Lisbon, Portugal is a fantastic destination, with beautiful attractions, brightly coloured buildings, and cobblestone streets. And that’s just the aesthetic! When you’re sightseeing in Lisbon, you can’t miss the striking Fado music, the unique seafood dishes, and the famous Pastel de Nata, among many other things. Basically, there’s a lot to love.
We spent a month in Lisbon exploring it slowly and getting to know more about the city’s long history and vibrant modern culture. But most of these Lisbon attractions and activities can be done in three days!
So, let’s jump into Lisbon’s best historic attractions, and then all the activities you should tick off to get the fullest experience of the ancient city. And if you want to learn more about Portuguese culture, check out this post on Portuguese mythology and folklore!
Top places to see in Lisbon
The historic city is really beautiful, but you’ll find that most of the buildings don’t go back further than 1755. This is because the city suffered a terrible loss this year, when an earthquake struck. On All Saints Day, when candles were lit across the city, and so it additionally caused a massive fire. And then, a tsunami. So it was absolutely devastating.
But Lisbon built itself back up, focusing on wood-framed houses that could withstand earthquakes, and covered with incredibly beautiful and varied tiles.
We’ve put together all the most interesting places to visit in Lisbon! These historic treasures really paint the picture of Portugal’s rich history and make for a wonderful few days of exploration.
Opening hours: October – April, 10:00 to 17:30 | May – September, 10:00 to 18:30
Cost: €10 (you can buy your ticket at the entrance or book online and skip the often long lines)
The Jerónimos Monastery is an incredibly beautiful and ornate space, covered in so much detail that you could spend a day here figuring out all the various elements! Every corner of the monastery, its pillars and ceilings, balconies and walls are covered in flower and animal motifs, coats of arms, gargoyles and other fantastic details.
Commissioned in 1501, this immense building also houses the National Archeological Museum and the Navy Museum – both well worth a visit, as long as you don’t mind that most of the information is only available in Portuguese.
If you’re exploring Lisbon on a budget, you don’t need to go inside the Monastery! It’s a fantastically ornate space, but seeing it from the outside is also amazing. You can also visit the church for free, which is another awe-inspiring space.
The monastery is right on your way to Belem Tower and the Monument of the Discoveries, so these three are perfect to tick off in one day.
Opening hours: October – April, 10:00 to 17:30 | May – September, 10:00 to 18:30
Cost: Adult – €6 | EU citizens over 65 or with youth card – €3 | Under 12 – Free
Officially the Tower of Saint Vincent, this fortification opened in 1519 and was used to defend Lisbon, as it’s based at the meeting of the river and the ocean. Most people just visit to see the tower from the outside, and then it’s free! But an entrance ticket includes a tour of the tower’s historic prison spaces, its narrow staircase taking you up five stories, and the beautiful views from the top terrace.
Belém Tower was actually constructed as one of two towers, the other set on the other side of the river. But when both were badly damaged by the 1755 earthquake, it was decided that only the Belém Tower really needed to be rebuilt. After all, Lisbon had never actually been under siege since the two were built, so it just didn’t feel too vital.
Monument of the Discoveries
Opening hours: March – October daily, 10:00 to 19:00 | November – February, Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 to 18:00
Cost: €3 for the exhibition and entrance | €6 for exhibition, viewpoint and film | discounts for youth, seniors and locals
This more recent monument celebrates the Age of Exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries. Each larger than life figure on the monument depicts a real person in Portugal’s history.
The figure at the front, named Henry the Navigator (or Dom Henrique), sponsored explorations that greatly enriched Portugal, both culturally and financially. He and the other men depicted established trade routes, spread Christianity, and mapped large portions of the world. Interestingly, despite Henry the Navigator’s title, he never actually set sail outside of Lisbon.
The monument was first constructed in temporary form, but in 1960 they reconstructed it to mark 500 years since Henry the Navigator’s death.
This giant monument is another stop worth visiting but not entering for those of us on a shoestring budget. You’ll also see it from its best angle on a sailing tour, which is the 12th item on this list!
São Jorge Castle
Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 10:00 to 19:00
Cost: Adult – €10 | EU citizens over 65 – €8.50 | Students – €5 | Under 12 – Free
You’ll be able to spot the ramparts of Castelo de S. Jorge (São Jorge Castle) from much of Lisbon. It’s hilltop views are definitely the best in the city, with a panoramic look over Lisbon. You’ll also find quite a number of colourful peacocks strolling about the property and sitting high up in the trees, very much at home.
This Moorish castle’s fortifications were first built in the 1st century BC! But it’s been rebuilt and added to so many times in the intervening years, with many different names. The current name comes from the 14th century when São Jorge – patron saint of knights and crusades – was a very important figure in Portugal.
The castle has been occupied by Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, and Portuguese. And it’s served as a military barracks, a royal palace, an archive of important documents, and now a museum. Its history is intertwined with the history of Lisbon, and its little museum is one of our favourite in the city.
Praça do Comércio Square
Opening hours: Always open
Another of Lisbon’s highlights is the iconic Commerce Square. It’s a huge open space, surrounded on three sides by bright yellow buildings and lovely restaurants, with a massive ornate arch leading off to the busiest shopping street in the city. On the other side, you have the river!
Any visit to Lisbon is incomplete without strolling through Praça do Comércio (and maybe snapping a photo or two). It’s vibrant, colourful, busy vibe reflects the capital city perfectly.
This site was once home to the Royal Palace, until the 1755 earthquake struck. The square replaced this monument, and quickly became the ‘door’ to Lisbon, where all ships stopped to deliver their goods.
Opening hours: Open daily, 07:00 to 19:00
Cost: Entrance is free, but the cloister and ruins cost about €2.50 and you can also pay for a museum ticket (we did the museum and it was terrific, but not vital)
Lisbon’s main cathedral, officially called The Cathedral of Saint Mary Major, is a stunning structure with an impressive museum.
Rather than just visiting the church, it’s best to explore the whole place, as you’ll find beautifully detailed vestments and other clothing worn by the clergy through the centuries. As well as reliquaries housing saints’ bones, and historic paintings. It’s a wonderful place to tour, and as immense as it looks from the outside – it feels even larger when you’re exploring the inside!
The cathedral is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1147. It has survived every earthquake, undergoing a good few restorations over the years. It really feels like stepping back into history, and is well worth a visit, whether you do the full tour, or just marvel at it from the outside.
Miradouro de Santa Luzia
Opening hours: Always open
This lovely little lookout point isn’t so spectacular that you’d make your way here just to see it. But it’s the perfect follow-up to a visit to the Lisbon Cathedral. It’s so close you’ll probably just stumble onto it, and it’s absolutely lovely. More than just the view, the observation deck is set apart by its blue-tiled benches and bright pink bougainvillaea.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday:
October – April, 10:00 to 18:00 | May – September, 10:00 to 19:00
Cost: Adult – €5 | EU citizens over 65 or with youth card – €4 | Under 14 – Free
The Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a beautiful historic site to visit. Lying in the center of Lisbon, it has been left in ruins as a reminder of that terrible 1755 earthquake. Like so many other buildings, the convent was damaged by the earthquake and then burnt down by the fire. It’s massive library was destroyed, including irreplaceable manuscripts and artworks and maps.
This church’s construction dates all the way back to 1389. Because of its age and grandeur, and its name after a famous Portuguese hero, it was considered a symbol of Lisbon long before the earthquake. Its current form has been partially reconstructed in the early 19th century.
You can read more about its history on its site (although you may have to use google translate!). You can also learn about it on a guided tour of Carmo Convent and its museum, which you’ll find at the entrance.
Things to do in Lisbon
So, now that you know where to go, you’re almost covered for your trip to Lisbon! But of course, great trips are made up of experiences, not just the places you see. So these are our top things to do in the stunning city.
Take a cruise
We joined a small-group sailboat cruise for Glenn’s birthday, and it was unexpectedly wonderful. We came in with pretty high expectations, and it was definitely better!
There are a good number of sailing cruise options, from a 1-hour afternoon tour to a 2-hour sunset cruise with drinks (that’s the one we picked!). They take you past the city’s top attractions and tell you about Lisbon’s history, along with interesting things about the modern city. Our tour guides were so accommodating and interesting, and they even gave us a little tour of the whole boat once we’d docked, just because I expressed an interest in seeing it.
You can see the whole old city from the river, making a cruise the ideal option. Especially because the city’s history is so completely tied up in its naval pursuits!
Eat a pastel de nata
You certainly can’t visit Lisbon without having at least one pastel de nata. This is a crispy pastry with a custard filling that’s slightly blackened on top, and usually sprinkled with cinnamon. It’s absolutely delicious and quite small. So a pastel de nata and a coffee is the perfect little break between explorations! In our month here, we had at least twenty between us.
You’ll find these at every cafe in the city, and I haven’t had a single pastel de nata that I didn’t like. So just find a cafe you love the look of, and they’ll almost definitely have the city’s favourite treat.
Try the seafood and the tapas
While we’re on the topic of food! I must admit, being a vegan in Lisbon would not be easy. Famed for its fantastic seafood and flame-grilled meat, the city is geared towards meat-eating. And if you don’t mind it, there’s so much to try. The cheese-filled codfish cakes for one, and the chorizo sausage, often lit on fire right at your table!
If you’ve got a week to spend in the city, you’ll probably find all of Lisbon’s best dishes easily. But you can also have fun with a food and wine walking tour if you want to make sure you’re tasting the best.
Catch a tram (Tram 28, to be specific)
Of course, another bucket list activity in Lisbon is the famous Tram 28. 28 is the line the tram follows, and it takes you past most of the city’s best attractions and beautiful old sections. Although not to Belem! You’ll have to catch the more modern Tram 15 to get to Belem (we found the best spot to jump on was at Praça do Comércio Square).
The bright yellow wagons on tramline 28 are one of the city’s best identifiers, and you’ll find loads of souvenirs decorated with them. They’re not just a tourist trap though – if you catch one that’s not too full, the wide old seats and large windows, the thudding of the old machinery and the narrow, fun line it takes is really quite an experience!
Watch a Fado performance
Last, but definitely not least on my list is a traditional Fado experience. This is a Portuguese music genre associated with saudade or loss. The singing is mournful and passionate and really quite something to hear. It’s a musical genre passed down the generations, keeping the tradition alive.
These performances take place at many restaurants in Lisbon’s Old Town. We strolled through the narrow streets of the Alfama neighbourhood, and found a few! So you can just go and have dinner at one of these, or join a small-group guided tour, where you can learn more about the history of this lovely tradition and meet some new people while you’re at it.
Last thoughts on Lisbon sightseeing
Lisbon is such a stunning, fascinating city to visit! With its red-tiled roofs and many-colour-tiled buildings, its little streets and wide river, it’s incredibly photogenic. And all the food and fun really tops things off! You just need to know where to go, otherwise you could easily spend your time here wandering around and finding little. But, now you know just where to go.
I hope you enjoy your time here as much as we did! And let me know if I’ve missed any stops you loved.