What to do in Lisbon – The complete highlights guide
Gifted with a cozy Mediterranean climate all year round, the home of a rich historic heritage and a hotspot for food lovers, Lisbon is both modern and traditional.
In the coming words, we will describe what to do in Lisbon, what are the best highlights not to miss when visiting this amazing city.
There are so many places to visit, so get to know the places really worth visiting, and fill your days with history, sweet temptations, art and Fado ambiance music.
Are you ready for Lisbon’s hilly streets and stunning views?
Feel like a local in Rossio
Start with a small morning walk in Rossio Square (official name is Dom Pedro IV Square) and feel the place where all the local life starts. This amazing square with an 89ft statue of D. Pedro IV, standing in the center of all action, is a good starting point to discover Lisbon.
Look at the two Central Station doors and feel like you’re looking into a medieval painting.
This square of wave pattern pavement is in the very center of the city, known as Baixa.
Here took place the bonfires of the Inquisition, public beheadings and bullfighting between its cobbles. Also, there’s a neoclassical theater (Dona Maria II) worth seeing.
Nowadays it is filled with coffee-shops, shops, shady benches and lots of people enjoying themselves around the ornate Baroque fountains during the day and night.
Alfama old town
Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest district.
You’ll find a well-preserved past in all this neighborhood that survived the 1755 earthquake. The alleyways and very narrow streets makes you want to throw away the map and explore around the next corner continuously, at your own pace.
Alfama district is one of the top activities for Portugal’s capital visitors.
This compact area is packed with attractions.
Do you like historic churches?
Alfama has plenty of them: Santiago, St. António, St. Estevão, St. João da Praça, St. Miguel, Menino Jesus, São Vicente de Fora Monastery, St. Engrácia (National Pantheon), Igreja da Sé (city Cathedral).
Do you fancy viewpoints?
Feel mesmerized admiring the views from these panoramic city viewpoints: Santa Luzia Viewpoint and Santo Estevão Viewpoint.
Museums are where you feel like a real traveler?
Alfama has them also: Decorative Arts (Artes Decorativas) Museum – Azurara Palace, Fado Museum, Roman Theatre, and Military Museum.
Get your heart ready for Fado music
Fado was born in Alfama district when the Portuguese people lived in poor and very sad conditions around the 18th century.
Every Lisbon visitor must listen to Fado, Lisbon’s traditional folk music, characterized by the slow and melancholic rhythm, recently added to the Unesco’s list of World’ s Intangible Heritage. Even if this isn’t your favorite music genre, listening is a unique experience you can’t miss.
Choose carefully the venue. A dinner with home-made Portuguese food plus Fado concert is a heart-filling experience and the perfect program to finish off the day in Lisbon.
São Jorge Castle and Sé Cathedral, for history lovers
Castelo de São Jorge (Lisbon Castle), stands pompously on the top of the tallest hill overlooking Lisbon center and the river. This stunning Moorish style castle is more than 400 years old and still has Lisbon’s most breathtaking view.
From upon the battlements of the castle walls you can enjoy looking out over the city, walk around the ramparts and take amazing pictures in the company of vain peacocks.
The Lisbon cathedral, which you may find in some maps as Santa Maria Maior Church, is similar to a Romanesque style castle from the outside with defensive towers and battlements. It’s one of the oldest historical monuments in the city, dated from the 1100s.
There are some sarcophagi and tombs scattered across the chapels, with the most famous one of King Afonso IV located in the main chapel.
Excavations in the Gothic cloister have exposed archaeological finds going back almost 3000 years, from the Iron Age to the Middle Age.
Here you will also find the font where St. Anthony was baptized in 1195. St. Anthony is very famous around Lisbon, remember?
From this Cathedral, you will enjoy a beautiful panoramic view over Comércio Square, the red rooftops and the 25th April Bridge.
Bairro Alto e Ginginha Party
Bairro Alto is a traditional and very peculiar district of Lisbon.
Famous for its nightlife, it’s a place where the fun meets relaxation accompanied by a drink. The Bairro Alto has its own life and characteristics and is a place to visit during your stay in Lisbon, more than once!
If you go during the day, it is almost impossible to imagine the transformation that occurs in this area when the sun goes down.
The daytime is a quiet and serene neighborhood. The architecture is simple and typically Portuguese: secular houses with colored clothes drying in the sun outside the balconies. Look around and you will find small shops, locals working and moving around, mums with children by the hand and old ladies talking near the windows.
After sunset, everything changes. The streets turn into a crowded outdoor party of standing people, both locals and tourists of different cultures.
Besides all the party atmosphere spreading in the air of these narrow and cobbled streets, there’s a lot of restaurants offering typical tasty food, theme bars, cozy coffee shops, Fado music houses and clubs open until 02:00 am.
While you’re visiting this eccentric district, you have to try Ginginha. You can’t miss the opportunity to taste this sweet alcoholic drink with the perfect atmosphere.
Ginginha is the name of a typical liquor (made of cherry) that defines Lisbon tradition. You choose to drink with or without the cherry inside the small cup, many times a chocolate cup.
Taste the sweet Pastel de Nata
Pastel de Nata is a typical Portuguese small custard tart. It is well-known in all the country, but in Lisbon is where these are really famous and nowhere else are so tasty and crunchy like here. If any visitants of this amazing city leave without trying this wonder pastry, something wrong happened to them!
Eating Pastel de Nata it’s not only a touristic thing, you will see everywhere inhabitants having it or buying for themselves.
All coffee shops have this pastry but the most popular one is in Belém.
At the beginning of the 19th century, in Belém, near the Jerónimos Monastery, there was a sugar cane factory. As a consequence of the Liberal revolution that occurred in 1820, all the monasteries of Portugal were closed in 1834. In an attempt to survive, someone from the Monastery put up for sale in the shop that once was the sugar cane factory, some sweet pastries quickly called “Pastéis de Belém”.
At the time Belém was quite distant from the city of Lisbon and the route was assured by steamboats. However, the greatness of the Jerónimos Monastery and the Torre de Belém attracted visitors who quickly became accustomed to savoring the delicious pastries from the Monastery. Until today the secret recipe remains the same.
Admire Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon’s impressive landmark
Its greatness can be seen from the outside facades towards the interior rooms and cloisters displaying a marine decoration (corals, sea monsters and ropes).
This monastery was built to mark Portugal’s most glorious age which was called “The Age of the Discoveries”. The fusion of architectural motives, known as the Manueline style with ornate spires and carvings, stands as testimony to the cultures encountered by Portuguese explorers during their voyages.
The money used to build this piece of art came from Portugal’s international trade in exotic spices. Construction began in 1501 and progressed for almost one century. The trade between Lisbon and Asia financed the monastery construction via the “pepper tax” revenue.
This is another Lisbon UNESCO World Heritage site, many times used in big events.
Inside Santa Maria Church you can find the tomb belonging to Luis de Camões, Portuguese Poet, and also Vasco da Gama tomb, the Portuguese explorer who found the maritime route to India that allowed riches from all over the world to reach Lisbon.
Belém district and the Discoveries Monument
Belém is known as the historic district of the Age of the Discoveries.
Vasco da Gama and other explorers departed for their discovery voyages by ships called Caravelas from this waterfront called Belém. These events were celebrated by enormous monuments and some museums in the area.
Built-in 1515 Torre de Belém is a UNESCO World Heritage fortress that was constructed in the 16th century and once served both as a defensive fortification and a ceremonial gateway into and out of Lisbon. Be rewarded by a spectacular view of the river from the Belém tower’s terrace.
The extraordinary architecture of the Tower of Belém and Jerónimos Monastery is the result of the discovery of the sea route to India, the opening of trade with Japan, and the colonization of Brazil, Africa and some regions of Asia. These buildings are adorned with themes of exotic lands carved in stone.
Belém is also Lisbon’s museum district:
National Coach Museum filled with royal fairy tale vehicles
Berardo Museum showcasing a world-class collection of international contemporary and modern art
MAAT- Art, Architecture and Technology Museum
Spare some time to admire the caravel-shaped Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) on the natural route along the waterfront to the Belém Tower. This towering tribute to Portuguese explorers stands almost 200 feet tall.
Ponte 25 de Abril
The 25 de Abril Bridge is a suspension bridge on the Tagus River, in the final and narrower part, connecting the city of Lisbon to the south of the country and to the sandy beaches.
The Bridge is 2 277 meters long and the 33rd largest suspension bridge in the world.
In the 1950s the Portuguese government moved forward with the construction of a bridge to link the two shores of the Lisbon metropolitan area. Construction began in November 1962 and lasted for four years.
This Bridge seems to have a curious resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, United States of America, but it was actually inspired by another San Francisco bridge: the Bay Bridge. It was, however, built by the same company as the Golden Gate, and inaugurated in 1966.
Below the bridge are the Santo Amaro Docks, with a marina and several restaurants situated in former warehouses, and that’s where you can stay close to it. To see it from above, the best place is the terrace of the Cristo Rei (Monument to Christ) located in the south bank.
A sightseeing cruise along the Tagus river is another option to see this monumental bridge up close, by going under it. Don’t miss it!
A village out of a fairy tale: Sintra
A day trip to Sintra is a must-do as a complimentary trip from Lisbon. It’s a magical place.
Sintra is a picturesque Portuguese village, located in the center of the hills outside Lisbon. This slightly cooler mountain climate attracted Portugal’s nobility and rich people in the XIX century, who built imposing palaces, extravagant residences that combined with exotic and decorative gardens.
The variety of fascinating historical buildings and the beautiful landscapes have established Sintra’s Natural Park as one of the best tourist destinations.
This beautiful village surrounded by lush, green hills, seems to be coming out of a fairy tale with all of its palaces and castles. The most famous, and the one that I visited, is the Palácio Nacional da Pena, a romantic castle that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
This palace is a rainbow-colored palace brimming with over-the-top designs that seem to still have a Disney princess living there. It is located on top of a hill and, from up there, you can delight yourself with breathtaking views from all the Sintra mountains, Cascais city, and Lisbon region.
Its interiors are worth a visit too, as you can see a realistic scenario where the furniture and all items are set up as in two centuries ago. The bed is made, the tableware is ready for breakfast, the closets are glazed and the curtains were maintained the same. You will feel how the nobles lived at that time.
Go check out Sintra if you are visiting Lisbon. Bring the kids, they’ll love it.
Lisbon will keep you busy and happy. Explore beyond the map boundaries with high-quality tour services, with professional guides that ensure your expectations.