The best independent guide to Lisbon
The best independent guide to Lisbon
Lisbon is a vibrant and charismatic city, and one of the finest capital cities in Europe. The city boasts a glorious climate, lively nightlife, historic monuments and a range of activities that will entertain visitors of all ages and dispositions.
There is a lot to see and do in Lisbon, so we suggest that you plan at least three days to explore the city; while a one-week holiday will allow you to discover the fascinating towns and glorious beaches of the region.
The interactive map below displays the location of these sights and activities; the blue tags are the top 10 sights and the yellow tags are the top 10 activities.
This article does not consider day trips from Lisbon, such as to Sintra, Cascais, Obidos, Setubal and Mafra, for a full guide to Lisbon’s day trips please see this article.
The following section details why each of the monuments or activities has been included in our list, and provides links to further in-depth guides.
The Castelo de São Jorge castle stands majestically above central Lisbon and was entwined in the early history of Portugal. It was here that the Christian crusaders defeated the Moors in 1147, the Portuguese survived a siege by Castile (1373) and was the seat of power for Portugal for over 400 years.
This rich and extensive history is captured within the castle, from the formidable fortifications, the defensive viewpoints or the tranquil gardens of the royal quarters. For visitors there is a lot to experience while in the castle, the citadel’s towers and battlements can be explored, there are amazing views over the city, along with an informative museum.
Insight: The castle is in the heart of the Alfama district, one of the most characterful areas of Lisbon, and is where we recommend you begin your tour of Lisbon.
Tourist information: Entrance €10 – typical visit 1hour.
Related articles: Lisbon castle guide – Alfama district guide
The number 28 tram is the quaint yellow tram that rattles and screeches through the narrow streets of Lisbon. In any other city, the 1930s trams would be an exhibit in a museum, but in Lisbon they are an integral part of the public transport network.
Not only are the trams extremely charming, but the 28 route passes through many of Lisbon’s historic districts, including Graça, Alfama, Baixa, Chiado and Sao Bento, and is as good as any organised tour.
Our advice: Ride the tram early in the day to avoid standing for the whole route.
Tourist advice: Fare €3
Related articles: The number 28 tram
The number 28 tram as it passes through Praça do Comercio
Torre de Belém is the tourist icon of Lisbon and a beautiful example of the Manueline style of architecture. There are Arabic inspired watch towers, ornately carved battlements and even the earliest stone statue of a Rhino. The little fort dates from the 16th century, and when constructed sat in the middle of the Tejo Estuary, and protected the shipyards in Belem and Restelo.
Insight: The Torre de Belém lies in the Belem district and this area is a favourite with tourists. There are scenic parks, views across the Tejo estuary and is the location for many of Lisbon’s most important historic monuments.
Tourist advice: Entrance €6 – typical visit 30minutes
Related articles: Torre de Belém guide – Belem district
The Portuguese are renowned for their love of sweet pastries and cakes, and no dessert is more famous (or delicious!) than the Pastel de Nata custard tart.
The original Pastel de Nata (called a Pastel de Belém) was created by the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém bakery over 150 years ago, and today this bakery can produce up to 40,000 tarts per day. The exact Pastel de Belém recipe is a closely guarded secret, and all other imitations (which are as equally tasty) are referred to as Pastel de Nata.
Insight: Attached to the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém bakery is a large and chaotic café, and this is the best setting to try a Pastel de Belém.
The lift climbs seven storeys, and up one of the steepest hills in Lisbon
The Elevador de Santa Justa is an industrial age lift, which transports passengers up one of steepest hills in central Lisbon. The lift was constructed in an era when artistic detail and flare were incorporated into the magnificent machines that powered the age.
Within the iron structure are gothic arches and geometric patterns, while the cabins are lined with polished wood and control by brass dials. The Elevador de Santa Justa is a truly unique attraction of Lisbon and saves having to climb one of the city’s steepest hills.
Insight: The terrace at the top of the lift provides wonderful views over central Lisbon and is a very romantic location at night.
Tourist information: €5.30 return (including viewpoint) – €1.50 viewing platform entrance
Related articles: Elevador de Santa Justa guide – The Baixa district – Best viewpoints in Lisbon
Lisbon has a buzzing nightlife scene that is social, diverse and welcoming. There are two main nightlife areas to Lisbon; the Bairro Alto district and Cais do Sodré.
Nights tend to begin in Bairro Alto, a warren of trendy bars, artisan cafes and traditional live music establishments, where the sound of Fado music can be heard wafting out. At the weekends the late-night revelries spill out onto the surrounding streets, so that the entire district feels like one large party.
As the night progresses (around 2am) everyone heads downhill to the Cais do Sodré district, with its late-night clubs and banging atmosphere, which continues until sunrise. The heart of Cais do Sodré’s hedonistic nightlife is centred around the distinctive “Pink Street”
One of the best ways to discover Lisbon and to meet fellow travellers is to join a guided tour. We have worked with Getyourguide.com for the last six years, and some of the best tours of Lisbon include:
The Cristo Rei statue towers above the southern banks of the Tejo Estuary and is one of the most prominent monuments in Lisbon. This statue has many similarities to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, and this is true as the Brazilian monument inspired the Portuguese statue.
Apart from being a distinctive landmark, the Cristo Rei statue provides one of the best viewpoints of Lisbon, with unrivalled views of the suspension bridge and city.
Insider tip: The statue can be easily and inexpensively travelled to by public transport; there is a ferry from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas and then by bus from Cacilhas to the Cristo Rei statue. The ferry ride is an enjoyable activity.
Tourist details: Cacilhas ferry €1.30 single, 101 bus €1.45, Elevator of Boca do Vento free, Cristo Rei viewing platform €6.00
Related articles: Cristo Rei statue - Lisbon ferry guide
Admiring the central tank of the Oceanário de Lisboa
The Oceanário de Lisboa is one of the greatest aquariums in Europe, and it specialises in oceanic life. There are four giant tanks depicting the world’s four oceans, while the colossal central tank holds a plethora of species; from sharks to rays and shoaling fish.
The unique aspect of the four oceanic tanks is that they can be viewed from both above and below the water level, and this cleverly integrates penguins and sea otters with deeper dwelling oceanic fish. The Oceanário de Lisboa will fascinate adults and children alike, and is the best family activity in Lisbon.
Insight: The Oceanário de Lisboa is based in the Parque das Nações, the ultra-modern side to historic Lisbon, and is an interesting district to visit for half a day.
Tourist information: Entrance €16 – typical visit 1h30 Travel: metro; red line, Oriente metro station
Official website: https://www.oceanario.pt
Related articles: Parque das Nações
The Palácio Nacional da Ajuda was the royal residence for the Portuguese nobility during the 19th century. This palace has been beautifully restored so that there are 35 lavish staterooms to visit, including the opulent banquet hall and grand throne room.
Of all the tourist attractions detailed in this article, the Ajuda Palace is the one most likely to be overlooked and missed by tourists. This is a shame, as the palace is stunning.
Tourist details: €5 Entry - Travel: bus 630 or E18 (this was originally a tram service) - Typical visit: 45minutes
Official website: http://www.palacioajuda.gov.pt/
It comes as a surprise to many visitors who are new to Lisbon, that there are such beautiful beaches close to the city. The best beach, which is easily accessible from Lisbon, is the Praia de Carcavelos and it boasts golden sands, clean sea waters and excellent tourist facilities.
To the west of Lisbon is the delightful resort town of Cascais, while to the south of Lisbon is the Costa da Caparica, a 15km coastline of pristine beaches and powerful surfing waves. During the summer a city break to Lisbon could also include time relaxing on the beaches.
Related articles: Lisbon baches – Cascais guide - Costa da Caparica guide
The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is the magnificent monastery, which was funded by the 16th century spice trade.
Originally, the plans for the monastery were modest, but with an almost unlimited budget and 50 years of construction, the final result is the most extravagant religious building in Portugal. Within the dual-level cloisters intricate stone carvings adorn every surface, while the western portal exemplifies the whimsical Manueline design styles and sculpture.
Insider tip: There can be very long queues to enter the monastery, but the adjoining church is as decorative, and is without the queues or entrance fee.
Tourist information: Cloister €10 – Church Free
Related articles: The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
The Praça do Comércio is the most magnificent plaza in Lisbon, and was historically the commercial hub of the city. In the plaza, merchants would trade exotic items and spices, and explorers would seek financing for voyages to Africa, India or Brazil.
Today the Praça do Comércio is just as lively, but the focus tourism and culture. Residing in the distinctive yellow buildings are boutique hotels and sophisticated restaurants, and there is always a great (holiday) atmosphere about the plaza.
Do not miss: The Arco da Rua Augusta is the triumphant arch, which leads from the Praça do Comércio into central Lisbon, and at the top of the monument is wonderful panoramic viewing point.
The Feira da Ladra is the twice-weekly flea and curiosity market, held in the Alfama district. This historic market is enjoyable to browse, as is the wide assortment of stalls selling collectables, lesser antiques and other random second-hand items.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos commemorates the Portuguese explorers of the 15 and 16th-century. This bold and powerful monument stands on the banks of the Tejo Estuary, and was where many of these voyages to India and Brazil departed from.
Along two sides of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos are lifelike depictions of the explorers and the prominent people from the era, who funded or supported the voyages. At the top of the monument is a viewing terrace, which provides outstanding views of the Belem district.
Tourist information: Entrance €6 – typical visit 30min
Related articles: The Padrão dos Descobrimentos – Belem district guide
Lisbon has a vibrant creative and artisan scene, and the focal point for this is the LxFactory. This is a uber-trendy development of an abandoned factory, which promotes artists and niche independent businesses, but also attracts a clientele who can afford the bespoke price tags.
Within the LxFactory complex are unique stalls, speciality shops and funky restaurants, along with a dynamic creative tech hub. If you are seeking something very different from classical tourist attractions or what to experience modern, forward-thinking Lisbon, then Lx factory is the place for you.
Tourist information: Travel E15 tram (Santo Amaro stop)
The bland exterior of the Igreja de São Roque conceals one of the most opulent and extravagant interiors of any Portuguese church. Within the former Jesuit church, there is an immeasurable wealth of gold leaf and fine wood carving across the eight extravagant chapels. The Capela de São João Baptista, which was commissioned in 1740, is commonly regarded as the most expensive chapel ever constructed in Europe.
Our opinion: The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos has the finest stone carvings, while the Igreja de São Roque has the more decorative interior.
Tourist information: free admission
Fado is a haunting and emotional style of music, which is sung by a lone female singer and accompanied by a classical guitar. This is a mournful and powerful music, borne from the deep emotions of sailor’s wives, when their husbands or children were lost to sea. Fado captures this essence of longing, missing and fate, and is ideally experienced in a small intimate live music venue.
The Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge spans the Tejo estuary at its narrowest point, and connects Lisbon on the north bank with the commuter districts of Almada to the south.
The bridge closely resembles that of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, a likeness that comes from the fact that this bridge was constructed by the same company. The name of the bridge commemorates the revolution of Portugal from the Salazar regime on the 25th of April 1974.
Lisbon is a city that has a close connection with the oceans and seafaring, and there is no better way to view the city than from the water.
There are numerous tourist boat tours, but a much cheaper alternative is to cross the Tejo Estuary on one of the commuter ferries. These ferry routes provide frequent departures and inexpensive fares. The most popular route is from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas, and this is the first stage to head to the Cristo Rei statue. Another scenic route is from Belem ferry terminal to Porto Brandão and Trafaria.
Related articles: Lisbon ferry guide
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