From vintage tram rides to eerie mausoleums; historic flea markets and buzzing nightlight there’s a whole world of things to do in Lisbon. Here’s our top 15.

My life of crime began in Lisbon.  

On a night hitting the bars in Bairro Alto (one of the best things to do in Lisbon), we heard rumours of a black market in pastel de nata operating underground in Bairro Alto. The bakeries that create these delicious masterpieces, work through the night to get them delivered to local cafes first thing in the morning. Entrepreneurial bakers sold them to partygoers direct from the bakery’s basement window.  

After some speedy research, we located said bakery and I was nominated to transact the deal. I waited my turn and purchased 4 bootleg baked goods at €1 each. Extortion. But this was the black market after all.  

Someone yelled that the cops were coming so we fled the scene with our pastries. Adrenaline was high. Shame and guilt followed. Then fear. Would we be incarcerated at such a young age for our role in pastry trafficking? 

But as I bit into my pastel de nata, fresh from the oven, the pastry audibly crackling from freshness, the custard still warm, all other thoughts surrendered to pure bliss.   

My life of crime ended that night, and I’ve since moved on to other more tourist-friendly things to do in Lisbon.

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THINGS TO DO IN LISBON / A WORD OF CAUTION

There are so many superb things to do in Lisbon, that it’s impossible to fit them all into any article. We haven’t mentioned the imposing fortress that is Lisbon Cathedral or many of the impressive Miradouros.

We didn’t include the remarkable private collection at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; the exquisite hand-painted tiles at Museu Nacional do Azulejo; or the impressive array of Asian artefacts at the Orient Museum. We’ve also left off Lisbon’s fascination with canned tuna, and taking a day trip to Sintra.

It’s not because they aren’t worthy, there are just too many beguiling things to do in Lisbon. Instead this is our curated list of the highlights of the city. For an idea of what you can fit in, see our 3 days in Lisbon itinerary.

1 / TAKE IN THE VIEWS FROM SÃO JORGE CASTLE

São Jorge Castle was once a Moorish castle, but subsequent occupiers have altered the building so much that little of its original construction remains. However, as it operated as the Royal Palace from the 13th to the 16th century, it’s lost little of its grandeur.  

The most compelling aspect of the castle, however, is the stunning view over the beautiful city. Lisbon’s patchwork of terracotta tiles interrupted only by narrow rambling lanes is a sight to behold.

The small museum in the castle has seen better days, so hurry through after your visit to explore the São Jorge Hill neighbourhood. The streets surrounding the castle all the way down to the Lisbon Cathedral are full of atmosphere. If it’s not too early, stop in at Chapitô à Mesa for a glass of Portuguese wine with a view to remember. If it is too early, do it anyway.


2 / WANDER THE CLOISTERS OF SÃO VICENTE DE FORA

The Church of São Vicente de Fora has had a chequered history, including being devastated in the 1755 earthquake. Thoroughly renovated throughout the 17th century, it remains today an exquisite hidden gem, that houses the tombs of many Portuguese Kings. It’s a wonderful thing to do in Lisbon.

The church itself is decent, but the cloisters next door are thoroughly impressive. Lisbon’s story-telling azulejos cover the walls under the protection of white vaulted ceilings. The sacristy walls are covered with intensively elaborate marble designs and intricately painted ceilings.

The highlight, however, is the slightly eerie mausoleum which contains the tombs of crusaders. Keep an eye out for the cloaked weeping woman standing watch over one of the tombs.   


3 / HUNT FOR WEIRD TREASURES AT FEIRA DA LADRA (THIEVES’ MARKET)

At the square beside the National Pantheon, a flea market takes place twice a week (Tue & Sat) which has a reputation for being known as the thief’s market. Despite the appealing stories of the market being stocked to the brim with stolen goods, the name actually comes from ladro referring to a bug found in antiques. 

Nonetheless, it’s one of the quirkiest things to do in Lisbon. The market sells everything you will never need: old rotary phones, broken mannequins and pre-loved vinyl. There’s also plenty of handmade crafts, CD’s, military objects and nana’s discarded furniture. Tourist prices tend to sneak in, so practise your best haggling.

Grab lunch at one of the tables overlooking the market for a thoroughly immersive Lisbon experience. Even if you’re here on a non-market day, the restaurants lining the square have a traditional Portuguese feel.


4 / CLIMB UP TO THE DOME OF THE PANTEÃO NACIONAL

The striking baroque National Palace was originally built as a church but now houses monuments to the great and the good, linked to the golden era of Portuguese history. Like many landmarks in Lisbon, it pays particular homage to Vasco da Gama, the sea-faring hero who returned fabulous wealth to Portugal.

Climbing the stairs to reach the internal perimeter of the domed roof provides the best view of what 16th century money can buy. The entrance is lavishly adorned with geometrical marble flooring, plush gold detailing and grand stone columns.  

As a dominant feature in the Lisbon skyline, the exceptional view from the roof was one of our favourite things to do in Lisbon. With the winter sun reflecting off the pristine white exterior of the upper dome, Lisbon positively glows from this angle. 


5 / ABSORB THE ARCHITECTURE OF JERÓNIMO’S CHURCH & MONASTERY

Some of the wealth generated from Portugal’s Age of Discovery was spent erecting magnificent monuments. Few are more impressive than Jerónimos Monastery, built to commemorate the return of Vasco de Gama from India, who is also buried here.   

The church also contains the tomb of Luís de Camões, a Portuguese poet. His tomb is facing that of his wife so they can be together when they are resurrected. Stained-glass windows illuminate the tombs in an eerie ethereal manner, beside beautifully sculpted, towering columns.

The cloister has a remarkable vaulted ceiling, held aloft by intricately carved stone pillars. Although there’s a fee to enter, it’s well worth it. The golden arches of the inner courtyard are one of the best places to visit in Lisbon for atmospheric photo opportunities. 


6 / BRUSH UP ON MODERN ART AT MUSEU COLEÇÃO BERARDO

Museu Coleção Berardo is Lisbon’s best modern art offering. Located near the popular Belem area, the gallery has two permanent collections; and generally runs two temporary exhibitions along with other project installations.

The gallery is an excellent space to stroll around and something we highly recommend making time for while visiting Lisbon. The permanent collection is very well-labelled and offers a history lesson in the development of modern art. Expect to bump into some big names such as Picasso, Duchamp, Miró, Warhol, along with some lesser-known Portuguese artists.

The British and American pop-art exhibition was a highlight with works from both sides of the pond, featuring Andy Warhol and David Hockney. The gallery has an educational programme aimed at children 2 years and up, designed to help them interact with art.


7 / STROLL THE PROMENADE IN BELÉM

Sitting on the banks of the Tagus River, the Belém Tower was initially built to protect Lisbon. As an excellent example of Manueline architecture, it stands near Jerónimos Monastery – two of the city’s celebrations to the Age of Discovery. Unlike Jerónimos, Belém Tower wears its beauty on the outside.

The queue to climb to the top can be oppressive and we actually don’t recommend it. A much better idea is to spend your time strolling the Belém promenade. On a balmy evening, this is one of those idyllic things to do in Lisbon. Pass by Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the photogenic monument to Portugal’s navigational prowess, before finding a spot to take in the views of Lisbon’s Ponte 25 de Abri bridge.

Belém embraces Lisbon’s love of music with various live bands busking on the promenade or in the nearby park. The area also has the best pastel de nata in town at Antiga Confeitara de Belém – one institution that is worth queueing for.


8 / SHOP LIKE THE COOL AT LX FACTORY

LX Factory was an old textile factory that has been converted into a modern and creative space. Located under a railway line, it’s a model of urban renewal. LXF has reused a neglected site, transforming it into a cool place to hang out. The collection of independent shops include break-the-mould design outlets, art supplies, vegan footwear and vintage boutiques.

The restaurant scene is dominated by environmentally considerate modern offerings and traditional Portuguese with a twist. We loved Taberna 1300 for dinner and Landeau Chocolate for their strict adherence to the committed worship of chocolate.  

It’s true, LX Factory probably caters more to tourists than locals. But with cooking classes, a tattooist, an acting school, a pole dancing studio and a tour group called We Hate Tourism Tours, it’s worth a bit of time to scratch beneath the surface. LXF has the best coffee in Lisbon and, in our opinion, some of the best street art.


9 / TOUR THE CITY ON TRAM 28

If you were to design the perfect sightseeing route through Lisbon, it would be the number 28 tram. It starts from Martim Moniz, climbs through the narrow streets of Alfama, progresses through Baixa and up the hill to Chiado.

The whole experience is like being in an old movie. The chrome details, the scent of polished wood, the hiss of breaks and the rattle of the ancient machine tackling Lisbon’s hills. It’s an experience worth savouring. Some of the best sights to stop off for are the Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte, an exceptional viewpoint located in a churchyard; and There are several places to jump off and explore along the way.  We recommend Miradouro das Portas do Sol, a great place to have a drink while admiring the red rooftops and pastel-coloured houses of Alfama.

The tram can be very busy, so go as early as possible. Alternatively, start at Praça Martim Moniz, one-stop after the popular tourist starting point. However, don’t expect a seat at any time of day, which is all part of the fun. The Viva Viagem card can be used to pay for the ticket.


10 / TAKE ELEVADOR DA GLORIA TO MIRADOURO DE SÃO PEDRO DE ALCÃNTARA

Set high on a panoramic garden, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcãntara is one of the best lookout points in Lisbon. Greek busts and ornate fountains give the place a lofty regal feel. It has sweeping views across Lisbon, collecting all the distinctive buildings that make this such an alluring city.

There are plenty of places at the top to grab a drink and take in the view properly. 

The best way to get to the viewpoint is via the Elevador de Gloria, a funicular that trudges up the hill from Rossio. The area is well known as the centre of Lisbon’s street art scene. The tram itself is covered in graffiti. The wall on the side of the track has works by well-known local and international artists. The walk back down beside the tram tracks inspecting the graffiti was one of our favourite things to do in Lisbon.


11 / EXPLORE THE BRUISED IGREJA DE SÃO DOMINGOS

This atmospheric church has had its fair share of suffering. It was severely damaged in the 1755 earthquake, then devastated by a fire in 1959. The roof was destroyed and has been rebuilt, but the reconstruction left the walls still badly scarred, a physical reminder of both events.

The drama is visible when you enter the church. Huge, gashed pillars and badly damaged walls give it a macabre yet somehow enchanting atmosphere. Most of the artwork that was damaged in the fire hasn’t been replaced, leaving orange walls lit by harsh unfiltered light looking bare and exposed.

Some say you can still smell the fire today. It certainly has the musty feel of somewhere that was recently devastated, and walking around the church, it easily engages other senses.  


12 / STROLL THE BOHEMIAN PRÍNCIPE REAL

For a lazy stroll exploring the local bohemian side of Lisbon, head for Príncipe Real. Home to artists and writers, pop-up designers, creatives and cling-ons, this corner of Lisbon is an enclave of relaxed, relatively tourist-free shopping and dining.

Most of the action centres around Praça do Príncipe Real, a small garden lined with mansions that have been converted into design studios and concept stores. Embaixada is a shopping centre in a stunning Moorish palace which features Portuguese designers, food and experiences. 21pr Concept Store is perfect if you really want to impress someone with a thoughtful Portuguese gift.

Most of the shops stay open quite late to allow for a smooth transition into cocktail hour. Cinco Lounge has perfected the art of drinking with classic and contemporary cocktails delivered in a lush candle-lit setting. For dinner, it’s hard to go past Gin Lovers for their innovative food and love of the botanical.


13 / EXPLORE THE GRISLY AT CONVENTO DO CARMO

What remains of the gothic Convento do Carmo is a reminder of the devastation of the 1755 earthquake. It’s also a product of the 19th-century fashion for leaving ruins unrestored. Now open to the sky, the exposed arches and freestanding walls are a romantic archaeological site scattered with statues, tombstones and pillars. 

The Carmo Archaeological Museum is located in the old nave of the church. It houses a weird and wacky collection of artefacts donated in the 19th century. Among the treasures you can find the tomb of King Ferdinand I, an Egyptian mummy and two very gruesome Peruvian mummies. Slightly less disturbing is the 16th-century azulejo (hand-painted tile) collection.

The convent is used as the backdrop for summer concerts held in the square in front of the ruins, which is also a nice place to hang out and grab a coffee. 


14 / LUNCH AT THE COUNTER AT A CEVICHERIA

After a morning shopping in Bairro Alto and Príncipe Real, stop for lunch at A Cevicheria. The basis of the menu is the Peruvian dish Ceviche, served with Portuguese flavours and flair. The scallops with celery, ginger, tapioca and green apple were a huge hit with us.

Try and score a seat at the counter where you can watch the handiwork of the chefs creating dishes with careful precision. If you like lunch served with a bit of drama this is the place for you. With a giant octopus attached to the roof, it captures the attention of passers-by, jealous of your ringside seat.

They have an extensive wine list, but everything is washed down perfectly with their pisco sours.   


15 / LISTEN TO FADO WAFT THROUGH TASCA DO CHICO

Listening to wistful warbling of Fado is one of those things to do in Lisbon that everyone should experience at least once. A night of Fado usually takes place in a small local restaurant. Traditional Portuguese dishes are interrupted with interludes of singing by a solo voice, accompanied by Portuguese guitarra.

It’s a thoroughly moving experience. A cramped noisy bar comes to complete silence to listen intensively to the voices wafting through the venue. Few other live performances are so utterly absorbing.

Online you’ll hear a lot about authentic and not so authentic Fado, which no doubt has some merit. But as a tourist new to the experience, it’s probably best to just settle on a place you’re happy with. A good approach is to stroll through Bairro Alto. Pick a place where you hear singing wafting onto the street. Alternatively, A Tasca do Chico offers a great value fado experience. 


THINGS TO DO IN LISBON / OTHER IDEAS

These are our 15 highlights that we think you shouldn’t miss on your next visit to Lisbon. But every good trip needs supplementary activities to get the most out of a destination. Here is a selection of our favourite hang outs, coffee and drinking spots in Lisbon.

LIVE MUSIC IN LISBON

It’s no surprise that nightlife in Lisbon is alive and kicking. Bairro Alto is one big street party and the epicentre of the live music scene in Lisbon. Follow the smooth sounds of jazz drifting out of Páginas Tantas or hit the dance floor to 80’s classics with Portuguese sympathies at Portas Largas.

WINE & COCKTAILS IN LISBON

Portugal’s love affair with wine can be an all-consuming experience and there’s nothing wrong with that. BA Wine Bar in Bairro Alto is a cool little bar with 150 glasses on the list. Mesón Andaluz has a quality selection of Iberian wines in a perfect people-watching location. Antiga Wine bar in Alfama has a curated offering with excellent tapas made from local ingredients. Cinco Lounge is a beautiful space with excellent cocktails.

OUR PICK OF THE LISBON FOOD SCENE

Lunch at the counter at A Cevicheria is a special experience thanks to their deft hand at creating unusual ceviche dishes. The tiny but charming Taberna da Rua das Flores has a small menu of traditional Portuguese offerings. Restaurante Pharmacia is a modern fine dining establishment which takes the pharmacy theme from decor to dish. Our favourite restaurant in Lisbon, however, is the dark and intimate Artis Wine Bar.

COFFEE IN LISBON

The artisanal coffee scene has left its mark on Lisbon. Hello, Kristof is a training centre for speciality coffee with a small selection of breakfast choices. Copenhagen Coffee Lab is an easy go-to choice, churning out consistently good coffee. Heim Café is a bright fun spot, better for brunch than coffee and Fábrica Coffee Roaster serves up a broody, well-textured dark roast. The coffee roasted on site at Wish Slow Coffee House is matched by the craft of the baristas.


WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON

Unfortunately, Airbnb has priced many locals out of Lisbon, so we’d recommend booking a hotel if possible.

Lisbon is a relatively compact city, but it’s still a good idea to stay as centrally as possible. We recommend staying in Baixa/Chiado, Bairro Alto or Alfama. All these areas ooze the charm you’re looking for in Lisbon and they’re centrally located. This will allow you to get an early start in the morning, fuelled by a grab-and-go pastel de nata, before sneaking home after a late-night listening to live music.

BUDGET
CASCA C’ALMA

Beautifully decorated B&B in a lovely neighbourhood about 1 mile from the city centre.

MID-MARKET
CASA BALTHAZAR

Stylish spacious apartments which although bang in the centre of the city, exude a peaceful calm.

UPMARKET
MEMMO ALFAMA – DESIGN HOTEL

A cool, modern hotel in the heart of Alfama, with possibly the best roof terrace views in Lisbon.

THINGS TO DO IN LISBON / WHAT TO PRE-BOOK

Most attractions in Lisbon don’t require pre-booking. But, if you’re visiting during peak times, you may want to book ahead to beat the queue. Here are a couple of suggestions for attractions to book in advance.

LISBON CARD / With access to 23 museums and free tram passes, the Lisbon Card is a very cost-effective way to see the main sights in the city.

FADO / Nothing takes you into the soul of Lisbon more than a Fado show. The 50-minute performance features 2 singers and 2 guitarists who will serenade you into the wee hours. Book tickets here.

NUMBER 28 TRAM / The number 28 tram can be busy and difficult to get on to. If you want to take the stress away, book this tram and walking tour experience to learn more about Lisbon’s different neighbourhoods.

MUSEU COLEÇÃO BERARDO / Queues at Lisbon’s best modern art offering can be long, so pre-book skip the queue tickets before you go.


HOW TO GET AROUND LISBON

Lisbon has a comprehensive public transport network including trams, funiculars, buses and a metro. A Viva Viagem card is a quick and easy way to pay for all your travel. The card costs €.50 and can be charged with individual tickets, a day pass (€6.40 / £5.95 / $7.90), or with a balance of up to €40 to use as pay as you go.

However, the best way to get around Lisbon is to walk. Our 3-day Lisbon itinerary puts everything in the right order, so you don’t have to spend too much time getting between places.

BEST TIME TO GO TO LISBON

The best time to visit Lisbon is during the shoulder seasons of March to May and September to October. This is the best time to explore the city on foot when the temperatures are generally comfortable and there are less visitors. You might also snap up a bargain with accommodation places slightly cheaper over this period.

As with most European destinations, summer is the peak season when both the temperature and visitor numbers are high. In winter it can be wet and windy, although in Lisbon it’s rarely uncomfortably cold.

HOW LONG DO YOU NEED IN LISBON?

Most of the main sights in Lisbon could be seen in 2 days. It’s a relatively compact city with good local transport, therefore, getting between all the main attractions is efficient.  

However, our recommendation is to spend 3 days in Lisbon. This allows you to see all the impressive historical sights and enjoy some local experiences. It also leaves a little time to wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere.  


WHERE NEXT?

First, if you found this useful, please follow us on Instagram to stay up to date with our travels.

For more urban ideas, visit our City Breaks page.

3-DAY LISBON ITINERARY
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ONE DAY IN SINTRA