Year after year, Lisbon works its magic on an ever-growing crowd of wanderers, pulling them into its enchanting embrace. Are you ready to be next? With its soulful fado music seeping from every corner, irresistible gastronomy, the irresistible charm of the locals, and a history that’s etched onto every street, you’ll find yourself returning again and again to Portugal’s bewitching capital.
If you’re contemplating a getaway to Lisbon, there are some experiences you simply can’t afford to miss out on. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with some must-do activities that will fill your itinerary with memorable moments.
1. Uncover the secrets of Praça do Comércio
Every city has its heart and in Lisbon, it beats strong in the Praça do Comércio. This grand square captivates and beguiles in equal measure and is the bustling hub of the Portuguese capital. With its open expanse bordered by arcades and classic facades, it’s a place that holds a special spot in my heart.
An interesting tidbit – this plaza, in the 16th century, was the site of the Royal Palace until the devastating earthquake of 1755 laid it to ruins. From the ashes of this tragedy rose a magnificent space perfect for a leisurely stroll, a place to pause, and simply soak in the hustle and bustle that breathes life into this square. I still get nostalgic thinking about my first visit to Lisbon, spending New Year’s Eve amidst the vibrant energy of this square.
As an ideal starting point for your Lisbon journey, the central location of the Praça do Comércio and the nearby Avenida da Liberdade make them prime contenders for your home base in this charming city.
2. Making an entrance through the Rua Augusta Arch
As you reach the end of Praça do Comércio, a grand Triumphal Arch majestically opens up to one of Lisbon’s primary arteries, Rua Augusta. An absolute hive of activity, the street is a lively blend of shops, eateries, and various businesses.
I urge you to wander through this arch and take your time sauntering down this bustling avenue. Here’s a tip from me – take the opportunity to ascend to the top of the arch. The vistas are quite something!
3. Marvel at Belém Tower from every angle
Next on our must-visit list is the iconic Belém Tower. Perched on the banks of the Tagus, this remarkable edifice has seen various roles in its storied past – from prison to lighthouse, even a tax collection center.
Why does it deserve a visit, you might wonder? Its unique Manueline architectural style is an exclusive feature of Portugal that promises to seize your imagination. A peek inside reveals a chapel, the King’s Room, and a terrace offering jaw-dropping panoramas.
4. The taste sensation that is the Pastéis de Belém
For our next stop, we don’t have to venture far. Skipping the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém on a Lisbon visit is near sacrilegious! Their signature treats, known simply as Pastéis de Belém, are an absolute must-try – a classic, and yes, mouthwateringly delicious morsel of the city.
Crafted with a simple combination of puff pastry and cream, these pastries’ straightforwardness doesn’t detract from their irresistibility. Despite the ever-present throng of pastry enthusiasts, I promise you, braving the queue to taste these delicacies is a trade-off you won’t regret.
Thinking about where to stay in Lisbon? Be sure to do your homework and choose a neighborhood that suits your taste and travel style. After all, the city is as diverse as it is delightful!
5. Sip a brew at Cervejaria Trindade
Regardless of whether it’s a beer, a soft drink, or even a simple glass of water, a stopover at Cervejaria Trindade is a non-negotiable experience when in Lisbon.
Tucked into the heart of Barrio Alto, this brewery occupies a 13th-century former convent, with many of its original spaces still intact. Immerse yourself in the enchanting ambience of the various rooms, soak in the vibrant tile-panel décor, and of course, indulge in the local cuisine and drinks. It’s an experience that screams ‘Lisbon’!
6. Get lost in the charm of Alfama
Alfama, one of Lisbon’s most characterful districts, is a delight to explore. Having survived the infamous 18th-century earthquake largely unscathed, it boasts some of the city’s oldest buildings and still retains the distinctive layout from the era when Portugal was under Arab rule.
A leisurely stroll through its narrow, cobbled streets is an absolute must-do when in Lisbon. Remember, it’s the beating heart of Fado music. Reserve an evening to dine in Alfama and experience the soul-stirring artistry of this musical tradition.
7. Visit the Castelo de São Jorge
Sitting majestically atop one of the city’s highest hills, like a crown adorning its royal head, is the formidable Castelo de São Jorge, or simply the Moorish Castle. A large fortified complex spanning over 6000 m², it’s a place where medieval magic comes alive amidst its walls, watchtowers, and open spaces.
8. Broaden your horizons at Lisbon's museums
Given the city’s rich cultural tapestry, Lisbon’s museums offer a top-tier experience. There’s a wide array of options, each more fascinating than the last.
Notables include the National Museum of Archaeology, the Tile Museum, the Coach Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Navy Museum, and the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology). All definitely worth a visit!
9. Hop on Tram 28
The vintage trams of Lisbon are attractions in themselves. Many of the ones still in operation today are original, fully-restored carriages that have almost a century’s worth of stories to tell.
There’s undeniable charm in hopping on one of these and journeying through the city’s streets just like the early 20th-century locals did. The most famous of all, Tram 28, weaves its way through Graça, Chiado, Barrio Alto, and Alfama. From its windows, you’ll catch glimpses of Lisbon’s renowned landmarks while relishing this unique mode of transport.
10. Explore Jerónimos Monastery
Without a shadow of a doubt, a visit to the iconic Jerónimos Monastery is an absolute must when exploring the Portuguese capital. Erected in the charming Belém district following Vasco da Gama’s return from India, this stunning edifice is a feast for the senses.
Its exquisite Manueline style, a delightful fusion of late Gothic and Renaissance, coupled with the final resting places of many eminent Portuguese figures, makes this a site well worth the entry fee. Embark on this journey into history; it’s an unmissable part of your Lisbon adventure.
11. Unearth the Charm of Bica Lift
Launched in 1892 and still in operation today, the Bica Lift is a time capsule, preserving an air of classical elegance and nostalgia. This unique elevator effortlessly scales one of the many inclines scattered throughout Lisbon’s neighborhoods.
Your journey covers the 200-meter stretch of Rua da Bica, aboard a funicular echoing the style of traditional trams, slicing through a picturesque landscape of vibrant, multi-colored houses. A charming adventure awaits every visitor here.
12. Enjoy a Coffee Break at A Brasileira
Coffee in Lisbon is a lifestyle statement, with countless cafés dotting the cityscape. Yet, not all can boast of the timeless tradition enveloping A Brasileira. Nestled in the heart of Chiado and flanked by a statue of Fernando Pessoa, it’s a place steeped in history.
Opened in 1905, it’s retained its original charm. Originally, they offered a ‘bica’, a short and strong coffee, to every grain purchaser. Savoring a cup of coffee here, amidst the original wooden carvings and the café’s rich history, is a uniquely Lisbon experience.
13. Cross the 25th of April Bridge
Entering Lisbon often necessitates crossing the Tagus at some point. And there’s no better place to do that than the grand 25th of April Bridge. Spanning over 2 kilometers, this architectural marvel hails from 1962.
With its striking red steel structure and construction style, the bridge bears an uncanny resemblance to San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself snapping a photo… or two… or three!
14. Shop Till You Drop at Avenida da Liberdade
Shopping aficionados and luxury enthusiasts, Lisbon has a treat for you! If Paris’ Champs-Élysées captured your heart, you’ll undoubtedly be enamored by Avenida da Liberdade.
This prestigious boulevard, reserved only for the upper crust during the 18th century, radiates exclusivity. Posh boutiques and high-end stores line this chic artery, injecting the city with an intoxicating air of elegance.
15. Peek Into the Past at Carmo Convent Ruins
The 1755 earthquake remains deeply etched in Lisbon’s history, its scars visible to this day. The subsequent tsunami brought widespread destruction, remnants of which still dot the Portuguese capital.
The Carmo Convent, one of the city’s oldest Gothic structures, was decimated by the catastrophe. The preserved ruins serve as a stark reminder of a seismic event that forever shaped the city’s character.
16. Enjoy Dinner and Drinks in Bairro Alto
The quirky and bohemian Bairro Alto, with its winding alleys and steep inclines, is a nightlife hotspot. Chock full of bars and restaurants, it’s the place to be when the sun goes down.
Savor a hearty dinner followed by local beers in any of its myriad pubs. The area is perfect for a bar crawl and even a little dance-off. If you’re after swanky nightclubs though, you’ll have to venture further afield.
17. Ascend the Santa Justa Lift
This iron structure, housing two wooden elevators, once served as a key mode of transportation for Lisbon’s residents. Though still operational, it’s mostly left to the tourists nowadays.
Why, you ask? Well, it’s one of the city’s most captivating sights and a sought-after tourist experience. With a ride priced at 6.5 euros and tourists aplenty, locals usually give it a miss. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced it’s worth the tag, but it seems to be one of those ‘Lisbon must-dos’ for many visitors.
18. Become Awestruck at the Santo Domingo Church
For centuries, this colossal church served as the city’s epicenter for royal weddings, coronations, and pivotal events. Its storied history alone beckons visitors.
But what sets this sanctuary apart is its interior – a haunting tableau etched by a 1959 fire. Lisbon decided to keep its burnt walls, almost-melted stone, and fire-scarred images intact. This eerie spectacle creates an indescribable atmosphere. Take a moment to sit on its pews and let the place’s unique energy wash over you.
19. Discover Modern Lisbon in Parque das Naçoes
Once the heart of the 1998 World Expo, this district has since transformed into one of Lisbon’s most progressive and up-and-coming neighborhoods. Beyond its modernity, Parque das Naçoes boasts a vibrant culture and leisure scene.
From shopping centers to eateries, top-tier attractions like Vasco da Gama Bridge, the Science Museum, and the Oceanarium, there’s something for everyone here.
20. Unearth the Soulful Fado
This music genre, born at the University of Coimbra, is deeply entwined with Portugal’s most authentic traditions. Witnessing a fado performance, where the silence is broken only by the singer’s voice and simple instruments, is an experience best enjoyed with a fine local wine.
Alfama district is home to some of the best venues offering fado, like Clube de Fado or Taverna do Embuçado. These spots retain a traditional flavor and host ongoing concerts, guaranteeing a memorable evening.
21. Venture into the Fado Museum
If fado has bewitched you, let the Museu do Fado further illuminate your understanding of this mystical music genre. Located in the heart of Alfama, next to Santa Apolonia station, it showcases nearly 15,000 pieces that tell the story of this unique music form. Don’t miss this enlightening visit.
22. Explore the Oceanarium, Europe's Second Largest Aquarium
Especially fascinating for the little ones, the Oceanarium in Parque das Naçoes is a must-visit. Holding the title of Europe’s second-largest aquarium (only bested by Valencia’s L´Oceanogràfic), it houses over 15,000 specimens from more than 450 species.
23. Marvel at the View from Santa Lucia Viewpoint
Prepare to be captivated by the sweeping vistas from the Santa Lucia viewpoint in the Alfama district. This lookout, one of many dotting the city, offers a unique perspective on many iconic landmarks.
From the National Pantheon, Alfama’s traditional houses, to the churches of St. Michael and St. Stephen, there’s plenty to feast your eyes on. Decorated with traditional tiles, it’s a haven for photography enthusiasts. Don’t forget your camera!
24. Are You a Soccer Aficionado? Swing by Benfica's Estadio Da Luz
For football fanatics, a jaunt to this historic stadium, the site of numerous legendary European football moments, should be high on your Lisbon itinerary.
25. How about a Mini-Adventure to Cascais?
Cascais, a charming fishing village-turned-tourist hotspot, is known for its stunning beaches—some of the finest in the Lisbon region. Whether you’re visiting Portugal’s capital in the heat of summer or the cool of winter, a seaside getaway to Cascais promises a delightful atmosphere and inviting attractions.
26. Savor Lisbon's Codfish
A cornerstone of Portuguese cuisine, codfish (bacalhau) is cooked in myriad ways across the country. Thankfully, Lisbon presents all these regional variations. You won’t run out of budget-friendly spots offering a gastronomic experience that promises to tantalize your taste buds with novel flavors.
27. Surrender to the Enchantment of Sintra
Less than an hour’s train ride from Lisbon, this fairy-tale-like coastal town, once a royal residence, brims with palaces and gardens that compete in beauty and elegance. A day trip to Sintra provides a peek into the country’s most appealing architecture. Make every effort to include Sintra in your Lisbon exploration!
28. Lisbon Cathedral
Known as Sé de Lisboa or Santa Maria Maior, this cathedral began construction in 1147 and survived events such as the notorious 18th-century earthquake. Brimming with history and details, it’s believed to sit atop an ancient Roman temple and is one of Lisbon’s most iconic structures.
29. Revel in the Monument to the Discoveries
This 52-meter tall monument, nestled on the banks of the Tagus River near the Tower of Belém, commemorates Portuguese navigators and explorers like Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama who expanded Portugal’s reach to the ends of the known world. It’s undoubtedly one of Lisbon’s most extraordinary sites.
30. Don't Miss these Souvenirs
Lisbon’s rich and ancient culture permeates even the keepsakes you can take home. Traditional tiles, tram replicas, and fado recordings make popular mementos.
Grabbing a box of Belém pastries is also a good idea. This sweet delight will ensure that the memory of Lisbon remains vivid long after you’ve left this city made for pure enjoyment.