If you’re looking for a truly unique place to visit in Europe, you’re at the right place. With epic viewpoints, colorful streets, captivating neighborhoods, Lisbon is the perfect city to spend three or more days. Besides, it boasts a warm weather all year round, welcoming people, fresh seafood, wine and a great nightlife. It’s quite easy to fall in love with it and make you long to explore more beautiful places in Portugal. Here’s a list of what everyone should explore and discover on a first trip to Lisbon. And, as a bonus, most of them are free or pretty cheap. But, first of all, let’s find the answer to some quick questions.
What’s the best time to visit Lisbon?
From mid-July to mid-September, is the warmest and most crowded period in Lisbon. During these months, hotels have higher rates and everything is more expensive. As such, it’s a great idea to visit just before or after the high tourist season, in March-June or September-October. At those times, the weather is still great (I’d say even more pleasant than in the middle of summer for exploring), but the streets are not jam-packed and the prices are slightly lower. Spring is especially appealing for a visit to Lisbon, as the jaracanda trees are in full bloom and the city is covered in blue flowers. November and December, are also great months to visit for festive atmosphere and a break from the cold weather in most of Europe.
How long do you need to visit Lisbon?
Take into consideration that the city is hilly and pretty big. It might take you longer than you think to check out all the exciting neighborhoods and there are a lot of things to do besides sightseeing. Sintra and its beautiful palaces is also just a stone’s throw away, as well as other smaller and charming towns. Our recommendation is to spend three full days in Lisbon. This will allow you to check out the main attractions and also enjoy some local experiences. One or two more days could be spent on daytrips.
How to get to Lisbon?
Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport is well connected to all the major cities in Europe and even across the ocean. Getting to the capital of Portugal should not pose any problem. If you plan a trip in the Iberian Peninsula, you may also want to consider taking a train or bus from one of the major cities in Spain to Lisbon. Flixbus has good connections, but there are also other companies you could check.
Where to stay in Lisbon?
Before choosing the actual accommodation, in Lisbon it’s important to choose the right neighborhood for you first. If you want to party day and night, there’s no better place than Bairro Alto. Mouraria, Alfama and Graca are great if you want to see a more authentic side of Lisbon. For a less noisy stay in the heart of the action, Chiado or Baixa are great. Cais do Sodre is a just a bit farther, but it’s a good balance when it comes to quality vs. price. We liked our stay there much more than the one in Mouraria, even if that was more bohemian. Avenida Liberdade is another popular option, but a little farther. You might need to use public transport more. Belém, even if great, is isolated and you’d lose a lot of time to get to and from the city center .
Here are some options for every budget:
- Living Lounge Hostel
- Chalet D´Ávila Guest House
- Barracão de Alfama Apartments
- República Bed & Breakfast
- Marino Lisboa
- Solar dos Poetas
- Fernando Pessoa Apartment
- Bairro Alto Bronze of Art Apartments
- Lisbon Best Choice Prime Apartments Alfama
- The Homeboat Company Parque das Nações-Lisboa
How do you get from Lisbon airport to the city center?
The International Airport in Lisbon is located just seven kilometers north of the city center. From there, one can easily take the subway, the bus or a Bolt. Getting to the city center is quite affordable. The entrance to the subway is just outside the terminal and the bus station is across from it. However, you should first buy a transportation card, which can only be found at the metro station. Otherwise you’ll pay inflated prices for the bus tickets. For a group of four, it might be cheaper to take an Uber.
How to move around Lisbon?
If your accommodation is centrally located, it’s pretty easy to get anywhere except Belem on foot. However, remember that the city supposed to be built on seven hills, just like Rome, the capital of Italy. It might be a good idea to take the pretty yellow trams from now to then and rest your feet.
The center of Lisbon is not exactly bicycle friendly. Drivers are pretty aggressive and the roads go up and down. However, the public transport is fast and affordable. First of all, you should purchase a rechargeable Viva Viagem card from one of the machines at the subway stations. It costs 0.50€. Load it with a small amount of money and pay as you go. This is called “Zapping” and you’ll be charged 1.35€ per journey if it doesn’t exceed 90 minutes. It doesn’t matter if you change the means of transport during that time. However, if you don’t have a card, you’ll pay 2€ for each trip. If you need to change, you’ll pay again.
Tip: As most probably you’ll need to change the bus to get from the airport to your final destination, I recommend buying the rechargeable card as soon as you get out of the airport. We didn’t do it and paid 4€ instead of 1.35€. Learn from our mistakes!
Depending on what you plan to see, the Lisbon Card might also be a good idea. It includes public transport for a predetermined number of days, free entry or discounts to some major sights and museums. Pre-purchase your card in advance and use it as soon as you get to Lisbon.
Top 35 things to do in Lisbon in three days
1. Take a free walking tour and explore the city – the best thing you could do when you’ve got limited time in Lisbon or any other city
Locals are the go to persons when you want to discover a city in short time. Join a free walking tour, let the guide walk you on the backstreets of Barrio Alto, Alfama, Baixa, Chiado, Mouraria or Belem. Tips are always appreciated at the end and you are the one that decides how much it is worth.
2. Watch how pasteis de nata are being made
You can never have too many pastéis de nata when you’re in Portugal. These delicious pastries were created in the 18th century at Jeronimos Monastery in Belem. The iconic sweet tarts at Pastéis de Belém must be tried at least once, but it is a bit too far from the city center too head there daily. However, Manteigaria is right in the city center. They are almost as good as the original ones and you can watch how they are made.
Tip: Do not buy them from any bakery, where they stood laying around for days. They’re best served fresh and warm and even if it’s incredibly touristy, the best pastéis I had in Portugal were at Pastéis de Belem. And to think that I was planning to skip it if it were too crowded. Lucky me it wasn’t! Manteigaria was the second best spot we tried them from. It has the advantage that the location is central and you can watch the entire process.
3. Explore the plazas and streets of the old town on your own
Now that you know a little bit of Lisbon, stroll on your own around the squares and plazas. Take your time and enjoy the local’s rhythm. This is definitely one the of the best things to do in Lisbon. Check out Rossio square, used for bullfights and beheadings in the Middle Ages, it’s an elegant plaza in the heart of the city. Locals love it and you’ll always see them around in the independent bars and cafes.
READ ALSO: TOP 7 DAY TRIPS FROM LISBON, PORTUGAL
4. Admire the houses covered in amazing azulejos
While walking around, don’t hesitate to lift your eyes and take a look at the houses covered in ceramic tiles. They were brough in the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors and they continue to embellish the traditional houses. Azulejos, as they’re called, come in all colors and patterns. Some of them are real art pieces. The neighborhood best known for its colorful azulejos is Alfama, but we were fascinated by them all around the city. If you want to learn more about tile making, you can also visit the National Tile Museum.
5. Check out the beautiful Santa Justa Elevator
The elevator was initially built as mean of transportation by Raoul Mésnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustav Eiffel. Hence the similar architecture. It has now become one of Lisbon’s main touristic attractions. In order to ride on Santa Justa lift one has to pay a ticket and wait in a looong queue. I recommend walking to the top by yourself or taking the elevator in the shop nearby. Both options are free and much faster. And they’ll take you at the same final point, one of the best view points in Lisbon.
6. Explore Convento do Carmo, the remains of one of the oldest churches in Lisbon
Carmo complex was built between 1389 and 1423. The roofless gothic church is a life reminder of the devastation produced by the earthquake and tsunami on the Sunday morning of the 1st of November 1755, All Saints’ Day. Just like Aegidienkirche in Hanover, Germany or the Bridgettine church in Tallinn, Estonia, it was not restored.
Nowadays, the open nave, can be visited as a museum during the day. Among the exhibits, one can see the tomb of King Ferdinand I, a 16th-century azulejos collection, Egyptian and Peruvian mummies. The arches and freestanding walls are also the perfect backdrop for a lights show under the stars in the evenings. The spectacle changes periodically and includes animations and projections to tell pieces of Lisbon’s intriguing history.
7. Take a stroll on Rua Augusta
Rua Augusta is the large street paved with mosaic that starts right at Praça do Comércio and Rua Augusta arch. It is lined with lively cafés, international shops, and art shops. If you want some inspiration for souvenirs, this is the place to be. But I recommend window shopping here and actually buying a few streets farther, where the prices are a bit lower. Anyway, this is one of the most vibrant streets in Lisbon and you should definitely spend some time there, maybe at a cocktail, as many terraces have happy hour in the evening.
Tip: One can climb by elevator and a short spiral staircase on top of Arco da Rua Augusta for a bird’s eye view over Praça do Comércio and Rua Augusta. The ceremonial arch was inaugurated in 1875 to commemorate the reconstruction of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake, fire and tsunami.
8. Discover Lisbon’s complex history at Lisboa Story Centre
Lisboa Story Centre is the first place to visit for background information on the history and sights of the Portuguese city from ancient times to the present. The interactive exhibition inside is divided in chronological zones, each focusing on a particular period. Models, maps, videos and photos help visitors envision Lisbon’s past. The most impressive part is the room that shakes and trembles to simulate the earthquake in 1755 that destroyed the old city. In the next room Marquês de Pombal is depicted piecing together the plans for Lisbon’s reconstruction.
9. Take a break in Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio is probably the most stunning of Lisbon’s many squares. In this huge square stood once the royal palace and sailors were received when coming back from expeditions. The 1755 earthquake destroyed the original plaza and the Marquees of Pombal designed a new square and large streets similar to the ones in other European capitals from the same period. Now, the huge open space is overlooked by the statue of Dom José I and surrounded by yellow buildings and terraces.
10. Visit Igreja de São Roque – simple exterior, but a richly decorated Interior
Commissioned by King João V in 1742, the unassuming exterior of São Roque church hides veritable jewels. The interior was adorned with marble, amethyst, traditional ceramic tiles, gilded woodwork, gold, silver and ivory. This is one of the most extravagant of all Lisbon’s churches. It masterpiece is considered the Chapel of the Baptism of Christ with an intricate mosaic. Next to the church, there’s a museum of sacred art and rare religious treasures.
12. Check out the Pink Street
Once an ill-famed street was painted in pink and became one of the most photographed places in Lisbon. Go during the day for colorful pictures or in the evening for a drink at one of the many bars.
13. Discover the street art in Lisbon
Lisbon is renowned for its street art and you’ll find colorful murals almost everywhere, from Bairro Alto to Alfama, Graça and Mouraria. This is because Lisbon encourages this form of art. If you like street art, the best place to go to is Lx Factory. On the grounds of an old factory, an hub for artists and several cool restaurants were arranged. The entire area is decorated with bold graffitis. Every Sunday a marked of handicrafts is organized there. If you want to see the best murals and find out the story behind them, join a 3-hour Lisbon Street Art Tour with a local.
14. Bring out the child in you at Lisbon Oceanarium and Pavilion of Knowledge
Modern Parque das Nações area is a great area for relaxing and doing something different than traditional sightseeing. Lisbon Oceanarium houses countless marine animals, from swollen puffer fish to scarry marauding sharks and cute penguins. Corals and different anemones also embellish in the aquariums. To further feed your curiosity, visit also the Pavilion of Knowledge next door. Have fun experimenting with science!
Buy your ticket in advance online and skip the lines: Lisbon Oceanarium Entrance Ticket.
15. Climb the Cristo Rei in Cacilhas
If you want a less touristic experience, take the ferry to Cacilhas. Most tourists don’t get there, as you have to cross Tagus river by ferry. But this is not as difficult as it sounds. Ferries leave from Cais de Sodré every few minutes (half an hour during the weekend) and a normal transport ticket or the Viva Viagem Card can be used. Crossing Tagus river to Cachilhas only takes 10 minutes. The quarter over the river seems a total different city, much more authentic, and offers a view from a new angle over the city. The highlight of Cacilhas is Cristo Rei, a huge statue similar to the famous one in Rio, just next to 25 de Abril Bridge, that copies San Francisco’s Golden Gate.
16. Look for treasures at the Feira da Ladra
Exercise your haggling skills with a trip at Feira da Ladra. This market is the right place to go for an unique souvenir that will bring back beautiful memories far more than a trinket made in China bought from a shop. You will find anything from vinyls, clothes, books, military decorations, handicrafts, antiques and many more. Even if you don’t like haggling, the 8th centuries long history of this fair justifies the visit. If you like the idea, browse the sidewalks of Campo de Santa Clara every Tuesday and Saturday as early as possible. Even if you get there on a non-market day, you can still check out the modern ceramic tiles around.
17. Marvel at the Aqueduto das Águas Livres
Aqueduto das Águas Livres was created in the middle of the 18th century in order to prevent water shortages in summertime. As you travel from the town center to Sete Rios train and bus station, you will see the huge line of stone arches on the left side. If you want to find more about its history and technique used, you can visit the Water Museum. Recently, the option to walk the entire length of the aqueduct was also provided.
18. Visit Castelo de São Jorge
Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon’s most iconic landmark, sits high on top of a hill over Alfama district. Over time, it was home to the Romans, Visigoths, Berbers and Portuguese. One can admire crenelated walls, towers, a dry moat and anti-siege features. It is a great place to visit, find out its history at the little museum inside and view some of the oldest parts of the city. For amazing views, visit around dusk and watch the sunset from the terrace of the castle.
Tickets: skip the line with guide
19. Have a fun night out in Bairro Alto
Bairro Alto, the most touristic quarter in Lisbon, is a hotspot for eating, drinking and partying. If you don’t know where to go for any of this, try the narrow lanes of Bairro Alto. Locals and tourists can have a drink together, good or overpriced food. Bohemian taverns with Fado music, breweries and stylish bars line the cobblestone alley. The parties continue until the morning. If you want a quiet night, maybe you should look for accommodation in another district.
20. Go for a walk in a bohemian park
For a relaxing afternoon, head to a park in one of the less touristy quarters in Lisbon. You’ll be able to escape the crowds for a few hours and enjoy a drink among the locals at one of the pavilions. Most parks have pretty cafes, benches, chess tables, centuries-old trees and lots of shade. Some of the options are Principe Real, Eduardo VII and Jardim da Estrela. Next to Principe Real, there’s also Embaixada, a shopping center hosted in a Moorish palace. Our favorite park was Jardim Cerca da Graça, just down the miradouros in Graça.
21. Go up one, two or more Miradouros
Lisbon is a hilly city. Just like Rome, it’s said to have been built on seven hills. Thus, it has many terraces known as miradouros where locals and tourists go to see the city from above. Buy a drink from a shop, climb to one of them and enjoy the views. Next evening repeat, but after you find another miradouros. There are a lot of options to choose from and each of them has unique vistas and a slightly different atmosphere. Viewing the city from as many miradouros as you can is one of the best free things to do in Lisbon. Some are right in the center, close to Bairro Alto, while other are in Alfama, Graça or less touristy neighborhoods. Here are some of the best:
- Miradouro das Portas do Sol (Alfama)
- São Jorge Castle (Alfama)
- Miradouro de Santa Luzia (Alfama)
- Miradouro da Senhora do Monte (Graça)
- Miradouro de Graça (Graça)
- Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcãntara (Bairro Alto)
- Miradouro de Santa Catarina (Chiado)
22. Hop aboard a funicular
The many hills of Lisbon also means that the infrastructure had to be adapted. Besides a gorgeous Elevator in the middle of the town, several funiculars were built in order to help people get to and from the upper parts of the town. For tourists, it’s real joy to ride at least one of them. Ascensor do Lavra dates back to the 19th century and has been granted a national heritage tag. Another famous funicular is Ascensor da Bica that connects Bairro Alto and Bica neighborhoods.
23. Ride one of the yellow trams
The historic yellow trams of Lisbon are worth more than a photo. Especially as the town is so hilly, that you’ll probably appreciate a lift. Riding one of the trams in the center is one of the best things to do in Lisbon. The Viva Viagem card can be used to pay for the ticket. Before boarding, take some photos, as the trams are super-photogenic.
The most famous route is that of tram 28. But I have to admit that I enjoyed more 12. Route 28 is long, over an hour. At the beginning it passes through the center, but then it gets boring. The walls are very close to the tram and you can’t see much. I saw a lot of tourists deciding to get down after a 4-5 stations, even if they had just waited half an hour to get on it. Route 28 is also very crowded and locals can’t use it because of tourists, which is a bit sad.
I enjoyed far more route 12, which is shorter, passes only through the town center, you don’t have the time to get bored and there are no crowds. Part of the route is the same with that of 28 and that’s exactly the most beautiful part of 28. I wouldn’t wait for 28, but just take 12. The only good thing about 28, compared to 12, is that it also goes to Estrela Basilica and park. But I’m sure there are better methods to get there.
24. Get lost in Alfama
Put on some comfy shoes and get lost inside the maze of narrow cobbled lanes in Alfama. Find the best viewpoints, cafés, restaurants, hidden squares, white and blue azulejos and art shops. This is probably the most bohemian and oldest neighborhood in Lisbon and definitely worth at least half a day to explore. Besides the miradouros (Porta do Sol and Santa Luzia), don’t miss the Cathedral and the oldest house still standing in Lisbon. Wandering the hilly alleys of Alfama is one of the best things to do in Lisbon.
25. Admire Ponte 25 de Abril
The beautiful red bridge was built to resemble Golden Bridge in San Francisco, city to which Lisbon is often compared. Standing at the feet of Jesus Christ statue, 25 of April bridge connects Almada to Lisbon.
26. Explore Lisbon’s Cathedral
Lisbon’s Cathedral or Sé, built in the 12th century, is the oldest church in town. Quite surprisingly, it survived time and many earthquakes and is now one of the most important tourist attractions in Lisbon. The interior can be visited partly free and partly for a fee.
27. Open a can at Conserveira de Lisboa
Canned fish is part of Portugal’s long relationship with the ocean. Portugal is home to the oldest active cannery in Europe. Conserveira de Lisboa is a quircky 80-year old shop lined with colorful tins of fish (sardines, tuna, mackerel, eel, anchovies). More recently, gourmet jams and liqueurs are also part of the store’s offer. Thanks to creativity and technology, Portugal succeeded to turn this otherwise uninteresting product into a staple product. A trip to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without trying at least one can of fish pate or fancy fish.
28. Catch some unforgettable fado tunes on the streets of Lisbon
Fado is a music genre, part of Portugal’s UNESCO cultural heritage, characterized by a slow and melancholic rythm. It can be traced back at the beginning of the 19th century. It is said to have appeared in the poor quarters of Lisbon and was made famous by a prostitute. Most songs are mournful and contain lyrics about the sea, love and life of the poor. But the one that brought fado music in front of the entire world was Amalia Rodriguez. To find out the the history and stories behind this musical genre, you can visit Fado Museum in Alfama.
Nowadays, there are many bars and so called fado houses in Mouraria, Alfama and Bairro Alto where one can attend a fado performance. Attending one of them is one of the best things one can do in Lisbon in the evening.
- Fado Music of Lisbon 3-Hour Cultural Walking Tour is lead by a fado singer and guide. You will get to see some traditional fado houses, less known alleys and squares and have dinner in an authentic fado house in Alfama. BOOK IT HERE!
- Another option is to book ticket for “Fado in Chiado”, which is more affordable than the touristy concert and dinner. BOOK IT HERE!
- You can also try going at Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto on Mondays and Wednesday. We saw this recommendation in several guides and tried to do it, but on that Monday nobody sang until 9.30pm. Maybe you have more luck.
29. Discover the Basílica da Estrela
As I said, the only advantage of tram 28 compared to 12 is that it gets to Estrela quarter. Even if you decide not to take tram 28, you might still want to find your way to this corner of Lisbon. Besides a beautiful park, with old trees, tropical species, a nice cafe and many people-watching opportunities, there’s an impressive basilica with gorgeous domes and carved spires. Its interior hides the tomb of Queen Mary I of Portugal, the one that commissioned it. But its highlight is a nativity scene crafted in cork and terracotta.
30. Indulge in Lisbon’s food and wine scene
When travelling to a new country, one of the best things to do it to taste some of the local delicacies. Bacalhau or cod fish is one of the main ingredients of local cuisine and Portuguese people have found over 1001 ways to cook it. If you still believe cod fish id not for you, maybe you just have to try a different recipe. Portuguese people like it so much that cod fish has its own museum, right next to Lisboa Story Center. Fresh seafood is another beloved ingredient, as well as many other fish species like tuna, anchovies, bream, rayfish etc. If you want something else, succulent Piri-Piri chicken is a traditional Portuguese dish that many tourists enjoy. Wash your meal down with a glass of wine, as Portugal is famous for it. For desert, there’s also a little more space left for a tiny pastel de nata.
31. Enjoy a drink at one of the many rooftop bars
Lisbon’s hilly landscape means there’s a lot of walking up and down, especially if you want to get to some miradouros and enjoy amazing views over the city. But all this walking means also fatigue. Sometimes, instead of making the effort to access one of the viewpoints, one would rather just take an elevator. In these moments, you could just skip the tiring part, sit on a comfy chair and have a drink and one of the rooftop bars in Lisbon. Just to name a few, there are Sky Bar Lisbon, Park, Hotel Mundial Rooftop Bar, Rossio Gastrobar or Topo Martim Moniz. For starters, order a ginjinha, a sour cherry liqueur, typical to Obidos, but that can also be found all across Lisbon.
32. Walk the riverfront around Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Lisbon was a starting point for many expeditions during the Age of Discovery. In honor of the men that left on voyages to explore the world, a gigantic monument was built on Tagus’ promenade. It consists of a caravel on top of which stand historical personalities of the Portuguese Age of Discoveries like Henry the Navigator, Magellan and Vasco da Gama. The pavement in front of the monolith was decorated with a huge compass and a mosaic representing the map of the world. For a fee, one can also walk inside the “Tribute To The Age Of Discovery” and climb to the top for a bird’s eye view over the riverfront and Belem.
33. Admire the Belem Tower
Close to Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the 16th century Belem Tower is probably Lisbon’s most famous landmark. The fortification was built on the Tagus estuary to protect the harbor. Surprisingly, this area of Lisbon was not affected by the earthquake and tsunami in 1755. Nowadays it is an UNESCO heritage site. The beautifully ornated watchtower is simply amazing even seen from the shore. One can also go inside.
If you go on a city-break, going to see Belem Tower and the adjacent neighborhood is one of the best things to do in Lisbon. As there are several sights to see in the region and it’s out of the city center, you should know that this would mean at least a half day trip, but it’s totally worth it.
34. Explore the stunning Jerónimos Monastery
This beautiful and ornate historical building was built in the 15th century. Its position is not random, as some of the wealth generated from the new world discoveries was spent on building it. Jerónimos Monastery is also home to the tomb of Vasco da Gama. In order to see the interior of Jerónimos Monastery, you have to respect a schedule and require a ticket. If you’re on a budget or the monastery is closed, you can still visit the church and admire the exterior.
35. Have some pasteis de Belem
While you find your way from Torre de Belem to Jerónimos Monastery, stop by Pasteis de Belem. Opened in 1837, this is the only place in town that still has the original recipe of the monks and is allowed to sell Pasteis de Belem. Everywhere else, they are called pasteis de nata. Even if both are basically custard tarts and I thought they are overrated, there was no queue when we got there, so we decided to buy some. Well, I have to admit they are not overrated at all. They were the best pasteis de nata we had in Portugal. Fluffy, creamy, sprinkled with cinnamon and warm. Just perfect!
Final thoughts on the best things to do in Lisbon
Lisbon is a great city to visit and I’d suggest spending at least 3 days in this wonderful city to check out the best things to do. If you have more time at your disposal, Lisbon also makes for a great base for day trips. My top three to consider are Sintra, the formal royal summer residence, Evora and the incredible charming Óbidos. You can find 5 more ideas for day trips from Lisbon here.
Have a great trip!
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