Top Things to Do in Lisbon
12 must-see Lisbon sights and activities
With so many things to see and do in Lisbon it’s important to prioritize your schedule. Here’s a list of some of the of the best attractions the city has to offer. Visiting these places or trying these activities will help make sure your visit to this beautiful capital is one to remember.
Take a ride on Tram 28
A good idea to get your bearings on first arriving in Lisbon is to take a ride on the iconic Tram 28. The city has a heavily used network of almost 60 trams across five routes to various points throughout the city. Some of them, like Tram 15, are modern vehicles that aren’t exciting to look at but are useful for shuttling you from point to point. In contrast, Tram 28 is a wooden tram that evokes images of yesteryear, crossing through some of the most picture-perfect parts of the city as it takes tourists to some of the big landmarks like the Castelo de São Jorge, an imposing castle. The full length of the Tram 28 route is roughly six miles, so if you stay on it for the entire distance you’ll have a relaxing way to see at lot of Lisbon. Expect the tram to always be busy. The best option for traveling is to buy a 24-hour pass at any metro station for €7.65 (that includes the day-long fare and the cost of the card), as buying on-board is pricier.
Tour the Castelo de São Jorge
The Tram 28 service is incredibly popular with tourists as one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get to the Castelo de São Jorge. (https://castelodesaojorge.pt/en/) Open seven days a week, this is perhaps the best known of all of Lisbon’s tourist spots simply because of its sheer size. The castle, whose fortifications date back to the 1st century BC, overlooks the city’s historic center. Throughout its hundreds of years of history, it has played many roles including as a station for military units and as a royal residence. But these days its function is as a museum, where visitors can view exhibits detailing the castle’s rich past. It’s possible to spend hours exploring the 11 towers and other parts of the castle, and if you need rest then there’s a small café serving drinks and snacks. Bring your camera, because the castle walls offer some of the most Instagram-ready panoramic views of Lisbon and beyond. Entry is €10 for adults, although some discounts are available.
Visit the Torre de Belém
Continuing the theme of castles and military buildings, once you’re done with a tour of the Castelo de São Jorge consider heading over to the Torre de Belém. (http://www.torrebelem.gov.pt/en/) Located on the banks of the Tagus river, it’s impossible to miss this one-of-a-kind tower. Built from limestone between 1514 and 1520, in medieval times and beyond it served as a defensive structure to protect the city. Its importance to the history of Lisbon, and its enduring appeal as an architectural beauty, led the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate it as a World Heritage Site in 1983. Visitors can explore the well-kept interior rooms with their intricate stone artwork and features before venturing outside to see the turrets lining the walls of the tower. From this vantage point there are prime spots to take photos of Lisbon and the surrounding landscape. The tower is typically open Monday through Saturday but is closed on Sunday. It’s an affordable day out, with the entry fee €6 for adults, with discounts for others.
4. Make a trip to the Jerónimos Monastery
History fans or those looking to get an education on the role of religion in Lisbon’s development need to make a trip to the Jerónimos Monastery. (http://www.mosteirojeronimos.gov.pt/en/) Officially designated as a national monument by Portugal’s government, this gorgeous site was also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It was built in the 15th century and is dedicated to the monks of the Order of St. Jerome, hence the name Jerónimos Monastery. Once you arrive here it’s easy to see why because of the intricate design of the monastery both inside and out. Take time to stroll through the lush green grounds surrounding the main building, and then go inside to explore the artistic features throughout. Other attractions on-site include a bookstore to browse once you’re done exploring. The opening schedule varies, so check with the monastery before heading there. Entry typically costs €10 for adults and €5 for children. Guided tours by experts with intimate knowledge of the monastery are available by booking in advance.
5. Visit the Igreja de São Roque
Another top destination for those interested in learning more about Lisbon’s history and its religious past is the Igreja de São Roque. This church was constructed in the 16th century and is a resilient structure, having survived a massive earthquake that struck the city in 1755. Visitors will be greeted outside by what looks like a simple church with white walls, but once they enter through the front, they will be rewarded with an exquisite interior featuring artwork that is its own history tour. Admire pieces like Florentine mosaics, fine sculptures, and an awe-inspiring altar. There’s also a museum offering guided tours of displays that feature even more priceless works of art including manuscripts, jewelry and paintings. Entry to the church is free, but the museum has an entry fee of €2.50 for adults and €5 for families.
6. Get inspired by the Cristo Rei
Lisbon’s long religious history is also evident to anyone that takes a trip to the Cristo Rei, a statute inspired by the massive Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The story is that the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon was inspired for Lisbon to have a similar statute after seeing the original. Set high on a clifftop, construction on this massive feature began in 1949 and it was inaugurated in 1949. The entire structure is roughly 360 feet tall, with the statue of Christ sitting atop it measuring about 91 feet tall. Overlooking the Tagus River, this monument offers a great photo opportunity with its grounds offering expansive views of the surrounding areas. It’s easy to get to the statute grounds by ferry or bus. It’s free to wander the grounds, but it’s worth paying the fee of €6 per adult or €3 per child to take the elevator to the viewing platform, which is at the feet of the Christ statute — that’s where you’ll find the best panoramic views of Lisbon.
7. Make a pilgrimage to the Sé de Lisboa
In addition to the Cristo Rei statute, another instantly recognizable Lisbon landmark is the Sé de Lisboa; the city’s cathedral. Commonly referred to simply as the Sé, construction on the cathedral began in 1147 but it has undergone several changes over the centuries. Visitors these days will see a wide range of different architectural designs including Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. Portugal designated it a national monument in 1910 and it’s easy to see why — the iconic two towers marking the front of the building and the sumptuous circular stained glass window above the entrance creates a visual that you’ve probably seen before, even if you didn’t know it was the Sé. Thankfully, like the other religious sites on this list, the cathedral is accessible to the public. The main part of the cathedral, including the nave and sanctuary, are free to tour. The partially excavated former cloisters are also available to view, but there’s a fee of €2.50 for adults and €1 for children.
8. Ride the Elevador de Santa Justa
If you’re looking less for historical and religious sites and more for a relaxing way to see the city, take a ride on the Elevador de Santa Justa. Opened in 1905, the Santa Justa Lift (to give it its English translation) is an iron structure that connects Largo do Carmo with the Baixa district, providing an alternative to having to trek the city’s steep hills. Atop the elevator is an observation deck that is perfect for taking pictures to remember your vacation. It’s technically part of the city’s public transportation network but is such a draw for tourists that few locals use it. If you’re interested in taking a ride on the elevator be prepared for very long lines and waiting times. It can only take 20 people up at a time, so add it to your to-do list when you have time to kill. A return ride, which will take you to the top and then back down, costs €5.30 including access to the observation deck. If you want to skip the elevator and just stroll around the observation deck to enjoy the views, it’ll be cheaper as admission without the elevator is just €1.50
9. Stroll along the 25 de Abril Bridge
One way to take in the sights of Lisbon is to drive a car along the length of the 25 de Abril Bridge. This bridge spans across the Tagus River and connects Lisbon with the municipality of Almada. At first glance this suspension bridge might remind you of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco because it shares a similar burgundy color scheme and its overall appearance is very reminiscent of the U.S. landmark. Opened in 1966, the bridge is vital to the city’s transportation network as it carries more than 150,000 vehicles a day across its six lanes and over 150 trains daily on the two train tracks that are on its lower platform. Unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s no pedestrian access to the 25 de Abril Bridge. That means you’ll have to drive across it if you want to experience the impressive views on either side. It’s a toll bridge for all traffic heading northbound into Lisbon, which costs €1.75 for passenger cars. There’s no toll for heading southbound out of the city.
10. Unwind on Lisbon’s beaches
While sightseeing and exploring might be some people’s idea of a great vacation, others could be looking for some simple rest and relaxation. Lisbon’s got you covered with several beautiful, well-kept beaches and a temperate climate year-round that makes a day on the beach an attractive option. There are several very popular beaches near the city boundaries that are easily accessible with a short car or train ride. Highly recommended at the beaches of Carcavelos, Oerias and Santo Amaro. Activities at the beaches include surfing and swimming, or you can just put out a chair or towel and soak up the sun. There are plenty of cafes and other tourist facilities near the sand, so if you’re looking for a snack or something else, you’ll be able to find it quickly. Because the beaches are so family-friend, expect them to be particularly busy in the summer months.
11. Indulge your sweet tooth with a Belém pastry
For those visitors with a sweet tooth Lisbon has plenty to offer, so get ready to indulge and enjoy some local specialty foods — in particular the pastry known locally as either Pastel de Belém or Pastel de Nata. The recipe for this delectable custard tart is more than a century old, created in 1837 by somebody from the Jerónimos Monastery who thought that selling the treats would be a good way to raise funds for the monastery’s survival. They were so popular that others quickly tried to replicate the pastry and now it’s sold all over Lisbon and the world, although the original recipe remains a secret known to few. You’re bound to enjoy the custard treat no matter where you find it in Lisbon, but the best option is to visit the bakery by the monastery (https://pasteisdebelem.pt/en/) where the tarts are made freshly daily to the same recipe people enjoyed so many years ago. The bakery is open from 8am to 11pm every day, although it closes earlier on some days around Christmas. And legend has it that a bride who eats one of the pastries “will never take off her ring,” so buying the tarts from the bakery could be a fun experience for newlyweds or couples celebrating an anniversary.
Visit the Feira da Ladra market
Some people want to make their holidays all about shopping, and Lisbon doesn’t disappoint here whether they’re looking for high-end retailers or low-cost flea markets. As you’d expect from a capital city, there are many shopping centers and streets featuring big-name brands that are perfect for an afternoon of retail therapy. But consider also making time for a look around the Feira da Ladra, which is a flea market held in the Campo de Santa Clara every Tuesday and Saturday. The market has been in existence since 1272 and is a great place to find some hidden gems, with all manner of arts and crafts and other souvenirs on sale at amazing prices. Swing by the market on one of the two days that it’s open (there’s no fee to simply stroll the various stalls) and pick up a one-of-a-kind locally made handicraft as a perfect memory of your Lisbon vacation.