Old towns, captivating castles, trendy food spots and top Instagram locations, you won’t want to miss my top 10 things to do in Lisbon.
I recently returned from a fabulous weekend in Lisbon. I had visited briefly many years ago, but it wasn’t until I spent three full days exploring this vibrant city that I really appreciated its beauty.
The fact that it is on the coast and has warm temperatures for most of the year certainly helps its appeal, but it was the colourful buildings in the old town, the stunning views of Alfama, and its terrific food scene that captivated me the most.
Being one of the world’s top city break destinations, it will come as no surprise that there are many things to do in Lisbon. However I have narrowed it down to my top 10 favourites below – these are suitable if visiting Lisbon with friends, as a couple or on a family break in Lisbon.
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1. Book a Tuk Tuk or Tram Tour
I always find that the best way to get your bearings in a new city is to book a tour on the day you arrive. For some an open top bus tour is a popular choice, however when in Lisbon, I suggest a Tuk Tuk tour or a Tram tour.
One of the top things to do in Lisbon is to take the tram. Many opt to ride the publicly served no 28 tram, which passes by most of Lisbon’s top attractions. However, it is a public tram, and tends to be crowded. In fact during peak times you may find it impossible to get on board.
The old cliché – you get what you pay for, springs to mind, and if you want to be able to see through the windows, and ride the tram comfortably, I suggest booking an official tram tour.
If your budget allows, you can go a step further and book a private Tuk Tuk tour. This is a super way to see the city, and you can choose how long you want to spend in a particular place. Usually tours last one or two hours and make sure to haggle for the best price.
We took a family tour for two hours with travel journalist Tiago Salazar and loved it. It was expensive at €120 per family, but I felt worth it for the invaluable insights we got into the city, and for his patience with my photo stops!
I have taken Tuk Tuk tours with my children in other cities, and they always like them – I find it is a great way to explore cities with kids.
2. Dine at Time Out Market
Time Out Markets are now available in varies cities throughout the world, but it was Lisbon where the first Time Out Market originated. The concept is so good, I only wish we had similar here.
Time Out Market is a massive warehouse style building with 40 restaurants, 8 bars, shops, and even live music under one roof. Only the best restaurants can get space here, and if the standard slips, they will be asked to leave.
The result is a wonderful collection of dining options from sushi to steaks, Portuguese specialities to American style donuts – every possible food you can think of is here, all locally sourced, and from my experience, all tasted great!
Time Out is a great choice to visit on the day you arrive. It will stop you walking the streets looking for a restaurant, as you are bound to get a table here, and there will be something to suit all tastes. Time Out Market is also one of the top places to visit in Lisbon with kids.
3. Visit the Castle of Saō Jorge
There are many incredible sights to see in Lisbon, and the Castelo de Saō Jorge is certainly one of them. It is viewable from most places in Lisbon, but when you climb to the hill top, you will rewarded to panoramic views of the city.
The former 10th century fortress has a remarkable history, and can be told with a guided tour. Some remains found here date back as far as the 6th century, however, its 11 towers and preserved walls are impressive in their own right – you can catch the tram to the castle if you just want to enjoy the views.
4. Explore Praca do Comércio – Main Square
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The Praca do Comércio is one of the most beautiful and largest squares in Europe. Once the location of the Royal Palace, it is now home to bright yellow-coloured buildings with ornate porticos and monuments.
It is a great base to explore the coast as there is a pedestrianised walkway along here to the old Alfama district. You can also climb up the Arco da Rua Augusta ( top of the arch ) to get a birds eye view of Lisbon’s city streets.
5. Visit Alfama
Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest and most picturesque districts, and is located just minutes from the Praca do Comércio. It is packed with fado bars, curio shops and a flea market. Alfama’s pretty cobblestone streets and colourful buildings are a pleasure to explore.
It is a great place to visit during the day, but is equally as good at night time, as the many Fado bars have live music sessions until the small hours.
6. Explore Lisbon’s top photo spots
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Lisbon is one big photo op, with views for days, however, it can be a little overwhelming! I decided to include some of my favourite scenic places on this list that you shouldn’t miss.
Walk through the streets of Chiado and find Pink Street – one of Lisbon’s top Instagram locations. It is lined with overhead umbrellas, but it was the colouful bridge and buildings at the end of Pink Street that impressed me the most.
From Chiado, climb upwards to Bairro Alto for stunning views of Lisbon’s terracotta rooftops. You should spot a local artist who has a perch here painting pictures in five minutes for €5 – they are a lovely souvenir to bring home.
There are many places in Lisbon that boast the best views – Castelo de Sao Jorge being the most famous. However, I found the views at Portas do Sol (gates of the sun ), to have the best views of Lisbon.
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Alfama’s terracotta rooftops are a spectacular sight below, but don’t miss the pretty garden before the gates which has a gorgeous portico with sea views.
7. Spend a day in Sintra
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Sintra is not only one of the top things to do in Lisbon, it is one of Portugal’s top attractions. This UNESCO World Heritage town is full of magical palaces, castles as well as a gorgeous old town. You could easily spend the day there, so it is important to decide in advance what you want to visit.
Sintra is located about 40 minutes from Lisbon and can be easily reached by train. However, you will need to get additional bus tickets to the top of the palace, so it might be worthwhile considering a tour which incorporates all transportation. When in doubt and if time is not on your side, you can always book an UBER for approx €20 – €25.
We visited Quinta da Regaleira many years ago when the kids were younger, as the queues for Pena Palace were huge at that time. There are underground tunnels, waterfalls and a magical castle – it has a middle earth feeling about it and the kids loved it.
During our recent visit to Lisbon I knew I had to visit Pena Palace. We got there early and avoided the crowds and it was even more impressive than I anticipated.
You don’t need to take the two hour tour of the interior to be able to walk around the grounds and walls of the castle. We enjoyed a fabulous few hours exploring with the standard park ticket.
We all loved Sintra, so it is a place I would recommend if travelling to Lisbon with kids or alone – I dare you not to fall in love with it.
After your visit, take time to explore the town of Sintra. It has some gorgeous craft shops as well as some great restaurants. There are many more castles and museums to visit in Sintra, but it is impossible to see them all in one day – prior planning is key.
8. Love LX Factory
A factory complex dating back to 1846 is now one of Lisbon’s trendiest neighbourhoods. Warehouses, offices and car parks, became cafés, restaurants and shops. They whole place has an industrial vibe, and many of the buildings still retain original features.
We went here on the way to Belém, it is halfway between Lisbon and Belém so I would recommend enjoying a nice meal here after a day exploring Belém. There is an outdoor market here too, as well as indoor and outdoor bars and restaurants. We enjoyed a tasty tapas in funky surroundings at Beers&Co.
9. Take time to appreciate Belém
One of the mistakes we made on our recent visit was not allowing enough time to explore Belėm, home to some of Lisbon’s most important museums and monuments.
Located about 9km from the city centre, the most popular way to get there is by number 15 tram – however they can be extremely busy. You can also go by river boat, or if, like us, you don’t have a lot of time, an UBER is the quickest way and only costs about €5.
It was from Belém that Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama set sail for India, and returned with treasures that helped Portugal rise to power during the Age of Discovery. You can take an elevator to the top of the iconic landmark that celebrates this era, however for the best views, it is best to climb the Belém Tower instead.
The Torre de Belém is one of the few 16th-century buildings to survive the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. It is here where the Statue of Christ is located, and there are dungeons to be explored, as well as stunning views of Belém and the River Tagus.
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is another famous landmark that is located in Belém, as is the Centro Cultural de Belém, which houses works of art from Picasso, Frances Bacon and Andy Warhol. However part of Belém’s charm is exploring its city centre and enjoying long walks along the Tagus River.
Lisbon’s 25 de Abril Bridge is located here and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Belém’s Museum of Art is also located at the waters edge – whose curved exterior is extremely impressive – we didn’t have time to go inside.
Portugal’s national dessert, pastel de nata (custard tart) was founded in Belém, and the best place to taste them is the Pastéis de Belém Café. The family run bakery uses the original recipe that was created by the monks in Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in 1837!
I personally think the warm custard tarts are over rated, but if you want to try the best one, this is the place! I’m told the queues move quickly as people get them to go – so if in Belém, give it a try.
10. Visit the Aquarium and Ride the Cable Car
If visiting Lisbon with kids, then a visit to the Lisbon Oceanarium is a must. It is one of the largest aquariums in the world, and also one of the most impressive. Its clever design features various continents over two floors – upper floors showcase animals above ground, while the lower floor symbolises life underneath the water.
There are over 25,000 sea creatures, many I had not seen before, as well as educational exhibits.
The Aquarium is located outside the city centre, and you will need to take the Metro or an Uber to get there. If you are taking the time to visit, it might be worth combining it with a trip on the cable car, which is located in the same area. Combination tickets are available.
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I hope you enjoyed my top things to do in Lisbon, and that it helps you make the most of your next city break in Lisbon.