How should you spend your time in Lisbon? What are the most popular tourist sites in Lisbon? Here are 25 things you must see or experience in Lisbon.
Prior to my first trip to Lisbon, I was determined that I would not miss anything; so I did a lot of research, and I found at least 25 things that you have to see or do while in Lisbon!
Although this city has been shocked by two earthquakes and a tidal wave, it still has some of the oldest structures to be found in Europe. Additionally, Lisbon offers superb food and art scenes and an interesting mix of medieval and modern. In spite of its seven hills, Lisbon is a very walkable city with extraordinary public transportation. Also, the scenery is second to none, and it is a very affordable city.
Look at the Baixa District for some of the top 25 things to see and do in Lisbon
The Baixa, or Lowland, has several of the top 25 things to see or experience in Lisbon. Originally the city center. it was wiped out and then rebuilt. Lisbon’s downtown – Baixa: Everything you need to know
Regardless of where you are staying in Lisbon, you will quickly find yourself in Rossio Square, the more common name of Plaza King Pedro IV. (Praça Dom Pedro IV). Rossio, which means the Commons, has existed since the middle ages and seen bullfights, revolts, the Inquisition and its executions. It was, and still is, the center of Lisbon.
Most of the buildings on the square, except the Palace of the Almadas (Palace of Independence) were built after the earthquake of 1755. Rossio Square is a transportation hub located on both the green and blue metro lines of the http://metrolisboa.pt
Also, Rossio Square is a great place to relax and people-watch, as there are plenty of restaurants and cafes lining the plaza, including the 18th century Cafe Nicola.
Stroll along Avenida da Liberdade
To the northwest of Rossio Square (to the left of the Teatro Nacional) lies Avenida da Liberdade. This beautiful tree-lined boulevard has the most expensive real estate in Lisbon, and offers luxury hotels and high end shopping. In addition, it is also simply an enjoyable (and flat) walk.
There are three metro stations along the Avenida – Restauradores, Avenida, y Marques de Pombal, as well as the Ascensor da Glória – one of the best ways to get uphill to Bairro Alto.
To the northeast of Rossio Square (to the right of the Teatro Nacional) you can find the Praça de Sao Domingo and the Saint Dominic Church. Once the site of the slave market, today it is a popular gathering point for the city’s African immigrants.
Also off this square you can find two tiny shops that have been selling shots of Ginjinha since the 1800s. The liquor is made from aguardente, ginja cherries, sugar, and cinnamon. To learn more, read my Your questions about Ginjinha answered here
You can pay 1.25 euros for a shot of Ginjinha. It is a fun cultural experience at either A Ginjinha do Rossio, Largo São Domingos 8, or Ginjinha sem Rival, Rua das Portas de Santo Antão 7. If you continue up this street, you will find plenty of spots to eat, as well as theaters, and bookstores.
On the eastern side of Rossio, you can find a farmers’ market in Praça da Figueira. (Fig Tree Square) It is a bus transport hub, and Trams 12 and 15 both leave from this square.
Follow Rua Augusta down to the river
Head south from Praça do Figueiro through a promenade of restaurants and street performers. Soon you will pass through the Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta, Augusta Street Arch of Triumph. At Rua de Augusta 2 you can purchase a ticket for 8 euros to go to the observation deck at the top of the Arch, which offers 360 degree views. What is the story behind Lisbon’s Rua Augusta Arch?
Next, pass through the arch and step across the street into the Praça do Comércio, (Commerce Square). Also known as Terreiro do Paço (Palace Yard), as the River Palace once stood there prior to the earthquake. Now you will find cafes, wine-tastings, tourist information, and government offices.
The majestic buildings currently surrounding the courtyard were all built during the Marquis de Pombal’s reconstruction of central Lisbon during the 1700s.
As you walk down to the river, you will be looking at one of Lisbon’s most calming views- the two columns in the river – Cais das Colunas. Why are there columns in the water in Lisbon?
At one time, there was a pier here, and the columns were the gate to the city. Royal visitors from other nations would pass through the columns and head up the steps to the River Palace.
Today you can sit on the marble steps and enjoy the sunset.
How to find the Convento do Carmo
First, find the Elevador de Santa Justa, Rua do Ouro, 1150. Opened in 1902, this 45 meter wrought-iron elevator moves tourists from Rua Augusta in The Baixa district to Largo do Carmo and the Convento de Carmo. To learn more, read my
Elevador de Santa Justa | Everything you need to know The historic elevator (round trip 5.5 euros) has long lines, and a fantastic observation deck at the top. Admission for the viewing platform is an additional 1.5 euros.
You can, however, get to the upper neighborhoods without the lines and for free!
One block behind the Elevador de Santa Justa there is a shop that has an elevator that will take you up top to the bar, Bellalisa Elevador, which has a nice patio with views of the castle.
By the elevator you will find a staircase and walkway that will take you to the Convento do Carmo.
Largo do Carmo is a great little plaza to have a drink, people watch, and listen to street musicians. You will find it just in front of the Convento do Carmo.
The convent was built in 1389 and its gothic church was ruined in the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in 1755.
Unfortunately, all that remains are the walls of the church and the beautiful vaulted arches. It is a very impressive piece of architecture.
Of the 25 things to see and experience in Lisbon, this is one of my favorites. I’m just stricken knowing that 600 years ago the church was nearly destroyed, but those beautiful arches hang on, giving a gorgeous view of the blue sky.
I am sure that any event held there, a Mass, a concert, whatever – is a moving experience.
The Belém neighborhood has some of the top 25 things to see in Lisbon, and maybe Europe!
You could spend a half day in the Belém neighborhood for some of the best old architecture and monuments in Lisbon as well as some of its best eating.
Belém was largely spared by the earthquake, and is where all of the Portuguese expeditions were launched from. Four of the 25vbest things to see or experience in Lisbon can be found in this neighborhood.
In order to get to Belém, take the E15 Tram or the 128 bus, or from Cais do Sodré station take the train toward Cascais and get off at Belém.
First of all, when you get off the bus, you will be standing in front of the massive Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. (Jeronimos Monastery). Construction on this UNESCO world heritage site began in 1501.
It was funded by taxes levied on the Portuguese colonies during the age of exploration and is a showcase of the kingdom’s wealth during the 15th century.
The monks who lived there were tasked with praying for the soul of the king and the safety of the Portuguese explorers.
Vasco da Gama and national poet Luis de Camôes are buried within.
Admission: 10 euros, 12 euros includes admission to the Belem tower as well.
Next, walk across the boulevard to the waterfront and The Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). This modern monument celebrates a time when Portugal ruled the seas during the 15th and 16th centuries.
This sculpture features a pantheon of 33 national heroes including royalty, explorers, and poets moving toward the open sea. At the front is Prince Henry the Navigator.
You can enter the monument and enjoy the museum as well as the views from the top.
Admission to the museum and viewing deck: 6 euros.
As you approach the monument, you will see a beautiful compass and map mosaic of the Portuguese trade routes, a gift from the government of South Africa.
Lisbon has not one, but two, UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the same street!
Next, continue down the promenade to the second UNESCO world heritage site on this street.
The Torre de Belem (Belem Tower) has been standing guard over the Lisbon harbor since 1515.
It must have been a sight for sore eyes when the sailors returned to the harbor after a year or more at sea.
Admission: 6 euros, 2 euros with a combination ticket from the monastery. Nonetheless, several sources have mentioned that going inside is not worth the time spent in line.
For many, the best thing in the neighborhood is Pasteis de Belém.
We are talking about egg custard tarts. You can get pasteis de nata in any neighborhood in Lisbon, and you should! But this bakery is where it all started!
Located at Rua de Belém 84, they introduced pasteis de nata to the world in 1837, using the recipe of the monks down the street at the Jeronimos Monastery.
For more information on the Belém neighborhood, ready my article, Lisbon’s historic Belém neighborhood | Everything you need to know
Exploring Lisbon’s castle and the Alfama neighborhood
Castelo São Jorge – Perhaps the castle is number one on the list of 25 things to see and experience in Lisbon, as it is Lisbon’s most visited tourist destination.
Occupied by the Romans before Christ, St. George’s Castle was taken over and fortified by the Moors in the eighth century and later won back by Martim Moniz and the Catholic crusaders.
Without a doubt, you will find that the fortress has great views of Lisbon and the Tejo river.
Several peacocks roam freely on the property. Why are there peacocks in Lisbon? They are descended from the ones the explorers brought back from Asia. Admission: 10 euros
Take the 12 tram up to the castle and then walk down through the Alfama neighborhood. Additionally, you can take bus 737 from Praça da Figueira and get dropped off in front of the castle. Much easier than walking up.
As you go downhill, stop at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia viewpoint and the nearby Miradouro das Portos do Sol.
Also in the Alfama neighborhood you will find the fortress-like Cathedral de Sé, or Lisbon Cathedral.
Construction on the church began in 1147, as soon as the crusaders expelled the Moors.
This Baroque style church is the oldest building in Lisbon. Admission is free. Visitors are expected to dress modestly and cover their legs.
Investigating Bairro Alto – another of the top 25 things to see and do in Lisbon
Bairro Alto Reach this bairro (neighborhood) via the Ascensor da Glória funicular between Praça dos Restauradores and Avenida Liberdade. Bairro Alto can also be accessed by the Ascensor da Bica, a cable car connecting Rua de São Paulo and Calçada do Combro / Rua do Loreto. Round trip on either is 3.80 euros.
Coming off the Ascensor da Glória, to the right you will find the Miradouro de São Pedro, a scenic overlook and park with kiosks selling food and drink.
The viewpoint has views of central Lisbon, the river, and the castle on the opposite hill.
From there, venture up Avenida Principe Real and pass through a neighborhood full of shops, galleries, bars and restaurants on the way to the fantastic Jardim de Principe Real.
You will find a wonderful garden with dining and kiosks, and plenty of ancient shade trees.
Bairro Alto is quiet during the day but thrives at night with all of its bars.
When the bars close, the party usually heads downhill to The Pink Street / Cais do Sodré for the late night festivities. The nightlife might be one of the top 25 things to see or experience in Lisbon.
Enjoying Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré neighborhood
Cais do Sodré Station is on the water just west of central Lisbon.
From here, you can catch a ferry across the river to see the Christ statue and have great views of Lisbon from the far bank.
Once on the far side of the river, you can hop on a bus to get to the Costa de Caparica beaches.
Or in Lisbon, at the Cais do Sodré train station, you can catch a short train ride to the beaches at Cascais.
Near the station you will find lively nightlife on the Pink Street and the alleys nearby.
The famous Time Out Market Avenida 24 de julho offers a variety of some of the best foods to be found in Lisbon.
Attached to the food hall is a huge farmers’ and fish market – Mercado da Ribeira.
Investigate the very old and the very new in Lisbon
It seems that the national symbol of Portugal is the beautiful blue and white Azulejo tile.
The beautiful mosaics can be found all over Lisbon and all over Portugal. You will see wonderful examples in the Jeronimos Monastery and at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia.
Stop by the Museu Nacional de Azulejo. Built in the old Convento da Madre de Deus, the museum has one of the largest ceramic collections in Europe.
The museum explains how these tiles have been produced and changed over the last 500 years.
Also included is the stunning St. Anthony’s chapel inside the museum.
Buses 718, 742, 794 stop in front of the museum. Admission: 5 Euros
In Alcântara, what was once solely an industrial neighborhood, a section of factories and warehouses has been transformed into a zone of more than fifty bars, shops, restaurants, and art installations at the LX Factory, Rua Rodrigues Faria, 103. Take tram 15E to the Alcântara-Mar stop, or buses 714, 720, 732, 742, 751 or 760.
Aside from the art installations in the area, my favorite spot in LX factory is Livraria Ler Devagar – the Read Slowly Bookstore.
This bookstore was built in a former newspaper printshop. You can sit below one of the old printing presses and read while sipping on a coffee or something stronger.
Named one of the ten most beautiful bookstores in the world by the NY Times.
For more information on the LX Factory, see my Is the LX Factory worth visiting?
If you want to see the most modern architecture to be found in Lisbon, Parque das Nações is the neighborhood for you. Modern and contemporary architecture in the old city of Lisbon
Lisbon is blessed with so many great views
Many of the best things to see or experience in Lisbon are absolutely free! Miradouros, (Scenic overlooks ), for example. Lisbon sits on a river and has seven hills. The views are spectacular, especially at sunset.
Try to see as many as you can! It won’t take much effort to stumble upon some of the better known viewpoints – Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara in Bairro Alto, Miradouro de Santa Luzia and the Miradouro dos Portos do Sol are in Alfama .
The 28 tram stops at the Miradouro de Graça, also known as Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, and has views of the castle.
There are more than thirty public scenic overlooks around Lisbon.
What about the bridge?
Portugal lived under the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar for 48 years. The regime was overthrown in a coup on April 25, 1974.
The beautiful Ponte 25 de Abril (April 25th Bridge) commemorates this important date in Portuguese history.
You can have lunch on a rooftop with a great view of the bridge. Two very different places to try – upscale dining at the five star Bairro Alto Hotel, Praça Luis de Camões, 2, or a very humble, filling cafeteria style lunch at Cantina das Freiras.
The nuns donate every penny you spend to charity (likely to be six to eight euros). And you still get the view. Travessa do Ferragial, 1. Find the small alley, look for a huge wooden door with a tiny, handwritten sign. Enter and go to the top floor.
Clearly, one of the best things to experience in Lisbon is the food!
Of the 25 things to see and experience in Lisbon, the food is very near the top of the list! – Lisbon is famous for its pastries, stews, and seafood. But in addition to the traditional rustic and maritime cuisine, the city boasts nine Michelin restaurants.
In contrast, my first meal in Lisbon was a humble plate of six grilled sardines for six euros in the Baixa district, and it was great!
I’m very partial to some of the international cuisines that can be found along Avenida Almirante Reis. There is a huge Asian food court at the Mercado Oriental near Martim Moniz metro station.
Near the Intendente metro station you can find a burger that will rival any American burger at Hamburgues, Av. Almirante Reis 10. Or, Further up the road, Darshan Nepal has something a little more exotic at Almirante Reis 48.
But, Portugal and the ocean have a special relationship, and the seafood in Lisbon is outstanding. If you want to experience some of the best seafood you will ever eat, I have some recommendations on where to eat Seafood in Lisbon.
Where to experience football in Lisbon
So you want to experience Football in Lisbon? You have two choices to watch a pro soccer game. Ronaldo’s former team – Sporting Club, Estadio José Alvalade, (Campo Grande Metro station, or current national champions, Benfica. Estadio da Luz , (Colégio Militar /Luz metro station). Sporting wears green and white. Benfica’s colors are red and white. For more information on attending a game, see my article How to go to a Benfica game – lisbontravelideas.com
Tickets to the games can be purchased at the stadiums in advance or at the team shops near Rossio Square.
The season typically runs from September until May.
If you happen to be in Lisbon during the World Cup, Praça do Comércio will host daily viewing parties on a huge screen.
And last, but not least, of the 25 top things to see or experience in Lisbon… enjoy the excellent murals and other street art
Street art murals can be found all over Lisbon. According to http://lisbonstreetarttours.com, Banksy has not yet hit Lisbon, but there is a great local artist named Adres who has a very similar style.
You can find large murals scattered all around central Lisbon.
Then, there is the Blue Wall, a mile – long circular wall surrounding the Julio de Matos Hospital. Located at Rua das Murtas, a ten minute walk from the Alvalade metro station.
Like San Francisco’s Mission District, the artists of Lisbon have organized and managed to bring color and creativity to large buildings in poorer, working-class neighborhoods.
Galeria de Arte Urbana has organized the Muro Urban Art Festival in the Padre Cruz and Marvila neighborhoods, Padre Cruz, a large public housing complex, is as far away from the river as one can get and still be in Lisbon. It served by buses, but not metro. A tour would be a great idea to see the art in these far-flung areas.
Of the 25 things to see and experience in Lisbon, my favorites were the seafood, the sites in Belém, the Convento do Carmo, the castle, and the street art. I also loved the day trips and the nearby beaches. It was also a lot of fun to work on my Portuguese. I had learned Portuguese in Brazil, and have a gringo accent in Brazil. Yet, the people of Portugal were very complementary and understood me when I spoke Portuguese. That said, it is not necessary to speak Portuguese in Lisbon.
Do you have time constraints? Check my Lisbon 24 hour checklist – what should I see and do? If you have a little more time, there is How to spend 48 hours in Lisbon — a 48-hour itinerary
Is your budget a concern? See my article How to enjoy Lisbon on a Budget