Top things to do in Lisbon
On arrival at Lisbon Portela Airport in Portugal, instead of joining the very long line of tired travellers waiting for a taxi, I opted for the metro. Possibly not the right decision, as the queue of visitors struggling to operate the few ticket machines in an unfamiliar language probably moved just as slowly!
Take your pick on a mode of transport, but however you choose to arrive, it won’t take long to fall under Lisbon’s spell. Immersing yourself in the history and vibrant culture of Western Europe’s oldest capital city is a truly fabulous experience.
Here’s a city guide to the top things to do in Lisbon.
The iconic number 28 tram makes its way through many of Lisbon’s most historic suburbs and is popular with tourists. Like me, you may prefer to view the tram from afar as it trundles up the hill, while you meander peacefully through the cobbled laneways of Alfama – the oldest of Lisbon’s districts – enjoying a living history lesson.
For more historical things to do in Lisbon, make your way to the impressive Castelo de Sao Jorge. The citadel is one of Lisbon’s most historic sites and dates back to the medieval period. From here there are extensive views of the city across the terracotta-tiled roofs.
Stroll down Rua Augusta through the grand Arco de Luz da Rua Augusta to the waterside Praça do Comercio, once the seat of customs and port activities and a key part of Lisbon’s economic history since the 16th century.
Take a seat on the steps by the Tagus River and contemplate life as it used to be on this once bustling waterway.
Lisbon is hilly city and the locals have adapted public transport to suit the terrain. Give your feet a break with a ride up (and down) on one of the old funiculars: the Ascensor da Gloria and Ascensor da Bica, built in the late 1800s. The beautifully crafted Elevador de Santa Justa urban elevator is another wonderful option.
For more relaxing things to do in Lisbon, take a train to Parque das Nações, the site of the 1998 World Expo. The Lisbon Oceanarium located here is one of the biggest aquariums in the world. Views from the nearby Vasco da Gama Tower stretch for miles (check opening times prior to your visit).
Walk along the promenade, ride the cable car or take a river cruise from the marina.
You can’t leave Lisbon without listening to the melancholy strains of Fado. After getting the back story on this traditional folk music at the Fado Museum, head for the Clube de Fado, one of many restaurants in Alfama where you can enjoy traditional Portuguese fare accompanied by Fado guitarists and singers.
If the magnificent tile work around Lisbon has inspired you, the Museo de Azulejo (tile museum), while a little off the beaten track, is well worth a visit. It traces the history and production of ceramic tiles over five centuries. I walked there, but you could take bus 794 or a taxi.
Make the most of being on holiday by tucking into the fabulous pastries on offer in Lisbon – the custard tart is only one of many!
Bacalhau, dried and salted codfish, is on every menu and a ‘must try’. There are many different variations to choose from. I enjoyed the rather rich bacalhau with a cheesy sauce – and as a snack, the bacalhau croquettes.
For the perfect evening, enjoy an aperitivo at the charming old kiosk in Praça Luis de Camões, before walking down to the vintage tavern A Taberna da Rua das Flores in the street of the same name. It’s best to book a table to save yourself a long wait.
A note of warning when it comes to dining out. In Portugal, the bread and olives brought to your table are not complimentary. If you don’t want to pay for them, it’s best to refuse them in the first place.
Tourist souvenir shops are, of course, everywhere. For something different, take a stroll down elegant Rua Garret in the Chiado district, where you’ll discover Livraria Bertrand – the world’s oldest bookshop. Founded in 1732, there is a Guinness World Records certificate to prove its claim.
The beautiful jewellery store Tous is just a few doors down the street at number 50. Keep a lookout for little specialty shops – tiny haberdashery Retrosaria Bijou with its vast array of buttons, ribbons and fastenings on the Rua da Conceição; or the Doll Hospital on the Praça da Figueira.
Here too you can savour the aforementioned pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) at Confeitaria Nacional. It opened in 1829 and features a stunning mirrored ceiling and wooden staircase.
Do you have any tips for top things to do in Lisbon? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Joanne Karcz published a blog when she walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her travels ever since. She is also an aspiring travel photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. Joanne loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs. She has travelled through Europe and South America and taken a group of friends on the trip of a lifetime to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. Her visits to Cuba and India were bucket list items, but she still has a few destinations to tick off!