23 things to do in Lisbon, Portugal
Written by Nadia
Lisbon is a picturesque and atmospheric city in Portugal that still remembers its former greatness – it was the capital of a powerful maritime empire that gave the world the great Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan in the distant past. During the centuries-old history of its existence, the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Spaniards used to rule here until the 1640 year.
One hundred years later, in 1755, a dramatic turning point in the history of Lisbon happened: a powerful earthquake, tsunami, and fire simultaneously hit the city and destroyed it almost to the very foundation. Traces of this disaster are still felt in the city architecture.
Nowadays, Lisbon is a trendy and stylish city with concept stores, delicious restaurants, festivals, and nightclubs. And if you get tired of city hustle, you can always go to the ocean, it’s marvelous.
But there is more to do in Lisbon than you could imagine.
- Lisbon offers eclectic mix of culture, architecture, cuisine and entertainment.
- Tour many of the historical monuments.
- There is no shortage of gastronomy options, too!
- Ride the tram, wander through the cobbled streets.
- Eat, drink, repeat.
Read also: Day trips from Lisbon.
1. See the Commerce Square (Praça do Comercio)
The Commerce Square is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. It is located on the bank of the Tagus river, where the Ribeira Palace used to be, destroyed by an earthquake (which is why the second name of the place is Palace Square). It was the front gate of Lisbon also. Ships with treasures and products from the Portuguese colonies moored here, and royal delegations arrived. Majestic monuments and austere administrative buildings testify to the former glory.
2. Go to the Rua Augusta Arch (Arco da Rua Augusta)
It is the central pedestrian boulevard of Lisbon that is always full of tourists and locals. It stretches from La Plaza de Pedro IV to the Triumphal Arch. The street is full of authentic cafes and shops. The pavement of Rua Augusta street is laid out by hand, with the original ornament woven into an eccentric pattern. The boulevard was named after the Portuguese taxi driver August Macedo, who drove passengers around Lisbon for almost 70 years.
3. Head to Rossio Square
The square arose on the site of the ancient Roman hippodrome in the Baixa area, one of the most colorful and exciting places in Lisbon. Until 1755, it was surrounded by luxurious buildings in the Manueline style, as the whole city was bathed in luxury thanks to the fabulous wealth of the Portuguese colonies. After the earthquake, the entire district was rebuilt from the ruins.
4. Get lost in Alfama district
Almafa is the only urban area in Lisbon which was the least damaged district by the earthquake of 1755. Its architecture with chaotically arranged streets corresponds to the idea of medieval cities. The area is located on a hill, and people move along it with the help of numerous stairs. Cars can hardly pass between the old houses with shabby walls, but surprisingly there is a place for tram lines.
Check out Things to do in Porto article.
5. See Belem Tower
It is an architectural monument of the 16th century, listed by Unesco. The tower was built in honor of the discovery of the route to India by Vasco da Gama. It served as a defensive fort, a powder warehouse, a prison, and a customs office. The building has unique Portuguese Manueline style, almost lost by the 19th century. The facade and interior of the tower are decorated with priceless monuments from the Age of Exploration.
6. Vasco da Gama Bridge
The most impressive and longest European bridge over the Tagus River, with the span of 17 km. The bridge was constructed in just three years, despite the incredible scale of the project, and launched on March 29, 1998. This date was not chosen by chance since it was the same day in 1498 when Vasco da Gama set sails along the sea route from Europe to India.
7. Visit the Palace of Queluz
The National Palace of Queluz is a 17th-century construction in the Rococo style. It served as the summer residence of the Portuguese king Pedro II, later used to house dignitaries. Nowadays, you can listen to classical music there. Don’t miss the opportunity to look at the luxurious Throne and Musical Halls and the magnificent and lavishly decorated royal chambers.
8. See the sunset at the 25th April bridge
The longest iron suspension bridge in Europe, opened in 1966. It spans across the Tagus River, and has two levels (for cars and for trains). Until 1974, the bridge was named after António Salazar, but after the Red Carnation Revolution on April 25, it was renamed in honor of this important day for Portugal.
9. Go to The Castle of St. Jorge
The castle originated in the 5th century a.d. on the site of a Roman fortification. Since then, it has been reconstructed several times. Until the 16th century, it served as a residence for the Moorish ruler, then Portuguese monarchs lived there.
10. The Palace of Ajuda
This neoclassical palace was built for the king Luís I and his wife. Previously, an earlier royal residence of the 15th-16th centuries was located on the site of Ajud, but it was destroyed during an earthquake. Palace rooms and halls are elegantly and luxuriously furnished. Wide halls and passages are decorated with sculptures, paintings, and tapestries of great cultural value.
11. Belem Palace
This palace serves as a residence of the Portuguese President, located in the Belém area. Earlier during the monarchy, the rulers of Portugal stayed here. The palace was built in the middle of the 16th century and rebuilt in the 18th century. The predominant architectural styles of the complex are Baroque and Mannerism. The facade is decorated with Portuguese azulejo tiles depicting mythological heroes and epic scenes.
12. The Jerónimos Monastery
It is one of the famous sights of Portugal, recognized as a national monument at the very beginning of the 20th century. Since 1983 it has been included in the Unesco heritage list. The remains of the great mariner Vasco da Gama lie in the monastery. The monastery was built by the end of the 16th century on the income received from the newly discovered lands. The history of Jerónimos is closely associated with the famous era of the Great Geographical Discoveries and the military power of Portugal.
13. Visit Carmo Square
It is a relatively small square with a medieval monastery of the 13th century, built by the aristocrat Nuno Alvares Pereira for the brothers of the Carmelite Order. In 1755, due to an earthquake, the building was destroyed, and many priceless relics were lost. After the restoration, the complex served as a warehouse, barracks, and later an archaeological museum was placed within its walls.
14. Go to Monastery of San Vicente de Fora
Built in the 16th century on the site of the church of St. Vincent, the saint patron of Lisbon. The monastery is one of the most revered in Portugal. For some time, the residence of the city archbishop was located here. The monastery was built in the late Renaissance style. Its walls are richly decorated with mosaics depicting battle scenes and the facade of azulejo mosaics. On the territory of San Vicente de Fora is the tomb of the Braganza dynasty.
15. Take pictures of Estrela Basilica
The basilica is considered one of the most picturesque temples in Lisbon, built in the Baroque style with neoclassical elements.
16. Explore Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
With a collection of European, antique, and oriental art, Armenian magnate G. Gulbenkian built this art gallery in 1969. The museum exhibits an extensive collection of paintings, jewelry, and sculpture. Here you can find the works of Rembrandt, Manet, Degas, Rubens and Renoir.
Read also: 13 Most Famous Museums in Portugal
17. National Museum of Ancient Art
The museum holds a collection of confiscated works of monastic orders. Monastic religious associations disappeared at the beginning of the 19th century, and part of their wealth fell into the hands of the state. The museum exhibits works of Portuguese masters of the 14th-19th centuries. You can also see paintings by European artists, collections of sculpture and ceramics, textiles, furniture, and other scenery items.
18. Explore National Coach Museum
Features a collection of the horse-draw carriages of the Royal family. It was created with the participation of the last Queen of Portugal, Amelia, as she wanted to keep the carriages and show them to the general public. Subsequently, the collection was extended with copies from France, Austria, Italy, and other European countries. In the museum, you can see carriages of the 17th-19th centuries.
19. Go upstairs on Santa Justa Lift
Exterior city elevator connecting Rua do Ouro and Largo do Carmo. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century to help pedestrians overcome a steep slope to get from the Baixa area to the Chiado area. The elevator is designed in an elegant neo-gothic style. At first, it was carried by steam engines. Nowadays it’s carried by electric ones.
20. Ride the Lisbon tram
The narrow and uneven streets of central Lisbon have many old tram routes that have been in service for over a hundred years. The famous yellow tram belongs to the Lisbon tram network. Route number 28 is viral: it passes through all the city’s historical districts and makes many sharp turns. This route is constantly clogged with tourists, as many prefer to get to know the city through a trip.
21. Eat at a Michelin star restaurant
At the moment of writing this article, there are 13 Michelin star restaurants in Lisbon. I highly recommend going to any of them as it is a memorable experience and it is not always that expensive.
22. Go to the flea market
Visiting the flea market at Campo de Santa Clara in Lisbon is an excellent idea for anyone looking to experience a truly unique and authentic cultural experience. Located near some of Lisbon’s most iconic attractions, the flea market allows you to explore the city’s street culture up close.
Here you will find all kinds of local vendors selling vintage clothes, secondhand books, handmade jewelry and crafts, antiques, furniture pieces, and more. The atmosphere here is lively and colorful as vendors call out their wares while locals move around bartering for bargains or simply browsing through stacks of exciting items.
23. Do NOT go to Bairro Alto neighborhood
Many travel blogs blindly copy-paste recommendations on visiting Bairro Alto, as it is one of Lisbon’s most famous nightlife spots.
But the reality is that it is crowded place, with overpriced bars/restaurants, Fado music tourist traps, noise, and drunken street fights.
Here are some Bairro Alto alternatives for spending a vibrant night in Lisbon:
- BytheWine bar
- Antiga wine bar
- Rua do Telhal street
- Jardim do Torrel
- Campo dos Mártires da Pátria
- Praça de Alegria (especially on Friday’s evenings)