Lisbon, the charming capital of Portugal in southern Europe, is known for its colorful buildings and great hillside views. Visitors enjoy taking nearly 150-year-old trams and guided walking tours through cobblestone streets, along with exploring historic UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as towers and monasteries. Another popular activity is catching a performance of fado, a type of Portuguese folk music played live at local restaurants and venues. Checking out diverse neighborhoods and tasting local specialties like port wine and sweet pastel de Belém tarts are additional reasons to not miss this beautiful city.
One of the most iconic Lisbon attractions is its historic trams, which have been an integral part of the city's transportation system since 1873.
Tram 28: This wooden tram is one of the most popular and best deals, taking you past most of Lisbon's best sights. See neighborhoods Bairro Alto and Chiado and the cathedral as the tram climbs up to Alfama. You can stay on until the last stop or get off near St. Jorge castle.
Hop-On-Hop-Off Tram: Get on and off as you like while checking out nine stops at beloved Lisbon areas like the downtown Baixa district or the gardens at Estrela Park. The tram includes an audio guide in 12 languages.
Beware of pickpockets, especially on crowded trams and at exit points.
Found in the downtown area of Baixa, the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) is Lisbon's most regal plaza. It boasts striking yellow buildings as well as the impressive Arco da Rua Augusta, which leads to Rua Augusta, one of the city's largest shopping avenues. Across from the arch is the Tagus River.
With so much to see, a guided walking tour is an excellent way to get acquainted with the city's top places, while you learn about the capital's history and local culture.
For a three-hour overview of Lisbon's main sights, including the most historic district of Alfama, Praça do Comércio, and more, enjoy a walking tour that includes a ride on the historic tram, a pastel de nata (pastry tart) and other snacks, and a wine tasting.
Since 1837, the Pastéis de Belém pastry shop has been making delicious pastel de Belém—Portuguese custard tarts sprinkled with cinnamon—using an old recipe from the Jeronimos Monastery. Though they may look very similar to the ones you'll see throughout Lisbon, these tarts are of a much higher quality and can be bought freshly baked (the shop is open daily), sometimes topped with cinnamon and sugar. The tarts taste best when eaten immediately.
Near the Pastéis de Belém is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery), a famous tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage Site. This monastery is impressive on the outside, and the inside (with Manueline workmanship) houses the remains of some famous Portuguese people, most notably the explorer Vasco de Gama.
Go to a Fado Show
Fado, a form of Portuguese folk music, tends to be a mournful and emotional ballad, but other styles can be more fun; catching a show is a classic Lisbon attraction.
Most fado performances take place in restaurants (which may require a reservation), clubs, or other venues, often in Alfama or Mouraria. Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto and Alfama has fado shows (confirm their schedule to be sure).
Lisbon's oldest district survived the catastrophic 1755 earthquake, maintaining its old cobblestone streets and structures, a stark contrast with the more spacious modern city.
Alfama is home to some of the city's best mirodouros (lookout points). One of these is located at Castelo San Jorge, a medieval moorish citadel that sits on top of Lisbon's highest hill.
You can reach Alfama by the famed historic tram 28, passing Lisbon's cathedral on the way, which is especially useful if you would like to avoid walking uphill.
Try Port, Vinho Verde, and Other Alcoholic Delights
The most famous wine in Portugal is port: a sweet, fortified wine, and visitors can try it in Porto, the city where the drink was created, about a 3-hour drive north of Lisbon. Head to Vinhos do Douro e do Porto, which offers a tasting room, wine shop, and guided lab tours on weekdays.
Other popular wines include the fortified madeira, muscatel made from muscat grapes, vinho verde (a light slightly-sparkling wine), and ginja, a sweetened liqueur that infused with sour cherries, widely available in Lisbon, most famously at A Ginjinha.
The Portuguese Food and Wine Tour is an ideal way to learn; you'll walk through Lisbon streets and explore the wine, port, and other drinks, and do plenty of food tasting at pastry and cheese shops, and beyond.
Bairro Alto is party central. From Bica at the bottom end to the area around Travessa da Queimada, you'll find nightlife for most tastes. And it's not just for the young—there are restaurants and fado shows too.
Bica runs along the Bica Funicular railway line and has many bars that have more of an indie/alternative feel to them. Try a beer or a caipirinha (the national cocktail of Brazil). Further up into Bairro Alto, many venues offer live music. Partying usually goes pretty late with people spilling out into the streets, creating a festive, fun atmosphere in Lisbon's (usually) nice weather.
Walking distance from the Baixa district lies Chiado, a neighborhood with a popular shopping and cultural district with theaters and museums. A Brasileira (The Brazilian Lady Cafe), one of the area's oldest and most beloved cafés, is where intellectuals including the poet Fernando Pessoa used to hang out; a bronze statue of the writer sits at an outdoor table.
From the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcántara, check out the nice views of Baixa, the Tagus River, and the São Jorge Castle on the summit.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the five-story Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) was built between 1514 and 1520 by the Portuguese architect and sculptor Francisco de Arruda on the Tagus River. One interesting feature of the Lisbon landmark is the rhinoceros gargoyle.
The tower, closed Mondays and certain holidays, is free to anyone with a pre-purchased Lisboa Card.
One fun thing to do is explore the region around Lisbon. The most often visited is Sintra, a resort town about a 35-minute drive from the capital. The Palacio Nacional da Pena is a major tourist attraction not to be missed; the brightly colored palace displays 19th century Romanticism architecture and is surrounded by a lush forest and amazing views. Area parks such as the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park on the Portuguese Riviera—with a stone-age burial chamber, dunes, and other historical and natural sites—are worth viewing as well.
Many enjoy a visit to Cascais, an approximately 45-minute drive from Lisbon, for a taste of a charming coastal fishing resort with 19th-century architecture. The historic center has cobblestone streets and fancy mansions, and the town is home to medieval Fortress Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais built in 1594. Tourists also enjoy the Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais (Cascais Citadel Palace), the former home to the governor of the citadel, which opened as a museum in 2011.
Art lovers in Lisbon may want to see The Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a museum all about azulejos, traditional Portuguese decorative ceramic tiles dating back from the 15th century to modern pieces. Housed in the former Madre de Deus Convent, the museum has temporary and permanent exhibitions, as well as a restaurant and cafeteria onsite.
The museum is closed on Mondays and on specific holidays.
Besides being a lovely spot for people watching, the Time Out Market Lisboa at Mercado da Ribeira in the Cais do Sodré neighborhood has something for everyone. It's got over 25 restaurants ranging from Portuguese to pizza to burgers, and several shops and bars. There are also longtime market vendors of fruit, meat, fish, flowers, and more, along with live music and cooking classes.