If you want to tick off the best things to do in Lisbon, then your trip to the Portuguese capital must be at least two full days. Full of beautiful weather and pastéis de nata.
Lisbon is not the kind of city to fall in love with at first sight. But once you give yourself enough time to discover it, stroll its streets, and admire it from all angles in the miradouros, you will understand exactly why it is one of the most beautiful European capitals.
Although the city has a troubled past, especially after the disastrous earthquake of 1755, Lisbon managed to rise and flourish again. At the moment, the city has its charm, but it also borrows elements from the big cities of the world.
Here, you will feel like in San Francisco, due to the hills, trams and the bridge April 25, very similar to the more famous Golden Gate. You will remember Rio de Janeiro, thanks to the statue of Jesus, smaller, but very similar to the one on Mount Corcovado in Brazil. Not at all coincidental, considering that Rio de Janeiro has been the capital of Portugal for 13 years.
The similarities don’t stop here. The seagulls and Tejo River will perhaps remind you of Istanbul and the Bosphorus, while the beautiful beaches near the city will make you think of sunny Los Angeles. If I haven’t convinced you yet to travel to Lisbon, here you have 20 more reasons:
20 best things to do in Lisbon
1. Visit Belém Tower
Start your Lisbon getaway with a visit to one of the oldest and most important buildings in the city. This is the starting point of the Great Geographic Discoveries. The Belem Tower is a fortress built in the 16th century, also known as the Saint Vincent Tower.
You can admire the tower from the outside or visit the inside also, except on Mondays. It is 30 meters tall and is a perfect representation of what the Portuguese Manueline style means. I also talked about this style when I presented the Portuguese library in Rio de Janeiro.
2. Admire the gorgeous Jerónimos Monastery
In the same beautiful Manueline style and located in the same region of Lisbon, you can see the Jerónimos Monastery. Started in 1501 and completed 100 years later, the magnificent monastery is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Belem Tower.
The construction project was made by the Portuguese architect Diogo de Boitaca, to commemorate the return of Vasco da Gama from India. Moreover, inside the monastery, there is the tomb of the explorer.
3. Study the Monument of the Great Geographic Discoveries
The stroll along the Tejo River in Lisbon is full of history lessons. Also worth mentioning is the Monument of the Great Geographical Discoveries, the one that celebrates the great expeditions of the 15th and 16th centuries.
The key characters of these sea journeys that marked the history are carved on the 52 meters monument: Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, King Alfono, Pedro Álvares Cabral the Fifth, and many others.
The monument is shaped like a caravel, a ship used in the journeys, and it was built to commemorate 500 years since the death of Prince Harry.
If history is not your strong point, then the map built from the mosaic, right next to the monument, will be helpful. Here are marked, on the world map, all the discoveries of Portuguese explorers throughout history.
4. Enjoy the delicious pasteis de nata at Pasteis de Belem
No vacation in Lisbon would be the same without this delicious dessert. It’s so tasty! Pasteis de nata is some kind of symbol of the city, together with the yellow tram. You can find them everywhere in the city. There’s no restaurant, pastry or coffee shop that doesn’t include them.
No vacation in Lisbon would be the same without this delicious dessert that makes you lick your fingers. Pasteis de nata is a kind of symbol of the city, together with the yellow tram. You can find them all over the city. There is no restaurant, bakery or cafe that does not include them.
Mini vanilla tarts are everyone’s favorite for over a century. The good part is that you can still find the original recipe at the first bakery that produced them: Pasteis de Belem. Here you will have the best formula: ideal cream and cinnamon powder that will give it a perfect flavor.
Even if the famous bakery sells over 20,000 pastries daily, don’t be discouraged by the crowds. The staff moves very fast, and you can enjoy the delicious desserts as fast as you say yummy!
5. Visit the park near the Jeronimos Monastery
Probably not included in any tour guide, but I came here by chance and convinced me to add it to this article because of a few elements that caught my attention.
Vasco da Gama Garden, as you find it on google maps, is a small and quite simple park, but perfect for a relaxing walk after you have sweetened yourself with pastels de nata at Belem bakery.
You can find purple flowers, statues and a Thai pagoda here.
6. Cross the bridge 25 April
You don’t have to cross the ocean to feel like in San Francisco. Lisbon already has an atmosphere of northern California. Due to the tram that goes up the steep hills of the city, but especially because of the red bridge, built over the river Tejo, the twin of the famous Golden Gate.
The bridge located 70 meters above the Tejo River was inaugurated in 1966 and has a length of over 2 km. It is even a little longer than Golden Gate and ranks 38th in the top of the longest suspension bridges in the world.
The name Ponte from April comes from the Carnations Revolution of April 25, 1974, when Portugal gained its democracy. But it is also known as Ponte Salazar or Raul Tejo Bridge.
If you want to cross the bridge and see what the hills and towers of Lisbon look like from the other side of the river, then you must know you have to pay a tax to pass the bridge by car.
7. Go to Praça do Comércio
Among the buildings that were victims of the 1755 earthquake was the Royal Palace, located in the heart of Lisbon. Nowadays, we find here the most important market in Lisbon, Praça do Comércio, dominated by the statue of King Jose I.
In the past, somewhere around the 18th century, here there were held merchandise tradings and were financed the expeditions to the far corners of the world. Now, Praça do Comércio is a kind of km 0 of the city and a very touristic place.
Most people gather here to walk along the Tejo River, to admire the architecture of the yellow buildings and the arch that connects Rua Augusta, the most important boulevard in the Baixa neighborhood.
8. Go shopping on Rua Augusta
I have told you in past articles that every big city has that main street with countless stores and cafes. Well, in Lisbon that pedestrian street is Rua Augusta, the chic boulevard of the Baixa neighborhood.
On Rua Augusta, you can find almost everything from shops, ice cream, confectioners and restaurants to souvenirs and street artists. It is a lively place you should not miss on your vacation in Lisbon.
9. Get on the Santa Justa elevator
You will probably wonder what an elevator can have so special that it will be necessary to climb into it.
Well, I will offer you some reasons why the Santa Justa elevator should be added to the list of things to do in Lisbon. First of all, the elevator is a vintage one, more than 120 years old and built in the same architectural style as the Eiffel tower. That’s because the architect of the elevator architect is one of the students of Gustav Eiffel.
Lisbon is built on hills, so going from one side of the city to another can be difficult. Therefore, the role of the elevator was to facilitate this movement.
Besides, the observation point from the top of the elevator offers a splendid panorama of the Baixa neighborhood. The elevator can be visited until 10 or 11 pm, depending on the season, and the price of a ticket is around 7 euros.
10. Explore the most beautiful neighborhoods
Lisbon has super beautiful neighborhoods. They have a cool vibe and each one has something different to offer. Bairro Alto is the center of fun and nightlife, Alfama is the oldest and most beautiful, with pastel houses, laundry on the balcony and sloping streets, and Chiado is the heaven of shopping and historical buildings with impressive architecture.
11. Visit the Cathedral of Lisbon
I will not give you the exact coordinates for Lisbon Cathedral because I know for sure that you will arrive here, even by chance. The Roman-Catholic church is located on the sloping road that connects the Baixa and Alfama neighborhoods, one of the most visited by tourists.
It was built in 1147 and has heroically resisted several bad events in the history of Lisbon.
12. Cross the longest bridge in Europe, Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama is a 12, 3 km long bridge in Lisbon and also the longest bridge in Europe. The engineering miracle was inaugurated in 1988, on the occasion of celebrating 500 years since the discoveries of the one from which it borrowed the name.
The bridge has 6 lanes and a height of 155 meters. It was built to withstand for at least 125 years and to an earthquake with an intensity of up to 9 degrees. I don’t know what to say about it, but it seemed pretty stable to me when I crossed it.
13. Admire the town from Miradouro das Portas do Sol
Strolling the streets of Lisbon, you will often see the word “miradouro”, and this can only mean something good. In translation, observation point, each miradourou will reveal a magnificent panorama of the city.
One of the best is Miradouro das Portas do Sol, which offers a spectacular view of the Alfama district. From here, you can see some churches, including Santo Estêvão and São Miguel, but also a portion of the Tejo river.
You will also find the statue of Saint Vincent, the spiritual patron of Lisbon.
If you have more time at your disposal and are eager to see the beauty of the city from the top, then also add on your list the following observation points: Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, Miradouro da Graca and Miradouro de Santa Catarina.
14. Go to Praça Júlio de Castilho
One of my favorite places in the city is Praça Júlio de Castilho. It is also a kind of terrace where you can admire the wonderful Lisbon, a place where locals, tourists, and artists gather.
Praça Júlio de Castilho is located a little higher than Miradouro das Portas do Sol and is decorated with vegetation, flowers, and blue mosaic. The atmosphere is bohemian and enchanting, so I recommend you not to miss this place.
15. Tram 28
The obvious symbol of the city, which you can find on every souvenir, must also be on your Lisbon itinerary. In fact, the yellow tram is right now on my fridge. How good it would be to get into it and send me to sunny Lisbon!
Tram 28 is not only a symbol of the capital of Portugal but also a very good way to explore the city. This is because it crosses the most beautiful areas and connects Graca, Alfama, Baixa, and Estrela neighborhoods.
16. Go to the westernmost point of continental Europe, Cabo da Roca
If you arrive in the capital of Portugal, then you should know that Cabo da Roca is one of the best things to do in Lisbon or around Lisbon. First, because it is an extremity of our old continent, and secondly because it’s a gorgeous place.
Cabo da Roca is located in Cascais Natural Park, 40 km far from Lisbon. You can get here by car, train or bus. It is hard to reach the area, but very beautiful with rocky cliffs and wild beaches.
The western extremity of Europe is marked by a lighthouse and a mark with geographical coordinates and a beautiful quote that describes it perfectly “The place where the earth ends and the sea begins …”
17. Explore the fabulous beaches near the city
Some of them are right next to Cabo da Roca. Praia da Aroeira, Praia da Ursa, and Praia da Adraga are splendid, exactly as you can see them in the pictures below.
But if you want to explore more of the beaches in Portugal, the most beautiful in Europe, in my opinion, then you should go to the Algarve. We will talk about it in a future article. However, if you want to stay in the surroundings of Lisbon, you will find sensational beaches in Cascais and Estoril.
18. Go to Boca do Inferno
Between Cabo da Roca and Lisbon there is another stop worth visiting.
Boca do Inferno, in translation, the mouth of hell is a former cave, later collapsed, leaving behind a vault through which the foamy waves of the ocean penetrate. There is no entrance ticket, you can visit for free and can stay as much as you want to.
19. Walk the streets
The streets of Lisbon have a special charm. Maybe it’s the architecture, maybe the houses with vivid and pastel colors, maybe the clothes lying on the small balconies made of wrought iron, maybe the graffiti or the murals displayed on the facades of the buildings, maybe the beautifully carved doors, painted in different colors …
I don’t know what is the wonderful ingredient, but the streets of Lisbon are truly conquering. No matter how hard I try to express in words or instagrammable images, you have to go here and let your steps carry you on the cubic stone, so that you understand the charm of this city fully.
20. Visit the Pena Palace in Sintra
We have beautiful architecture buildings. Sensational beaches. We have delicious desserts. Yellow tram checked. What’s missing? Nothing, because we also have a palace that seems taken from the fairytales with princes and princesses.
And not any palace, but an extremely colorful one. Red, purple, yellow and bright orange, beautifully harmonized with the green of the forest, in the middle of which is the Pena Palace in Sintra.
It is considered one of the most beautiful palaces in the world, so you should expect to find a lot of tourists here, especially in the peak season.
What I am trying to tell you is that for the Pena Palace you must have at least half a day. A full day, if you combine it with Cabo da Roca, the beaches and Boca do Inferno.
It was built between 1842 and 1854 and combines several architectural styles: neo-gothic, neo-Manueline, neo-Islamic, neo-Renaissance. But King Ferdinand did not just decorate the castle but expanded the project to the surrounding forest as well.
So he brought plants from all over the world (sequoia from America, ginseng from China, succulents from Africa, etc.) that he spread all over the area around the palace.
If you come by car, you may not find a parking space, the number being very limited. Instead, if you choose the train, you will have to also get on a bus that will bring you closer to the palace.
Schedule a half-day dedicated to the palace tour. Not necessarily because it is so beautiful that you will not want to leave anymore, but because it is so crowded and you will have to arm yourself with all the patience for the longest queues.
Where to stay in Lisbon
I’ve already mentioned in the article the most beautiful neighborhoods in Lisbon. Therefore, you can choose, as accommodation options, any of the Barrio Alto, Alfama, Baixa or Chiado neighborhoods.
There are hotels for any budget. Prices vary greatly depending on the season. You can see all the hotels in Lisbon here or you can consider my recommendations for each budget:
- Low-budget: Hotel Riverside Alfama – excellent location, downtown, very good breakfast, friendly staff
- Mid-Budget: Be Poet Baixa Hotel – perfect location, delicious breakfast, airport transfer, private balcony
- Luxury: Hotel da Baixa – central location, very nice design, buffet breakfast
When is the best time to visit Lisbon
The best times of year to visit Lisbon are spring or early autumn. In the months of March-May and September – October, the temperatures in Lisbon are perfect for exploring the city.
Try to avoid the summer months, when it is very hot and extremely crowded. If you want to be in the city during the festival, then visit Lisbon in June.
How to get around Lisbon
There are flights to Lisbon from all over Europe, and there are also buses that run daily to the capital of Portugal. You can get from the airport to the city center by subway. Public transport is very well developed.
There are bus, tram and subway stations all over the city. It’s not necessary to rent a car because the distances in the city are not very big. So you can walk or use public transport. However, if you want to visit other areas nearby, you can also consider this option.