Lisbon is one of the most vibrant and charismatic capital cities in Europe. Famous for its impressive architecture, traditional Fado music, buzzing nightlife, fresh cuisine and welcoming locals, Lisbon has it all!
As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Lisbon has rich and fascinating history on every corner. Plus, with its glorious year-round weather, there’s always a great time to visit. Lisbon has something for everyone, making it one of the ultimate city breaks in Europe!
1.) Free walking tour of Lisbon
Walking tours are a great way to kick start your stay in a new city. Providing a mix of historical facts, neighbourhood insights and local recommendations, it’s the perfect introduction to the Portuguese Capital. Walking tours are also great for meeting other people, particularly if you’re travelling alone.
Meeting in the infamous ‘Camoes Square’, Lisbon offers free daily walking tours in various languages. Our guide was hilarious, insightful and gave us invaluable advice on how to make the most of our long weekend there. Tours typical last 3-4 hours, so be sure to bring plenty of water, sun protection and comfortable walking shoes. Although it’s free, the longevity of the tour relies on tips given to the very deserving guides!
Along with fascinating information on Lisbon, our guide gave us great local tips on the different neighbourhoods, good restaurants and where to go for local Fado! Ultimately, it’s a great way to see what the city has to offer and gives you an idea of where you might want to spend more time.
2.) Belém Tower
The Torre de Belém, or Belém Tower, is a remarkable landmark located on Lisbon’s expansive waterfront. Originally serving as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for explorers, Belém Tower is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The 500-year old tower became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Whether you choose to venture inside Belém Tower or not, it’s worth at least wandering around and exploring the surrounding area – especially Jeronomos. Once you’ve seen the tower, head over to Pasteis de Belem to enjoy some of the best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon!!
What is inside the Belém Tower?
There are five floors inside the tower, each connected by a small, narrow spiral staircase. The stunning ground floor has 16 windows with cannons and there’s a small roof terrace too. The history behind the tower is fascinating, especially when paired with the pits and holes prisoners were thrown into.
Be warned that queues are typically long during peak season. This also becomes problematic once inside. On the most crowded days, it can be stressful having to wait to climb and descend down the narrow staircases.
If you do plan to go inside, book tickets in advance and consider getting a guide to get the most out of the experience. Adult tickets cost for Belem Tower are €6, with Jerónimos Monastery and Ajuda Palace add-ons available for €12 & €16 respectively. Children below 12 are free and those with Senior or Youth cards received a 50% discount. Opening times are between 10am-5:30pm from October to April, with closing times ending at 6:30pm between May and September.
How do you get to the Belém Tower?
Belem Tower is well connected and is easily accessible from downtown Lisbon. The most convenient way to travel from Central Lisbon is the E15 Tram. There is also a train option (Belem: Cascais Line) and several buses (27, 28, 29, 43, 49, 51 & 112). However, the district of Belem is not connected to the Metro system. Additionally, parking is difficult in the area, so it’s best to take public transport.
Alternatively, rent bicycles and cycle alongside the impressive River Tagus. The Tower of Belem is located on the Belem Coast, approximately 6km west of Lisbon. The path connecting the tower to the city is flat and perfect for walking or cycling. I’ve rented bicycles from Bikeiberia and it was the perfect way to explore the Belem area for a few hours. It’s worth noting that you can pay for an organised bike tour too!
3.) Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa)
Built in 1902, the Santa Justa Elevator is an exquisit lift found in the historic centre. Additionally, it has a great observation deck giving you sensational panoramic views over the Baixa district and beyond. The impressive views and great photo opportunities make it definitely worth a visit. The Santa Justa Elevator is easy to reach by foot from the city centre, or by taking a metro to Baixa/Chiado (blue/green lines).
The best times to go are early in the morning or during sunset. The Santa Just Lift becomes extremely busy over peak summer months, especially during the day. To avoid long queues, and a congested viewing point, go outside of peak hours! Although the views are stunning, I wouldn’t say it’s worth long queues in the heat. The many incredible hills of Lisbon provide equally good views of the city…and for free!
Consider taking the stairs up to the viewing platform, otherwise prepare for an expensive 30 second ride up. The narrow, spiral staircase to reach the viewpoint is fairly steep, but as someone who’s terrified of heights, I was fine doing it. You can ride up for free with your metro day pass. Otherwise the elevator ride up to the viewing point and back down again will cost you €5!
The Santa Justa Lift isn’t just a great way to see the city. It’s also the fastest way to travel from the Baixa neighbourhood to the Bairro Alto district.
4.) Time Out Market Lisbon
The infamous food and cultural market is one of the most popular things to do in Lisbon. With 35 small restaurant kiosks, offering some of the best local specialities, the Time Out Market is a must-do. Since the market opened in May 2014, its buzzing vibe, delicious meals and fun live music brings people from around the world to visit.
Given its central location, the market is very easily accessible. The nearest metro, bus and tram stop is Cais do Sodre, but it’s also walkable from most parts of the city centre. The Time Out Market is very inclusive; with vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. It’s also accessible for wheelchairs, offers free wifi, accepts credit cards and has takeout options.
Although it’s not cheap, this highly-rated market has an abundance of fantastic food and drink options. From seafood to mediterranean, to local Portuguese dishes and Asian cuisine there’s something for everyone to enjoy. However, during busy seasons, the Time Out Market can become overcrowded with tourists. Consider buying your food to takeout and sit across from the market in the glorious Jardim Dom Luis park.
Check out the official website, for all the latest news on vendors and events held at the Time Out Market Lisbon.
5.) Explore Lisbon by Bicycle
Renting bicycles is always a great way to see a new city quickly. Lisbon is one of the hilliest cities in Europe, but don’t let this put you off. There are many bicycle rental shops to choose from and many offer organised private and group day tours of different areas. I can recommend both Lisbon Bike Rentals and BikeIberia, who offer great services and fantastic value for money. If the thought of cycling up the steep hills of Lisbon put you off, consider renting an E-Bike. Road bikes and mountain bikes are also available.
A very popular route is along the cycle paths by River Tagus towards Cascais. The route is flat, picturesque, and at points, lined with restaurants serving the freshest fish. Furthermore, you’ll pass the Henry Palace, the Tower of Belem, several museums and parks.
Bike rental shops will provide helmets and bike locks, along with their emergency phone number in case of punctures. They will also be able to suggest many different routes depending on what you’re wanting to see and the type of bike you hire.
6.) Stop for a Pastel de Nata
A trip to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without a Pasteis de Nata – a Portuguese egg custard tart. The famous Portuguese custard tarts can be found across the city, providing the perfect pick-me-up after a day of sightseeing. Be warned…it’s impossible to just eat one.
If you only try one, make sure to visit Pasteis de Belem. The owners claim they have the original recipe for Pastel de Nata.
For more renowned Pasteis de Nata closer to the city centre, try out:
- Fábrica da Nata
7.) Wander Through Lisbon’s 12 Neighbourhoods
The 12 distinct neighbourhoods of Lisbon come with their own unique quirks and characteristics. My favourite thing to do in a new city is to wander around the different neighbourhoods and see their differing personalities. The neighbourhoods and their most notable attractions are as follows:
The 12 Districts
Alfama: Alfama is a Medieval District where traditional Fado music can be heard on every corner. The charming streets and hidden alleyways of Alfama are bursting with incredible restaurants and hole-in-the-wall shops. The key landmarks here are the Sé de Lisboa, the Church of Santo Estevão and the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora.
Avenida da Liberdada: Best known for its designer shopping, beautiful old buildings and theatres. Avenida da Liberdada is one of the most expensive avenues in the world.
Avenidas Novas: Business district filled with residential and commercial modern buildings.
Bairro Alto: Bairro Alto is most famous for its nightlife!
Baixa: Baixa is the historic centre of Lisbon. Along with key tourist attractions – Rossio Square, the Santa Justa Lift & Praça do Comércio – you’ll find an abundance of restaurants, shops, bars and hotels. The plazas, avenues and architecture here are magnificent, so expect to spend a lot of time here taking photographs.
Belém: Belém contains the most historic monuments per square metre than any other district in Lisbon. Here you can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Belém Tower and the Monastery of Jerónimos. The Monument to the Discoveries, transport museum, modern MAAT, Berardo Collection Museum and Calçada da Ajuda (home to the royal palace and botanical garden) are all based in this district too. Don’t forget to try the infamous custard tarts at Pastéis de Belém.
Cais Sodré: This once seedy district has been transformed into one of the city’s most trendy areas! Cais Sodré is a buzzing hub of cool bars and clubs. It’s also home to the Pink Street – an iconic lane lined with fun bars and restaurants. During the day, walk along the glorious Ribeira das Naus waterfront and ride the historic funicular ‘Elevator da Bica’. As the night comes alive, visit the many bars, eateries and The Timeout Market.
Chiado: Chiado is one of the most popular districts known for it’s shopping, theatres, historic monuments, unique cafes and tasty restaurants. This elegant neighbourhood is perfect for taking a stroll and enjoying a freshly brewed coffee. Like Bairro Alto, Chiado comes alive at night with lively bars and alfresco eating.
Graça: The historic district of Graça lies on the highest of the seven hills, with most visiting for the viewpoints of Graça and Senhora do Monte. As one of Lisbon’s oldest districts, expect to see some of the capital’s oldest churches and architecture. The small narrow streets are bustlings with restaurants and shops – typically frequented by locals. Graça gives you a real taste of Lisbon life!
Lapa: Known for being an upper class favourite, the Lapa Quarter is famous for its embassies and palaces. This mostly residential neighbourhood has nearly 9,000 residents across 0.72km2 and is perfect for walks amongst the pristine parks and quiet roads.
Parque das Nações: Spanning 5km along the waterfront, this neighbourhood is known for its contemporary architecture. This once industrial district is now characterised by its cultural and recreational areas; full of shops, restaurants and parks.
Príncipe Real: Visit this upmarket, sophisticated neighbourhood for some of the trendiest restaurants and bars in town! Check out the tiny antique stores, unique boutiques, manicured gardens and elegant cafes. The Jardim do Príncipe Real is a must-do if you’re visiting this part of town.
8.) Visit the Colourful Sintra
Sintra is a magnificent town located on the Portuguese Riviera, approximately 25km from Lisbon. Home to the Sintra Mountains, Sintra National Palace and the famous Pena Palace, Sintra has become a popular places to visit from Lisbon. The 40 minute train journey from the capital makes it an ideal day trip!
Sintra gets extremely crowded during the summer months, so it’s recommended to arrive early to avoid the masses. If you only have a day to spend in Sintra, visit the main cultural sites: Palacio Nacional de Sintra, the historic centre, the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palacio Nacional da Pena.
Best things to do in Sintra
Sintra is packed full of stunning natural and cultural sites. By just looking at photos, you’ll not be surprised of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
- Pena Palace: The iconic, colourful palace remains one of the best things to do in Portugal. Sitting amongst the Sintra Mountains, the vibrant colours stand out against the luscious, mountainous backdrop. This eye-catching wonder attracts huge numbers of people every year, so be sure to get there early to avoid crowds.
- Monserrate Palace: the stunning architecture of the Monserrate Palace is one of the best things to do in Sintra. With stunning Indian influences, the Palace is made of a differing architecture given its partial rebuilt post earthquake.
- Parque de Pena: The stunning forests of Parque de Pena surround the picturesque Palacio Nacional da Pena. The grounds are definitely worth visiting.
- Moorish Castle: Visit the Moorish Castle for some of the best views in Sintra. Wander around the ruins of the castle walls, taking advantage of the uninterrupted views of town.
- Sintra National Palace: Pretty palace that’s easy to visit once in Sintra. Furthermore, the Natural History Museum of Sintra is next door!
Getting to Sintra
Sintra is very accessible from Lisbon. There’s a direct 40-minute train from Lisbon’s Rossio Station, which departs twice an hour. Alternatively you can reach Sintra by renting a car. Once you’ve arrived and parked, grab a bus or taxi to the different sights and areas within Sintra. The 434 tourist bus connects all the main palaces and areas nicely, so it’s very convenient once you’re there.
There are also Tuk-tuk tours available, which will take you easily between each place. However exploring Sintra this way is very expensive.
9.) Day Trip to Cascais
Cascais is a quaint fishing town and one of the most popular resort areas on the Lisbon coastline. Given its close proximity to the Capital, it has become an increasingly popular day trip from Lisbon. Home to cobbled streets, fascinating museums, numerous parks and pristine beaches, Cascais is not to be missed.
Best things to do in Cascais
- Praia da Rain beach: beautiful secluded beach with crystal clear turquoise waters.
- Rua Frederico Arouca: lively shopping street. This will lead you into the historic, cobblestoned centre – Cidade Velha.
- The Old City (Cidade Velha): the old city has stunning 19th Century buildings such as the famous Palacio Seixas and is overseas the Praia da Ribeira Beach.
- The Praca 5 de Outubro: Cascais’s main plaza with many shops, restaurants, the town hall and the famous statue of King Pedro I.
- Walk the fort walls: visit the colourful Centro Cultural de Cascais
- Galleries and Museums: the Sea Museum expires the fishing history of Cascais. Casa das Historias Paula Rego showcases stunning artwork by Paula Rego.
- Scenic Costal walk: enjoy the delightful 2km promenade walk from Cascais to Estoril. Forte da Cruz and the Praia do Tamariz beach are at the end of this walk for you to enjoy.
- Santa Marta Lighthouse: an iconic blue and white striped lighthouse near the elegant, grand villa of Casa de Santa Maria.
Getting to Cascais
The best way to reach Cascais from Lisbon is the train. Departing from Cais do Sodre station (green metro line), the scenic, 40-minute journey will cost €2.25/€1.15 (adult/child).
If you’re pushed for time and want to do both Cascais and Sintra in a day, it’s highly recommended to book a tour as doing this route via public transport will leave little time to enjoy either place. Choosing this option will mean you only experience a snapshot of both places.
10.) Food & Wine Tasting
A great way to enjoy and learn about a city is through its food. Portuguese cuisine is famous for its fresh fish and seafood, smoked meats and cheeses. Like Spain, it originates from ‘peasant food’ – hearty, rice-heavy meals that are cheap and satisfying. In Portugal‘s case, arroz de pato. Lisbon is known for its exceptionally fresh fish and seafood, so be sure to try out some local dishes. Bifanas – national Portuguese sandwich – is another must try, along with the iconic dish ‘Caldo Verde’.
Wine & Wine Tastings in Lisbon
No trip to Lisbon would be complete without sampling their wide range of wines. The most famous wine region in Portugal is Douro, home to Port wines. Alentejo and Minho regions fall closely behind. Arguably the most well-known wine in Portugal originates from the historic Minho region in North Portugal: Vinho Verdo.
Vinho Verde, translating to ‘green wine’, is famous for it light and cheap nature. It’s a must-try when in Lisbon and can be found in any restaurant, wine bar or street side establishment. Enjoy this fresh, fruity wine on one of Lisbon’s many quirky balcony-style bars.
Food Tours in Lisbon
There area a plethora of food tours available in Lisbon, often going hand-in-hand with wine tastings. From small group tastings and private tours, to big cooking classes, there’s something for anyone. The most common food tours consist of Petiscos, small-plate Portuguese Tapas, paired with famous local wines. Not only can you try a range of typical Portuguese food, but you’ll also likely learn some history along the way.
11.) Bar/Pub Crawl
If food and wine tastings aren’t your thing, consider one of the many bar crawls organised throughout the week. These provide a great opportunity to meet other people, particularly solo backpackers, and will give you a taste of what nightlife is on offer. At night, the historical streets of the old town become electric with party goers from around the world. As with most cities, different areas attract different scenes. By joining a bar or pub crawl, you’ll be navigated through the city’s best party areas and benefit from good drink deals. If you’re looking to enjoy some of the best bars and clubs in Lisbon, consider doing it with a tour.
12.) Lisbon Tram 28
Lisbon’s Tram 28 is one of the best ways to explore the old city and the differing neighbourhoods Lisbon has to offer. The entire route takes an hour – starting at Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique – but you ….
This tram is extremely popular amongst tourists, so prepare for long queues and crammed carriages at times. To beat the crowds and get a seat, start the journey from the other direction. Most tourists get on at Martim Moniz. However during peak season, queues can have over 200 people for very limited tram spaces. By starting your route from Campo de Ourique, you’ll have a higher chance of boarding an emptier carriage.
If this doesn’t appeal, there are alternate routes that still give you the experience. Walking the route of Tram 28, a hills tram tour or taking a different tram route (12, 15e, 18, 24 and 25) will give you the same traditional, wooden tram experience without the hassles of Tram 28.
A single tram ticket costs $3 and can be purchased onboard. However, using a Via Viagem pass will give you 50% off. Similarly, if you’re planning to visit many different areas, you might consider buying a 24hr pass for €6.40.
Note: Keep belongings close! Trams are a hotspot for pickpockets. We were warned of this during our walking tour and by the hotel.
13.) Barrio Alto and Lisbon’s Nightlife
Lisbon has vibrant and diverse nightlife is not to be missed during your stay. The narrow, cobbled streets of Bairro Alto remain quiet during the day – filled with tourists wandering the traditional streets. But at night, this neighbourhood comes alive with its many bars, restaurants and fado houses. As venues here are small, it’s not uncommon for people to take their drinks out in the streets – adding to the district’s fun vibe.
14.) Enjoy Lisbon’s Hiking Routes
Lisbon is often referred to as the ‘Cidade das Sete Colinas’ – the city of seven hills. These allow for breathtaking views over the city…along with a great workout! Just spending a view hours walking around the city sightseeing will provide a great hike. All Trails offer great hiking routes in the city centre and surrounding areas.
Two popular hiking routes include:
With the luscious mountains and stunning scenery, Sintra’s mountains are often a go-to for people looking to enjoy a day of walking. However the Sintra Coastline is often wrongly overlooked. Hike this 10km point-to-point route from Sintra to Cascais Natural Park and marvel at this incredible coastline. Hiking from Sintra to Cabo da Roca will treat you to picturesque beaches, whitewashed houses and incredible limestone formations. Many people choose to end their walk at the beautiful Praia da Ursa beach to enjoy some well deserved relax time. This will be one of the easiest options in terms of convenience, for both cars and public transport connections.
Serra de Arrabida
For more challenging hikes, check out Serra de Arrabida and the Parque Natural da Arrabida. This region comprises of forested hills, pristine beaches and towering cliffs overlooking the vast coastline. High, vertical cliffs make up the area just above the sea. On the back of this you’ll find smaller mountains which are easier to hike – these vary in levels of difficulty. Serra de Arrabida is often regarded as one of the most beautiful regions in Portugal.
Despite this, it’s largely untouched by tourists despite being less than 40 minutes from Lisbon. However, this spectacular area can’t be reached easily by public transport so will likely only be an option if you have rented a car.
15.) A Day at the Beach
With the hustle and bustle of city life, it might be hard to believe that Lisbon is close to some of the best beaches in Portugal! This region boasts four different coastlines, all offering unique experiences from one another. From windy surfing beaches to family-friendly beaches, there’s something to suit every travellers’ needs. And the bonus…most of them are easily accessible by public transport.
The top 3 beaches to visit for a day trip from Lisbon include Praia de Carcavelos, Praia de Santo Amaro de Oeiras and Praia da Conceição. During the hottest months sea temperatures average at 20°C (68 °F), perfect for cooling down on a hot day.
Getting to/from the airport
Lisbon Airport has a metro station with a direct line to the city centre. The ‘Aeroporto – Saldanha’ line takes you to downtown Lisbon is roughly 20 minutes.
You’ll need to buy a ‘7 Colinas’/ ‘Viva Viagem’ travel card, which you can top up for journeys on either the Metro or Carris (bus network). The card costs €0.50, with a single fare €1.45 and a 24h pass €6.30
Another cheap alternative is to catch the bus. A ticket will cost roughly €4 and takes 45 minutes.
Taxis are the most convenient way to travel from the airport to city centre. It will cost €20 and will take approximately 20 minutes depending on time of day.
Getting Around Lisbon
The easiest and cheapest way to get around the city is by foot or public transport. Lisbon is well connected with trains, trams and buses, making getting around the city or further afield easy! You can purchase a travel card to use across the metro and bus network. Because of its extensive network connections to surrounding areas, it’s not worth renting a car. From beaches and mountainous hiking regions, to the infamous Cascais and Sintra areas, everything you could wish to visit can be reached by metro, train or tram.
Weather in Lisbon
One of the best things about Lisbon is the glorious weather. Its mediterranean climate allows for hot, dry summer and mild, rainy winters.
The best month to visit Lisbon is May. As the tourist season is just starting up, you’ll avoid the bulk crowds and queues. In additional, the weather is fantastic for both day and night. The hottest months in Lisbon are July and August, with temperatures peaking in the late 30s. Not ideal for standing in queues or walking around the hilly city. For these reasons another great time to visit Lisbon is in September. Both these months experience low rainfall too.
The coldest month in Lisbon is January, with average day temperatures sitting between 8-15°C (47-52.9°F). The wettest months are November and December, with an average rainfall of 127mm and 14 rainy days.
Lisbon Travel Guide wrap up
I hope this travel guide is helpful for anyone planning a trip to Lisbon! There’s so much to see and do in this vibrant capital city. And with great year-round weather, you can enjoy this city throughout the year. If there’s anything in particular that I’ve missed, feel free to contact me.