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Lisbon is brimming with history and culture. Situated upon a series of hills along the Tagus River, it’s famous for its charming views, decorative tiles, and classic yellow cable cars. From fado music to port wine and hilltop castles to literary history, there’s so much to enjoy in this waterfront city.
Here’s your guide for nine things to do in Lisbon, Portugal.
1. Visit São Jorge Castle (Castelo de São Jorge)
One of the most popular things to do in Lisbon is visit São Jorge Castle.
This historic Moorish castle sits on a hill overlooking the city. Within its walls, you’ll find medieval architecture, artifacts, and wandering peacocks. As one of Lisbon’s top attractions, it does get crowded, so make sure to get there early. Come for the history, stay for the city views.
2. See the Cultural Centre of Belém (Centro Cultural de Belém)
If you’re a fan of art and culture, you can’t miss the Cultural Centre of Belém. This modern compound is home to a variety of cultural attractions.
One of the highlights is the Berardo Museum Collection (Museu Coleção Berardo). This modern and contemporary art collection houses pieces from Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Marcel Duchamp, among many others. Even if you’re not usually a fan of modern art, the variety and flow of this museum makes it enjoyable for all.
3. Try the local fare
Lisbon is full of unmissable food and drink. The cuisine is fresh and light and perfectly pairs with the local wine. One popular local food is Pastéis de Nata. These little egg tarts are filled with custard and dusted with cinnamon. The most famous place to get them in this area is Pastéis de Belém, but plenty of local shops make them.
As Lisbon is located along a river and near the ocean, seafood is regional favorite. One popular dish is bacalhau, a dried and salted cod. Another local specialty is cheese. Be sure to treat yourself to a cheese plate and try some Portuguese favorites. Finally, it’s simply not Portugal without the “port!” There are plenty of wonderful local wines to try, but make sure to sip some after dinner port.
4. See the local landmarks
Every famous city has its landmarks, and Lisboa is no different. There are several famed structures to see, and you can enjoy them simply by looking and without bothering with any entrance fees.
One of Lisbon’s most famous sights is Belém Tower or the “Tower of St Vincent” (Torre de Belém). The tall stone tower was built along the Tagus River in the 1500s in the Belém area of the city.
In the city center, you’ll find the Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa), also called the Carmo Lift, and the Rua Augusta Arch. The Santa Justa Lift is a 19th century elevator that connects upper and lower neighborhoods. It’s not necessary to ride the lift, but it’s worth visiting to marvel at its Neo-Gothic style. The Rua Augusta Arch is located at the end of the tiled street of Rua Augusta along the Comércio Plaza (Praça do Comércio) waterfront square.
Finally, if you’ve seen any photos of Lisbon, chances are you’ve seen its iconic yellow cable cars. Like the Santa Justa Lift, the cable cars work to shuttle people around Lisbon’s hilly streets. You’ll likely stumble across the cars on their regular routes while you’re out exploring the city. Be prepared, though, most of the cars you’ll see will be covered in ads or graffiti. Not too many will resemble those you see in pictures. Still, they’re fun to catch a glimpse of all the same.
5. Listen to the music
Portugal is famous for its fado music. Fado is a style of music that traces its origins to the 1800s (or perhaps earlier) in Lisbon.
Live music is everywhere in Lisboa, and there are many places where you can hear fado in the city. Depending on where you’re staying, look online or ask at your accommodation for recommendations.
6. Explore on foot
Lisbon may be notoriously hilly, but it is a wonderful place to explore on foot. Walking up to São Jorge Castle or down to the Rua Augusta Arch, you’ll stumble upon scenes and catch glimpses of the city you’d miss otherwise.
Just make sure to bring your best walking shoes and always carry a bottle of water. And if the hills become too much, Uber is a convenient and fairly inexpensive alternative.
7. Learn the literary history
Lisbon is famous for its literary roots. The city is home to famous writers and historic bookstores. It’s a paradise for book lovers.
There are nods to Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa all over the city. From a statue outside his former haunt Café A Brasileira to drawings of his likeness on posters and postcards, you’re bound to see Pessoa in his trademark hat all around you. Another famous writer who has called Portugal home is José Saramago. His books line the shelves at local shops (and many are available in English).
Make sure to visit some of the local book shops as well. Both centrally located are Bertrand Books And Music (known as the oldest bookstore in the world) and Ferin Bookstore. Consider picking up a book or two from a local author to enrich your time there (I personally nabbed a collection of poetry entitled Lisbon Poets).
8. Experience the nightlife
Between its great wine, food, and fado music, Lisbon is a lovely city for going out at night (even for those of us who don’t particularly care for nightlife).
In Lisbon, you can go out for a great meal, finish it off with some port, then simply wander from bar to bar enjoying the live music and drinks. Check out the Bairro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods for some cool streets to explore in the evening.
9. Take a day trip (or two)
One of the advantages of visiting Lisbon is its proximity to other wonderful destinations. Sintra and Cascais are two of them.
Sintra is a fairy tale town famous for its brightly colored palace and enchanted forest. Cascais is a relaxed seaside resort town. Both are easily reachable by train in less than an hour from the city. Each town can get crowded as the day goes on, so make sure to set out early. Whichever you choose, it’ll make for a wonderful day.
No matter where your adventure in Lisbon takes you, just make sure to eat and drink well, relax, and enjoy the scenery. Cheers!