From vintage tram rides to eerie mausoleums; historic flea markets and buzzing nightlight, get the most out of the Portuguese capital with our guide to the best things to do in Lisbon

By: Paul | Last Updated: 22 Apr 2024 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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My life of crime began in Lisbon.  

On a night hitting the bars in Bairro Alto (one of the unmissable things to do in Lisbon), we heard rumors of a black market in pastel de nata.

The bakeries work through the night getting the delicious parcels delivered to local cafes first thing in the morning. Entrepreneurial bakers sell them to partygoers directly from the bakery’s basement window.

After some speedy research, we located the 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.

As I bit into my pastel de nata, the pastry audibly crackling from freshness, custard still warm, thoughts surrendered to pure bliss.

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

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN LISBON

We’ve been to Lisbon several times and put together this guide based on our experiences in the city. If you notice anything is out of date, let us know in the comments.


WHAT TO DO IN LISBON | MAP | MUSIC | BARS | FOOD | COFFEE | WHERE TO STAY | DISCOUNTS | GETTING AROUND | WHEN | HOW LONG

1. SÃO JORGE CASTLE

Castelo de São Jorge was once a Moorish castle, but subsequent occupiers have altered the building significantly.

The most compelling aspect of the castle is the stunning view over the city walls and the Atlantic Ocean. Lisbon’s patchwork of terracotta tiles is interrupted only by the narrow rambling of lanes.

The small museum in the castle has seen better days, so hurry through after your visit and spend some time exploring the São Jorge Hill neighbourhood down to the cathedral.

We loved the pitstop at Chapitô à Mesa for a glass of Portuguese wine with a view to remember.

Tickets – The best value online tickets are available from the official website. Other platforms charge a lot more for an unnecessary guided introduction.

2. SÃO VICENTE DE FORA

The Church of São Vicente de Fora has had a chequered history. It was devastated in the 1755 earthquake and renovated throughout the 17th century.

The church itself is decent, but the cloisters next door are thoroughly impressive. Lisbon’s story-telling azulejos cover the walls under white vaulted ceilings.

The highlight at São Vicente de Fora is the Royal Pantheon which contains the tombs of crusaders. The cloaked weeping woman standing watch over one of the tombs is an eerie presence.

The rooftop terraces provide one of the best 360° views of the Lisbon skyline.

Tickets – It’s usually not necessary to prebook, but you can check up-to-date opening times on the Mosteiro de São Vicente website.

3. FEIRA DA LADRA (THIEVES’ MARKET)

At the square beside the National Pantheon, the Feira da Ladra flea market (also known as the Thieves’ Market) takes place twice a week (Tuesday and Saturday).

The market sells everything from old rotary phones, to broken mannequins plus pre-loved vinyl, handmade crafts, CD’s, military objects, and vintage furniture.

Stroll around soaking up the atmosphere and you’ll be enjoying one of the best free things to do in Lisbon.

There are plenty of atmospheric places to grab lunch near the market. Tabernita is a cheery spot for traditional Portuguese or you could try a hip break at Copenhagen Coffee Lab just a few minutes walk away.

4. PANTEÃO NACIONAL

The striking Baroque National Pantheon was originally built as a church. Today, it houses monuments to the great figures 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. The plush gold detailing and grand stone columns make it feel imperious.

As a dominant feature in the Lisbon skyline, the view from the terrace beside the dome is exceptional.

5. 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 da Gama from India, it’s one of Lisbon’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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.

The cloister has a remarkable vaulted ceiling, held aloft by intricately carved stone pillars.

Tickets – The church is free to enter, but you need to purchase tickets to visit the cloister, which we recommend. Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month. Book skip-the-line tickets as there is likely to be a queue.

6. MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

The Museum of Contemporary Art is located near the Belém area, and has two permanent collections along with temporary exhibitions.

The gallery is an excellent space to stroll around and something we highly recommend making time for while visiting Lisbon.

The permanent collection is well-labelled and offers a history lesson in the development of modern art. You can find Picasso, Duchamp, Miró, Warhol, along with some lesser-known Portuguese artists.

The gallery has an educational program aimed at children 2 years and up, designed to help them interact with art.

Tickets – It’s generally fine to purchase tickets on-site as queues are not common. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art website for up-to-date opening times.

7. BELÉM

Sitting on the banks of the Tagus River, the Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) was initially built to protect Lisbon. As an excellent example of Manueline architecture, it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The queue to climb to the top can be oppressive and we actually don’t recommend it.

We preferred to skip the queue to the tower and spend the time enjoy the vibe of Belém instead. It’s a great promenade on the riverfront, usually packed with atmosphere.

WHAT TO DO IN BELÉM


  • Photograph Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the monument to Portugal’s navigational prowess.
  • Find a spot on the front 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.
  • Scoff the pastal de nata at Antiga Confeitara de Belém – one institution that is worth queueing for.

8. LX FACTORY

LX Factory was an old textile factory converted into a modern and creative space. Located under a railway line, it’s a model of urban renewal.

There’s a collection of independent shops including design outlets, art supplies, and vintage boutiques.

The restaurant scene is dominated by environmentally considerate modern offerings. We loved Taberna 1300 for dinner and Landeau Chocolate for their mouth-watering desserts.  

LX Factory probably caters more to tourists than locals. But you can find cooking classes, a tattooist, an acting school, and a pole dancing studio. So it’s worth a bit of time to scratch beneath the surface.

9. 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 the old town, then Baixa, and finally 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 is an unmissable experience.

Tip for avoiding the queues — The starting point for Tram 28 is Martim Moniz, but if you get on at the second stop, R. Palma, you’ll find it much easier to get on.

Tickets – The Navegante Card can be used to pay for Tram 28.

HIGHLIGHTS ON THE TRAM 28 ROUTE


  • Stop at R Palma to see the beautiful Chafariz do Intendente fountain built in 1823.
  • The Igreja Dos Anjos is a stunning baroque church located near stop Ingreja Anjos.
  • Some of the best views are at Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte.
  • Stop for a drink at Miradouro das Portas do So while admiring the red rooftops and pastel-coloured houses of Alfama.

10. 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 and it has sweeping views across Lisbon and the Tagus River. There are plenty of places at the top to grab a drink and take in the view. 

The best way to get to the viewpoint is via the Elevador de Glória, a funicular that trudges up the hill from Rossio. The area is well known as the center of Lisbon’s street art scene, with the tram itself covered in graffiti.

The wall on the side of the track has works by local and international street art stars. Exploring this side of the city is one of the coolest things to do in Lisbon

11. IGREJA DE SÃO DOMINGOS

The Igreja de São Domingos is an atmospheric church that 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 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. The effect is orange walls lit by harsh unfiltered light looking bare and exposed.

It’s free to enter.

12. PRÍNCIPE REAL

One of the cool things about Lisbon is the diversity of its areas. For a lazy stroll exploring the local bohemian side of town, head for Príncipe Real.

It’s home to artists, writers, pop-up designers, and creatives. The overall vibe is relaxed, with relatively tourist-free shopping and dining.

Most of the sights are centered around Praça do Príncipe Real. This small garden is lined with mansions that have been converted into design studios and concept stores.

Here are some suggestions in the area:

  • Embaixada is a shopping centre in a Moorish palace with Portuguese designers and food outlets.
  • Cinco Lounge is a cocktail bar we loved in a plush candle-lit setting.
  • Gin Lover’s Bar & Restaurant is a very cool bar with excellent food in a retro space.

13. CONVENTO DO CARMO

Now open to the sky, the remains of the gothic Convento do Carmo is a reminder of the devastation of the 1755 earthquake. Exposed arches and freestanding walls are scattered with statues, tombstones, and pillars.

The Carmo Archaeological Museum is located in the old nave of the church and 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 gruesome Peruvian mummies.

The 16th-century azulejo (hand-painted tile) collection is much less disturbing.

Tickets – check up-to-date opening times and prices on the convent website.

Convento do Carmo lisbon
NAVE CONVENTO DO CARMO

14. A CEVICHERIA

As a break from the tourist attractions in Lisbon, we highly recommend booking lunch at A Cevicheria. The basis of the menu is the Peruvian dish Ceviche, served with Portuguese flavours and flair.

Try and score a seat at the counter where you can watch the chefs creating dishes with precision.

It was one of our favourite meals in Lisbon.

They have an extensive wine list, but we would be negligent if we didn’t tell you about their pisco sours; the perfect accompaniment to their cerviche.

15. FADO

A night of Fado usually takes place in a small local restaurant where a solo voice is accompanied by Portuguese guitarra.

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 just to settle on a place you’re happy with.

A good approach is to stroll through Bairro Alto and stop where you hear singing wafting onto the street. Alternatively, we had a great time at A Tasca do Chico who offers a great value fado experience. 

Outside a Fado bar in Lisbon

16. PRAÇA DO COMÉRCIO

The harbour-facing plaza, Praça do Comércio, is one of the largest in Portugal and the most beautiful in Europe.

The square was completely remodeled after the earthquake and today it’s the seat of the Portuguese state departments.

It features grand arcades surrounding a colossal statue of King José I and beautiful views of the river.

It’s a beautiful square, but you need long to explore. We definitely recommend avoiding the very touristy restaurants.

17. DAY TRIP TO SINTRA

Sintra is a flamboyant nod to Romanticism just 40 minutes from Lisbon.

The decorative royal retreat contains a mix of Gothic, Moorish, and Renaissance architecture.

The result is a fairy tale location with whimsical palaces, exotic gardens and a host of magical places to explore.

The centre of the hilltop town is a maze of pedestrian laneways. It’s the perfect place to finish your Sintra excursion after a day strolling through the grounds of the palaces.

The best way to get to Sintra is on the train from Rossio Station which takes just 40 minutes. All the details are in our guide to visiting Sintra on a day trip from Lisbon.

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN LISBON

Lisbons has so many world-class attractions, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and wonderful things to do that it’s impossible to fit them all in one curated guide. If you have more time, here are a few more things to consider. For more read our 3 day Lisbon itinerary.

LISBON CATHEDRAL

The Romanesque Lisbon Cathedral dates back to the 12th century. With an imposing facade and two bell towers on either side, it rises like a medieval fortress from the old town. It’s open from 9 am to 7 pm and cost €5 to enter.

CALOUSTE GULBENKIAN FOUNDATION

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is considered one of the most important private art collections in the world. Masterpieces from ancient Egypt sit alongside works by Rubens, Rembrandt and Turner.

The museum is open from 10 am to 6pm Monday to Wednesday and costs €10. Admission is free on Sundays after 2 pm. More details at – gulbenkian.pt

SANTA JUSTA ELEVATOR

Riding the sumptuous polished wood carriages with geometric wrought-iron frames on the Elevator de Santa Justa is one of the most popular things to do in Lisbon. Skip-the-line tickets are not available but you can use your Viva Viagem card for entry. (see details below)

QUAKE

The earthquake of 1755 had a transformative effect on Lisbon. Quake – Lisbon’s newest immersive experience – combines video mapping, interactive technology and state-of-the-art simulators to relive the events of 1755.

The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm (Mon-Sun), 10 am to 6 pm (Sat-Sun). Book tickets online via their website – lisbonquake.com

lisbon cathedral interior
LISBON CATHEDRAL

LISBON MAP

We collected all our must-see Lisbon attractions on a map to help you navigate your way around. For some suggestions on how to put it all together over a short trip, read our Lisbon itinerary for 3 days.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


LIVE MUSIC IN LISBON

It’s no surprise that the nightlife in Lisbon is alive and kicking. Bairro Alto is one big street party and the epicenter of the live music scene in Lisbon.

Páginas Tantas // Follow the smooth sounds of jazz drifting out of this small neighborhood bar and you won’t be disappointed.

Portas Largas // Hit the dance floor to 80’s classics with Portuguese sympathies at this fun little bar in the heart of Bairro Alto.

Museu da Musica // Music buffs shouldn’t miss this museum with a range of instruments from well-known to obscure. Concerts are held regularly.

WINE & COCKTAILS

Portugal’s love affair with wine can be an all-consuming experience and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some of our favorites.

Antiga Wine Bar // This cozy little wine bar in Alfama has a curated list served with excellent tapas made from local ingredients.

Cinco Lounge // A beautiful space with crafty and innovative cocktails, Cino Lounge is perfect for a quite sophisticated drink.

wine bars in lisbon

OUR PICK OF THE FOOD SCENE

A Cevicheria // Perfectly crafted seafood dishes are prepared at the bar of this special experience. Watch deft hands creating unusual ceviche dishes while you sip a sparkling.

Taberna da Rua das Flores // This tiny but charming eatery has a small menu of traditional Portuguese offerings cooked with simple loving flair.

Restaurante Pharmacia // A modern fine dining establishment that takes the pharmacy theme with commitment from decor to dish.

Artis Wine Bar // The dark and intimate Artis Wine Bar was our favorite place to eat. Simple well-cooked Portuguese classics with a small menu and local charm.

Time Out Market // This sprawling food market is a very popular place to eat. We think it’s getting a bit too popular now to be enjoyable, but it might be worth checking out.

COFFEE IN LISBON

Coffee is something we don’t skimp on when we travel and the artisanal coffee scene has left its mark on Lisbon.

Hello, Kristof // This is a training center for specialty coffee perfectly crafted. They also have a small selection of breakfast choices.

Copenhagen Coffee Lab // There are a few in Lisbon now but they are still an easy go-to choice for a consistently good coffee in a nice space.

Heim Café // This is a bright fun spot with decent coffee, but it is their excellent brunch offerings that really make it stand out from the rest.

Fábrica Coffee Roaster // If you are looking for a broody, well-textured dark roast this is the place for you.

WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON

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.

BUDGET

CASA C’ALMA

Casa C’Alma is a beautifully decorated B&B with a small, friendly vibe and a big continental breakfast. It’s located in a lovely neighborhood about 1 mile from the city center with plenty of restaurant options nearby.


OUR PICK

MID-MARKET

CASA BALTHAZAR

The modern, self-catering apartments of Casa Balthazar are bang in the center of town, yet exude a relaxed chilled-out calm. The views are superb but upgrade to the Jacuzzi Terrace room for spacious luxury with landmark views.


UPMARKET

MEMMO ALFAMA

For an emphasis on design with all the latest gadgets, it’s hard to go past Memmo Alfama for your Lisbon stay. Although surrounded by some of the best attractions in Lisbon, it will be hard to leave the rooftop bar and pool with sweeping views over the Tagus River.


LISBON DISCOUNT CARDS & ATTRACTION TICKETS

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.

LISBON CARD

The Lisbon Card provides access to 23 museums making it a very cost-effective way to see the main sights. It also includes free tram passes and elevators, including access to the Elevator de Santa Justa.

WHAT TO PRE-BOOK

Most attractions in Lisbon don’t require pre-booking and we wouldn’t recommend getting too much in advance so you can leave your itinerary flexible.

If you’re visiting during peak times, you may want to book ahead to beat the queue especially São Jorge Castle and Saint Jerónimos Monastery.

HOW TO GET AROUND LISBON

Lisbon is a compact city and the best way to see it is on foot. However, it also has a comprehensive public transport network including trams, funiculars, buses and a metro which easily connects you to various parts of the city.

Navegante Card // Lisbon’s public transport card is Navegante, a quick and easy way to pay for all your travel. The card costs €.50 and can be charged with individual tickets or day passes. You can load a pay-as-you-go balance of up to €40 to use as pay-as-you-go. It’s easy to walk most places in Lisbon, so we didn’t think the card was worth it.

Our Lisbon Itinerary // Our 3-day Lisbon itinerary puts everything in the right order, and allows you to walk between most of the sights in the city.

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 fewer 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.  

Add a fourth day and take a day trip to Sintra. It’s a wonderful place to visit and easy to do either on your own or by joining a tour.

bar in lison portugal

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