A city that truly has it all, Lisbon blends a rich historical past with a contemporary food scene, pristine beaches and eclectic art. With friendly locals, delicious local cuisine and colorful tiles at every turn, Lisbon is a dream for those wanting to immerse themselves in Portuguese culture. Plus, this coastal city is one of Europe’s most affordable capitals. Here are 10 essential and authentic things to do during your visit to Lisbon, Portugal.
Belém is so much more than just a neighborhood — it’s even the name of Lisbon’s most famous pastry shop, Pasteis de Belém which dates back to 1837. Known as the connoisseurs of the classic pasteis de nata, be ready to sample these delectable, flaky crust pastries oozing with sweet creamy custard. The charming neighborhood also features the picturesque Belém Tower, perched on the edge of the water. One of the best ways to explore Belém is by bike, and you can book a guided ride ahead of time to see all of the highlights and more.
Stop to visit the magnificent Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument dedicated to Portugal’s famous exploration age. The 16th-century Belém Palace and the Gothic-style Jerónimos Monastery are also worth checking out.
Castles & Palaces
Lisbon’s Castelo de Sao Jorge is a true medieval treat, with gorgeous vistas of Lisbon beyond its fortified walls. The stunning Pena National Palace in nearby Sintra will blow any predispositions of palaces you’ve ever had into the dust. This picture-perfect example of 19th-century Romanticism architecture will amaze and delight, thanks to its colorful and elaborate facades — not to mention the breathtaking views of the Portuguese countryside. Private tours leaving from Lisbon are available to visit sites like Sintra and beyond with Lisbon on Wheels.
Ride the 28 tram
For the classic yellow vintage tram riding experience, take the number 28 which cruises between Martim Moniz and Campo do Ourique. The tram gets especially crowded in the summer, so consider riding it during off-peak times. If you get on at the first stop, Martim Moniz, you’ll deal with fewer lines, riding all the way up the hills to Campo do Ourique. Then, you can do the same route walking down. If you really want to avoid the crowds, brave the hilly walk up, and plan to take the tram down in the opposite direction.
Leisurely explore the Alfama
The Alfama district is the oldest in Lisbon. Getting lost in its labyrinth of cobblestone streets is a real adventure. Admire churches, tiled buildings and panoramic views as you squeeze through narrow passageways and quaint alleyways. Put your map away and wander — you’ll discover all kinds of beauty you never knew existed. If you can’t manage the hilly streets on foot, explore via electric bike instead.
Hit The Beach
It’s easy to get to some of Portugal’s most glorious beaches on public transport from Lisbon. Head to the golden sands of Adraga after seeing the sights of Sintra. Cascais and Estoril are among the easiest (15 minutes away) and most popular to get to from Lisbon, and will be crowded with locals and tourists when it’s warm and sunny.
For a quieter experience, explore the beaches and rocky cliffs of the Arrábida Natural Park, about an hour outside of the city. Kayak day trips and secret beaches to explore can be scheduled ahead of time. You can even arrange a scuba diving trip for the day off the coast of Arrábida Natural Park.
Take the Santa Justa Elevator
The Santa Justa lift (also known as the Carmo lift) isn’t just any elevator. It’s a tourist attraction in itself. The iron lift takes you from the lower Baixa district to the higher area of Carmo so you can avoid the hilly walk. The 19th-century attraction is a sight in itself, covered in geometric, neo-gothic patterns and arches on the outside. Although the elevator is actually part of Lisbon’s public transport network, you can also enjoy city views from the viewing platform. But get ready for long waits, as the platform can only hold 29 people at once (the same as the elevator).
One of Lisbon’s most interesting attractions is the roofless convent and church, the Carmo Convent. The walls and columns of the church are still intact, but a 1755 earthquake destroyed the roof. There’s something mystical about walking through the roofless Gothic ruins — and you can even explore the archaeological museum, which has items from various periods of Portuguese history.
Admire the Azulejos
Azulejos is the local name for the colorful ceramic tiles that make up an important part of the city’s vast history. The tiles became fashionable after a Portuguese king visited Spain in the 13th century and saw the tiles that the Moors had brought from Africa. The tiles grew in popularity throughout the exploration age and are still used today to decorate and bring color to homes, buildings, fountains, flooring, benches and more all over Lisbon. Tiles cover the city, some faded and crumbling, some bright and contemporary, each with its own charm. A trip to Lisbon’s National Tile Museum is a treat for anyone truly interested in the history of the colorful ceramics.
Hit Up the Markets
Check out both local and international foods at the Mercado da Ribeira (also known as Time Out Market Lisbon). The market dates back to 1892, but has been recently taken over by Time Out Lisboa in an attempt to modernize its offerings and attract local and foreign clientele. It’s the perfect way to sample various Portuguese cuisine, like wines and cheeses, typical codfish and seafood, pastries and more. If it’s vintage treasures you’re after, bring those bargaining skills to the test at the Feira da Ladra, where you can find all sorts of antiques and artifacts on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Drink Vinho Verde
Although Vinho Verde comes from northern Spain, it’s commonly consumed throughout all of Portugal and in Lisbon. The name, which translates to ‘green wine,’ refers to the fact that it’s a young wine, released just a few months after the grapes are harvested. As a result, Vinho Verde is typically light and fresh, with a slight sparkle. Although 86% of Vinho Verde is white, you can also drink it versions of both red and rosé.
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