With full modesty, I can say that this article on the best things to do in Lisbon pretty much sums up everything you can do on a weekend in the capital of the Portugal.
I absolutely loved Lisbon. Livable, slow paced, a calm tone and a mild climate. I thought it was similar to Porto (read also Visit Porto) but I was wrong. Porto is more melancholy, one breathes less of the big-city air that, on the other hand, one feels in Lisbon, although to a lesser degree to other european cities.
Visiting Lisbon during the fall/winter phase is a good choice. I visited in mid-December, in the midst of Christmas activity, and it was beautiful to admire it decorated for the holidays. A wonderful atmosphere.
Apart from these premises about my perception of the city, let’s get to the heart of the article and see what are the things to do in Lisbon, what to see and especially what to eat. First, though, I want to give you some general advice.
Purchase the Lisbon Card
I dare say categorically. It allows you to visit Lisbon with incredible convenience. It includes almost all museums, transportation (including even streetcar 28), several discounts in museums and even at Oceanário.
Absolutely recommended. It also saves a lot of time: each time you don’t have to buy a metro/tram ticket, etc.
The Lisboa card is worthwhile and can last 24-48-72 hrs. CLICK HERE to access and purchase it in advance.
I used the 72-hour one because I visited Lisbon in 4 days. Consider that it is “actual hours” from the moment you stamp it for the first time. You can pick it up already at the airport and this allows you to move from the airport to Lisbon without having to buy more tickets.
Where to stay in Lisbon?
When you start looking for information to figure out how to get around and how to visit Lisbon, you will have moments of bewilderment. The city is not very large, but given its particular conformation made up of ups and downs, it will not be easy to figure out which of Lisbon’s neighborhoods to sleep in to make your getting around easier.
I wrote a special article you can find it on the -> Where to Stay in Lisbon? Recommended Lisbon neighborhoods. In the meantime I try to give you some useful tips even if you do not read the other article.
- Greater comfort = staying on one of the metro directives. I especially recommend the hotel where I stayed -> Alif Avenidas Hotel (CLICK to see the hotel). It is most convenient because it is right at the last São Sebastião stop of the red metro (which leads to the airport). The BLU line also passes through this stop and as a result it is perfect for getting to the center of the city. It is a very convenient area. To look for other hotels in this part of Lisbon, I have already set you the search -> CLICK HERE
- Ultra comfort = stay in the Baixa or Chiado area, basically in the very center of Lisbon. You can go out and move around on foot without much trouble and without necessarily having to take the metro, except for important trips. The point is that you will find more expensive accommodations in this area. If, however, you are moving in advance take a look -> CLICK HERE for Chiado e HERE for Baixa.
- Less comfort but more charm = sleeping in the quaintAlfama area. Here these are mostly mini-apartments. More special accommodations that allow you to feel a bit more Lisbonese and less like a big city dweller -> CLICK HERE for Alfama
Visiting Lisbon with a guide
Discovering Lisbon with someone who can make you appreciate it at its best is always the best solution. In Lisbon you will find many tours in Italian, run by reliable companies such as the one I usually use and link to in the next few lines:
- City tour with guide in ENGLISH: 3 hours in the company of a guide who will give you the best insight into Lisbon and its history.(HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
- 3 hours Belem Tour including pastéis. (arrivato fino a qui)
- The 7 Hills and Belém tour or the single tour of Alfama, all in English.
Finally, if you are going to Portugal, you cannot get lost a fado show (CLICK HERE to see the tour) in Chiado district.
From the airport to downtown Lisbon
As in any city there are countless ways to get from the airport to the city center and vice versa: cabs, buses, private service, and the subway.
I absolutely recommend the subway (which by the way is included in the Lisboa Card). In just over 20 minutes you will be at the São Sebastião terminus. On the way, the red line intersects with all the other 3 lines of Lisbon.
This means that you will be able to get anywhere. If you are in a group, or have bulky luggage, the metro may not be the best method. At that point, I would say you might want to request a private transfer between the airport and your hotel in Lisbon -> CLICK HERE to see the available options.
The earthquake in Lisbon in 1755
Before I tell you about what to do in Lisbon I want to make a brief mention of its history because it is necessary to understand the city better. It was characterized by a catastrophic event that occurred in 1755. In its heyday, a time when Portugal had discovered gold in Brazil, at 9:40 a.m. on November 1 the city was literally razed to the ground by an earthquake with a magnitude between 8.5 and 8.7 on the Richter scale.
Collapse, fires, destruction…and as if that were not enough, a tsunami hit everyone who had taken to the river. It is estimated that almost 1/3 of Lisbon’s inhabitants (about 90,000 people) died as a result of this terrible event. As you will read in the rest of the article, the 1755 earthquake deeply scarred the city.
Things To Do In Lisbon: the center
I must say that the tips for a trip to Lisbon are indeed quite a few. Now let’s get into the heart of the article. I will break down for you the various points of interest in Lisbon according to where they are located. At the end, I will put you what I think can be the solutions to do Lisbon in 2 days, in 3 days and in 4 days.
Let’s start with downtown Lisbon, and then the various neighborhoods of Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto l’Alfama. I will try to put the various places to you in a sequence that can become a walking itinerary, so you don’t have to go crazy looking for them on the map, or at least you will make less effort (I hope). Here are the first 6 stops.
Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio)
How not to start with Lisbon’s main square: Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square). A giant square with a view directly over the Tagus River. With all due respect, it reminded me a bit of Trieste’s (although Trieste is on the sea). A square teeming with people all day long, also a transportation hub.
Worth seeing: the Arco da Rua Augusta, built following the sad earthquake of 1755 is a symbolic icon linked to Glory, Valor and Genius. In the center of the square we find the statue of King Joseph I as a reminder of the royal palace there before the mid-nineteenth century earthquake.
From my point of view, Praça do Comércio is to be lived carefree, wandering around the square and why not, stopping to admire the Tagus River on the steps across the street.
In this square you will find two other Lisbon attractions: the Lisboa Story Centre and the Wines of Portugal, both of which are included in the Lisbon Card (one included and the other discounted).
Rua Augusta, Lisbon’s main street
During a weekend spent visiting Lisbon you will pass by this street I don’t know how many times. It is one of the main streets, if not THE main street and connects Praça do Comércio to Praça do Rossio, more or less near the Confeitaria National. By the way: mark this pastry shop because it could be your daily stop for breakfast pastel de nata (a legalized “drug”).
On the right and left you will find classic fashion stores, a few pastry stores, a few handicraft places, but what is most fascinating is being in the heart of Lisbon, in the Baixa district.
Please note: Rua Augusta is crossed by Rua Conceição. Right at the intersection of these two streets you will be able to see the tram 28 stop. Here, however, you might find it a bit full, which is why in the post on tips for a trip to Lisbon I gave you some suggestions for being able to get on the empty streetcar and then sit on it.
Elevador de Santa Justa
Let’s face it right now: theElevador de Santa Giusta, despite being mentioned as among the top sights to do in Lisbon, at first glance gets little right in the context in which it is set. Built by Raul Mésnier, a student of Gustave Eiffel, it was inaugurated in 1902 and powered by steam until 1907.
Going up Rua Augusta toward Praça do Rossio, you will cross Rua de Santa Giusta, where you will find the Elevador. This is an imposing iron structure with an elevator that will take you to an impressive panoramic view of the city. The view sweeps from the river beyond the arch of Rua Augusta to the hills behind Lisbon. In front, Lisbon Castle, behind you the Convento do Carmo and “at your feet” the entire Baixa district. Not least, you will also be able to see Praça do Rossio from another angle.
Important tip: this time I am writing the advice here, without necessarily referring you to the article on tips …the ascent costs 5.4 € (included in the Lisbon Card) but there is often a queue and you may have to wait too long. If you access, instead, from the Convento do Carmo side, it will cost less (1.5 € if you don’t have the card) and there will be no queue!
Convento do Carmo
Get off the elevator and you can visit this charming and decaying structure located in the beautiful little square called Largo do Carmo, at the beginning of the Chiado district. Only the perimeter structure remains of this convent. It was founded in 1389 to celebrate two important Portuguese victories in two as many battles. Like the whole city of Lisbon, Convento du Carmo was also affected by the strong earthquake of 1755. Think of it as the morning of November 1, the convent was full of worshippers…the roof and much of the convent collapsed.
The convent has not been rebuilt. Thus, the structure has this dilapidated yet fascinating appearance. The chapel houses the small archaeological museum.
I recommend visiting the Convento do Carmo inside as well. Do not dwell only on the outside view. Although it is chargeable (the Lisbon card only allows you a 1€ discount) I think it is worth a visit.
Walking through the streets of Bairro Alto
Visualize the word “Alto,” there must be a reason why they call it Bairro Alto…it sits high, yes, but not only that. Bairro Alto is a Lisbon neighborhood full of ups and downs and quaint streets. It is a pleasant neighborhood that winds its way from Praça Luís de Camões, full of clubs and “Tasca” restaurants, or what we might call “Lisbon taverns.”
Praça do Rossio and the Igreja de São Domingos
This square and the nearby church are two more of the things to do in Lisbon. I wanted to summarize them in one place because they are adjacent.
The square has been the scene of many of the events that have occurred during Lisbon’s history. Also called simply Rossio, it is characterized by the undulating black/white pavement that makes it really interesting. In Rossio, in addition to the subway stop is also the station of the same name for local trains to Sintra and neighboring towns.
You might also be interested in Visiting Sintra from Lisbon: how to get there and things to do
Finally, on the north/east side of the square is the beautiful Igreja de São Domingos. From the outside it does not impress, but once inside one is stunned. The church, in places, has a ghostly appearance. The vault is a different color than the burnt-black side walls.
Yes, because it is indeed burned. The church survived two events: the 1755 earthquake (but you already knew that) and the1959 fire.
A fire broke out in this part of the city of Lisbon and affected the church. I will let you imagine what happened to the wooden roof. For this reason it was rebuilt in the following years, but without restoring pillars and parades that still show signs of that difficult period.
Things To Do In Lisbon: the Alfama district
Steep, small streets between white houses and cobblestone streets that lead to beautiful miradouro (viewpoints).Alfama is Lisbon’s most characteristic neighborhood, somewhat reminiscent of a medina like those you might see in a travel to Morocco. But what is it possible to do and see in Lisbon in the Alfama neighborhood?
Take the Tram 28
First, you will have to visit Alfama by taking tram 28, which will take you right to the top. The tram 28 is the iconic old train that you should definitely take if you visit Lisbon. It is the first activity I recommend you do, because you can get to the Martim Muniz da Rossio stop with a short walk. As I explained best in my tips for a trip to Lisbon, Martim Muniz is one of the two terminuses of tram 28. Here (in theory) you will find it empty and you may be able to get a seat.
Visiting the Alfama
It is the main focus of this section on things to do in Lisbon. The Alfama is to be visited leisurely, on foot (except the first bit by tram), being fascinated by every nook and cranny or view of the Tagus. It must be discovered in a relaxed way by stopping on one of the miradouro terraces to have a drink and savor the characteristic bustle of the neighborhood.
Castelo de São Jorge: the castle of Lisbon
Castelo de São Jorge, that is the name of the city’s castle. Erected by the Moors in the mid-11th century, it became Lisbon’s stronghold. From its walls, it is possible to admire the whole city with views as far as the Tagus River.
If you want to buy skip-the-line tickets you can find them HERE.
Miradouro and murals of Lisbon’s history
As I wrote to you earlier, in the Alfama neighborhood you can stop at several miradouros. First, the beautiful Miradouro das Portad do Soul, second at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia which is located a little further (going down towards the Cathedral). Exactly below the first viewpoint, going down the stairs on your left you can see the mural of the history of Lisbon by Nuno Saraiva.
Walking down Rua Limoeiro, then Rua Augusto Rosa, Lisbon Cathedral, built where an old mosque once stood, will appear on your left. As you can imagine, the cathedral has been affected by the various earthquakes in Lisbon’s past. Rebuilt several times, it now has different styles based on the various reconstructions done over time.
Things To Do In Lisbon: the neighborhood of Belem
Belem is one of the must-see neighborhoods in Lisbon, if only to taste a pastéis de Belem in the eponymous pastry shop Pastéis de Belém.
Culinary reasons aside, Belem is 20 to 25 minutes away from Lisbon by streetcar in the direction of the ocean. Getting there is very easy, just go to Praça do Comércio and take streetcar 15 or 15E towards Algès. Alternatively, you can also use the 728 bus. This information is also valid if you arrive by green metro at Cais do Sodré, both the bus and the streetcar stop near the metro terminus. You will not be able to miss the arrival stop in Belem because it will be right in front of Monastero dos Jerónimos.
Monastero dos Jerónimos
Spectacular! There are no other words to describe it. As beautiful on the outside as it is incredible on the inside, not surprisingly it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded in 1501 to celebrate Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the routes to the Indies; among other things, it also houses the famous navigator’s tomb.
Built in the Manueline style (a sumptuous architectural style, a Portuguese Gothic targo), it took about 100 years to build, and although it predates 1755, the earthquake did not damage it. The reason is found in the sandy soil on which it was built, which probably cushioned the earthquake.
The monastery is rich in decorations and references related to nature and is Lisbon’s monument, a symbol of Portuguese identity, that best summarizes Portugal’s prosperous period during the Age of Discovery. Do you want to visit the Monastery dos Jerònimos? Then you can’t help but buy tickets in advance at THIS LINK.
Monument to the Discoveries
They call it Padrão dos Descobrimentos, but it might be better to write “Monument to Discoveries.” It is a (in my opinion beautiful) 56-meter-high monument that resembles a caravel with the wind in its sails. The most important Portuguese figures of the great voyages of exploration are represented.
It is important to note that the monument present now is not the first version. It was built in 1940 but later demolished in 1959 because it was initially built with shoddy materials. Rebuilt in white stone, it now majestically faces the Tagus River.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos can be visited from March to September (daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. with last entry at 6:30 p.m.) and from October and February (Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., last entry at 5:30 p.m.).
The price is €6 but with the Lisboa Card (CLICK HERE to see what’s included) you will get a 30% discount. In the square in front of the monument, on the ground is the“Maritime Map,” which is a mosaic map in which all the routes of Portuguese navigators and the important dates when the various colonies were conquered are shown.
Visiting the Tower of Belem
Iconic, scornful turns to the sea (river) and its waves: this is the Belem Tower, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not possible to visit Lisbon without also discovering the Belem Tower inside.
The purpose of building this tower was to protect Lisbon. It is said that before 1755, Belem Tower was in the middle of the Tagus. Some guidebooks claim that due to the earthquake, the Tagus changed its course and that is why the tower is now on one bank. It was built between 1514 and 1519. From 1581, after the conquest in 1580 by the Spanish, it was used as a prison.
From my point of view, the tower of Belem is not only to be looked at externally. It is also interesting on the inside. There is not so much to see, but it is very scenic. To purchase a ticket CLICK HERE or or HERE for an entrance without a queue. Although, from my point of view, you are better off buying the Lisboa Card because free admission is included.
Hours and openings: according to the official website, from October to May daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with last admission at 5 p.m., from May to September always from 10 a.m. but closing time changes to 6:30 p.m. with last admission at 6 p.m. It remains closed on Mondays, January 1, Easter, May 1, June 13 and Christmas Day.
Finally, if you want to add something with an artistic tinge to the things to do in Lisbon and you are a contemporary art lover, a short distance from the Tower of Belem you can visit the Berardo Museum.
I didn’t really like it all that much, but I admit my complete ignorance in terms of modern art. So if you are better informed than I am, know that there are works of undoubted value there.
Things To Do In Lisbon: the coastal area on the Tagus
Imagine you are going from Belem to the Oceanário, on the way you will find many other sights in Lisbon, some I have already mentioned to you such as the Praça do Comércio, others not. In this case public transportation comes to your aid. The 728 bus covers theentire route between Belem and the Oceanário (passing through Commerce Square), consequently you can visit all the attractions I will tell you about in the next lines.
April 25 Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril)
A giant red bridge that passes over an entire neighborhood. The question I asked myself is: did they build the houses or the bridge first? The answer is the bridge. The neighborhood developed later.
It is considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. On the upper level the cars flow, on the lower level the trains. If you have purchased the lisboa card, know that a visit toExperiência Pilar 7 and the panoramic elevator is included.
Lx Factory: redeveloped industrial zone
In many European cities, former industrial areas have been redeveloped and converted into alternative neighborhoods where styles, cultures and passions coexist, creating harmonious and inspiring environments. Such is the case with the LX Factory a short distance from the 25 de Abril bridge, a dynamic and distinctive place that has sprung up on a 19th-century industrial area in Lisbon’s Alcântara district.
Full of restaurants, workshops, art venues, music spaces and special stores; LX Factory, should you have time to devote to it, is a must-visit place in Lisbon, if only to relax while having a drink.
Past the Commerce Square, the 728 bus continues along the Tagus River. A little less than 1km past Santa Apollonia station you will find the National Museum of Azulejos, Portugal’s characteristic colorful tiles. They are an important Portuguese symbol.
The museum contains a permanent exhibit explaining the history of Portugal’s famous tiles, a fascinating colorful journey of discovery into Portuguese culture.
Attention to schedules. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit it because I only had time on Monday, and of course it is closed on Mondays. On other days it is always open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. With the Lisboa Card you have a discount.
Lisbon is home to one of the largest aquariums in Europe. To get there you have to continue by bus 728 past the Azulejos Museum and get off at the “Oceanário de Lisboa” stop. After a few steps on foot you will be at the entrance. Again you have an important discount with the Lisboa Card (15%).
In the Oceanário you can see a magnificent permanent display of a giant aquarium, afterwards you can go to the main building where you will be stunned in front of the main tank. It is impossible to describe how beautiful it is and especially how big it is. Inside it are fish of all kinds and all sizes. A sight for children, but not only. I was disappointed with the “corollary” tanks, unfortunately it seems that the main tank is taken care of to perfection, while the secondary ones are not managed in the same way. If you visit Lisbon with children, this is a must-see.
Vasco da Gama Bridge, the longest in Europe
Are you familiar with a 17-kilometer bridge? No? Well, neither do I, also because it is impossible to see the end of it. You can catch a glimpse of it even from the Oceanário. The Vasco da Gama Bridge, built for the 1998 expo, is a bridge that joins the two banks of the Tagus; it is the longest in Europe and one of the longest in the World.
How many days do you have available?
Having told you almost everything there is to do and see in Lisbon, I would now like to give you some tips on how you can divide the various experiences by days.
Lisbon in two days
I would focus on the main neighborhoods Baixa, Chiado, Alfama and Belem, excluding a few places of interest:
Day 1: Praça do Comércio – Rua Augusta – Elevador de Santa Giusta – Convento do Carmo – Praça do Rossio – Igreja de São Domingos and evening in Bairro Alto.
Day 2: Tram 28 – Alfama – Castelo de São Jorge – Monastero dos Jerónimos – Monument to the Discoveries – Tower of Belém
Lisbon in three days?
In three days I would manage the tour almost as I explained it to you in the article, so:
Day 1: Praça do Comércio – Rua Augusta – Elevador de Santa Justa – Convento do Carmo – Praça do Rossio – Igreja de São Domingos
Day 2: Tram 28 – Alfama – Castelo de São Jorge – Miradouro de Santa Lucia – Lisbon Cathedral and Bairro Alto in the evening. day3: Monastero dos Jerónimos – Monument to the Discoveries – Belem Tower – Lx Factory – Azulejos Museum – Oceanário
Lisbon in four days?
To visit Lisbon in four days you can choose between adding the other attractions that I have not mentioned in the previous days, or, another good choice would be to take an excursion around Lisbon by going to visit Sintra and, why not, if you have time reach Cabo da Roca.