The Portuguese capital city of Lisbon is full of character, charm and exciting things to see and do. Lisbon has the perfect blend of fascinating history, stunning architecture and a vibrant nightlife scene, making it an ideal destination for a weekend break. If you have more time to spend, you certainly won’t be bored in a city so diverse.
There are so many great things to do in Lisbon, it can be difficult to decide how to effectively plan your time. This detailed guide to Lisbon will help you to simplify the planning process and ensure you make the most of your holiday.
Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and the perfect place to base yourself to explore the beauty that surrounds it. If your schedule allows for it, this article also covers some of the best day trips from Lisbon that can easily be included in your stay.
Explore The Alfama District
Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood is made up of a maze of narrow alleys that wind upward from the Tagus River. The Alfama District is home to an impressive collection of historic architecture and a number of famous Lisbon attractions.
As you journey upward through the steep cobbled streets, you will come across the amazing Sé Cathedral, traditional bakeries and cafés, pretty little squares and gorgeous tiled houses. This is the perfect place to get lost and find picturesque scenery and panoramic city views around every corner.
If you continue walking, you’ll eventually reach the São Jorge Castle which is perched at the top of the Alfama District, towering over Lisbon and the Tagus River below.
Ride Tram 28
For those who would prefer to avoid an uphill climb, riding the Tram 28 is one of the most popular things to do in Lisbon. This famous yellow tram travels up and down the streets of the Alfama, passing by the best viewpoints and landmarks along the way.
The historic Tram 28 connects the Alfama District with several other neighbourhoods of Lisbon. You can choose to ride the entire length of the route or simply hop on for a shorter journey to see the best of the Alfama.
This tram line is very popular and can get quite crowded throughout the day. To avoid pickpockets and ensure you get a seat on the Tram 28, plan your ride first thing in the morning or later in the day.
Walk up to São Jorge Castle
No trip to Lisbon is complete without a visit to the incredible São Jorge Castle. If you choose to walk there, your efforts will be rewarded by the spectacular views from the castle’s lookout.
The São Jorge Castle has a rather diverse history that dates all the way back to 200 BC when it was originally built by the Romans. The Moors expanded the fortress during the 11th century and by 1940 it was completely restored and opened to the public.
Being one of the most visited attractions in the city, it’s best to get a skip-the-line ticket before you arrive. This will save you the hassle of waiting around in a long queue. The castle is open daily from 10am – 9pm and costs €10 per adult and free for children under 10.
See the Belém Tower
Rising up from the water near the banks of the Tagus River, this medieval tower is quite the sight to behold. It dates to the 16th century when it was built as a fortress to defend the city against potential attacks.
The Belém Tower was later used as a prison and then a lighthouse. In the 1980’s it became listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The tower is open to those who are interested to see the inside and climb to the terrace at the top.
If you’re running on a tight schedule, you may opt to skip the long queue and admire this majestic tower from the outside. Tickets to enter cost €6 per person however entrance to the tower is included when you purchase the Lisbon Card.
Discover History at the Jerónimos Monastery
Located in the Belém District, it’s easy to combine your visit to this stunning monastery when you stop at the nearby Belém Tower. The Jerónimos Monastery is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and yet another famous UNESCO landmark of Lisbon.
Construction of the monastery began in the early 1500’s, but it was only completed in the 17th century. Marvel at the ornate and elaborate designs as you wander through the complex of buildings that make up the monastery.
The Jerónimos Monastery features detailed columns, a two-storied cloister and the beautiful Church of Santa Maria which houses several famous tombs. Entrance to this attraction is also covered with the Lisbon Card.
Taste a Pastel de Nata
Before you leave the Belém neighbourhood, make a quick pit stop at Lisbon’s most well-known bakery to try one of the traditional Portuguese custard tarts, Pastel de Nata.
The Pastéis de Belém has made a name for itself for making the very best Pastel de Nata in town. You’ll notice bakeries selling them on every street corner around Lisbon but it’s worth it to save this experience until you reach the famous Pastéis de Belém.
This is the original bakery that has been serving these sweet treats since the 1800’s. They follow a secret recipe which is still used to this day. There is nothing like sinking your teeth into a warm, freshly baked Pastel de Nata!
Sunset Cruise on the Tagus River
Take in the sights of Lisbon on a sunset cruise along the Tagus River. A relaxing river cruise is a nice way to finish off a busy day of sightseeing.
Sip a glass of wine while listening to the peaceful background music as you cruise past some of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments and landmarks.
This highly reviewed river cruise lasts for 1.5 hours and gives you a fascinating insight into Lisbon’s history while showing you a different perspective of the city.
A welcome drink is included in the price of the ticket and there is a bar on board for those who wish to purchase additional drinks or snacks. Find more information about the sunset river cruise here.
Snap a Photo at the Elevador da Bica
As you explore the alleys of the Bairro Alto district, you’ll come across an iconic scene of Lisbon, the small yellow funicular that carries tourists up and down a steep street.
Taking a ride on this 19th century funicular is one of the most popular things to do in Lisbon. If you don’t plan to ride it, at least make a point of stopping to take a photo there.
The little tram climbing up the narrow sloping street with the backdrop of the Tagus River makes this a postcard perfect scene. It is easily the most photographed scene in the entire city.
Ride the Santa Justa Lift
The Santa Justa Lift was built over a century ago to transport the public from one district of Lisbon to another. Nowadays, it is a unique tourist attraction that offers a bird’s eye view over the city of Lisbon.
At the top of the elevator you’ll find an observation deck with a panoramic view over the Baixa district. Be warned that this attraction gets quite busy during the day and wait times can be long. Tickets cost €5.30 per person and entry is free with the Lisbon Card.
Dine in the Bairro Alto District
The colourful streets of Bairro Alto come to life in the evening with lively bars and a concentration of the city’s best dining options. For those seeking a fun night of bar-hopping, this is where you will find Lisbon’s best nightlife scene.
If you’re more interested in dining at a nice restaurant, look no further than the Bairro Alto neighbourhood. From traditional Portuguese food to international cuisine, there is a restaurant to suit everyone’s preference in this quarter of the city.
For appetizers and tapas, head over to the Leve Leve – Tapas Bar which is one of the best tapas restaurants in the area. If Portuguese cuisine is what you’re after, make sure to stop at the popular Taberna do Bairro Alto for an authentic meal and delicious wine.
Take in the Views from a Miradouro
Lisbon is full of scenic lookouts (miradouros) offering breathtaking views over the city’s red rooftops and the São Jorge Castle. Located within the Bairro Alto district, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara is one of the most popular viewpoints in the city.
Despite the crowds that tend to form here, it is the perfect place to watch the sunset in Lisbon. The best part about this spot is that there are several food/drink stalls so that you can enjoy the scenery with a glass of wine or beer.
Take a Day Trip from Lisbon
Located just over an hour from Lisbon, this fortified town is one of the prettiest villages in Portugal. Obidos features well preserved medieval houses, a castle on a hilltop and plenty of history to discover. The town is small and compact but there is plenty to see and do which makes it a great option for a day trip.
The charming town of Sintra is an easy 30 minute drive from Lisbon and a very popular place for a day trip. Spend the day exploring the town’s extravagant palaces and enjoying the stunning natural scenery that surrounds them.
Follow the coast for 30 minutes west of Lisbon and you will end up in the seaside town of Cascais. With beautiful beaches, museums and great restaurants, this traditional fishing village has become a tourist hotspot and an easy day trip from Lisbon.