The one good thing about being a crazy American with a wicked awful case of FOMO is that when I travel to a city, I typically see all of the top attractions, or die trying; which was absolutely the case when I when on a Portugal city break and visited all the top things to see in Lisbon, the sunshine capital of Europe.
Because let’s be honest:
Vacation isn’t about relaxation or even fun. Pssh, what were you thinking? It’s really about running yourself into the ground and seeing all the Lisbon top attractions possible so that you can make all your friends jealous because you literally experienced all the best things to do in Lisbon.
So what if you develop a hernia in the process?
You won the mythical vacation battle where you illogically compete with unknown humans to see as many Lisbon points of interest as quickly as possible.
Sounds fun right? I bet you’re dying to travel with me now!
I’m totally joking BTW. Truthfully, I am an awkward human who feels like she needs to see everything humanly possible on vacation, otherwise, my trip feels like a total waste.
But, on the plus side:
I know that this type of thinking is insane and makes absolutely no sense.
This type of irrational thinking makes me uniquely qualified to show you all of the top things to see in Lisbon. So if you’re wondering what to do in Lisbon, then this is the post for you.
Not only will I show you some of the best things to see in Lisbon, but you’ll also learn about some fantastic Lisbon day trips and even become familiar with some, hopefully, unusual things to do in Lisbon too.
So buckle up because my level of crazy is always a bumpy ride.
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1. Time Out Market
Okay, so you may not know this but culinarily speaking, Lisbon, Portugal is kind of a big deal (If you’ve seen Top Chef then think like Richard Blais status).
I tend to gush over the pastries since I don’t eat fish or meat, cough, Pasteles de Nata. But, if sweets are not your thing (insert my shock and awe here), there are still plenty of foods that will tickle your gastronomic fancy.
From Cozido a Portuguesa (Portuguese stew) to Caldo Verde (a traditional kale, potato, and onion soup with garlic and olive oil), there really is something for every type of foodie in Lisbon.
A total tourist hotspot but I still love it anyway.
Plus it’s on the way to Belem and is surrounded by some great street art. Therefore, you have way more than one reason to go here.
As you enter the market:
You’ll find vendors selling fresh meats, fish, and produce, as well as a variety of prepared foods that make you feel like you’re on a mini food tour of sorts.
Just be forewarned:
While this market is huge and has a ton of cafeteria style seating, it does get insanely crowded (and I was there in low season). Therefore, try and visit either super early, super late, or during the week.
2. Stroll through Alfama Neighborhood (one of my fave things to see in Lisbon)
Okay, so when I asked for a list of “things to do in Lisbon” (sorry, I’m really not that original) the one thing that EVERYONE kept raving about was all the fun things to do in the Alfama district.
And I wasn’t super excited because of it.
I mean, who really wants to be told that one of the top things to do in Lisbon is walk through the city? Talk about a downer.
But once I arrived in Alfama, this historic Lisbon district totally blew me away.
Between the architecture, the intricate tile work along all of the buildings, and the historic trams whizzing through the streets, you feel as though you are going back to a time when slap bracelets and Lisa Frank trapper keepers were all the rage.
So take a hot minute, out of your Lisbon 3 day itinerary, to stroll along these cobbled streets and marvel at the fact that all of Lisbon has been totally gentrified (yet).
A true feast for the senses, Alfama is an epic addition to any and all Lisbon itineraries.
***Alfama has a ton of pickpockets so keep an eye on your valuables while taking 12,000 pictures.”**
3. Street Art at LX Factory
Like all major concrete jungle’s, the graffiti in Lisbon has been reinvented into “street art”, a worldwide craze that has turned something grimy into something trendy.
When I planned my trip to Lisbon, I knew I had to strap on some orthopedic, velcro sneakers so that I could trek across the city and search for the best Lisbon street art.
And I some of Lisbon’s most dynamic street art pieces at LX Factory!
Not only does this renovated industrial complex house some of Lisbon’s most eclectic shops and restaurants, but LX Factory is also home to some awe-inspiring pieces of street art.
So take a stroll through the complex and check out some of the wickedly awesome works of art from artists like Bordalo II, Miguel RAM, Mario Belem, MaisMenos, and more.
Some pieces are even fashioned out of discarded objects in an attempt to redefine the human definition of waste and to promote more sustainable living.
There are even several “streetments” in the area that display public quotes like, “Until debt tear us apart”; quotes that force you to reevaluate conventional societal values and norms.
***If you love street art and want to see more of Lisbon’s street art scene, then consider taking a fantastic Lisbon street art tour.***
4. Ride the Gloria Funicular
So believe it or not:
Lisbon has a ton of funiculars that escort you up and down the steepest hills in the city. These bad boys of public transportation also let you off at some of the best miradouros and orbelvederes in the city.
Don’t ask me for a technical definition because I have no idea. All I know is that it operates on a track and basically goes straight up and down.
And there are three different funiculars in Lisbon: Gloria, Bica, and Lavra.
The Elevador de Gloria (Gloria Funicular), is located on the west side of the Avenida da Liberdade, in Restauradores square, literally right around the corner from the tourist office in Palácio Foz.
First opened in 1885:
This national monument connects downtown Lisbon with Barrio Alto (once at the top head across the road to Rua de S. Pedro de Alcântara, and check out the Solar de Lisboa Port Wine Institute, where a vast range of port-wines may be tasted and purchased),
Sure, the ride was a bit touristy, expensive, and overcrowded, but once you’re at the top, you can walk over to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and enjoy the view amidst a sea of charming fountains and majestic Greek busts.
On your way back down, and to your left, you can explore a designated street art gallery with several mesmerizing pieces of art.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to go out one night and experience the soulful beauty of Fado, a Portuguese singing style that is emotional and broody by nature, kind of like some of the hormonal teenagers that you may know.
These emotions are only intensified by the wailing of mandolins and guitars in the background.
While Fado is typically melancholy by nature, this song style can occasionally be upbeat too. So sing it with me, “if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”
Swiftly moving on though because I sound like a dying cow when I sing.
For a more authentic Fado experience, check out local clubs like A Nini, Adega Machado, Bela, Casa de Linhares, Club de Fado, and many more.
Just be aware that:
Many of these venues are cozy (real estate code for small) but popular, so book ahead if you want to snag a coveted seat.
6. Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square)
This stunning square is the largest of all of Lisbon’s plazas and is located virtually adjacent to the Tagus river (Trust me, I didn’t get lost so it is impossible to miss).
Originally built in 1755, after most of the city was devoured by a rogue earthquake, this prominent commercial center was the place where traders went to sell their foreign wares and where financiers went to find funds for perilous expeditions into the great unknown.
Traditional yellow buildings line this enormous square, where a magnificent statue of King José I proudly stands in the center, making this plaza one of many must-see Lisbon attraction.
One of the most beautiful areas in the city:
This square also stands as an enduring testament to the historic power and influence that Portugal had over the rest of the world.
***This square is also an important transport hub where trams headed West, towards Belem, depart from the Northern side of the square. There is also a ferry terminal on the Southern side of the square that houses boats that cross the River Tagus.***
7. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
Feel like you haven’t quite gotten your art fix yet? I get it. A tile is a great form of art but sometimes you miss that feeling you get when see a painting.
Paintings have an emotional form of self-expression that is devoid from many other forms of art.
So if you’re an art obsessed weirdo like me, I mean enthusiast, then make sure you stop by this vibrant, yellow, 17th-century palace, that has been expertly converted into the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.
During your visit:
Try and see some of the most pivotal pieces in the collection, like Nuno Gonçalves’ Panels of São Vicente, Dürer’s St Jerome and Lucas Cranach’s Salomé, and more.
Also take a peek at the Monstrance of Belém, which was an actual souvenir from Vasco da Gama’s second voyage, like the only famous Portuguese person that I actually know.
I’m fresh out of art history-themed adjectives, so no more highlights here. Just go, visit the museum, and be happy.
***Consider purchasing a Lisbon Card for 24, 48, or 72 hours to help you save money while traveling through Lisbon.***
8. Day Trip to Sintra
Want to fall into a real-life fairytale, minus the prince charming?
Then take a day trip to Sintra, a town full of rolling hills, dense forests, and exotic palaces that emerge from fog enshrouded mountaintops.
And while many people visit Sintra in a day:
I suggest staying here for a few days if time isn’t an issue since you definitely won’t run out of things to see and do.
But the two palaces you absolutely must visit are:
Palácio Nacional da Pena – a weird ass combination of romantic architecture painted in vibrant reds and yellows, with Moorish keyhole gates, and crenelated towers that are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Quinta da Regaleira – a villa set against a spectacular greenscape, with quaint gardens and waterfalls, that accentuates the beauty of the fireplaces, frescos and glass mosaics that transform this building into a true architectural wonder.
***One of the best day trips from Lisbon is to book a fun and easy day tour where you visit Cascais, Sintra, and Cabo da Roca.***
Built in 1515 and protruding out into the Tejo River:
Belem Tower was a fortress designed to protect Lisbon’s harbors from assortment pirates and heathens that were hell-bent on the destruction of Lisbon.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site:
Belem Tower is overrun with tourists, especially during the weekend. Therefore, unless you love feeling claustrophobic and like a tightly packed sardine in a can, I suggest you skip visiting the inside of this famous Lisbon attraction.
Nobody wants to get stuck on a narrow, circular staircase with a bunch of other tourists. Definitely not the way I want to spend my vacation.
***Try an exciting tour of Lisbon and learn about the history and culture of this magical city.***
10. Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
An Instagram lovers paradise since this idyllic monastery is full of cloisters, cloisters, and more cloisters.
But all social media mania aside:
This building is a true architectural darling of Lisbon. Commissioned in 1498 to celebrate Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India, you’ll be amazed when you step inside and see the true majesty of the religious building before you.
And while the church is lovely:
My favorite part of the monastery were the cloisters which had scalloped arches, turrets, and columns that all surrounded an interior courtyard garden; a garden that whimsically encrusted the building in a series of gnarled leaves and vines.
A lovely place to relax and marvel at the stone gargoyles that watch over the building.
***No need to purchase a ticket to the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia since it was kind of lame.***
11. Antiga Confeitaria de Belém
FOOD, glorious food (as I twirl around in a circle because I love dessert THAT much).
And I’m even happier because this place serves the best Pasteles de Nata in all of Lisbon.
Actually, I take that back.
See, this iconic, Lisbon patisserie has been around since 1837. And part of the reason why they have been around so long is that they have their own, super-secret egg tart recipe. A recipe so distinct that they have actually named their pastries pastéis de Belém and not pasteles de Nata.
The two pastries are basically the same since both desserts are made with a crispy crust, filled with custard cream, baked to perfection, and lightly dusted with cinnamon.
So grab a pastry, relax in the back, and admire the old-world, Lisbon nostalgia created by the azulejos in each of the back rooms.
12. Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Another one of the top things to see in Belem:
The limestone Padrão dos Descobrimentos statue stands at 56 meters tall and was first Inaugurated in 1960.
Overlooking the Tejo (Tagus) River:
This structure commemorates the explorers who transformed Portugal into a global superpower; a country that discovered most of the world as we know it today.
Resembling the bow of a ship as it cruises through the water:
The figures of Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Diogo Cão, Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan), etc. all stand in this ship, navigating their way back to Portugal.
After admiring this structure:
Take the elevator (no one is taking the stairs because it’s over 200 steps and ain’t nobody got time for cardiac arrest) to the miraduoro atop the statue and enjoy some truly fantastic views of the river below; views that are much nicer and a whole lot less crowded than the ones at Belem Tower (#justsayin’).
13. Museu Nacional do Azulejo
Umm…who doesn’t love a museum in a former 16th-century convent?
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but this building does have a charming exterior that is literally dripping with fuschia flowers,
But the true beauty of Museu Nacional do Azulejo lies in the assortment of exhibits that explain and display the enchanting artistry of azulejo (aka hand-painted tiles).
This museum has a 35-meter long panel, of hand-painted tiles, that depicts Lisbon before a rogue earthquake came along and basically destroyed the entire city.
What, that isn’t epic enough for you?
How about a vaulted, Manueline cloister that is adorned in vibrant, blue-and-white azulejos? Pretty cool right? Clearly, Lisbon has a thing for cloisters.
This museum even has a full-scale baroque style chapel that is dripping with gold and that is adorned in a dazzling assortment of tile mosaics.
So no matter who you are or what you like, I can almost guarantee you that something in this museum will astound you.
***This museum is super easy to get to. Just take bus 718, 742, 794, or 759 and you’ll get dropped off right in front of the museum.***
14. Have Chocolate Cake at O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo
Before we proceed:
Let’s take a moment of silence to pay homage to the awesomeness that is this dessert.
Now, when you think of the best chocolate cake in the world, perhaps you think of Paris, London, or New York City? Makes sense right?
Well, what if I told you that the best chocolate cake in the world happens to come from a tiny shop in Lisbon called O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo?
Yeah, this tantalizing nugget of information surprised me too.
This tiny shop is tucked away in the Campo d’Ourique neighborhood of Lisbon and is pretty unassuming from the exterior. No fancy decor. Just eight seats and walls chocker bock full of newspaper clippings that declare how awesome this cake really is.
Oh and there’s no menu either.
This place makes one thing really well and that’s why the chocolate cake is the only thing on the menu, and maybe coffee if you’re lucky.
But the most surprising part?
This cake is actually flourless and made with layers of chocolate meringue, chocolate mousse, and chocolate ganache.
A pure chocolate utopia for any foodie visiting Lisbon.
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15. Day Trip to Cascais
16. Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
Calling all art history freaks!
If you enjoy anything related to art history then this is the museum for you since Museu Calouste Gulbenkian is famous for it’s diverse array of art pieces that cover everything from Egyptian masterpieces to Renaissance paintings to Impressionist classics.
Plus, the grounds and the park surrounding the museum are pretty amazing too.
There’s even a separate art collection, known as the Coleção Moderna., that is situated in an adjacent sculpture garden and that displays pieces from an array of 20th-century Portuguese and international artists.
So buckle up and be prepared to be amazed.
Because as you meander through this collection, you’ll be astounded by Egyptian mummy masks, Persian carpets, Rembrandt/van Dyck/Rubens paintings, and even a Rodin sculpture.
Feel free to be duly impressed and ooh and ahh at will.
17. Tram 28
Ridiculous lines? Check. A ton of pickpockets? Check. No breathing room? Check. Insanely charming views? Check.
Look, Tram 28 is no secret.
As evidenced by the two-hour-long wait to board this vibrant yellow tram, at popular stops like Commercial Square.
But this old world, tram is popular for a reason. See, this line takes passengers on a charming 45-minute ride, from Praça Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique, through some of Lisbon’s most scenic areas.
Just be prepared because tram 28 will be packed with people, like locals who want to tazor you for stealing their spot on the tram.
So to avoid the crowds and feeling like a famous Portuguese Sardine, try and board the tram late at night, early in the morning, or at a stop that is in the middle of the line, like Lisbon Cathedral.
18. Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira
Talk about an amazing sight to behold.
Truly one of the most unique and exquisite examples of baroque architecture in Lisbon, this 17th-century hunting pavilion is well worth a visit if you’re looking for something different to do.
Located in the Benfica neighborhood:
Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira is a stunning combination of Renaissance architecture and mesmerizing Portuguese blue-and-white tiles.
Because clearly, the Portuguese have a bit of a tile obsession.
But in addition to the fabulous tile work, there’s an ornate entrance fountain that would make Pavarotti himself swoon. Add in some Persian rugs, 18th-century globes, and 17th-century antiques and you have a palace that will be any history lovers dream.
There’s also a King’s Gallery that displays a bust from every king of Portugal. Not surprisingly though, the busts of three Spanish kings have been mysteriously left out.
It’s okay Portugal. You rock on with ya bad self.
***FYI palace visits are limited to guided tours (in winter at 11 am and 12 pm and in summer at 10:30 am, 11 am, 11:30 am and 12 pm). I’m also sad to say that no photos are allowed so yeah, there goes my Instagram life.***
19. Basílica da Estrela
This wouldn’t be a list of top things to see in Portugal without at least one church. Because we all know that Lisbon loves it’s Cathedrals and has about a million of them.
But one cathedral that stands out among the rest is the Basilica da Estrela.
This exquisite, sparkling white church majestically stands over Lisbon, with two iconic belfries that add charm to an already lovely Lisbon skyline.
Walk inside and you’ll see a boatload of pink-and-black marble that creates this trippy optical illusion in the church’s cupola.
Just don’t leave before you see the presépio (I missed this part of the church and kind of regret it).
Apparently, the presépio is an impressive, 500-piece nativity scene that is made of cork and terracotta (literally right behind the church’s tomb).
And if you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can even climb the 112 steps to the dome and see some pretty impressive panoramic views of Lisbon.
I double dog dare you to climb all those stairs.
20. Elevador de Santa Justa
Do you get a sense of deja vu when you set eyes upon the wrought iron wonder of Elevador de Santa Justa?
No, you’re not losing what little sanity you have left.
This architectural marvel was actually created by Raul Mésnier, a minion, I mean apprentice, of Gustave Eiffel. As a result, you can understand why there might be a slight resemblance between this elevator and the Eiffel Tower.
Completed in 1902:
This elevator is still the only vertical street lift in all of Lisbon, faithfully providing patient visitors with delightful panoramic views of Lisbon.
Not surprisingly though:
This lift is incredibly popular. Therefore, avoid the crowds by getting here early or by using the access bridge behind Convento do Carmo (doing this will save you €3.50 since the trip from the ground floor is €5.15 and the trip from the access platform is only €1.50).
21. Parque Eduardo VII
Named after King Edward VII of England, after he visited Lisbon in 1903:
This park has distinctive British roots that are reflected in the pristine, well-manicured gardens that abound here. And while the park itself is lovely, you’re really here for the sweeping views.
Just look down Avenida de Liberdade and be sure to pick your jaw up off the floor.
You’ll see the majestic Tejo River in the distance and maybe even feel another sense of deja vu. Yeah, that happens a lot in Lisbon.
But that’s normal since this sprawling avenue was modeled after none other than the Champs Elysees and has since become one of the wealthiest streets in all of Lisbon.
22. Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
To enjoy this stunning lookout point:
Hop on the Ascensor da Gloria and ride from Praça dos Restauradores to Barrio Alto since the walk uphill is ridiculously brutal. I honestly want to cough up a lung at the thought of it.
Once at the top:
Enjoy the fantastic views amidst a sea of charming fountains and majestic Greek busts. This viewpoint is also a great spot to sit back, relax, sip some drinks, and get lost in the live music.
***Once at the top head across the road to Rua de S. Pedro de Alcântara, and check out the Solar de Lisboa Port Wine Institute, where a vast range of port-wines may be tasted and purchase***.
23. Castelo de São Jorge
Found towering over Lisbon in the delightful Alfama district:
Castelo de São Jorge is a historic, 11th-century castle that provides visitors with fantastic views of Lisbon’s iconic red rooftops, amidst a sea of shaded courtyards that are a perfect place to relax after an arduous hike up to the castle.
During your visit:
Explore the Tower of Ulysses to snag some great photo ops. Also, check out some of the historic galleries that display various relics from the castle’s past.
Truth be told though:
I was a bit disappointed with my visit. Sure, the views from Lisbon’s tallest hill were amazing, but there are other places where you can get awesome views for free.
The history and ruins of this charming castle were lacking. But I’m still mentioning it since most people consider this one of the top things to do in Lisbon (To visit, take bus 37 from Praça da Figueira or hop on tram 28).
***Three guided tours daily are included with admission and are offered daily at 10:30 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm.***