Tips on What To Do in Lisbon
With so many major attractions in close proximity of each other, you can tick off some of Lisbon's top sights and still have time for an afternoon café visit and an evening of Fado music serenades.
- For a splendid rooftop view of Lisbon, take the Santa Justa elevator on Rua de Santa Justa. ... The elevator goes from Rua Aurea, in the center of the shopping district near Rossio Square, to the panoramic viewing platform. It operates daily from 9am to 9pm. A ticket costs 1.15€ ($1.50), and children under 4 ride free." -- Frommer's
- Those planning to do a lot of sightseeing in a few days should consider purchasing the Welcome Center’s Lisboa Card for a flat fee. Museums and many sites are closed on Mondays and free on Sundays before 2pm." -- Let's Go Lisboa
- When Lisbon's inhabitants want to go to the beach, their preferred spot is the Costa da Caparica, a 20-km (12-mi) stretch of sand on the northwestern coast of the Setúbal Peninsula. The coastal strip centers on the lively resort of Caparica itself, at the northern end of the beach, less than an hour from the capital." -- Fodor's
One Day in Lisbon
If you're staying in Alfama, Bairro Alto or the lower neighborhoods sandwiched in between them, you'll be able to walk to many nearby sites. The medina-like Alfama is most visitors' first stop, with a visit to St. George's Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) to tour historic ramparts and get 360-degree views of Lisbon from the hilltop perch. After a little wandering, consider a stroll through either Baixa and Chiado or an afternoon visit to Belém, five miles west of downtown. Finish the day with traditional Portuguese fare and a night out in Bairro Alto (preferably at a non-tourist Fado club).
- If You Have 1 Day Take a stroll through the Alfama, the most interesting district of Lisbon. Visit the 12th-century Se (cathedral), and take in a view of the city and the river Tagus from the Santa Luzia Belvedere. Climb up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle). Take a taxi or bus to Belém to see the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery) and the Torre de Belém." -- Frommer's
Two Days in Lisbon
Two days is still rushed if you want to get to know the city. If ticking off the major sites is your top priority, add a day trip to Sintra to the "One Day in Lisbon" itinerary.
A slightly easier (but still action packed) itinerary would skip Sintra and stick to one section of town per day. For example, St. George's Castle, from where you can explore the Alfama district and Sé Cathedral. The guidebook recommends spending Day 2 visiting the sites of Belém.suggests "a rollercoaster ride of Lisbon on Tram 28" for Day 1, taking you to
Four or Five Days in Lisbon
Four or five days gives you time to "go native" in Lisbon, testing several cafés for the best latte, discovering small city parks off the tourist path, and taking a detour to visit Lisbon's Oceanarium in the Parque das Nações (Park of the Nations) area. With this amount of time, you can probably accommodate two day trips. Sintra is a must, and Cascais/Estoril together makes a good daylong excursion (especially in beach-worthy weather).
- You need at least 5 days to do justice to the city and its environs. In addition, even Lisbon's principal attractions remain relatively unknown, a blessing for travelers tired of fighting their way to overrun sights elsewhere in Europe." -- Frommer's
The tourist meccas of Lisbon are headlined by the rambling Tram 28, St. George's Castle and Sé Cathedral in the Alfama district, the often-mobbed Monastery of St. Jerome in Belém, Lisbon's famous Oceanarium aquarium, and Sintra (a hilltop retreat with a 1,000-year-old history).
Why pay for a custom city tour when Lisbon's public transit system offers one for about two U.S. dollars? Riding Tram 28 is probably the most recommended activity in Lisbon. The tram climbs up and down the Alfama and Baixa neighborhoods all day long.
- The trip is hilly, noisy and hectic but affords beautiful glimpses over the city. From start to finish the ride takes around half an hour and is the cost of a normal fare. Beware of pickpockets." -- Wikitravel
Castelo Sao Jorge
Often referred to simply as "Castelo", the Castelo Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle) perches atop the hilly Alfama district and overlooks both downtown Lisbon and Rio Tejo. The castle is the single most popular attraction in the Alfama and likely in all of Lisbon.
- The Castelo de S.Jorge, which was won back from the Moors in 1143, is a must in the itinerary for history buffs." -- Travel Channel
- The impressively sited Castelo is perhaps Lisbon's most splendid monument, an enjoyable place to spend a couple of hours, wandering amid the ramparts looking down upon the city. Beyond the main gates stretch gardens and terraces, walkways, fountains and peacocks, all lying within heavily restored Moorish walls." -- Rough Guides
The Sé Cathedral, or simply "Sé", is Lisbon's oldest Christian church. Originally built in the 12th century, it suffered heavy damage during an earthquake in 1755 that leveled most of the Alfama district. The cathedral has been fully restored, but it remains a distant No. 2 on the Alfama tourist agenda, behind St. George's Castle.
- One would think that the cathedral of a major European capital would be graced with a more impressive edifice, but what you see is what you get." -- Frommer's
Monastery of St. Jerome
Although Sé Cathedral is Lisbon's official cathedral, the Monastery of St. Jerome (Mosteiro de Jeronimos) outshines it for style and grandeur. The monastery was commissioned by King Manuel I at the beginning of the 16th century, at a time when Vasco de Gama (who is buried here) returned from a successful voyage to India and fellow Portuguese explorer, Pedro Álvares Cabral, had just discovered Brazil. Together with the nearby Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), the monastery is a quintessential example of the period's Manueline architecture.
- Superstar Vasco de Gama is interred in the lower chancel, just to the left of the entrance, in a place of honour opposite Luís de Camões, the venerated 16-century poet. From the upper choir you get a superb view of the church; the rows of seats are Portugal's first Renaissance woodcarvings." -- Lonely Planet
Lisbon's Oceanarium is one of the world's largest aquariums (whether it's the second-, third- or fourth-largest seems to depend on who you ask). The Oceanarium was completed in 1996 as part of the Lisbon's Parque das Nações project. If you like aquariums, this one is truly huge and unlikely to disappoint.
- To get to the Ocenario, get off the metro at Parque das Nacoes, go through the Vasco de Gama shopping center, and head right towards the Oceanario, (away from the Vasco da Gama bridge)." -- Nile Guide
With its bounty of parks and castles, the town of Sintra is an extremely popular day trip from Lisbon. Many consider it a must-see, even if you're on a tight schedule. The top attractions, in addition to strolling through the town itself, you can visit the National Palace of Sintra (Palacio Nacional de Sintra), the National Palace of Pena (Palacio Nacional da Pena) and the Moors' Castle (Castelo dos Mouros), a fortified castle built by the Moors.
- Souvenirs and Porto wine are all on sale in the Sintra historic district. There are a number of shops that sell standard tourist items (post cards, t-shirts, etc.) and a number of shops that sell ceramics, pieces of art and hand crafts." -- Wikitravel
Attractions for Kids
Frommer's probably sums up Lisbon's family activities best: "For Kids ... From the winding, narrow streets of Alfama to the "dragon ships" of the Maritime Museum at Belém, much of Lisbon evokes a movie set for kids. Each new day brings something new for kids to do -- an aquarium, a zoo, a planetarium -- it's all here."
Lisbon's daytrips are great for kids, too. The whimsical castles of Sintra make the town feel like it belongs in a fairytale. Many travelers bring their families here to hike up to the 9th century Moors' Castle (Castelo dos Mouros). Of course, there are the nearby Atlantic beaches -- always popular for families during the warmer months.
- See: Toy Museum, Largo Latino Coelho (in the town centre). … Marvellous museum with over 20,000 exhibits. Great for kids but also for adults who can relive their childhood. 3 Euros; 1.50 for kids. -- Wikitravel
About a 40-minute train ride west of downtown Lisbon, the neighboring seaside resort towns of Cascais and Estoril are perhaps the best known beach options to Lisbon visitors. There are also some good beach options south of Lisbon and along the Atlantic coast.
- When Lisbon's inhabitants want to go to the beach, their preferred spot is the Costa da Caparica, a 20-km (12-mi) stretch of sand on the northwestern coast of the Setubal Peninsula. ... Formerly a fishing village, it's now packed in summer with Portuguese tourists who come to enjoy the relatively unpolluted waters, eat grilled sardines, and stroll the seafront promenade." -- Fodor's
The Praça de Touros Campo Pequeno arena serves as the center of Lisbon's bullfighting action. Rather than killing the bull in the ring, however, Portuguese bullfighters have an intricate process for ending the fight. It takes eight men and several cows to subdue and then lure the bull out of the ring.
- The bullfighting season in Lisbon runs from Easter until mid-July. Lisbon's 8,500-seat Praça de Touros Campo Pequeno, at Campo Pequeno, Avenida da República … is the largest ring in the country. Bullfight aficionados may also commute to Montijo, an industrial town on the Sébutal peninsula, across the Tagus from Lisbon." -- Frommer's
There aren't a ton of "must buy" products or souvenirs in Lisbon. As Rough Guides says, "Other than traditional ceramics and carpets, perhaps the most Portuguese of items to take home is a bottle of port." Lisbon shopping is more about the experience than the acquisition -- and that experience varies by neighborhood.
Baixa and Chiado are traditionally regarded as Lisbon's prime shopping districts. Small boutiques abound here, although several of the newer stores are popping up on the streets that climb into the hipper Bairro Alto.
- Heading towards the river the buildings get a little shabbier in places, and the shops older and odder, but it has a great, slightly run down charm. There are some wonderful shops here as well -- for wine, try Napoleao at Rua dos Fanqueiros 70, where you can taste almost any bottle before you buy." -- TripAdvisor
- The extension of the Baixa, the famous Avenida da Liberdade, mirrors that tradition with a haute couture flair, with many of the best international brands such as Armani, Louis Vuitton, and Trussardi represented on this charismatic avenue." -- Travel Channel
- In the market for handmade Portuguese linens? Don't bother with the shops in central Lisbon, where a formal embroidered tablecloth from Madeira can easily fetch 6,000 euros. An alternative is to head to Feira da Ladra (Campo de Santa Clara), a dawn-to-dusk flea market since 1882 that offers homier versions at bargain prices." -- New York Times
There is no question where the epicenter of Lisbon's nightlife is located -- it's Bairro Alto. Fado music rules the roost, but some venues cater more to tourists than Lisboans, and there can be a difference in music quality. If you'd like a different music scene, Bairro Alto is still your best bet. Look for street parties and keep your ears open. The happening places won't be hard to find, as long as you're looking late at night. There are some alternatives for after-hours fun, but they're less concentrated elsewhere.
- The Bairro Alto, long the center of Lisbon's nightlife, is the best place for barhopping and is the center of the city's well-established gay and lesbian scene." -- Fodor's
- You'll be hard pushed to find a bar open late at night in the Baixa, though the Alfama and Graca have a few places catering for the crowds leaving the excellent local restaurants. Instead, as the night progresses, Lisboetas seek out the classy venues along Avenida 24 de Julho, around Santos station, or a little further west at Alcantara docks, near Ponte 25 de Abril. " -- Rough Guides
- When Lisbon's bars close at 2 a.m., everyone flocks to the Music Box …a cavernlike nightclub under a bridge in the Cais do Sodre district. Within, an eclectic crowd of 20- and 30-somethings -- retro-clad hipsters, after-work PR girls, fashion and media types, thoughtful guys in rectangular glasses -- all dance until sunrise to an equally eclectic roster of local and international D.J.'s, V.J.'s and bands." -- New York Times
Fado is the world-renowned music of Portugal, and Lisbon is teeming with its performers. TripAdvisor describes it well: "The famous music of Portugal is Fado, which means roughly 'common human feeling.' Much like its namesake, the music Fado is very emotional, if not melancholy in nature. The origins of the music are thought to be a combination of Arabic influence from progugese sailers and Africa slave music. Lisbon Fado (there are two types) is performed by women and communicates a mix of suffering, love, nostalgia and pain."
- If you have only 1 night in Lisbon, spend it at a fado club. The nostalgic sounds of fado, Portuguese "songs of sorrow," are at their best in Lisbon -- the capital attracts the greatest fadistas (fado singers) in the world." -- Frommer's
- The dramatic image of a black-shawled fado singer, head thrown back, eyes closed with emotion, has become an emblem of Portugal; the swelling, soulful song with the plaintive guitar accompaniment seems to embody Portugal's romantic essence." -- Fodor's
- Although tourist brochures tend to suggest that live music in Lisbon begins and ends with fado - the city's most traditional music - there's no reason to miss out on other forms. Portuguese jazz can be good (there's a big annual International Jazz Festival at the Gulbenkian in the summer)." -- Rough Guides