Things to Do in Lisbon
A mighty medieval fortress perched on the banks of the Tagus River, Belem Tower is one of Lisbon’s most visited landmarks. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos), it’s a lasting symbol of Portugal’s maritime heritage, dating back to the early 16th century.
Once a hot spot destination for Portuguese royalty—Lord Byron called it a “glorious Eden”—Sintra is widely acclaimed as one of Portugal's most beautiful destinations, full of gardens, tiled villas, colorful palaces, and neo-Gothic structures, all surrounded by verdant hills rolling toward the Atlantic Ocean.
Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio) was home to Lisbon’s Royal Palace until a 1755 earthquake brought it to the ground. The palace now stands elsewhere, and the square has been restored with ornate arches, grandiose civic buildings, and an equestrian statue of King Jose I. Marble steps lead from Praça do Comércio down to the River Tagus.
One of Lisbon’s most famous landmarks is the massive, red suspension 25th of April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) which bears a close resemblance to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Originally named the Salazar Bridge, it was renamed after the Carnation Revolution to bring down the tyrannical regime that began on April 25, 1974.
Along the northern bank of the Tagus River lies this large stone monument celebrating Portugal’s Age of Discovery and sitting on the location that ships bound for Asia used to depart from in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was constructed for the Portuguese World Fair in 1940, inaugurated in 1960 upon the anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death, and has been a Cultural Center of Discovery since 1985. The monument depicts 33 sculpted historical figures including explorers, monarchs, artists and missionaries, all led by Henry the Navigator at the front. The figures are spread along both sides of a ship, intentionally looking forward and facing the sea.
Outside of viewing the monument itself, there is a large marble wind rose embedded in the pavement containing a world map that illustrates the locations of Portugal’s various explorations. There is also a museum with exhibition rooms in the monument, with panoramic views of Lisbon and the Tagus River from its rooftop.
Sprawling down the southern slopes of Lisbon, Alfama is the capital’s oldest and most picturesque district with steep cobblestone lanes and a sea of terracotta roofs. Head there in the day to take in the sights, browse the flea market, and ride the historic tram, then come back after dark to soak up the atmosphere at the many fado bars.
UNESCO World Heritage–listed Monastery of St. Jerome (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) is one of Lisbon’s most elaborate buildings. Inspired by Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India, King Manuel I commissioned the edifice in the 1500s to thank the Virgin Mary for a successful journey. For 400 years, the monastery’s monks gave guidance and comfort to sailors.
Since the 11th century, St. George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) has stood tall in the Lisbon skyline, viewable from almost every point in the city. The Moorish castle overlooks various districts and offers some of the best panoramas of the city. Even if you have only a few hours, the former fortress offers plenty for you to do.
Cabo da Roca, just north of Lisbon, is known for its dramatic views and scenic cliff-top walking path. The westernmost point in continental Europe and once believed by Europeans to be the edge of the world, today it is home to a defensive lighthouse that was built in the 16th century and serves as a haven for local birdlife.
The crown jewel of UNESCO-listed Sintra, Pena National Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena) never fails to inspire. The fanciful red and yellow palace is an exotic mix of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish, and Renaissance elements, commissioned by King Ferdinand II and completed in 1854 on a hilltop high above Sintra.
More Things to Do in Lisbon
Fátima is one of the most important shrines to the Virgin Mary in the world, as three shepherd children are said to have stated that Mary appeared to them. The last event, on Oct. 13, 1917, is known as the Miracle of the Sun and was attended by upwards of 40,000 people. A marble pillar with a statue of Our Lady marks the exact spot in the Chapel of Apparitions, and millions of pilgrims make the journey to see it yearly.
Lisbon Cathedral dates back to 1150 when it was built to celebrate the defeat of the Moors. Although the Romanesque building suffered earthquake damage over the years, it’s been carefully restored. Visitors can see excavated Roman ruins, the font where St. Anthony of Padua was christened, and relics of Lisbon’s patron saint, St. Vincent.
Towering above Lisbon is the National Sanctuary of Christ the King (Cristo Rei), built to thank God for protecting Portugal during World War II. The 361-foot (110-meter) monument, which looks out at the historic city over the Tagus River and 25th of April Bridge, is incredibly popular for its panoramic views of Lisbon.
The Estadio da Luz, or Stadium of Light, is a multipurpose stadium best known for being the home of Portugal’s leading football team, Sport Lisboa Benfica. It has seating capacity for over 65,000 people and features a retractable roof. The stadium has facilities for hockey, volleyball, and basketball as well as swimming pools and health clubs.
From its hilltop perch above Lisbon’s Graça neighborhood, the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte (Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte) lookout offers panoramic views across Portugal’s capital city, including a clear vista of the hilltop Castle of St. George (Castelo de São Jorge). The vista point is named for the church whose yard it’s located in: Our Lady of the Hill.
Named after the beautiful train station that is adjacent, Rossio Square(Praça de Dom Pedro IV) has been the nerve center of Lisbon since the Middle Ages. The lively area is a popular meeting point for Lisboetas and visitors alike, and is packed with bars, restaurants, cafés, shops, and some accommodations.
Originally built in the 17th century as the Church of Santa Engracia, the National Pantheon (Santa Egracia Panteao Nacional Lisbon) is now the burial place of many notable Portuguese personages, such as fado superstar Amália Rodrigues. The massive white structure is omnipresent throughout Lisbon’s Alfama district, and its interiors feature beautiful Italian marble.
Right in the heart of Lisbon, Martim Moniz Square (Praça Martim Moniz) is a popular gathering place for locals, with outdoor food stalls and bars. It’s also a starting point for the popular and iconic tram 28 route, plus the surrounding area is home to Lisbon’s Chinatown with a selection of Asian restaurants, supermarkets, and stores.
Edward VII Park (Parque Eduardo VII) is Lisbon’s largest urban oasis and one of its most identifying landmarks. The meticulously manicured space features mosaic-patterned hedges and stellar views over the city and the Tagus River. Visitors and Lisboetas alike flock here to stroll, reflect, and snap Instagram-worthy photos.
Located in the heart of Lisbon, Chiado is a quieter area nestled between Bairro Alto and downtown Baixa Pombalina. The eclectic neighborhood, known for its bustling streets and art nouveau buildings, is filled with some of Lisbon’s best cafes and restaurants. Come discover why this area is both culturally and historically significant.
Hailed as one of the prettiest places in Portugal, Óbidos is a medieval town encircled by fortified walls. Known as the Wedding Present Town (due to the fact that Portuguese kings often gave Óbidos to their wives as part of their dowry), the town boasts a cluster of Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque churches.
The Ajuda National Palace (Palacio Nacional da Ajuda)in Lisbon is a neoclassical monument filled with ornately decorated rooms, artwork, and furnishings, displaying the wealth that Portugal assumed during its colonization of Brazil. The palace served as the official royal residence from the late 1700s until Portugal became a republic in 1910.
Since the 1500s, Bairro Alto has been a central meeting point in Lisbon and home to some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, and cafés. By day, the area is bustling with locals heading to work and tourists visiting popular attractions. Come sunset, the party begins with edgy bars, top-notch eateries, and sounds of Lisbon’s fado music.
A former fishing village situated on a cove about an hour and a half north of Lisbon, Nazaré is a surfer’s paradise. The town’s golden crescent of sandy beach is backed by a restaurant-fringed promenade and a charming town full of white-washed, red-roofed houses and shops. The town is also famous for its freshly-caught seafood.
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