Europeans are attached to their past, love and celebrate their history and their culture, take pride in their inheritance and preserve it like no one else in the world. That is probably one of the main reasons travelling in Europe makes for such an amazing experience.
Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, more than other places, holds the local spirit locked deep inside its ancient walls, sharing it gladly with its many visitors, but refusing to let go of it. Lisbon is a city that embodies the ideal of a European capital.
Romantic world travellers will find many things to see in Lisbon that will enchant them and satisfy their hunt for tiny cobblestone winding streets, art museums packed with priceless items, vibrating streets resonating with local music, locally flavoured cuisine, everything that represents what Europe is all about. So if you are wondering what to do in Lisbon, look no further.
Located on the very coast of the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon is one of the few European cities to hold this privilege and the only capital city located on this coast. Lisbon is by far a big city, inhabited by a merely 550,000 people, the rather small size giving it a sense of intimacy and a personal feel to the visitors.
The Mediterranean culture is a big influence here. The siestas, the olive oil, the strong coffee, the loud long nights, the funiculars going up and down the seven hills upon which the city was built on, all accompanied by good spirits and joyfulness are all component parts of the experience you will have in this Iberian town.
This is a leisure city and there are countless things to do in Lisbon, but if you are a conscious traveller and enjoy researching and planning your trip ahead, here is a list of the most enticing tourist attractions in Lisbon.
10 Things to do in Lisbon
1. Walk through Lisbon’s old quarters
On your first day arriving in Lisbon, you should start your exploration by taking a long walk through one of the historical neighbourhoods. The Alfama is the oldest area of Lisbon still standing and the most famous one as well. A visit to the Portuguese capital would not be complete and shouldn’t even begin without a stroll through its maze of narrow streets.
A strong Arabic influence is present here architecturally and no wonder of it: Alfama was originally a Moorish quarter. This area is inhabited by residents whose families have been living here for generations and there is a strong sense of community uniting them.
Even though recently there has been new investment in the property here and businesses have been open, especially associated with tourism and leisure, the neighborhood still preserves its spirit and is a must on the list of things to see in Lisbon. Wondering what to do in Lisbon? This should be on top of the list.
2. Take the tram number 28
Another important Lisbon attraction is taking the tram number 28 (or eléctrico 28) around town. A great and inexpensive means of transportation, the single carriage tram will take you to the most important parts of town at a low fare.
The trams are genuinely vintage, so you will enjoy an authentic experience. The trams still used today have been manufactured all the way back in the 1930s, so don’t expect an easy comfortable ride.
The half hour ride will take you from the Graça neighborhood, crossing through Alfama, Baixa and Barrio Alto (meaning all the significant historical neighborhoods of the city), then up through Chiado to Bairro Alto and then all the way down to Campo Ourique. Throughout your journey you will be able to spot Lisbon’s best spots and monuments.
3. Visit a UNESCO site
Once you got yourself nice and comfortable in town, it’s time to hit some cultural sites and what best place to start than Lisbon’s most emblematic site, Belém Tower.
What to do in Lisbon is to visit the single most visited site in the Portuguese capital, this tower was built back in the 16th century on a little island located by the shore of the Tangus river, serving both a defense role and being used as a ceremonial entrance into town.
Belém Tower or Tower of St. Vincent was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, along with the nearby Hieronymites Monastery, in the year 1983. The fortified tower stands as a wonderful example of Portuguese Manueline architecture.
The limestone construction can be reached easiest from Avenida Brasilia and is open for visitation every day excepting for Mondays, between 10AM and 5:30PM during winter months and from 10-6:30 during the summer. The fare for the tower and the Hieronymites Monastery runs at 10 euros/person.
4. Learn some history
Back in the day Portugal was one of the leading powers of Europe, a nation of conquerors, a land of the arts and innovation. More recent history hasn’t brought Portugal back in the spotlight too much, so no wonder the Portuguese are anchored in the past, recalling greater times and not letting their ancestors’ accomplishments be forgotten.
Below are three suggestions of things to see in Lisbon in order to get familiar with the history.
One of the things to see in Lisbon is a prime architectural masterpiece of the 18th century Portuguese engineering and still standing to the day – Aqueducto Aguas Livres.
It can be visited as part of the Water Museum (Museu da Agua), which also includes 4 steam engines dating from 1880.
The Monument to the Discoveries celebrates the times of conquest of which Portugal as a nation is so proud of. Originally designed in 1940 as part of the Portuguese World Exhibition.
Later on, in 1960, the monument was erected in its final form, marking at the same time 500 years that had past since Henry the Navigator’s death, one of the symbol figures of Portugal.
Last but not least, dating back to Roman times is Nucleo Arqueologico, a web of tunnels. Relics from Roman, Islamic and medieval occupations have been found in this underground site. The site is located under the Banco Comercial Portughesa in the Baixa district. Things to do in Lisbon are endless.
5. Party the night away listening to Fado music
Still wondering what to do in Lisbon? If by now you haven’t been drawn by the unique rhythms of Fado, the original vocal & guitar music of Portugal (best resembling the Spanish flamenco), it’s time to find a bar or another venue that offers Fado shows, definitely a must on the list of things to do in Lisbon.
Translated as “fate” or “destiny”, Fado is a well celebrated music genre, which has been listed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011. Alfama is the neighbourhood where you can spot many Fado themed bars and restaurants.
A 40 minutes show can also be enjoyed Mondays to Saturdays Cine Theatro Gymnasium.
6. See Lisbon from up high
An example of modern age early engineering in the Santa Justa Elevator. Connecting the lower streets of the Baixa barrio with the higher Carmo Square, it was built by one of Eiffel’s followers in 1902.
This public lift is a rare vertical version of the funiculars, declared a National Monument, and can be used all day between 7 and 23, every day excepting Mondays.
A view from the top over the medieval rooftops and colourful buildings puts this ride on the list of things to do in Lisbon.
7. See some modern architecture
You’ve been in Lisbon now for a few days, time to hit a more modern part of town: in the eastern part of the city is the Parque das Nações.
Built for the 1998 World Exhibition, the park includes various buildings and monuments, pavilions, fountains and even cable cars are a must of the things to see in Lisbon.
A not to be missed tourist attraction in Lisbon is the Oceanarium located inside the Park of the Nations, one of the best in Europe, with an admission fee of 16 euros.
8. Visit Cascais
After spending a week or so here, you’ll probably start wondering again what to do in Lisbon? One of the things to do in Lisbon is taking a day trip and visit the beach village of Cascais.
It’s located only 30 minutes away by train from Lisbon, a return ticket costing 10 euros. The town’s charm, located right above surreal looking cliffs with waves breaking against them, is attracting many tourists each year, seeing them stroll or cycle around the cobblestone streets is not uncommon.
Cascais is also the former residence of the royal family.
9. Have a taste of Portuguese cuisine
Portugal is a fish and seafood culture and also a wine culture and there’s no question that one of the things to do in Lisbon is definitely indulging yourself with some traditional Portuguese cuisine.
In a typical Mediterranean tradition, there are three meals served during the day, first of which is a rich breakfast consisting of pastries, jam, a spread of cheeses and meat products and a hot drink such as coffee or tea.
Lunch is the most important meal of the day and it takes place during the long siesta break at half day, while dinner is served late and tends to continue with a party afterwards.
Meals consist of three dishes generally: bacalhau (salted code) is a must try, dishes containing it being the number one most popular traditional ones in Portugal.
Another important dish is caldo verde, a kale based soup with potato and chorizo. The most popular desert is the custard tart or pastel de nata.
10. Take a street art tour
The street art in Europe is unbeatable, and Lisbon has some of the best I’ve ever seen! You don’t want to miss these incredible works.
I took a guided tour with Destination Hostels, and it was the best I’ve taken in Europe! So much to see, from so many great artists. The government even sponsors a lot of it, and flew in famous artists from Brazil for the buildings in the photo above.
If Lisbon is on your list of travel destinations, you are one lucky camper. A city that offers so much, drenched in culture and tradition, there is not a boring moment for the visitor. You will hopefully no longer wondering what to do in Lisbon either.
When thinking of what to do in Lisbon, there are so many options and variety that it can really be hard to choose. Our list of suggestions covers all aspects of what Lisbon represents.
History, ocean views, Fado music and wonderful Mediterranean cuisine with a unique twist, a taste of the old and of the new, one should experience the tourist side of Lisbon as well as every day typical Portuguese life.
Also be sure to check out this article by my friend Gianni, and out Trekking in Portugal!
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