Lisbon is the most visited city in Portugal, as well as one of the top visited cities in Europe. Lisbon has so much to offer to visitors. There’s incredible architecture, sweeping views, its riverside location, a temperate climate, terrific food and warm people. It feels like the perfect blend of old and new. A rich, vibrant history combined with a country and people trying to establish their role in the 21st century.
During our time there, it was noticeably less crowded and less expensive than the other major tourist destinations in Europe. However, I suspect that wont last long as more and more people learn about his under the radar European capital!
6 Activities You Don’t Want to Miss While In Lisbon
1. Walk Around Baixa, Take a Stroll Down Rua Augusta
The Baixa district is often called the heart of the city. It’s one of the cities most renowned districts and is located in the historic city center. Today, it’s the downtown area and is chalked full of beautiful squares, shops, restaurants, and pedestrian walking streets.You’ll find plenty of things to see and do here.
The Baixa is just one of Lisbon’s unique districts (others include Barrio Alto, Alfama, and Belem), but we spent a lot of our time there because we found it to be beautiful and full of life.
You can’t miss walking up and down one of Lisbon’s most popular pedestrian streets called Rua Augusta. This street is filled with cafe’s displaying delightful pastries, restaurants, and retailers. If you’re a big shopper, this street will make you smile.
We decided to buy some gelato and simply walk along the street and people watch. Rua Augusta ends at Praça do Comércio, which is a terrific plaza located right by the river.
2. See the Splendor of Rossio Square
Rossio Square (aka the Pedro IV Square because it hosts the 23-meter tall column adorned with a statue of Dom Pedro IV, who was the king of Portugal and first emperor of Brazil), is the heart of city. It is a wonderfully beautiful square that teems with life.
Arrivals and departures from the Manueline Rossio train station take place here, as well as many other activities including shopping and sipping on coffee (two of the city’s most famous cafés can be found here: the Café Nicola and Café Suiça).
Be sure to take in the beautiful Baroque fountains. Find time to admire the neoclassical architecture of the Dona Maria II National Theater, built in the 1840’s. We particularly loved the wavy black and white tile pattern that the square is paved with! Chances are you’ll pass through this square several times while exploring the city.
3. Experience Panoramic Views at the Santa Justa Lift
If you love city views like us, you’ll want to head to the “Santa Justa Lift”, which is an elevator ride that takes you to a viewing platform with incredible views of the city. For more information on the Santa Justa Lift (cost, hours, history, etc.) this is a great site.
When we tried to take the lift, however, the lines were unbelievably long and the weather would have made the wait very uncomfortable. We were told to walk around the block to Carmo Convent Square (here is a map), which lead us to stairs that cost €1.50 to walk up to reach the platform. The stairs were spiral, but they weren’t difficult at all. There was no wait to take the stairs so we were much happier with this option. The views were worth the effort, as the photos show!
4. Visit the Belem Tower, Discoveries Monument, and Jeronimos Monastery
Our main goal was to see the Belem Tower, so the Discoveries Monument and Jeronimos Monastery were just sites we passed by and quickly viewed along the way, which was enough for us. But you may prefer to spend more time at the other two sites.
The 500-year-old monastery that hosts Vasco da Gama’s tomb and other important figures from Portuguese history, consists of magnificent cloisters, arches, and pillars covered in elaborate Manueline-style architecture. This site will give you further information about visiting the monastery, again, if you’re willing to wait in lines. The same goes for the Discoveries Monument. Seeing the outside was enough for us, but there is a small museum inside along with an elevator that takes you to a viewing platform that offers panoramic views over the Tejo estuary and Belem. Click here for details.
The Belem Tower, however, was one of our favorite sites in Lisbon. Situated along the Tagus riverbank, it was built in 1515 as a fortress to protect the shore of Belem. To get here, we walked along Rua Augusta (a lively, pedestrian-only street that is the city’s main shopping area), where we grabbed gelato, and continued on to Commercio Square and caught Tram 15 to the Belem stop.
After arriving, we walked across the bridge and along the water to Discoveries Monument first. From there, we could also see the monastery from across the street and then made our way to Belem Tower for sunset, which made for a beautiful photo op. There was a cute little park near the tower that we sat in for a bit while taking in the sunset views (we wished we would have brought some wine!).
5. Take a Day Trip to Sintra
There is plenty to do and see in Lisbon so it can be hard to think about doing a day trip outside the city, especially if you don’t have a lot of time. However, it would be a mistake to visit Lisbon without visiting Sintra.
Sintra is a quick train ride away (less than an hour) and offers visitors the chance to visit a place that is unlike anything that we had ever been to. Visiting the Palacio Pena in Sintra is like transforming into another world. The castle seemed like it belonged in a Disney movie and was an amazing experience. Here’s more information about on taking a day trip to Sintra.
6. Indulge in Lisbon’s Night Life
The vibrancy of Lisbon’s nightlife was one of our favorite aspects of the city. We enjoyed walking around the Baxia and Chiado neighborhoods and couldn’t get enough of the sites of string lights and lively restaurants and bars squeezed into the narrow cobblestone streets.
Bairro Alto was our favorite because of its abundance of bars, restaurants, and Fado clubs. This is definitely the best spot for late night fun.
If you are looking for an interesting bar experience, head over to Park Bar. This trendy bar on top of a parking garage has terrific great city views and is a great sunset spot. There were no signs, we had to ask a local how to find it, but now they seem to have a pretty good website so check it out here to find out how to get there.
We also stumbled upon a hookah lounge where we stayed much longer than intended because of a friendly bartender who kept serving us snacks and topping off our hookah with a variety of flavors. You just never know what gems you’ll find when you explore these charming neighborhoods at night!
Where we stayed In Lisbon
We rarely share about where we stay, but we loved our hotel in Lisbon so much that it is worth mentioning. We stayed at was Solar Dos Mouros Lisboa and it hands-down made our trip to Lisbon so much better. The deluxe suite features a private terrace with incredible panoramic city and river views.
We spent an entire afternoon on the balcony soaking in the view and drinking wine while watching the sunset. It was one of our favorite memories ever. It was just perfect! We felt like we were on top of the whole city!
Lisbon is a terrific vacation destination with lots to offer visitors of all taste. Its extremely well connected, both to the rest of Portugal and to the rest of Europe. You can just as easily find yourself happily lost wandering the narrow streets of the historic Baixa district as you can reveling in the sights and sounds of a famous Fado show. More over, once you’ve had your fill of the city, you’re only several hours from some of the Europe’s best beaches!