s not the most cultural site in the city but if you’re staying in Lisbon for a while and you love shopping, Centro Colombo is the best place to go! This giant mall has a captivating design that’s synonymous with the city and is filled with numerous international fashion brands, Portuguese favourites and shopping ideas for everything you need. It’s open late so we recommend visiting on an evening, where it’s quieter and you can take a break for a nice meal in one of the mall restaurants.
Visit Oceanario de Lisboa Aquarium
Not many cities have an aquarium as big and thrilling as Lisbon. The Oceanario de Lisboa is a standalone, man-made island on the Tagus River where you have to cross a bridge to enter. It’s filled with many sea life exhibits, shows and meet and greet experiences, promoting a sustainable ‘Ocean of the future’. If you like colourful fish and different types of underwater species or you’re travelling with your family, this is a great attraction to check out.
Lisbon Day Trips
The following Lisbon day trips are ideal places to explore if you’re in the capital for 3+ days. You can reach each destination easily by train, car or an organised tour.
The enchanting town of Sintra was the highlight of our trip to Lisbon and is simply a must-see if you’re visiting for at least 3 days. Located a 35-minute train journey from Lisbon city centre, Sintra is a mountain-side town that attracts thousands of tourists every year for its spectacular fairy-tale castles, picturesque views and quaint town. The entire area is a tourist attraction where you can visit one of the many castles by bus or rent a bike and explore at your leisure. The colourful Pena Palace is the star of the trip, however there’s plenty of other sights to see so arrive early! Hike the mountain road, gaze over the castle turrets and explore the royal interior.
Cascais is a coastal resort town to the south-west of Lisbon. It has a historic old town centre with plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants, a busy marina and a nice beach alongside the front of town. Arrive early on the train from Lisbon for a morning of sightseeing and wandering the picturesque old town streets. Medieval-style Nossa Senhora da Luz Fort and the Citadel Palace are the highlight attractions, but you’ll also find some nice churches and stunning architecture as you walk around. Once you’ve explored town, retreat to the beach and chill-out in the sun. Check out FullSuitcase.com’s guide here to help plan your visit.
Fátima is the Catholic pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary was said to appear in 1917 and many Christians travel from around the world to see this famous location in person. Rent a car and drive 1 hr 30 mins to Fatima from Lisbon or join an organised day-trip. You’ll get to visit the holy location of the Virgin Mary appearance, the stunning Church of Santíssima Trindade and an array of religious sites and artefacts.
Costa da Caparica Beaches
For the best beaches that Lisbon has to offer, you’ll need to cross the magnificent “25th of April Bridge” to the Almada district and on to Costa da Caparica. This secluded coastline is lined with spectacular golden sand beaches, which are far less crowded that the beaches on the Lisbon side of the river. Spend a full afternoon bathing in the hot sun, relaxing with a cocktail by the bar or going for a swim. If nice beaches are solely what you’re after in a day-trip, this is the best option. We recommend taking an Uber from Lisbon city centre. The journey takes around 30-minutes and you’ll get to see the Christ the Redeemer style ‘Cristo Rei’ statue and ‘Ponte 25 de Abril’ on the way.
Nazare Surfing Beach
If you’re a surfer up for a challenge or just want to marvel at the most impressive waves in the world, coastal Nazare is the place to go. The beach is the setting for where the world’s largest wave ever was surfed (check out the video below) and a fun place to check out whether you’re surfing or not. Join a beginner’s class, tackle the waves yourself or just relax on the sand and laugh at others having fun and falling off their boards. Nazare is a 1hr 30 min drive north of Lisbon so you’ll need to rent a car or book a tour to get there. Many hostels and hotels will be able to sign you up to a local tour if you ask at the front desk.
Now you have inspiration on what to do in Lisbon, we recommend planning your itinerary before you go and having an idea of what you’ll visit each day. Check out our 3-day Lisbon itinerary here for ideas. If you have any suggestions for our list or have a question and would like help planning your visit, get in touch!