The Best Things to Do in Lisbon

A beautiful, historic city, Lisbon is ripe for exploration. Go back in time at landmarks like the Jerónimos Monastery, or simply stroll the steep, narrow streets of old neighborhoods, following the sounds of fado down cobblestoned alleyways.

Lisboa 1100-341, 1100-393 Buenos Aires
This is the place to visit if you are looking for a multicultural neighborhood that is getting better and safer every day that passes. Near Mouraria, once a degraded neighborhood, you will find Martim Moniz’s Square—full of life, with many kiosks with esplanades, serving food and drinks from all over the world. Weekends feature the Fusion Market, with DJs, concerts, workshops, and debates. Even the city’s mayor changed his office to this area, to show that is a good neighborhood. From the square, you can see São Jorge’s Castle, up there on the hill, protecting us from evildoers.
R. do Diário de Notícias 39, 1200-141 Lisboa, Portugal
This place is mandatory, especially if you want to hear some fado. Here you can listen to Fado Vadio (sung by nonprofessionals) on Mondays and Wednesdays, hear consecrated artists and potential stars, or hear a regular who just feels like singing a fado accompanied by Portuguese guitar. Once an old tavern, A Tasca do Chico was restored in 1993; on the walls are paintings, posters, and clippings. Go early, because it can be crowded. If you like chorizo, ask for “chouriço assado"—basically, this chorizo is on fire. Let the flame disappear and then eat it with some bread.
R. do Vigário, 1100-502 Lisboa, Portugal
To get to know the neighborhood and its daily life, nothing beats a stroll through Alfama’s streets. It is the oldest and one of the most typical neighborhoods in Lisbon. Here you might see two women chatting at the window (well, screaming) while hanging the laundry; people sitting outside on small wooden benches or the entrance steps to old houses; and, of course, people listening to fado. The sounds of fado can come from a fado restaurant or from an old tavern (here fado is called Fado Vadio since it is sung by nonprofessionals after drinking aguardiente). On the nights of June 12 and 13, Alfama celebrates Santos Populares, when the streets are adorned with colorful little flags, the air is aromatic with smoke and smell of sardines, the beer is flowing, and music is everywhere.
1200-445 Lisbon, Portugal
On August 25, 1988, tragedy fell upon Lisbon: A huge fire turned Chiado to ruins, destroying 18 secular buildings. However, Chiado has come back to become the most elegant and trendy neighborhood in Lisbon. Fortunately, some buildings from the 18th century, a few of them renovated after the fire, still stand, remodeled by the Portuguese architect Siza Vieira. With a location on one of Lisbon’s seven hills, the neighborhood is full of old bookshops, theaters, international brands, and local fashion designers. Also, it’s a popular meeting spot for a dinner or a drink in Bairro Alto. Chiado’s streets are a symbol of the liberty of the revolution, since it was on the 25th of April, in 1974, that the Carnation Revolution would leave Largo do Carmo. Also it’s a neighborhood of intellectual life. The writers Fernando Pessoa and Eça de Queirós were habitués of the cafés.
R. São Tomé, 1100-563 Lisboa, Portugal
Santa Luzia offers you a panoramic view over Alfama, where you can make out the Alfama labyrinth. From here, you can see Santa Engrácia Dome (also known as National Pantheon), Santo Estevão Church, and the two white towers from São Miguel Church. Here you can also find two tile panels, one from Praça do Comércio (before the earthquake) and the other one with Christians attacking São Jorge Castle. Stone benches offer a place to sit and enjoy the views while someone plays music nearby. Or you can appreciate the paintings for sale, usually with trams as themes. Also, you’ll find a restaurant with a terrace. To get here, catch Tram N28.
Rua Senhora Saúde 6B, 1100-390 Lisboa, Portugal
The city’s iconic wood-paneled Tram 28 rambles along a 4.3-mile route from Campo de Ourique to Praça Martim Moniz, navigating tight turns and steep inclines as it passes some of Lisbon’s most endearing attractions. Originally commissioned in the 1930s, these classic Remodelado trams were in fact enlisted for their ability to handle Lisbon’s hilly terrain. They can get painfully crowded—wait times can be outrageous in the high season—so catch an early ride (5:40 a.m. most weekdays, or 6:45 a.m. on Sundays) for unobstructed views of hilltop neighborhoods like Graça and the Alfama.
Campo de Santa Clara, 1100-471 Lisboa, Portugal
In the 20th century, the Church of Santa Engrácia was converted into the national pantheon, in which important Portuguese personalities are buried. The first stone of the present building was placed in 1682; it was the first baroque-style building in the country. The work lasted so long that it gave rise to the popular expression “works of Santa Engrácia” to designate something that never ends. It took 284 years to complete the church, finally finished in the year 1966. Inside you will find the interior paved in colored marble, and outside you can’t miss the giant dome. There is a terrace at the top—you only have to climb 187 steps—but then you can enjoy the wonderful view over the river and the city itself. Among the illustrious personages buried here is the famous fado singer Amália Rodrigues. Sundays and public holidays are free until 2pm. To get there, take Bus 734 (at Martim Moniz) or Tram 28.
45A Avenida de Berna
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian’s heroic collection of Eastern and Western art is nearly incomparable in Europe. Hidden away in a complex inside leafy Gulbenkian Park, the museum is a chronological treasure trove of epic art that spans ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Qing dynasty, and the Roman Empire, among others. In August, the institution throws Lisbon’s premier jazz concert series, Jazz em Agosto—meaning that once you’ve had your fill of Egyptian mummy masks, fascinating Roman gold medallions, and René Lalique’s unearthly dragonfly brooch, you can chill on the expansive lawn for a little live music.
Praça do Príncipe Real 1, 1250-095 Lisboa, Portugal
Kiosks seem to be everywhere in Lisbon, but especially in public parks like the Jardim do Príncipe Real and others. A throwback to the 19th century when they sold magazines, newspapers, tobacco, snacks and refreshments, these stands peddle everything from a burger and a hot dog to slice of gourmet chocolate cake at a pop-up in Campo de Ourique. All over the city, there are also food vendors on bikes, scooters and vans; they sell drinks like lemonade, small snacks like petiscos—and even the delicious local specialty, custard tarts.
R. Augusta 2, 1100-053 Lisboa, Portugal
Blame it on all those years admiring the Arc de Triumph in Paris as I made my way on my daily commute; but I love a beautiful and strong visual monument at the beginning or end of a grand avenue. This example of one in Lisbon is especially sweet. Originally designed to house a bell tower, the Rua Augusta Arch is a historical building on Commerce Square, that was built to commemorate the city’s rebirth after the 1755 earthquake. How appropriate that a French sculptor is responsible for the stone representations of Glory, Valor and Genius at the top.
Praça do Império, 1449-003 Lisboa, Portugal
Back in 1992, Portugal hosted the Presidency of the European Union, which was the reason for building this center that nowadays holds conferences and professional meetings. It is also a cultural center, with three rooms of different sizes equipped to host theater, dance, jazz, opera, film, and classical music concerts. Speaking of classical music, a festival called “Dias da Música” lasts a whole weekend and is the biggest annual event taking place here. But there is more. You’ll find art at Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, and stores in the building include a bookshop and a Portuguese-design shop. And for dining, you have a restaurant/café with a terrace outside overlooking the river.
R. do Ouro, 1150-060 Lisboa, Portugal
The Santa Justa lift and its adjacent platform offer direct sight lines into downtown Lisbon. You can look down at Rua Áurea as it bustles with locals and tourists alike, observe residents of nearby apartments reading or enjoying a chat out on balconies, and take a deep breath amongst the endless sea of terracotta roofs.
Largo do Carmo, 1200-092 Lisboa, Portugal
In 1755, Lisbon was all but devoured by an earthquake so strong that it still ranks as one of the most destructive in recorded history. One of the few structures to survive somewhat intact was the Carmo Convent—an impressive feat, considering it was built in the 14th century. Today, you can still tour its beautiful skeleton, complete with soaring archways that cut a majestic path across the sky. Also worth visiting is the open courtyard, which houses spillover ruins from the attached archaeological museum.
R. Me. Deus 4, 1900-312 Lisboa, Portugal
Azulejos (glazed tiles) are a ubiquitous decoration throughout Portugal. They cover the facades and interiors of many houses in Lisbon, and are even used as historical markers. The Museu Nacional do Azulejo, located in a 16th-century convent, has a permanent exhibition that illustrates the heritage of these Portuguese tiles from the 16th century to the present, touching on everything from Ottoman geometry to Goan altars. Also on view here is a remarkable azulejo mural, A Grande Vista de Lisboa, which offers an idea of what the city looked like before the earthquake of 1755.
R. de São Pedro de Alcântara, 1200-470 Lisboa, Portugal
The São Pedro de Alcântara lookout may not be Lisbon’s highest viewpoint—that honor goes to the Nossa Senhora do Monte lookout—but it’s certainly its most romantic, offering panoramas of the city’s signature fortress, Castelo de São Jorge, perched ominously on the opposite hillside. In addition to the vista itself, the area offers pleasant gardens, which are perfect for lazing about, and a kiosk that regularly hosts jazz and other live entertainment. Come here at sunset and enjoy a sundowner as the city lights up below, then head to nearby neighborhoods Bairro Alto or Príncipe Real for a night on the town.
Lisbon foodie Filipa Valente is the hotshot behind Taste of Lisboa’s culinary tours, which take visitors a bit off the beaten path to some of the city’s most fashionable—but often overlooked by guidebooks—neighborhoods. With nary a tourist in sight, she leads guests around the wonderful Campo de Ourique area and its classic market for tasty alheira sausage croquettes, Portuguese-style mussels, and some seriously decadent chocolate cake. Of course, Valente also offers tours to more-traditional districts, but you can’t beat Campo de Ourique for a sampling of local treats.
Largo São Domingos, 1150-320 Lisboa, Portugal
Another Lisbon survivor, the baroque Church of São Domingos not only stood its ground during the 1755 earthquake, but also endured a bloody anti-Semitic massacre in 1506 and a devastating fire in 1959. The gorgeous cathedral, which dates back to 1241, is not without its scars, however—its interior is rife with gouged pillars, decrepit walls, and battered sculptures, all of which look even more ethereal when lit by a sea of candles. It feels like a house of worship in constant mourning, and will leave you in a very different mood than most other churches. If you can stomach it, stop outside at the Star of David memorial, which honors the hundreds of Jews that were killed in the 1506 Easter Slaughter.
Praça do Comércio, 1100-148 Lisboa, Portugal
Located right on the river, Lisbon’s massive main square is home to a plethora of gorgeous 18th-century architecture, all built after the devastating 1755 earthquake. Its canary-yellow facades and mosaic-like cobblestones come together to form one of Europe’s most picturesque plazas; it’s hard to believe that, as recently as the 1980s, the square was used as a parking lot (photos from those days, which you can see at the nearby Lisboa Story Centre, are astonishing). For the best views, pay the €2.50 (around $3) to access the terrace of the triumphant Arco da Rua Augusta and gaze out over the square, the riverfront, and the São Jorge Castle beyond.
Calçada da Quintinha 6, 1070-225 Lisboa, Portugal
A national monument, Lisbon’s massive aqueduct was a remarkable feat of hydraulic engineering when it was built between 1731 and 1799 to supply the city with water. Spanning some 36 miles, it boasts 109 stone arches, the most dramatic of which are the 35 that cross the Alcântara Valley—they survived the 1755 earthquake remarkably intact. Tour the aqueduct, then head to the Príncipe Real neighborhood, where the Mãe d’Água das Amoreiras reservoir now functions as a museum. You can also stop for some wine at Chafariz do Vinho, a wine bar built inside the aqueduct system.
Largo do Chafariz de Dentro 1, 1100-139 Lisboa, Portugal
Located in the Alfama district, the world-class Museu do Fado details Portugal’s soulful national music with exhibits, audiovisuals, and more. Marvel at the photographic panel of Portuguese musicians dominating the entrance, then listen to music as you tour the museum, stopping at the second-floor auditorium to watch a documentary on the history of fado. There’s also a great gift store, where you can purchase souvenirs like a four-stringed cavaquinho.
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