Lisbon is an extremely picturesque and bewitching city that overlooks the wide blue River Tagus. It’s surrounded by 7 hills that provide wonderful viewpoints of the city below and it seduces travelers with its laid-back and charming atmosphere. With its great museums, delicious food and wine scene and quaint old neighborhoods it’s easy to find plenty of attractions to see and experiences to enjoy here whether you’re visiting it by yourself, with family or friends!
Despite its relatively small size, Lisbon is for many an interesting entry point to Europe. It may not be as popular as larger capital cities as Madrid, London or Paris but it is well connected to the rest of the continent. Renting a car is probably a good idea while exploring the city. Portugal may not be big in size but it has plenty of interesting locations to visit such as Algarve, Fatima or Port. Not having to depend on public transport makes it easier for travelers to explore the country and the city at their own pace and in a more comfortable way. Besides, in a post-Covid 19 era travel, rentals contribute to a safer trip. Do you like the idea? You can find some interesting insurance options here.
Visit Castelo de São Jorge: Lisbon’s Most Iconic Landmark
The Castelo de Sao Jorge or Castle of St George is probably the city’s most distinctive landmark and a must-see for anyone spending time in Lisbon. Located atop one of the 7 hills that surround the city near Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district , its oldest parts date back to the VI century. The walls, 10 towers, shaded gardens and fountains are all that is left of the castle.
These smooth cobbles have seen it all: Visigoths, Moors, Christians, royals and convicts as well! Now, the only residents are a lot of peacocks that love hanging out in bunches on the tree canopies!
This ancient building reached its maximum splendour during the XIII century and lasted until the XVI century when it was occupied both by the Kings of Portugal and the Bishop. The visit will take you around 4 hours. Don’t forget to take comfortable shoes with you as if you’re going by foot you’ll have to walk up a hill. You can also walk from the two nearest metro stations or take Tram that will leave you just almost at the main entrance.
Castelo de Sao Jorge stands out because of its impressive battlements, engaging museum and fascinating archaeological site. It’s a rewarding experience for the whole family as adults will enjoy learning more about this popular tourist destination and children will love climbing over the sturdy walls and towers that encircle the grounds. Don’t miss spending some time in the observation terrace that affords an uninterrupted panoramic view of the city, the River Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean further away.
The Tower of Ulysses, one of the remaining towers of the castle, offers tourists an additional reason to visit the castle. Inside, there’s a camera obscura that offers a unique 360° of Lisbon with demonstrations every 20 minutes.
The castle is also home to an interesting museum where you can admire the objects and remains of the inhabitants of the hill over more than 25 centuries of settlements!You’ll be able to discover the Moorish Alcácova and its Praca Nova as well as various objects that the inhabitants at the time used in their daily life. Find as well impressive objects, coins and remains.
Explore Alfama, Lisbon’s Oldest District
One of the best things to do in Lisbon is to explore the charming Alfama district. It’s the oldest one and part of the historic part of the city. Occupied by Romans, Visigoths and Moors before the Portuguese took back control of the area it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.
The winding streets of Alfama form a maze of crooked alleyways that attract tourists all year round. The district is famous for its picturesque corners, houses decorated with beautiful blue Portuguese tiles, fado clubs and terraces.
Exploring it is an invitation to catch a glimpse of a more traditional side of Lisbon. Walk along its narrow cobbled streets filled with residential houses and grocery stores and experience its distinctive village atmosphere. Alfama is perfect for travelers who love wandering around at their own pace; and don’t worry about getting lost here! It’s an absolute pleasure!
If you’ve spent the morning at Castelo de Sao Jorge, Alfama is a great complement! You can grab something to eat at any of the cozy restaurants or cafés nearby while enjoying the tunes of the melancholic fado music. Go and take advantage of the neighborhood’s many viewpoints to admire Alfama in its full glory! Miradouro de Santa Luzia or the Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner are the most popular ones.
Alfama is probably Lisbon’s most captivating district. Walking through its narrow cobbled streets is a rewarding experience! Expanding from the Castelo de Sao Jorge at the top of the hill to the River Tagus at the bottom, Alfama is a must-visit attraction in Lisbon.
Visit Se Cathedral: Lisbon’s Oldest Church
Lisbon’s imposing Se cathedral can be found near the Castelo de Sao Jorge and within Alfama district. This fortified Romanesque cathedral was consecrated in 1150 but the original structure was completely destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1755. Thus, what you see today is a blend of architectural styles as a result of modifications, restorations and renovations over the centuries.
Visitors are drawn to its gothic vaulted ceiling, Romanesque iron gate and motifs and glorious neoclassical and Rococo chapel. Add the beautiful stained glass windows, the construction details and its rich history and you can rest assured that visiting it will be a totally rewarding experience!
Resembling a medieval-era fortress flanked by two imposing towers, the thick Se Cathedral has an austere look. Officially named Santa Maria Maior, it’s a highlight in Lisbon.
The Cathedral’s Gothic cloister, though similar in style to Jeronimos Monastery, it’s smaller in size. Inside, visitors can appreciate Arabic, Roman and Medieval remains that were excavated some years ago. On the second floor you can admire the treasury. Throughout its four halls visitors can admire suits, jewels and relics from various periods.
Explore the Beautiful Belem District
No visit to Lisbon would be complete without devoting some time to discovering the famous neighborhood of Belem. Even though it’s not in a central location, tourists can easily reach it by taking tram 15 in the Cais do Sodré station. While there, you can’t miss some truly must sees in Lisbon such as Belem Tower or the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos just to mention a few of them… or taste a delicious traditional pasteis de Belem!
Located in a privileged waterfront location on the banks of the Tagus, it used to be a popular departure point during the Age of Discoveries. Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan are only two of the explorers that embarked from Belem to explore the world. Even Christopher Columbus made a stop here on his way back to Spain from the Americas.
Belem is a charming and historical neighborhood in Lisbon. Apart from its beautiful monuments, it stands out because of the hyper-decorated Gothic style of many of its buildings called Manueline.
Admire the Torre de Belem
Sightseeing in Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without admiring the magnificent Torre de Belem, another great symbol of Portugal’s amazing Age of Discovery. It’s a multi-turreted and exuberant tower built as a ceremonial gateway in honor of Vasco da Gama’s voyages of discovery. It also doubled as a fortress which guarded the entrance to Lisbon harbor.
Don’t miss the ornate facade embellished with fanciful floral and maritime motifs. The strong Moorish influence can be easily noted in the balconies and delicately arched windows. The domes of the Moorish influenced watchtowers are seated on Manueline rope-like circles and rise to a pile of small spheres that will remind you of chess pieces. Manuel’s personal badge of an armillary sphere and the cross of the Military Order of Christ, who took a major role in all Portuguese conquest.
Even if you’ll need to put your aerobic resistance to the test when climbing the narrow spiral case to the tower, the physical effort is worthy as you’ll be able to admire sublime views over Belem district and the river.
This iconic monument is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its most interesting interior feature is the second-floor King’s Chamber, where the room opens onto a Renaissance logia. The royal coat of arms of Manuel I is placed above the elegant arcades.
In the ground floor of this splendid building there are 16 windows with canyons and during the guided tour visitors are shown the holes and pits where the prisoners were thrown back in time. The five floors of the tower are interconnected by a small narrow spiral staircase and it leads to a roof terrace.
On the western facade of the Torre, a curious gargoyle in the shape of a rhinoceros will definitely catch your attention. Did you know that it is a representation of the first rhino that set foot in Portugal in 1513 from India.
Let Mosteiro dos Jeronimos Steal Your Heart
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is one of the most beautiful buildings in Lisbon and an undisputedly major attraction in the Belem area. This fairytale-like monastery was built to celebrate Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built between 1502 and 1551, it’s the most enthusiastic example of Manueline architecture.
It’s the resting place of many notable Portuguese statesmen including Vasco da Gama himself.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is the heart-stealer in Belem district. It was home to monks of the Order of St Jerome, whose spiritual job for 400 years was to comfort sailors and pray for the king’s soul. Its magnificent interiors will take your breath away. As you enter the church through the western portal you’ll see columns shaped as tree trunks that seem to grow into the ceiling, which itself resembles a spider web of stone.Vasco da Gama is buried in the lower chancel, just left of the entrance and opposite the poet Luis Vaz de Camoes. The upper choir offers splendid views of the church. Walk into the Manueline cloisters calmly and take time to admire all of their beauty. Keep an eye for symbols of the age such as the Military Order, gargoyles and fantastical creatures on the upper balustrade.
Stop By At The Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Located just across the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos you’ll find the Padrão dos Descobrimentos or Monument to the Discoveries. It’s an angular concrete monument shaped as a caravel that was erected in the 1960s to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. Henry is at the prow while behind him are Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama and other renowned explorers. The monument is located next to the Tagus and it’s one of the most Instagrammable locations in the city.
After admiring this impressive landmark, don’t miss the chance of enjoying a panoramic view of Lisbon and the Tagus river by jumping in an elevator and being taken to the top of the monument.
Praca do Comercio and Arco da Rua Augusta
Praca do Comercio or Commerce Square is the largest and most famous square in Lisbon and another must-see attraction in this riverside city. It was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755 and it’s so idyllic that it offers plenty of opportunities for beautiful pictures that will make your Instagram feed really attractive: the towering statue of King Jose I on horseback in the center or the triumphal arch are just two of them.
The area is surrounded by lots of cafés and restaurants. What about taking a stroll and then enjoying a cup of coffee while enjoying the views? The Praca do Comercio is Lisbon’s most regal plaza. It boasts striking yellow buildings as well as the impressive Arco da Rua Augusta, which leads to Rua Augusta, one of the city’s largest shopping avenues.
The Tagus is close to this square. In fact, the Cais de Sodré ferry terminal is nearby and from it several ferries depart daily and take visitors in lovely river cruises through the river.
Besides the line of striking yellow buildings that surround the square, there’s another building that will definitely catch your attention: Rua Augusta Arch. It can be found on the north side of the square and it was built to celebrate the reconstruction of Lisbon after the earthquake.It’s possible to climb up this iconic building and admire a singular and impressive view of the district of Baixa and the river.
Indulge in Delicious Dishes
No trip to Lisbon would be complete without tasting some emblematic dishes and drinks of the city and the country. There isn’t probably a more delicious way of discovering another of Lisbon’s attractions!
Weren’t you summoned to try at least one pasteis de Belem while in Lisbon? I bet you were! It’s probably the most famous sugar treat in the world: a creamy flaky egg tart custard pastry. It’s filled with custard cream, baked at 200°C for an ideal golden crust and then lightly dusted with cinnamon. Even though it is offered in almost every bakery and café in Lisbon, the best ones can only be found at the renowned Pasteis de Belem bakery.
If pastries are not your thing, what about Vinho Verde Port and other alcoholic drinks? Port is the most famous wine in Portugal. Other popular wines are the madeira and the vinho verde, which is a light-sparkling wine. If you’re into liquors, try gija, a sweetened liqueur infused with sour cherries.
Whenever you need to grab a quick bite, try Bifana. It’s tasty and usually enjoyed as a snack with beer. This typical Portuguese sandwich is made of a crusty bread roll with a juicy pork chop seasoned with spice and garlic.
Foodies can’t miss Time-Out Market. There are more than 30 restaurants and bars and gourmet food shops and here you can find the best foods in town!
Elevador de Santa Justa
The Neo-Gothic Elevador de Santa Justa or Santa Justa Lift is another Lisbon highlight. It’s probably the quirkiest landmark. In the city and riding the lift is quite a popular thing to do. Bear in mind that queues can be long and the ride itself is only 10 seconds long and there’s nothing special in the lift itself so think about it. However, going up the viewing platform is definitely worth it. It can be easily accessed either via a passage next to the church or via a regular lift through a small shop in the building just behind Santa Justa lift.
The views from the top are superb: picturesque squares, pedestrianized stress, the imposing Castle and the Tagus. It also offers great perspectives of Igreja do Carmo located and Rossio Square nearby.
Elevador Santa Justa is 45 m high and it was originally built to connect two neighborhoods, saving Lisbon’s residents a tough climb.
Ride the Iconic Tram 28
You can’t leave Lisbon without riding the iconic Tram 28 at least once. It’s one of the most popular things to do as Tram 28 is one of the only three charming pre WWI models that still run in the city. What makes this ride extra special is that it will take you through some of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods in Lisbon: Alfama, Graca, Baixa and Chiado just to mention a few of them and you can appreciate lovely views of many of the famous gardens, monuments and churches in those areas.
However, you should bear in mind that it’s usually packed to the core. It’s not only a must-do for many tourists but locals use it too for their daily commute. You’re advised to try to board it at the starting point in Martim Moniz Square as early in the morning as possible.
Don’t Miss the Oceanario de Lisboa
If you’re travelling with children or just want to get a break from so many historic buildings, you can have a great time at the Oceanario de Lisboa. It’s the closest you’ll get to scuba diving without even getting wet. The experience is otherworldly: you’ll be able to admire about 8000 marine species splashing in 7 million litres of seawater. The gigantic wrap-around tanks will make you feel as a professional scuba diver while you admire zebra sharks, neon fish, manta rays, Portuguese sardines, fascinating shellyfish, sea dragons, big ocean sunfish and frolicky sea otters and squiggly eels.
Don´t miss the Magellan penguins on ice, the Indo-Pacific coral reef and the recreated rainforest! Visiting this magnificent aquarium is a fun and rewarding experience!
Hop Between Miradouros
Known as the “city of the seven hills”, Lisbon has an extra treat for tourists: it offers many viewpoints or Miradouros from where tourists can appreciate some of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Portuguese capital.
At sunset or night, the experience turns especially charming and romantic as the warm reddish hues paint the sky and the buildings below and, at night, when under the starry sky you can admire the lit houses and streets from above.
One of the favorites is Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. It’s across the city from Sao Jorge Castle around 2.5km away. The garden is landscaped and here you can enjoy live music, a drink and a snack and great views of the city. To add some more charm to the experience, you can ride the famous Gloria Elevator, the funicular that has been functioning since the mid 1880s that stops right near the garden.
Another interesting highlight is the Miradouro Panoramico de Monsanto. It’s a graffiti-covered building that was once an exclusive restaurant in the 1960s. The building is now reopened and, despite the interiors being quite interesting, the most important reason people come here is the magnificent panoramic views that it offers from its 3rd floor, especially of the Aqueduto das Águas Livres.
Other interesting Miradouros that are also worth checking are: Miradouro Senhora do Monte and Miradouro de Santa Catalina.