Famed bica funicular in Lisbon, Portugal on a colorful street.

21 best things to do in lisbon

(Last Updated On: July 23, 2021)

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Over 3,000 years old, Lisbon’s history is rich, diverse, and full of interesting stories. Lisbon has been inhabited by many cultures throughout the course of its history. This melting pot of cultures contributes to its unique character, making it one of the most charming and beautiful cities in Europe. With its seven hills, narrow streets, beautiful architecture, colorful houses and fantastic weather, you won’t regret coming here for a second.  With so many things to do in Lisbon, you’ll be planning your next trip in no time.

Use the Lisbon Card for discounted or free access to museums, activities, and public transportation. Available in 24, 48, or 72-hour passes!

best time to visit lisbon

Many locals will argue that any time is the best time to visit Lisbon!  While this is true in some regards, there are definitely some months out of the year that will be better for newcomers to experience the city for the first time. 

From March to May or September to October are the best times of the year to visit Lisbon because it’s still warm, hotels are more affordable, and there are fewer tourists during the summer. During these seasons, you can also enjoy a few beach days. Summer brings excessively high temperatures, crowded beaches, elevated prices, and many tourists.

where to stay in lisbon

For first-timers visiting Lisbon, where should you stay? For those looking to be centrally located, Chiado, Baixa, Principe Real, Bairro Alto and perhaps Alfama are the best options. These neighborhoods will place you within walking distance of major landmarks, restaurants, and shops.

best things to do in lisbon

1. take a free walking tour

One of Lisbon's many hilly streets - walking around the city on a free walking tour is one of the best things to do in Lisbon.

The best way to acclimate yourself to a new city is to take a free walking tour. For starters, they’re free (just be sure to tip your guide)! Walking tours of new cities help you to get the lay of the land, learn a bit of history, and discover some places that only locals know about. In my past experiences, the guides are able to offer up lesser-known facts as well as personal anecdotes that help to bring a place to life.

Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking on cobblestones (and hills)!

2. indulge in the local cuisine

Heaping plate of pasteis de nata, a traditional Portuguese breakfast treat on an azulejo tile table.

Portugal is well-known for having some of the most coveted food and wine in Western Europe. Aside from the obvious contenders like Italy and France, Portugal for sure has some of the best food I’ve tasted. Of course, you’ve got to try Pastéis de Nata, the deliciously creamy egg-based tarts best served warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar alongside a coffee. Portuguese chorizo, salted cod, bifanas, and chicken piri piri are among some of the nation’s most popular dishes you’ve got to try.

In addition to traditional Portuguese food, there are a number of different ethnic cuisines in Portugal worth trying. Given its former status as a colonial power, Portugal is now home to some of the best food from Mozambique, Angola, and Brazil. The Indian food is also very good – Goa was also a former colony.

One of the best ways to guarantee you try all there is to offer is to take a food tour in Lisbon. The guides will ensure you get a smorgasbord of traditional Portuguese delicacies and other foods the city is known for.

3. take stunning photos from the miradoures

View of Lisbon from Portas do Sol Miradouro

The Portuguese word miradouro best translates as ‘view point’. There about thirteen worthy miradoures scattered throughout the city with terraces where you can sit and take in the views. This isn’t surprising considering the fact that Lisbon is a city set on seven hills (just like Rome and my home city, Providence, Rhode Island, USA!). Among the most popular miradoures to visit in Lisbon include Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara (spectacular views of São Jorge Castle), Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol (great views of the terracotta Alfama rooftops), and Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte (best sunsets in the city).

4. check out the UNESCO-inscribed tower of belém

UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tower of Belem in Lisbon, Portugal.

The Torre de Belém stands on the waterfront at Belém, near the mouth of the River Tagus. It is probably the most iconic symbol of the city, so it is of course one of the best things to do in Lisbon. King Manuel I ordered the tower to be built as a defensive fortress after it had been originally intended as a lighthouse.

In 1521, when it was erected, it would have been much farther away from the shore than it is today. However, the 1755 earthquake changed the course of the river, and in the 19th century, land on the north bank was reclaimed and the river became narrower.

UNESCO designated the Belém Tower as a World Heritage Site in 1983. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lisbon. This unique Manueline treasure is accessible by a narrow walkway off the broad esplanade of Belém.

The narrow spiral staircases will provide endless enjoyment to kids, who will love to hide and seek among the parapets. For us adults, this landmark represents the achievements of Portugal’s most courageous navigators, who set off near it five hundred years ago to chart unknown lands.

5. wander around the alfama district

Red rooftops of the Alfama district in Lisbon, Portugal.

From the Tejo Estuary to the Castelo de São Jorge, the steep, hillside neighborhood of Alfama is known for its cobbled streets and historic houses. Several of Lisbon’s most important historic buildings are located within this diverse and charismatic area.  Among them are the Se Cathedral, the Castelo de São Jorge, the Panteão Nacional, and the Igreja de Santo Antônio.

Alfama, historically, was a poor section of Lisbon, with filth and poverty galore.  The district remained the tough, deprived quarter where sailors and dock workers lived even as Lisbon developed as a major seaport. Alfama has, however, shed its grim reputation and emerged as a fashionable and artisan district.  Fortunately, it manages to hold onto its unique culture and rich history

Alfama is a delight to visit and is best explored by losing yourself within the maze of alleyways and streets. A charming plaza, a trendy café, an independent shop, or a panoramic viewpoint awaits at every turn or steep climb. Without a doubt, exploring Alfama on foot is one of the best things to do in Lisbon.

6. take a ride on the bica funicular

Famed bica funicular in Lisbon, Portugal on a colorful street.

Located in Lisbon’s municipality of Misericórdia, the Bica Funicular, sometimes known as the Elevador da Bica, is a funicular railway line connecting the Rua de São Paulo with Calçada do Combro / Rua do Loreto.

Yellow funiculars are staples in iconic Lisbon vacation photos. You can’t miss them while in Lisbon. The Bica Funicular was originally built to assist local residents in climbing a hill in the Santa Caterina neighborhood. In addition to that, it’s also become a popular tourist attraction, ranking as one of the top things to do in Lisbon to experience local life.

7. check out castelo de são jorge

Castelo de Sao Jorge seem from afar in Lisbon, Portugal.

A former Moorish castle, São Jorge has been altered so much by subsequent occupiers that little of its original structure remains. However, since it served as a royal palace for over a century, it hasn’t lost much of its splendor.  

In any case, the most captivating aspect of the castle is its spectacular views over the city. From here, you can take in the terracotta patchwork of Lisbon roofs, lined with a maze of narrow, meandering paths. 

Overlooking the streets of the old Alfama District, Romans constructed the great citadel more than 2,000 years ago. Over time, successive rulers of the city oversaw its development, from the Berbers to the Reconquista knights. A large dry moat surrounds it, in addition to mighty ramparts, intricately carved towers, and other fortifications.

8. visit the museu nacional do azulejo

Close-up of the iconic blue and white azulejos in Portugal

Just 15 minutes outside of downtown Lisbon, the National Tile Museum is a great place to visit if you love Portuguese tiles (azulejos). See some of Portugal’s oldest preserved tiles while learning about their extensive history.

Tile making and its associated technologies have a long history in Iberia that dates back to the time of the Moors. Obviously, the iconic cerulean-hued azulejos are the highlight of all exhibitions. Ceramic works of art like these gave the country its reputation for craftsmanship.

You will see a wide variety of types, sizes, and designs, and learn about the enchanting ornamental designs adorning their cobalt surfaces. When you’re in Lisbon, it’s the perfect way to escape the heat. Plus, photo opportunities abound!

9. have lunch at time out market

Front facade of Time Out Market in Lisbon, Portugal.

The city of Lisbon is known for its abundance of fine dining. Even though I highly recommend checking out some epic Lisbon restaurants, Time Out Market is a unique experience in itself that everyone should experience while in Lisbon!  

There are two levels in the market, each offering up their own distinctive take on Lisbon food and culture.  Downstairs, you’ll find local fruit and veggie vendors selling fresh produce each morning.  If you’re cooking from your vacation rental or Airbnb, be sure to get there early to beat the crowds.

Upstairs, however, is an entirely different story.  Here, you’ll find something akin to a gourmet food court.  There are a myriad of offerings, usually serving up something modern and eclectic, in addition to some more traditional Portuguese fare.  Many of the Michelin-tier restaurants here have booths where you can try their cuisine in a casual setting without paying a fortune.

10. take a ride on tram 28

Famous yellow Tram 28 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Portugal’s capital is a city renowned for its rattling trams, similar to those in San Francisco. Tram 28 is the most iconic tram in Lisbon, which has climbed steep, cobbled streets for decades.

It begins beneath the palm-dotted hills of Graça, weaving its way through the hairpin alleys of Escolas Gerais before stopping at Estrela Basilica.  To plan the ideal sightseeing route in Lisbon, Tram 28 would be the way to go. Using Martim Moniz as a starting point, the route climbs through Alfama, continues through Baixa before ascending to Chiado.

Passing majestic palaces and castles along the route, you’re bound to discover decades of history as you people-watch from the windows.

Get to the tram as early as possible to avoid crowds. Alternatively, choose Praça Martim Moniz as your starting point, which is the second stop, after where most tourists begin. There is no guarantee of seating any time of day, but that is part of the fun. 

As you ride the tram, keep an eye on your belongings. Locals call Tram 28 “the pickpocket ride” jokingly. There is no loop on Tram 28.  So, if you ride it all the way, you will either have to walk or take it again in the opposite direction to get back to your starting point.

11. discover portugal’s former colonies at the museo do oriente

You only need to step foot in places such as Sri Lanka and Goa to realize how far the Portuguese empire had extended. But, you’re in Lisbon!

Lisbon’s Museu do Oriente offers an expansive view of these far-flung eastern corners of the realm. A colossal former fish processing factory now houses modern exhibition rooms.

The focus here is on all things Asia and Portugal’s role in Asian exploration, with tales about seafaring across the South China Sea and Chinese rituals.

12. visit the monastery of jerónimos

Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal.

From the ornate spires and grand carvings of the Monastery of Jerónimos, you can appreciate the significance of this massive landmark nestled along the banks of the Tagus River.

The building commemorates Portugal’s most glorious era, the Age of Exploration. Known as Manueline, the fusion of architectural styles stands as a testament to cultures encountered by Lisbon’s explorers. The money used to build the structure came from the international trade of cloves, cumin, and exotic spices.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also one of the city’s most visited attractions.

The wealth generated from Portugal’s Age of Discovery built many magnificent monuments. Jerónimos Monastery is one of the most impressive, built to commemorate Vasco de Gama‘s return from India. His tomb is also here. In the church is also the burial site of Lus de Camões, a Portuguese poet. 

Alongside beautifully sculpted, towering columns, stained-glass windows illuminate the tombs in an eerie, ethereal fashion. A vaulted ceiling, supported by intricately carved stone pillars, adorns the cloister. 

You have to pay €10 to enter, but the experience is well worth it. One of the best places to take breathtaking photos in Lisbon are the golden arches of the inner courtyard.

13. visit the national museum of ancient art

A prestigious collection of national art resides at the National Museum of Ancient Art in Portugal.

This exhibition includes work by Nuno Gonçalves as well as Josefa de Biidos, depicting saints, atonement portraits, and chiaroscuro portraits.

Canvases in the collection date from the 16th to 19th centuries. They entered public ownership following the Liberal Wars that shook the country during the early modern period.

A series of traveling exhibitions are also available here, featuring past collections reflecting Lisbon’s Renaissance period as well as historical paintings from the Age of Discovery.

14. ride the santa justa lift

Looking up at the Santa Justa lift in Lisbon, Portugal.

Santa Justa Lift’s history is somewhat similar to that of Elevador da Bica.  It was also built in 1902 to link the lower Lisbon neighborhood of Baixa with the higher Bairro Alto.

It isn’t necessary to ride it, since the line can be incredibly long! Although riding the lift is one of the best things to do in Lisbon, there’s another way to appreciate the Santa Justa lift. On the Bairro Alto side, you can enter from Travessa Dom Pedro de Menezes. Right here, you can begin your journey up to the top observation deck, where you can see Lisbon’s rooftops in all their glory.

Afterwards, you can grab a drink at Topo Chiado, a great rooftop bar near Santa Justa Lift offering up spectacular views. Consequently, it’s the perfect way to relax at sunset in Lisbon.

15. take a stroll through rossio square

The Baroque fountain in Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal.

Rossio Square is home to the local life of Lisbon. Pedro IV Square, as it is officially called, marks the very heart of Pombaline Lower Town, which is spread out in broad boulevards between the Tagus and Baixa rivers.

This plaza has been a historical site since the medieval age, when public beheadings and bullfighting took place on its cobblestones. Today, it’s an excellent place to people-watch and stroll around, taking in the scenery.

There are plenty of leisurely activities in the park, including sunbathing on the shaded benches, watching the locals play dominoes, and admiring elaborate Baroque fountains babbling in the sun.

16. party on pink street or in bairro alto

Lisbon's famous Pink Street, a great party location in Portugal's capital city.

Partygoers flock to Lisbon in droves. You won’t have any trouble finding nightlife here if you seek it out! Pink Street is one of the most popular parts of town for its thriving afterhours activities. This famous area is full of bars and clubs that spill out onto the streets until the wee hours of the morning

The area around here used to be the red light district of Lisbon, a meeting place for sailors, criminals, and prostitutes. The city, however, decided to revitalize the neighborhood in 2011 and chose to paint the road pink as part of the campaign.

If you’d prefer a less rowdy night, you could do a bar crawl through Cais do Sodre or Bairro Alto. Bairro Alto is another of the city’s top nightlife spots.

Typically, the establishments don’t really open until mid-late evening, but when they do, it’s all about the pastelarias and the bohemian bars. Here, old Fado bars are interspersed with newer breweries and beatnik bars, perfect for a night full of artistry and debauchery.

17. check out lx factory

Outer facade of the ultra-hip LX Factory in Lisbon, Portugal.

LX Factory is a former industrial site that has been transformed into a creative, cultural, and gastronomic hub. You’ll find plenty of artisans here, along with specialty food shops, quaint cafes, and inspiring art studios. You can spend a couple of hours strolling from store to store here. 

Sustainably-sourced modern fare and traditional Portuguese dishes with a twist dominate the restaurant scene at LXF. Try to fit in dinner at Taberna 1300 if your schedule permits!   

You’ll find cooking classes, a tattoo parlor, an acting school, a pole dancing studio, and even a tour company called We Hate Tourism Tours.

18. take a day trip

Ribiera district in Porto, Portugal, seen from an aerial perspective.

Depending on the duration of your stay, taking a day trip from the capital is one of the best ways to spend a day when visiting Lisbon. The most popular is definitely Sintra, but since Portugal isn’t a very large country, there are plenty of options from which you can choose.

The beach town of Nazaré is a haven for surfers, while Fatimá is a great option if you have an appreciation for religious institutions and culture. The historical medieval village of Óbidos is beautifully-preserved with a fascinating history.

If you’re not scared of a little driving time, head north to picture-perfect Porto! Alternatively, you could spend more than a day in Porto, as it definitely merits a couple of days at least. There are excellent day trips from Porto to take as well.

19. stop and smell the roses at the palace of the marquises of fronteira

Red building with manicured gardens at the Palacio Fronteira in Lisbon.

Standing at the very edge of Lisbon’s northwestern frontier, the grand Palace of the Marquises of Fronteira dates all the way back to 1681 and is one of the more off-the-beaten-path remnants of Lisbon’s former glory.

During the Restoration War of the mid-17th century, the home once belonged to the Marquis of Fronteira, who received his land and wealth for staying loyal to the Portuguese royal name.

Today, you can spend your visit meandering through the manicured gardens, full of different flower species and plant varieties.

Although it is remote, it still offers a glimpse of the majestic architecture that came to the forefront in Portugal during the 17th and 18th centuries.

20. test your haggling skills at the feira da ladra

Random items and goodies for sale at Feira da Ladra in Lisbon, Portugal.

If you want to find quirky, curious and often downright weird tchotchkes and antiques, brush up on your haggling skills before you visit Feira da Ladra.  This well-known flea market is popular with tourists, and the prices are reflective of that fact!

Although it is hard to believe, the bustling bazaar dates all the way back to the 12th century, when you could almost imagine gypsy traders and talisman dealers crowding the streets to sell their wares.

The market is held on Tuesdays and Saturdays. If you want to get anything worthwhile, you’ll need to get there early.  Do not worry about what time you go if you just want to browse – except that the crowds build as the day goes on.  You can even take the historic Tram 28 to reach Feira da Ladra.

Even so, it’s one of the quirkier things to do in Lisbon. It sells everything you won’t need, including old rotary phones, broken mannequins, and pre-loved vinyl. In addition to eclectic oddities, military objects, and your grandparents’ discarded furniture, there are also plenty of handmade items. 

Enjoy lunch at one of the tables overlooking the market for a fully immersive Lisbon experience. You can still experience traditional Portuguese cuisine by dining at the restaurants near the square, even if it’s on a day besides Tuesday or Saturday.

21. soak up the sun at praia de carcavelos

One of the beautiful beaches nearby Lisbon, Praia de Carcavelos

As soon as spring arrives in Lisbon, people begin flocking to Carcavelos. This is definitely the most popular beach north of the Tagus River. This commercial beach is easily accessible by train from the center of Lisbon.

A 1.5km-long promenade above the beach frames the beach’s honey-colored sand with a row of bars and restaurants. Under the shade of wide, red umbrellas, these bars are the perfect retreat from the blazing summer sun, offering cocktails, smoothies and other refreshments.

With its relatively gentle waves, Carcavelos is a great place for amateur surfers to learn the basics. A number of surf schools offer lessons in both English and Portuguese. In the very eastern end of the beach is a smattering of rocks which lead to São Julião da Barra Fort, a 16th-century military defense complex that once controlled access to Lisbon’s port.


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3 thoughts on “21 best things to do in lisbon”

  1. muylindatravels

    Lisbon is definitely on my bucket list & I’d really love to visit Sintra. Thanks for sharing your travel tips! I’ll save this for later…

  2. I’m really hoping to visit Lisbon by the end of this year so I really enjoyed reading your guide on the city! There are definitely a lot of great things to do here – can’t wait to visit!

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