Seven hillsides overlooking the Tagus River cradle Lisbon’s picturesque panorama of ancient ruins, cobbled streets and white-domed cathedrals. Infused with just the right amount of tradition and modernity, Lisbon attracts tourists from all over the world.
Portugal’s capital is the country’s biggest city and there’s a plethora of things to do, from exploring ancient monuments to enjoying a day at the beach. Despite the hills, Lisbon is a delightful city to explore on foot, particularly in the summer when the sun is out and al fresco dining is plentiful.
Read on to discover some of the best things to do in Lisbon.
1. Explore São Jorge Castle
Nestled on a hilltop overlooking the historic centre, São Jorge Castle is an iconic building in the Portuguese capital. Wander round its winding walls and pine-shaded courtyards for superb views over the city’s red rooftops to the river.
Inside the Tower of Ulysses, a camera obscura offers a unique 360-degree view of Lisbon, with demos every 20 minutes. There are also a few galleries displaying relics from past centuries, including traces of the Moorish neighbourhood, dating from the 11th century, at the Archaeological Site.
2. Ride Tram 28
Lisbon is a city famed for its historic, rattling tram lines and every tourist should ride the no.28. These vintage wooden Remodelado streetcars, painted in the distinctive yellow colour, transport you back to another era as well as around the city.
The journey starts below the palm-spotted hills of Graça, and weaves toward the hair-pin alleys of Escolas Gerais, before pulling up to a halt beneath the domes of the Estrela Basilica.
3. Enjoy the azulejos in the National Tile Museum
It’s impossible to leave Lisbon without admiring the city’s masterful displays of tiles (azulejos) brightening up buildings and streets. One of Portugal’s most important traditions, these hand-painted splendours, most commonly with lovely blue and white designs, get the spotlight at the National Azulejo Museum.
The museum traces the important history of tile making and its associated technologies from the days when the Moors first brought the craft to Iberia. While you’re there, check out the panorama of Lisbon, spanning two walls, that captures the city prior to the earthquake of 1755.
4. Admire Carmo Convent
With the arches and pillars of its nave open to the sky, the mysterious ruins of this Gothic structure attract your attention as you wander Lisbon’s smart Chiado district.
Founded as a convent for the Carmelite order in 1389, it was devastated by the city’s 1755 earthquake. The onsite archaeology museum showcases a chapel, beautifully tiled with baroque azulejos, alongside artefacts from prehistoric tools to Moorish murals and pre-Columbian pottery.
5. Hunt for the best Pastel de Natas
You simply cannot visit Portugal without tasting their iconic Pastel de Natas, literally translated to “custard pastry”. A mouth-watering pocket of crispy, flaky pastry with a creamy, velvety custard centre that fits in the palm of your hand. Traditionally dusted with cinnamon, the best pastel de natas are still warm from the oven and can be devoured in two or three delicious mouthfuls. Many locals recommend getting the pastries from Pastéis de Belém or Manteigaria.
6. Head to the beach
Lisbon may be more well known as a city break destination, but the capital also grants easy access to some beautiful beaches. Praia de Carcavelos is one of the best beaches of the Lisbon coastline. It’s renowned for its soft golden sands, clean sea waters and great tourist facilities including beach cafés, restaurants and water sports. Just a 30-minute train ride from the city centre, visiting this beautiful beach is one of the best things to do in Lisbon during the summer months
7. Wander around Alfama
When most of Lisbon was rocked by the 1755 earthquake, the old Moorish quarter of Alfama stayed standing. With twisting, cobbled alleys leading past pastel coloured houses, this is definitely one of Lisbon’s most charismatic neighbourhoods. Melancholic fado (Portuguese folk music) drifts from bars, and locals chatter in front of old-school grocery stores and taverns, with the castle peering down from above and the river stretching out below.
8. Marvel at Belém Tower
One of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Bélem Tower sits on the northern bank of the Tagus River. The tower was built to defend the city before later being transformed into a lighthouse and customs house.
Stand and admire the tower’s gorgeous facade that faces the river or take a tour inside and enjoy the views that stretch from the building’s windows and terraces. The blend of Gothic and Menueline architecture is even more impressive from the inside. Here you can also see other interesting aspects of the tower, like the pits into which prisoners were thrown.
9. Get active at Monsato Forest Park
Known as ‘Lisbon’s Lungs’, a visit to Monsato Forest Park is a great way to escape the city, particularly if you’re visiting Lisbon for longer than a weekend. The 10 square kilometre site is Lisbon's largest green space and offers panoramic views of the city, the Tegas River and the Atlantic Ocean. The forest trails, some of which are quite hilly, are popular with walkers, runners and cyclists, and there are children's play areas, picnic areas and more.
10. Ride the Santa Justa Lift
This might just be the world’s most beautiful elevator and it is a truly unique thing to see in Lisbon. The 19th-century industrial-age lift transports passengers up 45m from the Baixa district to the Largo do Carmo. The exterior structure is adorned with glorious neo-gothic arches and geometric patterns, while inside two stunning polished wood carriages whisk passengers up in style.
Historically, the Elevador de Santa Justa was an invaluable part of Lisbon’s public transport network, but, today, it is primarily a tourist attraction and one of the best things to do in Lisbon.
So, those are the top 10 things to do in Lisbon. Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out our destination guides and book your next trip.