What To Do In Lisbon, Portugal: 20+ Awesome Sights & Experiences

March 19, 2023
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What to Do in Lisbon, Portugal | A detailed guide to Lisbon, one of the oldest cities in the world & a vibrant, interesting, fun place to visit. Sunrise at Carmo Convent.

It doesn’t take much to fall in love.  Sometimes all it takes is that second you emerge from the subway in a new city, surrounded by bustling people and vividly-tiled buildings, and the scent of freshly-baked custard tarts dusted with cinnamon enticing you into the nearest shop.

And that’s exactly what happened with Lisbon.

A gorgeous day at Lisbon's Monument to the Discoveries in Belem

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Lisbon is one of the oldest capital city in western Europe (I’ll be honest, that was a surprise to me), and one of the oldest cities in the world.  It has a beautiful Mediterranean-like climate, great food, amazing culture, and just the best VIBE.

Some cities got it, some don’t.  And boy, does Lisbon got it!!

What to Do in Lisbon, Portugal | Riding the historic Tram 28 is one of the great things to do

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Even with only about 36 hours to explore on my first visit, and about 24 hours on the second (unexpected) one, Lisbon quickly became one of my favorite cities.

Why “unexpected”, you ask??  Ha, funny story…@farewhispers and I were supposed to go to Shanghai for a couple days on an awesome $450 round trip ticket.  We did a bunch of digging into visas and trip planning, and based on our research we didn’t think we needed a visa (which we wouldn’t have had time to get anyway) due to how short the trip was.

Turns out, we were wrong (or at least according to Air Canada…the jury’s still out on the internet).  So we were denied boarding at our gate in Boston and had to figure out what to do.  It was a 3-day weekend and I’d already flown to Boston to meet her, so we didn’t want to waste it.  So right there at the airport we booked a trip to Lisbon instead on points.

Best things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - visit the historic center, including Praca Comercio

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So I wanted to provide an in-depth guide to the city, including what to do in Lisbon, things to skip, great cultural experiences to have, and more.

How this post is structured:

  • What to pack for your Lisbon trip
  • Where to stay in Lisbon
  • Getting to know Lisbon’s neighborhoods
  • A few general tips (including how to get around)
  • How to structure your itinerary & things to do in Lisbon

Best things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - visit the historic center in Baixa-Chiado

What to pack for Lisbon

Style-wise, you’ll see a normal western European aesthetic in Lisbon—smart, casual, understated, and elegant.  You won’t see much in the way of skimpy clothing or shorts (except on tourists), or a lot of super garish colors and patterns.

First, let’s talk shoes.  You’re going to walk a TON and Lisbon’s hilly cobblestones are not messing around (and can get quite slick when wet).  These Olukai sneakers are my new faves, being cute and comfy (and lightweight for packing).  These Rockport sandals are also a staple (I’m wearing them in the pic below)—super comfy and even do well in the rain.

If you wear sandals, I’d strongly recommend sandals with a back strap vs. a flip flop or slide style (to prevent sliding, blisters, plantar issues) and I strongly prefer a toe post for the same reason.

I’m more of a dress person vs. pants, so comfy lightweight dresses are a staple (except the time I visited in mid-February).  I’ve had good luck with StitchFix in the past, and Old Navy.  And here are some longer dresses I’ve liked here and here and then shorter options here, here, and here.

Then I’d say jeans or lightweight pants are a good bet, paired with layered tops (lighter, short-sleeve and then a sweater or cardigan on top).

  • I’ve gotten most of my jeans from StitchFix in the past, but wear whatever you’re comfy in.  If you’re traveling in winter, fleece-lined leggings are a great option (these are my faves).
  • My absolute go-to travel pants are lightweight and breathable, plus STRETCHY.  I’ve worn Athleta ones for years, particularly their Brooklyn Ankle Pant.
  • Recently I’ve also found two different brands I love (these and these) that are are super comfy and fit well.

Best things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - a day trip to Sintra is a must

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A few other clothing items and other gear I’d recommend:

  • The winter months (November through Feb/March) are usually cool and wet, so pack a lightweight raincoat (this is my fave!), or a lightweight puffer (this one is awesome & cheap) and consider a travel umbrella.
  • The late spring and summer months can be HOT.  Make sure to wear sunscreen (these are my faves for body and face) and polarized sunglasses (and consider a hat if that’s your style).  And HYDRATE!
  • An anti-theft purse or money belt – I talk more about the type I use here and I bring my life partner carry-on suitcase (here on Amazon)
  • External battery charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of charge while taking a billion pics – this is the brand I love!
  • The appropriate electric plug adapters for where you’re going – I always have this universal adapter with me

Best things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - an early morning visit to Praca do Comercio

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Where to stay in Lisbon, Portugal

Both times I visited, we rented an apartment—I like to be right in the middle of everything!  I will say that Airbnb is a bit controversial in Lisbon and many believe it is a great harm to locals, so just do your research beforehand.

Here are few hotels to consider.  Generally Lisbon is quite affordable, so it’s a nice place to splurge on luxury accommodation without breaking the bank.

  • From a hotel standpoint, consider Lisboa Carmo Hotel (gorgeous, central, old-world luxury), Corpo Santo (made TripAdvisor’s World’s Best Hotels of 2023 list!), the design-focused Hotel Hotel (modern luxury, has a pool and terrace), Pousada de Lisboa (amazing location and great views) on the (still affordable) luxury end.
  • On the more budget end (under $200/night), I’d recommend Hotel Pateo, Hotel Lis Baixa, Dalma Old Town Suites, Leaf Boutique Hotel, and the Empire Marquês Hotel (Note, there are even cheaper options either further away or with slightly lower reviews; these balance amazing reviews and cost.)
  • Apartments are a great option for self-catering (can save money), giving more freedom, often more space, and are great for families or more than two people.  This one and this one get amazing reviews and are super central, and honestly there are a ton of great apartment options on Booking.com.

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the city has so many amazing scenic views due to being built on several hills

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The downlow on Lisbon’s neighborhoods

Lisbon has many awesome neighborhoods, and it can be kind of hard to tell where one ends and the next begins (especially with the hills and winding streets).  Here are a few to know (and just the tip of the iceberg):

  • Baixa-Chiado (technically two neighborhoods, but often talked about together) is really the core tourist area.  I’ve stayed in two different parts of this neighborhood and definitely recommend it.  This has many of Lisbon’s main landmarks, shopping and great restaurants.
  • If you want to be just on the outskirts of that, Bairro Alto has a cool, bohemian vibe and lots of great bars and restaurants to choose from.
  • Alfama is the oldest part of the city, and brings a definite charm and a historic vibe with its labyrinthine, colorful streets.  This is the place to go if you want to eat a traditional meal accompanied by equally traditional fado music.
  • Graça and São Vicente offer a lot of the historical feel of Alfama, and great views over it.  This is a slightly less touristy option but still very close.
  • Cais do Sodre gives you easy access to nightlife, great food (like Lisbon’s Time Out Market and Mercado da Ribeira) and is still easily walkable to all the main sights.
  • If you’re a shopaholic, Avenida de Liberdades is where you’ll find the high-end shopping names like Armani and Burberry (this area isn’t my personal fave, feels too glossy and generic).

Getting to know Lisbon's neighborhoods - a map of the city

Here are other Portugal adventures to help you plan your trip:

A Day Exploring Sintra’s Fairytale Castles

Accidentally Discovering the Best (Secret) Rooftop Bar in Lisbon

A Detailed Long Weekend Travel Guide For Porto

Where To Stay In Porto:  Le Monumental Palace (Maison-Albar)

Why Foz Do Douro Should Be On Your Porto Itinerary

Port Tastings & Other Exploration In Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto)

Why You Should Visit Restaurant Vinum In Vila Nova de Gaia

Visiting The World’s Most Beautiful Bookstore: Porto’s Livraria Lello

A Guide to Portugal’s Stunning Douro Valley

Review: Staying At Quinta Nova Luxury Winery House in the Douro Valley

Savoring The Spectacular Sights & Tastes Of Douro Valley Wineries

Experiencing a Portuguese Slice of Life In Charming Amarante

Why Carvoeiro Boardwalk is One Of The Must-See Places In The Algarve

Why You Have To Take A Ponte de Piedade Boat Tour In Portugal’s Algarve

Some general tips on Lisbon

Before we begin, here are a few overall tips for your visit to Lisbon, Portugal:

  • The metro makes things super easy to get around.  Get a Viagem card and refill it.
    • Pro tip:  take a pic of the metro map with my phone, so I could always refer to it
    • Taking the metro from the airport into Lisbon is fast and cheap, a great alternative to a cab
  • BUT, the best way to see the city is by walking!  Lisbon’s hilly cobblestones are no joke, and are really slick when wet, so make sure you have good shoes.
  • We didn’t get one, but if you’re wanting to visit a lot of major attractions then look into getting a Lisboa Card.  You’ll get into a lot of attractions with it and I believe it offers free public transportation as well.  I think it’s 18.50 euros for 24 hours.

Lisbon is extremely hilly, so wear comfy footwear!

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What to do in Lisbon: itinerary ideas

From intricate, colorful architecture to centuries of culture, and scenic views to delicious food and drink, this city has so much to offer.  Even with only a day or two, you can really make the most of exploring Lisbon.

So without further ado, here are 20+ amazing things to do in Lisbon!

A highly decorated ginja shop

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Eat all the pastries!!

Come on, you know me by now.  There was literally nowhere else I could start, with my stated life goal to “eat all the pastries in all the countries”.  Portugal—and Lisbon especially—is famous for its pastries but particularly the pastel de nata (plural is pasteis).

What is pastel de nata??  Only the most crisp flaky dough filled with amazing thick custard, just a tiny bit burnt on top and sprinkled with some cinnamon.  It’s a custard tart.  But like, the best in the world.

I made it my personal mission to try pastel (OKAY PASTEIS) de nata in every place I saw it, to determine the absolute best.  I read all the lists.  Though funny enough, I accidentally happened upon one of the very best (award-winning) shops as we were walking from the metro to our apartment upon arrival.

Manteigaria is totally legit.  It’s the only thing they make there, there isn’t really much else to do.  You can get a coffee (just okay, not great) or ginja and absolutely amazing pastel de nata with just a hint of cinnamon in the custard.  Perfection.  There are a

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal -delicious pasteis de nata (custard tarts) from Manteigaria

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - delicious pasteis de nata (custard tarts) from Manteigaria

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In addition to Manteigaria, there is one other place that everyone will tell you is the best pastel de nata in Lisbon—and that’s Pasteis de Belém.

It’s located in Belém which is a bit further out (I’d Uber, not walk), but I do recommend getting over there and doing your own taste test.  (Plus, the area is amazing…more on that below!)

Eating the pasteis de Belem and visiting the Jeronimos Monastery are top things to do in Lisbon, Portugal

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My pastry consumption mandate still included having a pastel de nata every hour or so.  One of my new favorites was this insanely fat, thick one right next to the Elevador de Santa Justa.

I don’t remember the name of the shop, but as you’re walking up to the Elevador (with it in front of you), the tiny shop was on our left, and these are worth a little searching for.  They’re like twice the depth of regular pasteis de natai, hard to even get a bite of!

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - delicious pasteis de nata (custard tarts)

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - delicious pasteis de nata (custard tarts)

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And I did make sure to branch out beyond my beloved pastel de nata…some were great, others a little bland.  But all worth trying.

(In case you’re curious, this smorgasbord was from San Nicolau Cafetaria, right between the Praça do Comercio and the Elevador Santa Justa.  It was pretty good when we were there a few years back, but recent reviews are NOT good.)

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the many different Portuguese pastries you can try

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the many different Portuguese pastries you can try

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the many different Portuguese pastries you can try

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Walk along the waterfront & visit the old city

Okay, now that we’ve carb-loaded, it’s time to get down to business.  No trip to Lisbon is complete without getting down to the waterfront and walking along it, then wandering through the Praca do Comércio and up into the Baixa neighborhood.

Comercio Square is huge and never feels crowded.  It’s dominated by the statue of King José I in the center, colorful buildings all around, and the huge arch that seems to beckon you into the narrow winding streets.

The city’s oldest café, Martinho da Arcada, in business since 1782, sits on the northeastern corner if you’d like to stop and enjoy the vibe with some lunch.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including Praca do Comercio

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including Praca do Comercio

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As you scan the Praca do Comercio, your eye will inevitably be drawn to the Arco da Rua Augusta, the arch built to commemorate Lisbon’s reconstruction after the massive 1755 earthquake.

If you’re so inclined you can pay a couple euros to climb the arch, for one of many great views over the city.  From here you can pass through the and explore the surrounding streets (Rua Garrett is lovely!).  Then head on to see the Elevador Santa Justa, and then head up toward the Carmo Convent (if you’re up to the climb).

What to Do in Lisbon, Portugal | A detailed guide to Lisbon, one of the oldest cities in the world & a vibrant, interesting, fun place to visit.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including Praca do Comercio and the Arco da Rua Augusta

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including Praca do Comercio and the Arco da Rua Augusta

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We went through the arch and began wandering up and down the streets in the historic center.  As you head in the opposite direction from the river, you should eventually hit Rossio Square (Praca do Rossio), which I absolutely adore!

I found the mosaic pavement mesmerizing, paired with a splashing fountain, beautiful buildings, colorful flower stalls, and a view up toward Carmo Convent (we’ll head there soon!).

Se de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral) is also nearby though somehow we completely missed it!

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including beautiful Rossio Square

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including beautiful Rossio Square

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including beautiful Rossio Square

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Its formal name is Praca Dom Pedro IV, named after a Portuguese king. However it’s more commonly known as Rossio, which has the meaning of “common land”, and it’s a popular meet-up spot as it’s central and easy to find.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including beautiful Rossio Square

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - spend time exploring the historic center, including beautiful Rossio Square

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There’s tons to see in Lisbon’s historic center if you just spend time walking around…not so much with a specific destination in mind, but just soaking in the details, the colors, and maybe popping into little shops here and there.

And of course, making sure you get your pastry quota…

Things to do in Lisbon - explore the city's historic center in Baixa

Things to do in Lisbon - explore the city's historic center in Baixa

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Head up to Carmo Convent

Now we climb!  One of the things to do in Lisbon that I think you should not skip is a stop at Carmo Convent.  Located in the Chiado neighborhood, it has awesome views over Rossio Square and facing Lisbon Castle (Sao Jorge).

The convent and its church were built between 1389 and 1423, with a stark, imposing Gothic style.  It sits on a quiet square (Carmo Square) that becomes a bustling market a few times a month—more on that later!  You can either climb the winding streets of the Calcada do Carmo, or take one of the lifts/elevators as a shortcut (try Elevador da Bica).

Carmo is absolutely stunning in the early morning (more on that in a bit), around sunset, and honestly any time of day if your times aren’t as flexible.  Cool off with an ice cream from Lisbon’s legendary Santini, or sip a glass of vinho verde at the best-kept-secret rooftop bar.

Beautiful views from Carmo Convent - things to do in Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon itinerary ideas - spend time at Carmo Convent

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Get up high and find your favorite view

Carmo’s amazing views lead naturally into the next awesome thing to do in Lisbon.  Built on and around a number of hills (seriously, insanely hilly walking, warm up those calves!!), Lisbon is chock-full of stunning views.

You could spend a couple weeks here and still not hit them all.  There are many great lists of scenic viewpoints all over Pinterest (I’ve linked one below that I used in my trip planning), so don’t stress over which is “best”.  Pick at least one or two that sound great, and make sure to build them into your walking plan.  Here are a few I loved (in addition to Carmo Convent)…

One of the first you’ll hear mentioned is the Elevador de Santa Justa.  It’s a gorgeous structure, built by a former apprentice to Gustave Eiffel (you can easily see that inspiration in the design).  Even if you don’t pay to go up the lift for the great views that it offers, you should definitely swing by just to see it.

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the city has so many amazing scenic views due to being built on several hills - Elevador Santa Justa

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the city has so many amazing scenic views due to being built on several hills - Elevador Santa Justa

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the city has so many amazing scenic views due to being built on several hills - Elevador Santa Justa

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Another great view is from one of LIsbon’s iconic landmarks—Castelo de São Jorge.  And especially at sunset!  Since I didn’t really visit it myself, I won’t cover the castle elsewhere and will just mention it here.

The structure was built in the 6th century, serving as a Moorish royal residence until it was captured by the monarchy in the 12th century.  We actually missed sunset by a little bit (it took longer to get there than planned), and we didn’t feel like paying the entrance fee to the castle for only a couple minutes in there.

So this first pic is from the pretty walk up to the castle instead.  Moral of the story is, don’t be us.  Plan better.  Get up there for sunset.  (The second pic below is a view out TOWARD the castle from a separate viewpoint…more on that in a few!)

beautiful walk up to Castelo de Sao Jorge

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the city has so many amazing scenic views due to being built on several hills

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On my first visit, only about 30 minutes after arriving, we grabbed pasteis de nata and made our way up to Miradouro Santa Caterina, which was full of students playing guitar and smoking pot, pretty crowded but chill.  Not my favorite vibe, but great view.

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the city has so many amazing scenic views due to being built on several hills

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Later that night after dinner, we accidentally ended up at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara to watch the lights come twinkling out across the city.

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the city has so many amazing scenic views due to being built on several hills

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Here are some other scenic viewpoints that were on my list but I didn’t get to:

  • Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte, in Graça district
  • Though it can be crowded, Miradouro do Adamastor (located in the heart of the city) is trendy
  • Less-known is Miradouro do Monte Agudo (Rua Heliodoro Salgado, underground stop: Graça)
  • You can really go further afield and take the ferry over to Cais de Sodré

And the fact is, you’ll find views peeking out all over, even just from random restaurants and alleyways.

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - the city has so many amazing scenic views due to being built on several hills

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Go a step further with a cocktail and a view

I’ve written an entire other post about Lisbon’s best secret rooftop bar.  And it’s attached to a 800-year-old convent.  I highly recommend spending a sunset here, but there are tons of others.

Pick whichever one you’ll be closest to as you’re wrapping up your sightseeing for the day, and settle in with a glass of vihño verde—a Portugese wine that is young and light and crisp, with just a slight fizz.

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - a secret rooftop bar right under Carmo Convent

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - a secret rooftop bar right under Carmo Convent

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - a secret rooftop bar right under Carmo Convent

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This is one of my favorite Lisbon viewpoints, with the city spread out below you and a great clear shot of Castel de Sao Jorge directly across.  You’ve got the the famous Elevador Santa Justa kind of right next to you as well…so you’re getting a very similar view but with a drink in hand!

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - a secret rooftop bar right under Carmo Convent

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - a secret rooftop bar right under Carmo Convent

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - a secret rooftop bar right under Carmo Convent with a view of Elevador Santa Justa

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Luxuriate in Lisbon’s amazing color & detail

Lisbon is a city where the charm is in the details!  One of my favorite things to do in Lisbon was to just slow down a bit, wander, and soak in the vivid colors and rich decorations that adorn every nook and cranny.

Make it a mission to find your favorite!  Mine was a pure emerald green subway-tiled building that I found at night (so couldn’t photograph).

What to do in Lisbon - find all the gorgeous colorful tiles

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

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Honestly, my pictures don’t do all the tiles justice.  And they’re everywhere…you don’t have to go to a certain neighborhood or area, all you have to do is wander around the city.

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

While the tile-covered buildings are more obvious, you have to really pay attention to find some of the other charming details.  For instance, tiny tiles around the doorway of a shop, or the fanciful stone touches at the top of many buildings, or the beautiful in-laid mosaics in the sidewalks.

While you’re looking up at all the tiles and details, make sure you don’t forget to look down as well!  Lisbon’s paving is probably the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.  The dark and light tiles are arranged in hundreds of intricate patterns that will mesmerize you (and in some cases, educate you, since they indicate historic dates).

*sigh* I really do love this city.  So beautiful.

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

What to do in Lisbon, Portugal - bask in all the gorgeous colorful tiles & details

Explore the historic Alfama neighborhood

Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon (it survived the 1755 earthquake because its foundation is dense bedrock), and arguably the most charming as well.

While there are many things to do in Alfama—visiting Castelo de São Jorge, the tile museum, seeing a fado show—I’d argue that the best thing you can do is just wander up and down the hilly cobblestone streets.  Plus, it’s an explosion of colors and patterns!

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's history & all the gorgeous colorful tiles

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's history & all the gorgeous colorful tiles

What to Do in Lisbon, Portugal | A detailed guide to Lisbon - explore the historic Alfama neighborhood

Alfama is a joy to discover, best enjoyed by getting lost within its labyrinth of narrow, winding streets and alleys.  Everywhere you turn there’s something cute…tiny squares, churches, whitewashed houses with beautiful tile panels, cafes, and so much more.

Do a bit of shopping and pick up some local hand-painted tiles.  Pop into a ginja shop (more on that in a sec!).  Or make a reservation for dinner and a fado show.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's history & charming winding alleys

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's history & charming winding alleys

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's history & charming winding alleys

The painted tiles I saw in Alfama were unique from what I saw anywhere else…almost delicate.  There are little murals here and there, including this lovely fado-themed one.

There are a couple awesome viewpoints (miradouros) in Alfama that you should keep your eyes peeled for, and if you can plan ahead enough I definitely would love to have seen a fado show at night.

But even if you only have a short time in Lisbon, an hour or two soaking in the colorful atmosphere here is worth it!

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's is the home of fado music

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's colorful tiles

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's colorful tiles

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's colorful tiles

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - Alfama's colorful tiles

Get out early before the crowds

This is one of my go-to tips for any place, but there is really something magical about the early morning light on the colors and cobblestones of Lisbon.

Take a walk around Baixa-Chiado, walk down on the waterfront, or get up high to the Carmo Convent (the first and second pictures below).

One morning we were out early to catch a train to Sintra, and I found myself wishing I could grab a pastel de nata and a coffee and just sit on a bench in one of the little squares.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out early in the morning for gorgeous views of Carmo Convent

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out early in the morning for gorgeous views of Carmo Convent

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out early in the morning for gorgeous views of Baixa-Chiado

Hop aboard Lisbon’s historic trams

The yellow Tram 28 is one of the iconic symbols of Lisbon…but also one of the cheapest ways to get around the city center and visit some of the city’s traditional neighborhoods (such as Graça and Alfama).

A few tips:  avoid rush hour and beware of pickpockets!  And it’s a few euros for a single ride, but you can get a cheap 24-hour pass, or the Lisboa card allows you to hop on and off as much as you want.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - take the historic Tram 28

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - try the historic trams

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - take the historic Tram 28

Get out to Belém! 

Even though it’s a bit further out (I recommend an Uber, should be ~$10), visiting Belém is one of my favorite things to do in Lisbon!  It’s one of the most historical and monumental areas, and only 4 miles west of the main city.

Belém has a beautiful, chill vibe (especially in nice weather).  Set along the waterfront, there are pretty gardens and parks, alfresco cafes, and of course a few major sights—including the Monastery of Jerónimos, the iconic Torre de Belém, the Monument to the Discoveries, and a handful of museums.

But my first stop was to taste Belém’s famous pasteis de nata (actually called pasteis de Belem by locals).  As I mentioned at the beginning, many people will tell you that Belém’s custard tarts are the best in the city (along with Manteigaria’s), so how could I *not* try them??

We waited in line outside Pastéis de Belém, the only place you can get them.  What makes these so special??  It has been run by the same family for centuries and the recipe is a closely-guarded secret (they were amazing, but I couldn’t tell a specific difference in taste).  They sell an average of 20,000 a day!

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - go get a taste of pasteis de Belem

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - go get a taste of pasteis de Belem

Rather than wait for a table on a busy Saturday morning, we grabbed our warm tarts and walked a couple blocks over to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastery) to devour them.

It’s crazy that Belem is home to not one but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (or they combine them into one, it’s a bit unclear).  We’ll start with Jerónimos Monastery and then move on to Belem Tower.

The monastery dates back to the 1500s, and is a gorgeous example of Late Gothic architecture in the Manueline style.  It’s insanely long and cool, and even if you don’t go inside (we didn’t), you should swing by and take a look.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to the Jeronimos Monastery

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to the Jeronimos Monastery

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to the Jeronimos Monastery

The line was really long at the time and we only had about 24 hours in Lisbon for this trip, so we moved on, but only after taking approximately 200 pics of the ridiculously detailed spires and façade.

As we walked down toward the water to see the Tower of Belem, we happened upon a great little local crafts market and nabbed a few souvenirs.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to the Jeronimos Monastery

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to the Jeronimos Monastery

On a beautiful blue-sky day, there are few things more glorious in Lisbon as the one-two punch of the Torre de Belém and Monument to the Discoveries.  They can be a bit of a letdown on a stony gray overcast day, but I’d still recommend coming out to see them.

I mean, look at it!  The Torre de Belém (Belem Tower) is another UNESCO World Heritage site, a small tower sitting out in the river all by its lonesome that’s over 500 years old (construction was started in 1515).

On my first visit, the weather cleared up right as we arrived, though it had been overcast for a few hours.  I’m just weirdly fascinated by this random little structure…it’s like its own tiny little castle.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the iconic Torre de Belem

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the iconic Torre de Belem

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the iconic Torre de Belem

On my second visit it was midday and sunny, and an absolutely glorious morning to visit.  I have never actually gone inside the tower, but if you want to do so I’d recommend visiting quite early—lines get long rather quickly and you can wait over an hour.  Plus, I’ve heard mixed things about whether it’s worth it.

What IS worth it on a nice day is to visit around sunset…the sunset views here are supposed to be amazing!

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the iconic Torre de Belem

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the iconic Torre de Belem

But wait, there’s more!!  Now that we’ve snapped a billion pics of the tower, keep walking just a bit and you’ll hit the super cool Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos).  They’re a short walk from each other, within sight.

The monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery, or Age of Exploration, another reminder of Lisbon’s rich heritage.  The ship-like monolith sits right on the edge of the Tagus River, looming out over the water.

If you’re so inclined, you can pay to take an elevator to the top of the monument for a “birds eye” view of the surrounding area.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the giant Monument to the Discoveries

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the giant Monument to the Discoveries

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the giant Monument to the Discoveries

On a gorgeous day like we had (even though it was mid-February), this is one of the most beautiful spots in the city, and we were content to stay on the ground and people-watch.

It was a warm-ish day, a bit windy, and blue-skies like WHOA.  It seemed like all of Lisbon was out and about, sitting and soaking up the sun by the water.

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the giant Monument to the Discoveries

Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal - get out to Belem to see the giant Monument to the Discoveries

Try some ginja

Okay, back into Lisbon-proper.  Now that we’ve covered a ton of the major sights, or things to see, in Lisbon, let’s talk more EXPERIENCES.  And to me, one thing to do in Lisbon that should not be missed is ginja.

You can get it many places, but I recommend that while you’re in Alfama, you pop into a ginja shop and try some of the traditional Portuguese sour cherry liqueur.  We had ours in tiny chocolate shot glasses, and all I can say is YUMMM.

I was fascinated by this dive into the history of ginja, if you’re interested in learning more.  I don’t know how I totally missed ginja (also spelled ginjinha) on my first time in Lisbon, but you better believe I bought a travel-size bottle to take home on my second!

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - try the local ginja, a sour cherry liqueur

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - try the local ginja, a sour cherry liqueur

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - try the local ginja, a sour cherry liqueur

Browse a local market

We totally lucked out on my second trip and stumbled upon an awesome local craft market.  I’d wanted to show @farewhispers the great view from Carmo Convent, and as we emerged into the plaza we found dozens of stands selling really high-quality handcrafted goods.

I ended up with a beautiful green cork purse, a pretty scarf, and a cork and tile trivet for my kitchen.  This particular market only happens on the third Sunday of the month (or at least, as of publishing time).

But there are tons of markets all over the city.  Here and here are lists of several other markets in Lisbon you should look into while you’re visiting.

If you’re at Carmo Convent, don’t miss the best secret rooftop bar & view in Lisbon!

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - find a local crafts market

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - find a local crafts market

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - find a local crafts market

See a fado show

This is something I actually haven’t had a chance to do yet, as both my Lisbon visits were very short and I didn’t research ahead of time.  Fado is Lisbon’s traditional historic music, and now on UNESCO’s list of the world’s Intangible Heritage.

Fado means destiny of fate, and the music is characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, infused with feelings of melancholy, fate, and a general resignation.  And it is BEAUTIFUL.  It’s the kind of music that hits you in the gut.

The thing about trying to see fado is that there are a lot of touristy “dinner + fado” packages that are overpriced and with crappy food.  So you have to choose your fado experience carefully.

One recommendation I heard good things about is A Tasca do Chico, a simple bar in Bairro Alto where on certain nights they have a rotation of fado singers.  Recent reviews are more mixed, so definitely do some research.  For a more traditional experience, this experience gets really good reviews, as does this one.

I do have this fado playlist on Spotify that I listen to all the time, great for concentration activities or just creating a VIBE, if you’re interested in learning more.

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - walk around in the nighttime to see how Lisbon comes alive

Experience Lisbon’s nightlife

If you’re not headed to a fado show (or after you’ve finished), make sure to soak in Lisbon’s nighttime charms.  The city really sparkles at night, with such a fun energy!  And it’s not all about nightclubs either, it’s more about a vibrant bar scene.

The first area to consider is Bairro Alto, home to countless different types of bars and restaurants, and plenty of cheap cocktails and shots if that’s what you’re looking for.

One night we had dinner at Time Out Market (more on that in a sec), and decided to head to the famous Cais do Sodre, or pink street.  It was completely innocuous in the daytime (there’s a pic further up in the post), and totally comes alive at night.  We ended up doing a “3 Little Bears” of bar hopping, trying to find the right vibe for us.

First we went to Pensão de Amor, a bar that used to be a famous prostitution house.  It was already feeling a little crowded and rowdy for us, so we went down the street to Pink Wine Point.  It was truly dead and had a weird ambiance (may have just been too early in the night).  Finally we ended up at BytheWine, which was JUST RIGHT (more on that in a minute).

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - walk around in the nighttime to see how Lisbon comes alive

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - walk around in the nighttime to see how Lisbon comes alive

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - enjoy the cool street art

You might also like:  Why You Should Be Using Google Flights “Map Search” To Help Plan Your Travels

Taste the best of Lisbon at Time Out Market

Ohhhh food!  I hadn’t heard of Time Out Market on my first visit to Lisbon (now I’ve been to Chicago’s as well), but it was recommended by several different people while we were there on this visit.  It’s this big building holding 26 tiny restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops, and a music venue, and it’s meant to be the best-of-the-best in Lisbon.

Maybe you can’t get reservations at the hottest Lisbon restaurant??  Not a problem, just head over to Time Out.  Trendy chefs like Alexandre Silva have established tiny spots here, and the market is full of what are thought to be the best burger, best sushi, etc. in Lisbon.

The market itself is a little overwhelming on a weekend night, mostly because you really have to have a seating strategy and we didn’t.  We browsed for a while and then I picked dishes from a few different stands.  I had a steak frites, some little fried bacalhau cod pieces, and a delicious caramelized banana and peanut whipped cream dessert.  Nom.

Side note, if you haven’t watched Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix…do it now.  It’s incredibly charming and funny, and beautifully shot as well.  But his Lisbon episode is awesome and he ended up going a bunch of places I had, including Time Out and Pasteis de Belém.

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Time Out Market is an awesome option for restaurants

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Time Out Market is an awesome option for restaurants

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Time Out Market is an awesome option for restaurants

Immerse yourself in Portuguese wine

A lot of Americans don’t realize how amazing Portugal’s wine culture is.  I’m a huge fan!  You should definitely try vinho verde (literally “green wine”), a bright and slightly effervescent white wine that’s refreshing on a hot summer’s day.

And then obviously port is super famous here.  I LOVE PORT.  I realize that it can be a polarizing thing, though I don’t think a lot of people have really given it a fair shake.  But if you’re spending some time in Lisbon, get out and enjoy the nightlife, and maybe try some port or other local wines.

After trying a couple bars, we ended up at BytheWine, a wine bar run by Jose Maria da Fonseca (of the famous Fonseca winery), and it was the perfect vibe for us.  We got a cheese plate and tried a few different wines, all in the port-like flavor place.  I started with a Muscatel, then had the reserve roxo, and then a 20-year-old one.

The vibe here was super cool, chill but with some energy, and not filled with 22-year-olds 🙂  I’m basically 80 inside.

Learn more about Portuguese wines:  Porto’s port wine houses and the gorgeous Douro Valley!

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - sample amazing Portuguese wines

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - sample amazing Portuguese wines

Take the ferry to the other side for a slice of real life

Now here’s a real departure, something you won’t see on most people’s Lisbon itinerary.  On my second visit, I had shown @farewhispers several of the things that were must-see in Lisbon and then we still had time left, so we decided to hop on a ferry and go see how the locals live in the ‘burbs.

We took the ferry from Belém to Porto Brandão, mostly as an excuse to get out on the water on such a gorgeous day.

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - take the ferry across the river to see what life is like for locals

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - take the ferry across the river to see what life is like for locals

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - take the ferry across the river to see what life is like for locals

There wasn’t much to do in the little town, especially since it was winter and most restaurants were closed.

But we found a cute little place to eat, and our adorable waiter, Nuno, sweetly and patiently translated the whole menu for us so we could decide what we wanted to eat.  I could have decided faster, but it was really cute watching him do it.

We ended up getting a delicious cheese plate and some amazing white sangria to start.  It was funny because we asked what the white sangria was made of, and he couldn’t remember but just sagely said, “Tell me if you like it…if not, no sangria is permanent.”  Words to live by 🙂

After enjoying some traditional bacalhau (salted cod) and a delish dessert, we grabbed the ferry back, enjoying the waves and blue skies.

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - a delicious lunch & sangria

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - a delicious lunch & sangria

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - a delicious lunch & sangria

Take a day trip to mind-blowing Sintra

There are soooooo many amazing day trips from Lisbon, it’s hard to choose where to go.  But the OBVIOUS first choice is the colorful fairytale castles of Sintra, and it was every bit as spectacular as I thought it would be.

It helped that we were there in late March, before the tourist crowds got insane (they call it “Disneyland for Adults” for a reason…).  I’ve done a whole post on our visit to Sintra with all my tips for planning your own trip!

If you’re going in peak season and the thought of hordes of tourists and long lines gives you hives, there are tons of other great day trip options, from Porto (really could be more than a day) to cute seaside towns.

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - the train station can take you on easy day trips

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Sintra makes an amazing day trip

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Sintra makes an amazing day trip

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Sintra makes an amazing day trip

Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to a national park, castles, churches, and royal retreats.  It’s located about 18 miles from the Lisbon city center, so makes an easy day trip.  We grabbed an early train from the Lisbon Rossio station (usually running every 15 minutes).

We chose three of the castles with the day we had, but there are so many!  We started up at the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace (trust me, the bus is a one-way loop), and then came down to town and walked to Quinta da Regaleira.

I loved how the three castles we visited were SO different in style, it made for such a cool experience.  We also made sure to stop by Casa Piriquita to try their famous famous egg and almond pastry.  Sintra is definitely a day trip you need to make!

Read my in-depth post on how to do a day trip to Sintra

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Sintra makes an amazing day trip

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Sintra makes an amazing day trip

Itinerary ideas for Lisbon, Portugal - Sintra makes an amazing day trip

So now you’ve gotten a taste of what you can do with a day or two in Lisbon, Portugal—and it’s a LOT, right?!  If it’s not clear, I fell head over heels for Lisbon’s charms.  The fact that I only had a short time here was not an obstacle, and Portugal has become one of my favorite countries to explore.

Other whirlwind city itineraries you might like:

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What to Do in Lisbon, Portugal | A detailed guide to Lisbon, one of the oldest cities in the world & a vibrant, interesting, fun place to visit. How to plan your Lisbon itinerary, where to stay, things to do, what to skip, food & drink, packing tips, & much more! Portugal travel tips, where to go in Europe. From the historic city center to Belem, a day trip to Sintra & more. #lisbon #portugal #lisboa

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