Lisbon is the capital and most populous city of Portugal, with about 530 thousand living in the city (and close to 3 million living in the metropolitan area).
Standing on the estuary of the River Tejo, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula, Lisbon has a strategic location and a long history dating back to the Romans. It is among the sunniest cities in Europe with temperate weather. Lisbon is a safe city, where violent crime is rare. The city offers a combination of old-world history, a great climate and safety that attracts many visitors again and again.
In this list, we suggest places to visit and things to do in Lisbon. We include a visit to the village of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, just 30 minutes away.
Castelo de São Jorge
Sitting on the top of the Alfama hill, the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills, Castelo de São Jorge is the most visited tourist site in the city, and perhaps its most impressive one, if not for the building itself at least for its position offering the best views of Lisbon and the River Tejo.
After four centuries of Moorish occupation, the castle was conquered in 1147. From 1248 till the sixteenth century, the Portuguese kings took up residence within the walls in the old Moorish palace known as Paço da Alcáçova. The buildings now housing the Permanent Exhibition and the Restaurante Casa do Leão as well as the surrounding area offer some evidence of the former Paço da Alcáçova. The stunning viewpoint, a series of gardens, the Castelejo (Upper Castle) and the periscope complete the visit.
Alfama and Fado
Alfama is Lisbon’s Moorish district: a medina-like neighbourhood of narrow and maze-like streets at the foot of the castle. The best way to know Alfama is to ditch the maps and wander through the medieval streets.
If you visit Lisbon in June, don’t miss the arraiais, street parties where people ramble, dance, eat grilled sardines and caldo verde (Portuguese cabbage soup), and drink sangria (a mixture of wine, fruit juice and sugar) and beer. Although there are festivities during the whole month of June, the highlight is the Feast of St Anthony, patron saint of Lisbon, on the night of 12 June, with a parade on Avenida da Liberdade and a giant street party in Alfama.
Alfama is also well known for its fado restaurants. Check out 5 of the Best Fado Restaurants in Alfama.
One of the best ways to discover Lisbon and its typical neighbourhoods is to take tram 28. The entire route from Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique / Prazeres takes approximately one hour. While an extremely popular tourist attraction, tram 28 is also used by locals as their only transport.
The tram goes through the narrow streets of Alfama, uncovering two breathtaking viewpoints: Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro de Santa Luzia. En route to the Baixa, Lisbon’s downtown area, catch a glimpse of the Sé, the city’s cathedral combining Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles. While crossing the Baixa, notice the area’s grid, its buildings and streets reconstructed after the great earthquake of 1755.
The tram then climbs the hill towards Chiado, another historic and commercial district. Before its final stop at Prazeres cemetery, the tram goes through the Palácio da Assembleia (Parliament building), the Basílica da Estrela (a neoclassical church) and the Estrela park. Use your Viva Viagem card and save money.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
The Jerónimos Monastery is a UNESCO-listed site since 1983, and the most important monument in the Belém area. Commissioned by King Dom Manuel I, it is a symbol of the Portuguese Discoveries, and of Vasco da Gama’s pioneering sea voyage to India in 1498.
Admire the building’s façade. Despite being a side entrance, the South Portal facing the river is the most impressive one. The central statue over the portal is Our Lady of Belém with the Child, part of a total of forty statues depicting the prophets, the apostles, and other religious figures, including a few saints. The Main Portal facing east is smaller. Above it, the statues represent scenes from the birth of Christ. On each side, there are statues of the monastery’s founding monarchs.
The Main Portal gives access to the church whose stained-glass windows cast a different light to its interior. Visiting the church is free. Paid entrance to the Monastery gives you access to the Cloister, Chapter Room, Refectory, Confessionals and Library.
Torre de Belém
Built to serve as a fortress, and part of the River Tejo defense system, the Tower of Belém is another of Lisbon’s symbols, and a UNESCO-listed monument. Despite its function, however, it fired only once in 1579, before becoming a State prison under the Spanish occupation. The artificial lake that puts the tower inside the water dates from 1983.
There are usually long queues to see the Torre de Belém as only a limited number of people are allowed inside the tower at any one time. To beat the crowds, either buy a combined ticket that includes the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and gives you access to a speedy entrance lane, or go there early in the morning or during lunchtime.
Terreiro do Paço and Cais das Colunas
The riverfront Praça do Comércio, best known as Terreiro do Paço, is historically one of the most important squares in Lisbon. It was home of the royal palace for two centuries before being completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. During the fifteenth and sixteenth century Discoveries, the square was also an important gateway to Lisbon.
Many prominent figures in the past, including England’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1957, arrived in Lisbon through the marble steps of Cais das Colunas, the pier named after the two columns said to be inspired by the two pillars of the Solomon’s Temple.
Today, the square is mostly a pedestrian area that gives access to the River Tejo and to a walking area along the river connecting to the nearby Cais do Sodré, where you can take the train to Cascais.
Visit the Arco da Rua Augusta for wonderful views of the Tejo and of Rua Augusta, the most important commercial street in the Baixa district, featuring the artistic Portuguese calçada (traditional pavement featuring mosaics of limestone and black basalt).
Chiado and Bairro Alto Neigbourhoods
These are two of the most popular areas in Lisbon. Chiado is famous for its range of antique cafés like A Brasileira, bookshops such as Livraria Bertrand, the oldest bookstore in the world still in operation according to the Guinness Book, elegant boutiques and historic theatres such as Lisbon’s opera house, Teatro de São Carlos. A quiet, residential area during the day, Bairro Alto is abuzz with people at night, mostly on weekends, heading to the many bars, small pubs, and clubs.
In Chiado, the two main streets, Rua Garrett and the nearby Rua do Carmo, with a pedestrian area over the Santa Justa Lift, are two of Lisbon’s best shopping streets. Here, historic shops that offer a glimpse of the past are side-by-side with big and trendy brands. Make a detour to visit the Carmo Convent and its archeological museum, the Chiado Museum that offers an overview of contemporary Portuguese art, and the Church of São Roque with its austere façade hiding an exuberant interior of gold, marble and azulejos (hand-painted tile panels).
For a night out of drinks, head to Bairro Alto. Check out Top Bars & Clubs in Bairro Alto.
With seven hills, there are stunning views that you will catch during your visit to Lisbon. Here’s a list of the top 20 viewpoints in the city. To discover the best viewpoints, we suggest a tuk tuk tour to help you manage Lisbon’s paved steep streets. Tuk tuks can usually be found parked at central streets and squares in Lisbon.
Parque das Nações
The Expo 98 was responsible for converting an ugly industrial area into Parque das Nações, a futuristic riverfront of gardens and ocean-themed buildings. In a visit to the neigbourhood, we suggest the waterfront trail to walk, bicycle (bikes can be rented at the Marina Reception) or to admire the views on board of the Teleférico, a gondola lift that glides 30 metres above the Tejo edge.
Even if you don’t have kids, or don’t fancy zoos and aquariums, don’t miss the Oceanarium, an aquarium holding 5 million liters of sea water and a diversity of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The village of Sintra is located about 30 minutes from Lisbon. You should consider a day trip to visit Sintra during your stay. In spite of the proximity to Lisbon, the village is cooler during summer thanks to the mountain influence.
The top must-see attractions in Sintra include the historic center with the National Palace in Gothic style. While here, go shopping in the local shops, and taste the famous queijadas. Also worth a visit are the Moorish Castle dating from the ninth century, and the Pena Palace built in the nineteenth century. If you still have the time, proceed to the Palaces of Regaleira and Monserrate and to the Convent of Capuchos as these are places in Sintra that will dazzle you.
Check out our Planning a Day Trip to Sintra, Cabo da Roca, Guincho & Cascais page.