WHAT TO DO IN LISBON?
What to do in Lisbon when there's plenty to see. That is the question. Lisbon is so much more than pictures and selfies. It's a place overflowing with History and stories.
What to do in Lisbon? Well, the fact is that as important as the what is the how. The way you experience Lisbon. The city has it's very own rhythm and this is why walking around its streets is vital. To feel Lisbon you have to fall for the city one step at a time. This is why we will reveal to you what you can see and do in Lisbon, a set of tips and suggestions so you may decide what you prefer to do. Most of our visitors come to Lisbon for a couple of days so it is crucial that you plan ahead to take full advantage of what Portugal's capital has to offer.
Lisbon is the city of seven hills so it goes without saying that one of its wonders is the array of extraordinary viewpoints: Graça, Nossa Senhora do Monte, São Pedro de Alcântara or the highest one in the centre of the city, Monte Agudo. A great idea is to go to one of these viewpoints so you can absorb the city's morphology and then decide what you would rather visit. As a starting point to help you out we will divide Lisbon by different districts and areas of interest so you may visit one or more according to your available time here.
Lisbon's main districts, if we may call them this way, are the Centre (Chiado, Bairro Alto and Baixa), Alfama, Mouraria and Belém. Culturally speaking our roots lie deep in the music of Fado and our urban expression spreads itself through street art paintings all over the city. You can follow our Free Tour links to get a bit more information and if you truly want to know these districts' stories, anecdotes, places to eat and more, well, you will have to book a tour and see for yourself. All of the tours combine historical interest with local culture and all of the tours are filled with life and beautiful urban landscape.
What to see in the Centre of Lisbon (Bairro Alto-Baixa- Chiado)
Culture, nightlife, funiculars, traditional tascas and Michelin restaurants, theatres and spectacular views. The Centre of Lisbon has all this and more. There is so much to see and do in this area alone so we will suggest the top things to do in the centre of Lisbon.
Start by having an expresso at the city's oldest coffee house A Brasileira and look up the walls. Pass by Largo Chiado and say hi to our lovely local guides with their blue umbrellas and head on to the Rua da Bica to admire Lisbon's most famous funicular. Climb the streets of Bairro Alto and reach the church of São Roque. Step inside and admire the altars. Proceed to the church of Carmo and discover a monument with no ceiling. Climb down to Baixa, visit Confeitaria Nacional for a tasteful pastry and then finish at Praça do Comércio. Sit by the river Tagus, relax and look back to the city.
Three different districts with so much more to know. Who was the creator of the modern portuguese language? How many authors did Fernando Pessoa invent? What is a bica and an imperial? Why was the earthquake of 1755 history's first modern catastrophe? How was Lisbon rebuild? Why is the revolution of the 25th of April of 1974 called the carnation revolution?
All of this and more on our Lisbon Centre Free Tour.
What to see in Alfama
What can we say about Portugal's most ancient neighbourhood? For starters, if you do not enjoy climbing long sets of staircases and walking around labyrinthine streets, Alfama is not for you. Now if you're looking for authenticity, ancient houses, a village kind of feel, Alfama is one of the most outstanding neighborhoods in Europe.
Alfama was one of the few areas in Lisbon that survived the great earthquake of 1755 so it's architectural style goes back to the Arab period. Mazy narrow streets, staircases leading to alleys, small traditional restaurants and Fado heard in every corner, this is Alfama. The neighborhood's charm lies on its genuineness since you come to visit Alfama for the old façades, the panels of ancient tiles or the smell of sardines and not for the monuments. Ask around for the Miradouro de Santo Estêvão or climb up to the more well-known Miradouro de Santa Luzia, both intimate but at the same time breathtaking. Admire the exquisite Chafariz d'el Rei and take a couple of hours to visit the Museu do Aljube that addresses the oppression during the Salazar regime. Finally, get lost. Literally. Wander around the streets of Alfama and feel Lisbon's soul with all your senses.
Alfama comes from the Arab word Al-Hama, do you know its meaning? Why are we so obsessed with sardines? Who is the patron saint of Lisbon? This and so much more when you visit Alfama and Mouraria with us.
What to see in Mouraria
Mouraria or the Moorish district of Lisbon has one origin but many distinctive voices and stands today as the city's multicultural neighborhood. This hill that extends from the Castelo de São Jorge down to Martim Moniz once belonged to the Arabs and now belongs to the world since there are over 60 different registered nationalities in this area alone.
Many claim that Fado was born here and there is a sculpture at the entrance of the district to prove it. Today Mouraria is a genuine melting pot of cultures and countries, of the past and the present. One of the oldest houses in Lisbon stands in front of Andrea Tarli's street art mural at Largo da Achada where the water at the fountain is safe to drink. Camilla Watson's photos of Mouraria's inhabitants lead to the way to one of our favourite squares of Lisbon, Largo dos Trigueiros. Climb one of the hills to find a well preserved public wash house and a beautiful view of the neighborhood. Each of these places is a sort of sanctuary, places where time was frozen and where you may take your time to catch your breath before you go down to Benformoso Street where you will find one of many clandestine chinese restaurants. Na exotic meal before finishing at Intendente with its esplanades and alternative bars.
Who was the woman that took Fado from the slums to the palaces of Lisbon? Why is Saint Christopher of such importance to the Portuguese navigators? Why is Mouraria a true multicultural centre? This will all be revealed o the first part of our Alfama and Mouraria Free Tour.
What to see in Belém
World Heritage Monuments everywhere makes it hard to recommend anything else. And if there's another "monument" not to be missed is the famous Pastéis de Belém or the Belém Custard Tarts. But save plenty of time for what we are about to recommend. If you are a modern art appreciator you should definitely visit the Berardo Collection at Belém's Cultural Centre (CCB). Inside CCB there is an outstanding view of the river and on the other side of the Centre you can take a peek at one of Bordalo II famous street art murals.
MAAT, the Museum of Architecture, Art and Technology is another spot worth the visit, especially late in the afternoon. Amanda Levete's architectural project is the perfect fusion between modernity and the Tagus river.
On a more natural tone, the Tropical Gardens are an oasis of serenity with over 4.000 species from all corners of the world. Bring your Pastéis de Belém here and try and figure out for yourself what are the main ingredients that the recipe invented in 1837 by the monastery monks include.
Finally and if you are not afraid of heights finish your day at the 25th of April bridge and its panoramic lift. You will stand 80 metres above the city in a glass structure that offers most probably the best view of that side of Lisbon.
Did you know that the mother of the Discovery Age was not Portuguese? Why do many scientists claim that the caravels were the space shuttles of the XVI century? What was a rhinoceros doing in Lisbon 400 years ago? Come discover the Belém area with our Belém Free Tour.
What to see around Lisbon
We already covered Lisbon's most popular neighborhoods but there's plenty more to be seen, of course. If you do have a couple more days, do visit LX Factory and find out why Lisbon is one of the world's street art capitals right now. You can also visit the Parque das Nações district where Expo'98 occurred and discover a rather futuristic part of the city where Santiago Calatrava's train station and SOM's Vasco da Gama Tower stand among many other extraordinary buildings. The Lisbon Oceanary is also not to be missed. If you are a fan of football the museums at the Benfica and Sporting stadiums, home to Eusébio and Cristiano Ronaldo, should be part of your trip.
Around Lisbon, we strongly recommend that you visit Sintra and Cascais, two wonderful cities close to the Portuguese capital.
Sintra is not of this world, a fairy tales sort of place, where the Romantic movement left an unforgettable mark. Since it's foundation Sintra has been a mystical place and most of its monuments hide secrets in plain sight. The Castle of the Moors, the Pena Palace, Monserrate, all of these are a must but our favourite one would be the Quinta da Regaleira. You can get there walking and it will be the entrance to a fantasy world, where Templar, Christian, Pagan and Mason symbols combine to convey a feeling of secrecy and genuine spiritualism. Also, do not forget to try the famous Queijadas (the ones at Fábrica da Sapa are our favourites) and a taste of the wine of Colares. If you have the time drive towards Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Europe and face the Atlantic Ocean in all its might like the navigators did hundreds of years ago.
Cascais was famous for being the Portuguese kings' getaway but the old fishermen village turned itself into a contemporary maritime city where fish restaurants are the best in Portugal, where the beaches are inviting, where street art is also booming and finally where stories of Second World War espionage live side by side with tales from the vikings and the moors. Even the train trip from Lisbon to Cascais is something to savour with the sea a constant presence.
Why were the Templars fundamental in the birth of Portugal? What love story lies behind the walls of the Pena Palace? Why is Sintra such a mystical place? These and many other questions are answered in our Sintra Free Tour.
So now you know what to see and do in Lisbon. Is it too much? We don't believe so. What we believe is that Lisbon deserves many visits.