Lisbon, the sun-kissed capital of Portugal, sits at the intersection of history and modernity. Cradled by the rolling hills alongside the shimmering Tagus River, this city is a melange of cobbled streets, iconic yellow trams, and centuries-old structures, juxtaposed with edgy art districts and a pulsating nightlife. As one of Europe’s oldest cities, Lisbon offers a time capsule into a maritime legacy that once witnessed explorers set sail to discover new worlds. Today, its rustic charm, underscored by soulful Fado melodies and the aroma of freshly baked ‘pastéis de nata’, lures travellers from every corner of the globe.
The city’s architectural panorama is a testament to its resilient spirit. From the Moorish remnants in Alfama to the Pombaline Downtown that rose from the ashes of the devastating 1755 earthquake, each district narrates a different tale. Lisbon, however, isn’t just about retrospection. Its contemporary arts scene, burgeoning culinary landscape, and thriving tech start-ups signify a city firmly rooted in the present, ever eager to embrace the future.
While many European capitals rush to keep pace with the relentless tick of the clock, Lisbon dances gracefully to its own rhythm. Meandering through its labyrinthine alleyways feels like a serenade to the soul; you’ll discover ornate tiles (‘azulejos’) recounting tales of old, quaint cafes offering refuge with a shot of ‘ginjinha’, and panoramic vistas that promise to steal your breath away. The city effortlessly blends its maritime past with its cosmopolitan present, ensuring that every nook and cranny echoes with stories waiting to be uncovered.
Additionally, Lisbon serves as an ideal gateway to the enchanting landscapes of Portugal. Its strategic location ensures easy access to coastal havens like Cascais and Estoril, the mystical hills of Sintra, and the verdant stretches of the Arrábida Natural Park. But before you venture out, make sure to lose yourself in the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods, each offering a distinct flavor, ensuring that Lisbon, with its blend of melancholy and modernity, nostalgia and novelty, remains etched in your memory forever.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Lisbon
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Lisbon.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Lisbon.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Lisbon Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Lisbon and the surrounding region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. More options can be found in our article about luggage storage in Lisbon.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal, including to Lisbon.
What to See & Do
Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio, or Terreiro do Paço as it’s locally known, stands as one of Lisbon’s grandest and most monumental squares. Located along the banks of the River Tagus, this vast waterfront expanse is a testament to Lisbon’s illustrious maritime history and its significant role in the Age of Discovery. Historically the site where ships would disembark with goods from far-off lands, the square is anchored by the iconic Rua Augusta Arch on one side and an equestrian statue of King José I in its centre. Flanked by lemon-hued buildings housing various government offices and an array of restaurants, the square is a bustling hub of activity.
Time Out Market
Time Out Market, situated in the lively Cais do Sodré district of Lisbon, epitomises the city’s gastronomic renaissance and its evolving contemporary culture. What was once a traditional food market has, under the guidance of Time Out magazine, transformed into a culinary haven showcasing the best of Lisbon’s food and drink. Covering a vast space, the market presents visitors with a tantalising array of stalls, each curated to represent the finest offerings from top chefs, artisanal producers, and mixologists of the region. Amidst the hustle and bustle, locals and tourists alike can be found seated side by side at long communal tables, indulging in a diverse range of dishes from gourmet seafood to traditional pastries. Beyond just food, the Time Out Market also dedicates spaces to cultural events, music, and a range of pop-up experiences, making it an essential stop for anyone keen to get a true taste of Lisbon’s vibrant heartbeat.
Alfama, with its labyrinthine streets and timeless charm, is the beating heart of Lisbon’s historic soul. As one of the city’s oldest districts, it offers a journey back in time, telling tales of Moorish pasts and Fado-infused nights. Meandering through its narrow alleyways, visitors are greeted with an enchanting mix of old houses, interspersed with hidden squares, ancient churches, and vibrant local taverns. Every corner seems to hum with life; residents chat from balcony to balcony, the scent of grilled sardines fills the air, and the haunting melodies of Fado music echo against the stone walls.
Perched atop a hill, Alfama also provides some of the most breathtaking panoramic views of the city, especially from the historic São Jorge Castle. Yet, it’s not just about vistas and historic sites. The district pulsates with genuine local life, epitomised by its small grocers, traditional bakeries, and the spontaneous performances of street musicians.
Largo do Carmo
Largo do Carmo, a picturesque square nestled in the heart of Lisbon’s Chiado district, is a place where history, beauty, and tranquillity intersect. With its centuries-old trees providing ample shade, al fresco cafes, and the haunting ruins of the Convento do Carmo as its backdrop, the square serves as a serene haven for both locals and visitors alike. The Convent, which was partially destroyed during the 1755 earthquake, stands as a poignant reminder of Lisbon’s turbulent past, its skeletal Gothic arches and pillars open to the sky, evoking a sense of melancholic beauty.
But Largo do Carmo isn’t solely bound to its historical roots. The square was also a significant site during the 1974 Carnation Revolution, a bloodless coup that marked the end of dictatorship in Portugal. A monument in the square commemorates this important event, making it a place of reflection for the nation’s recent history.
Igreja de São Roque
The Igreja de São Roque in Lisbon is not just another church; it’s a marvel of baroque architecture and artistry, with a history as rich as its interiors. Situated in the Bairro Alto district, this church was originally built in the 16th century for the Jesuits and has the distinction of being one of the first Jesuit churches in the world. From the outside, its modest and austere façade might deceive the casual observer, belying the splendour that lies within.
Stepping inside, visitors are immediately struck by the intricate gilded woodwork, ornate chapels, and stunning tilework, all showcasing the zenith of Portuguese baroque art. One of its chapels, the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, is particularly renowned, often described as the “world’s most expensive chapel.” Crafted of the finest materials from across the globe, including mosaics from Rome, lapis lazuli from the Urals, agate from Brazil, and alabaster from Alentejo, it epitomises the luxuriousness and attention to detail that defines the Igreja de São Roque. This church, while a place of worship, also stands as a testament to Portugal’s Age of Discovery, reflecting the nation’s wealth and influence during that era.
Eat a Pastel de Nata
A trip to Lisbon would be incomplete without indulging in the city’s most iconic sweet treat: the pastel de nata. These delectable custard tarts, with their flaky pastry shells filled with rich, creamy custard and topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar, have been a beloved part of Lisbon’s culinary tapestry for centuries. The history of these tarts traces back to the monasteries of the 18th century when monks would use egg whites to starch their habits, leaving the yolks behind. Instead of letting them go to waste, they transformed the yolks into this heavenly dessert.
While you can find pasteis de nata throughout Portugal and even internationally, there’s something special about enjoying one in Lisbon. Perhaps it’s the atmosphere, with the Atlantic breeze wafting through the city’s historic streets, or maybe it’s the tradition, best epitomised by places like the famous Pastéis de Belém, which has been serving up these tarts using a secret recipe since 1837. Regardless of where you choose to have your tart, biting into a warm pastel de nata, with its crisp exterior giving way to velvety custard, is a quintessential Lisbon experience that should not be missed.
Sé de Lisboa
Perched atop the city’s oldest district, the Sé de Lisboa, or Lisbon Cathedral, stands as a testament to Lisbon’s rich history and resilient spirit. This imposing structure, with its sturdy towers and crenellated walls, resembles a fortress, a reflection of its Romanesque architectural roots. Founded in 1147, on the site of a former mosque after the Christian reconquest, the cathedral has witnessed countless seismic events and reconstructions over the centuries, imbuing it with a unique blend of Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque styles.
The interior of the cathedral offers a serene respite from the bustling streets of Alfama outside. As you step in, the cool, dimly lit nave, adorned with intricate stained glass windows and ancient statues, transports you back in time. Noteworthy is the gothic cloister, where archaeological excavations have unveiled traces of Roman, Arab, and medieval influences, reminding visitors of the layers of history upon which Lisbon is built.
Standing majestically atop the highest hill in the historic Alfama district, the Castelo de São Jorge, commonly known as Lisbon Castle, offers a captivating journey into Portugal’s past. Its fortified walls, which have stood the test of time for over a millennium, have witnessed the ebb and flow of empires, from the Moors to the Christian reconquests, playing an integral role in the tapestry of Lisbon’s history. Originally constructed in the mid-11th century by the Moors, it was later claimed by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, after the Siege of Lisbon in 1147, marking a significant turn in the Christian Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula.
As visitors wander through its expansive grounds, they are greeted by ten imposing towers, shadowy battlements, and a maze of courtyards and ramparts that whisper tales of bygone eras. Apart from its historical allure, the castle offers breathtaking panoramic views of Lisbon, the River Tagus, and the Atlantic Ocean, making it an unmissable stop on any Lisbon itinerary. The lush gardens within, inhabited by proud peacocks and geese, offer a peaceful respite, while the on-site museum provides intriguing insights into the city’s ancient past.
Santa Justa Elevador
In the heart of Lisbon’s bustling Baixa district, the neo-gothic silhouette of the Santa Justa Elevador, or Santa Justa Lift, stands as an architectural marvel and a testimony to the city’s industrial age innovations. Built at the dawn of the 20th century by the Portuguese engineer Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of the famed Gustave Eiffel, this ornate ironwork structure was designed to connect the lower streets of Baixa with the elevated Carmo Square, providing both a practical solution to the city’s hilly topography and a spectacular vantage point over the sprawling urban landscape.
Today, the Elevador is not just a mere transportation mode, but a sought-after attraction in its own right. Visitors are often charmed by its intricate neo-gothic design, complete with decorative motifs and detailed ironwork. Upon reaching the top, one is rewarded with panoramic views of the terracotta rooftops, the serene River Tagus, and a myriad of historic landmarks that dot Lisbon’s horizon. The viewing platform at the upper level serves as a perfect spot for capturing photographs or simply soaking in the city’s captivating beauty.
National Tile Museum
One of Lisbon’s unique treasures, the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, commonly referred to as the Tile Museum, offers a mesmerising journey through Portugal’s rich tradition of ceramic tilework, known as “azulejos.” Set within the ornate confines of the Madre de Deus Convent, this museum traces the evolution of azulejo artistry from its Moorish roots in the 15th century to contemporary interpretations. As visitors weave through its galleries, they are transported across time, witnessing the profound influences of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau periods on these hand-painted tiles.
The museum’s vast collection showcases a diverse range of patterns, colours, and scenes, from intricate geometric mosaics to grand, narrative panels illustrating historical events or pastoral life. A standout piece is the stunning panoramic depiction of pre-earthquake Lisbon, which stretches 23 metres in length, offering a rare glimpse into the city’s lost architectural heritage.
Oceanário de Lisboa
The Oceanário de Lisboa stands as a testament to the world’s oceans and the incredible diversity of marine life they hold. As Europe’s largest indoor aquarium, it is an unmissable attraction for visitors to the Portuguese capital. Nestled in the modern district of Parque das Nações, the aquarium’s design is a marvel in itself, with its vast central tank acting as an open ocean, surrounded by four distinct marine habitats representing the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans.
A walk through the Oceanário offers an immersive experience, as it introduces visitors to a multitude of marine species, from graceful rays and menacing sharks to playful otters and delicate sea anemones. Not only does it celebrate the beauty of marine ecosystems, but it also plays a pivotal role in conservation and education.
Have a drink in the Bairro Alto
Bairro Alto, with its labyrinthine streets and bohemian spirit, transforms as the sun sets, becoming Lisbon’s most vibrant nightlife district. By day, it’s a quaint neighbourhood dotted with traditional shops, historic sites, and quiet alleyways. But by night, these very streets pulsate with energy, as locals and tourists alike flock to the area’s numerous bars, Fado houses, and clubs. The charm of Bairro Alto lies in its seemingly endless array of venues, each with its own unique ambiance — from intimate wine bars where one can savour Portugal’s rich viniculture, to lively pubs where the music spills onto the streets.
What makes evenings in Bairro Alto truly special is the tradition of “botellón”. People often buy drinks from local kiosks and enjoy them outside, mingling in the streets and plazas. The atmosphere is incredibly social and laid-back, where conversations spark up effortlessly between strangers.
Visit the LX Factory
Situated beneath the looming structure of Lisbon’s 25 de Abril Bridge, LX Factory stands as a testament to the city’s ability to blend the old with the new in the most artistic of manners. Once a major textile and manufacturing complex during the industrial age, this sprawling 19th-century factory has been revitalized into one of Lisbon’s most dynamic cultural hubs. Today, LX Factory is a thriving haven for creatives, innovators, and entrepreneurs. Its maze-like interiors are now filled with a myriad of establishments, from trendy boutiques, design shops, and bookstores to a wide range of eclectic eateries and rooftop bars, each echoing a unique aesthetic that pays homage to the site’s industrial past.
Hosting regular art exhibitions, live music performances, and flea markets, the space buzzes with constant activity and invites visitors to immerse themselves in Lisbon’s contemporary arts scene. Strolling through LX Factory, one can’t help but be captivated by the large-scale murals and street art installations that adorn its walls, reflecting the vibrant spirit and ingenuity of Lisbon’s creative community.
Palácio Nacional da Ajuda
Perched majestically on a hill in the western part of Lisbon, the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda stands as a testament to the opulence and grandeur of the Portuguese monarchy. Built in the 19th century, this former royal residence is a beautiful example of neoclassical architecture, complete with ornate interiors and intricate decorative details. It was conceived after the devastating 1755 earthquake, intended to replace the earlier Royal Palace which was destroyed.
As you step inside, you’re greeted with sumptuous rooms adorned with crystal chandeliers, precious artworks, and ornate frescoes. The Throne Room and the Queen’s Bedroom are particularly noteworthy, providing a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of the Portuguese royals. While the palace is no longer used as a residence, it serves as a fascinating museum, offering visitors an intimate look at the life and times of the Portuguese monarchy. The meticulously preserved rooms and the vast collection of decorative arts housed within make the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda one of Lisbon’s less-known but invaluable cultural treasures.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
A masterpiece of Manueline architecture and a symbol of Portugal’s Age of Discovery, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos stands as a monumental tribute to the nation’s rich maritime history. Located in the historic district of Belém in Lisbon, this grand monastery was commissioned by King Manuel I in the early 16th century to honour the maritime achievements of the nation and to provide a final resting place for its elite. As one walks through its intricate stone latticework, grand archways, and the church’s magnificent nave, it becomes evident why this UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic Renaissance architecture in Portugal.
But the monastery isn’t just an architectural wonder; it’s deeply woven into the tapestry of Portugal’s history. Within its walls, visitors can pay respects at the tombs of legendary figures such as the explorer Vasco da Gama and the revered poet Luís de Camões. The cloisters, with their delicately carved columns and ornate arches, offer a serene escape, revealing stories of monks who once walked their corridors. Every corner of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos bears witness to a bygone era, making it an essential visit for anyone seeking to understand the spirit and legacy of Portugal’s golden age.
Torre de Belém
The Torre de Belém, or Belém Tower, is one of Lisbon’s most iconic landmarks, standing sentinel at the mouth of the Tagus River. Built in the early 16th century as both a fortress and a ceremonial gateway to the city, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a captivating blend of military architecture and decorative artistry. Its unique design, a manifestation of the Manueline style, is marked by intricate stonework, shield emblems, and ornate watchtowers – a testament to Portugal’s Age of Discovery and its maritime might.
Serving as a reminder of an era when explorers set out from Portugal’s shores to chart unknown territories, the tower has played various roles throughout history, from a defensive bastion to a customs checkpoint. It’s not just the architectural splendour of Torre de Belém that captures the imagination, but also its strategic significance and tales of sailors who once passed by it, setting forth on perilous journeys.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Nestled amidst serene gardens in the heart of Lisbon, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is a cultural treasure trove, home to a vast and eclectic collection amassed by the Armenian oil magnate, Calouste Gulbenkian. Throughout his life, Gulbenkian was an avid art collector, and the museum showcases over 6,000 pieces, spanning over 5,000 years of history. From ancient Egyptian relics to European masterpieces of the 20th century, the collection reveals Gulbenkian’s diverse and discerning taste.
The museum is thoughtfully divided into two distinct circuits: one focuses on classical art, featuring Greco-Roman artefacts, Islamic art, and Far Eastern collections; while the other, the ‘Modern Collection’, showcases a rich array of European art from the 19th and 20th centuries, including pieces by masters like Rembrandt, Turner, and René Lalique. Each piece tells a story, reflecting not only its origin but also the vision of a man who saw art as a universal language. The surrounding gardens further enhance the experience, offering a tranquil oasis to reflect upon the artistic wonders within.
Take a Day Trip to Sintra
Just a short train ride away from Lisbon lies the fairy-tale town of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its dreamy palaces, verdant gardens, and cool, misty forests. Sintra seems to emerge straight from the pages of a fantasy novel, with its Romanticist architecture set against the backdrop of the Sintra mountains. The town’s historical significance and otherworldly charm make it an unmissable day trip for anyone visiting Lisbon.
The crown jewel of Sintra is the vibrant Palácio da Pena, perched high on a hill and visible from many parts of the town below. This 19th-century palace is a blend of various architectural styles and boasts breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside. Besides Pena, the ancient Moorish Castle, Quinta da Regaleira with its enigmatic grottoes and tunnels, and the elegant Palácio Nacional de Sintra in the town’s heart are among the other must-visit sites.
Visit the Cristo Rei Statue
Towering over the southern banks of the Tagus River, the Cristo Rei Christ Statue is an emblematic landmark of Lisbon, drawing both the faithful and those in search of panoramic city views. Inspired by the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Cristo Rei was erected in the 1950s as a gesture of gratitude for Portugal being spared the horrors of World War II. Standing at a staggering height of 110 meters, including its pedestal, the statue offers a serene presence, arms outstretched as if embracing the entire city of Lisbon.
Visitors can take an elevator or brave the climb up to the viewing platform at the statue’s base. From this vantage point, the vistas are nothing short of spectacular, encompassing the sweeping curve of the Tagus, the iconic 25 de Abril Bridge, and the Lisbon skyline in its entirety. The statue itself, with its detailed craftsmanship, is also a marvel up close. For many, a visit to Cristo Rei is not just about the views but also a moment of reflection, away from the bustle of the city below.
Feira da Ladra
Tucked away in the historic Alfama district, the Feira da Ladra, or “Thieves’ Market,” stands as Lisbon’s most storied flea market, tracing its origins back to the 12th century. Meandering through the maze of stalls, visitors are treated to a veritable treasure trove of items: from antiques, vintage clothes, and handcrafted jewellery to old vinyl records, quirky collectibles, and even odds and ends that have been a part of someone’s life story. The market’s name, while intriguing, doesn’t imply that stolen goods are sold here; instead, it reflects the diverse and eclectic nature of items on offer, where bargaining is not just welcome but an intrinsic part of the experience.
Set against the backdrop of Lisbon’s terracotta roofs and the Tagus River, Feira da Ladra operates twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It’s a magnet not just for tourists but also for locals, antique dealers, and collectors. As the sun casts its early morning glow, the market comes alive with chatter, haggling, and the thrill of discovering hidden gems.
Visit the Abandoned Panorâmico de Monsanto
Once an upscale restaurant frequented by Lisbon’s high society in the 1960s, Panorâmico de Monsanto now stands as an abandoned yet iconic building, offering visitors breathtaking views of the Portuguese capital. Perched atop the lush Monsanto Forest Park, this architectural gem, despite its dilapidated state, remains a testament to the modernist movement of the mid-20th century. Its curvaceous design and vast windows once provided diners with panoramic vistas of the Tagus River, the 25 de Abril Bridge, and the city’s terracotta rooftops.
Over the years, Panorâmico de Monsanto transitioned from a bustling hotspot to a nightclub and, eventually, to an abandoned structure. However, its allure has never waned. Today, it’s a magnet for urban explorers, photographers, and those seeking a quiet, contemplative space away from the hustle and bustle. The graffiti-covered walls and remnants of its glamorous past only add to its mystique.
- Flying: The easiest way to get to Lisbon is to fly there, and there are plenty of flights to Lisbon, particularly from other European airports, but also from destinations in North America, Africa, and South America.
- Train: The Portuguese train network does connect with the Spanish one, so it’s not only possible to travel here from other destinations in Portugal but Spain, France, and further afield as well. For tickets and timetables within Portugal, see cp.pt.
- Bus: Portugal has an extensive bus network, and Lisbon serves as the main hub. You should be able to get to Lisbon from just about anywhere in mainland Portugal by bus and there are also buses from other international destinations like Madrid and Seville as well. For tickets within Portugal, see Rede Expressos and Flixbus.pt.
- Car: It’s possible to drive to Lisbon, however, it’s worth noting that you won’t need a car in Lisbon city centre. Driving here can be difficult for first-timers and finding parking is even more challenging.