A quick guide to Lisbon – the most charismatic city in Europe

Thanks to its perfect waterfront location, stunning architecture, amazing local food scene, vibrant nightlife and balmy climate Lisbon has become a go-to spot for a European city break. It’s a safe and friendly city, relatively small but full of stories to tell and sights to see, so here are the top attractions you can’t miss when in Lisbon!

Lisbon is located in the western Iberian Peninsula, at the mouth of the Tagus River and it’s the westernmost capital of a mainland European country. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and the second-oldest European capital city, after Athens. About 3 million people live in the metro area (27% of the whole country), which makes it the 10th biggest city in the European Union.

Lisbon is known as the city of the seven hills: A cidade das sete colinas. Each one has stories to tell and way up high the miradouros reveal the unique views of the city. So after a few days there, you will definitely feel it in your legs 😉


Alfama

View of Alfama in Lisbon

A great place to start is a district of Alfama: a delightful maze of narrow cobbled streets and historic houses, leading up the steep hill from the Tagus River (Tejo in Portuguese) to the Castelo de São Jorge. Around every corner or steep climb is a delightful plaza, a trendy café or a panoramic viewpoint. It is the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon (dating back to the 5th century) and still feels like a village within a city.

Street of Alfama in Lisbon

You can start with grand Sé Cathedral, the largest church in Lisbon. Built in 1147, it has survived many earthquakes and has been modified, renovated and restored several times, so now it’s a mix of different architectural styles. 

Sé Cathedral in Lisbon
Sé Cathedral

Then make your way up to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, where you can sit on a beautiful terrace, decorated with painted tiles (azulejos) and a flower-covered pergola and admire the sweeping view over the houses, churches and Tagus River.


Walk a little bit further up and there’s another lovely viewpoint: Miradouro das Portas do Sol. It looks like a balcony with a café just next to it, so you can grab a drink, some food and enjoy the views!


After some downtime at the miradouros, you can keep going all the way up until you reach the Castle of St George (Castelo de São Jorge). You’ll have spectacular 360-degree views over Lisbon, plus the chance to wander the old Moorish castle walls and gardens.

Tickets to the Castle cost €10 for adults, €5 concession.

View of the Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon
View of the Castelo de São Jorge

It was here in Alfama where fado music was born and therefore this is one of the best places to listen to it and enjoy it. You will hear the soulful sounds of fado playing in local restaurants or tiny bars almost everywhere you go.

In the Fado Museum, you can learn the history and the meaning of the music and spend some time to catch the spirit of saudade (nostalgia).

The entry to the Museum costs €5 (discounts available).


Baixa

Baixa (or lower town) is the heart of Lisbon, made up of grand plazas, broad avenues, lovely cafes and beautiful architecture. Almost all of it has been reconstructed after an earthquake in 1755. It’s one of the busiest spots in the city, somewhere you will also find yourself passing very often.


Located in the northern part of Baixa Rossio Square (Praça do Rossio) is one of the liveliest squares in the city. It’s popular both with locals and tourist, where you can sit and drink a coffee, wander around a fabulous wavy pattern stone cobbles, cool down in the water mist of two fountains and admire the beautiful architecture.

Rossio Square and the Column of Dom Pedro IV in Lisbon
Rossio Square and the Column of Dom Pedro IV

The most prominent feature of the square is a grand 27-metre high Column of Dom Pedro IV, known as the Soldier King. His statue stands on the top of the pillar and at the base there are 4 female figures that represent King’s various qualities: Justice, Wisdom, Strength and Moderation.

Dona Maria II National Theatre on Rossio Square in Lisbon

Dona Maria II National Theatre, a monumental neoclassical building built in the 1840s sits on the side of the square.

And if you go further to the left you will find one of the most beautiful train station façades – Rossio Railway Station, built in 1887. If you’re planning on visiting Sintra, this is where you take the train form.

Rossio Railway Station in Lisbon
Rossio Railway Station

Quick tip: If you’d like to taste one of Portugal’s street food delicacies, try and find one of these carts, serving hot charcoal chestnuts (I found many just by Rossio Square). They are SO delicious!


Walking down south from Rossio Square you will find one of the unmissable Lisbon’s attractions – the Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa).

Santa Justa Lift in Lisbon

This 19th century industrial age iron lift transports you up 45 metres from the Baixa district to the Largo do Carmo and Bairro Alto. It was built in 1902 by Ponsard, a disciple of Eiffel and I’m sure you can spot the similarities 😉 It offers undisrupted 360-degree views of the city from the terrace located on the top of the tower.

The ticket to access the lift costs €6 (ride up and down plus the terrace) and the queues are quite long! So go early in the day or late in the afternoon.

But I have a pro tip for you: you can access the walkway and the middle viewing platform for free (!) by going from the top, from Largo do Carmo. You simply have to walk up the stairs by the Covento do Carmo (Carmo Covent) and up the next to the restaurant. If you want to go up to the terrace from here, you can do that for around €2, but the sights are marvellous even if you didn’t.


The southern part of the Rossio Square is where Rua de Augusta begins. It is one of the most prominent avenues, pedestrians-only and lined with elegant buildings, tourist-focused shops and restaurants.

If you take it all the way till the end you will be met by a stunning sight of the Rua Augusta Arch (Arco da Rua Augusta). It symbolises the rebirth of a new Lisbon after the aforementioned earthquake in 1755, although it was only finished in 1873.

Rua Augusta Arch view towards the river in Lisbon
View of the Rua Augusta Arch towards the river

There is a viewing platform on top, where you can see over the downtown area and River Tejo (adult ticket costs €3).

It has six columns (some 11m high) and is adorned with statues of prominent Portugese historical figures (Viriato, Vasco da Gama, Marquis of Pombal and Nuno Álvares Pereira).

Rua Augusta Arch view towards the city in Lisbon
Rua Augusta Arch

Passing under the Arch you will find yourself on one of the most impressive of all of Lisbon’s plazas – Praça do Comércio. Better known by locals as Terreiro do Paço, since it was once where the paço (palace), stood – it was built on the site where the old Royal Palace used to exist before it was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755.

Praça do Comércio in Lisbon
Praça do Comércio
Arcades all along the façade along Praça do Comércio in Lisbon

This grand plaza is surrounded on three sides by distinctive yellow Pombaline styled buildings with arcades all along the façade, whereas the southern end is open and looks out onto the Tagus River.

In the centre stands the bronze statue of King Joseph I (Dom José I), who ruled at the time of the Great Earthquake.

statue of King Joseph I in Lisbon

Bairro Alto & Chiado

Bairro Alto street in Lisbon

High above the central city, to the west of the Baixa, you will find Bairro Alto (meaning upper town) – a picturesque quarter dating from the 1500s, that has traditionally been the Lisbon’s bohemian haunt of artists and writers.

By day it has this quiet, easy feel, where you can slowly wander a maze of narrow streets with trendy, vintage and alternative shops, artists’ studios, art galleries and lovely traditional family-run restaurants called tascas. But at night it becomes the most popular place to go out, as many bars, lively restaurants and fado clubs open.


Chiado, on the other hand, is an elegant and bohemian neighbourhood, frequently compared to Paris’ Montmartre, rebuilt after it was destroyed by a fire in 1998. 

It’s a district of theatres, bookshops, old-style cafés, art nouveau jewellery shops and luxurious boutiques. The main commercial streets are Rua do Norte, Rua da Atalaia and Rua do Diário de Noticias and tourist attractions include the Church of Saint Roch (Igreja de São Roque) and the ruins of Carmo Church (Igreja do Carmo).

Igreja do Carmo in Lisbon
Igreja do Carmo – ruins of the Gothic church destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1755

Fun fact: The district is named after António Ribeiro, a Franciscan monk who left the order to become a satirical poet and actor. His distinctive style was a shrill and high voice, hence the nickname Screech (Chiado in Portuguese).


Luís de Camões Square (Praça Luís de Camões) marks the border between Chiado and Bairro Alto. Named after Portugal’s most famous poet, with a statue of him in the centre, this square was one of the sites of the Carnation Revolution on 25th of April 1974.

Praça Luís de Camões in Lisbon
Praça Luís de Camões

It features two beautiful patterns of Portuguese pavement (calçada portuguesa), one covering the main part of the square and the other one surrounding the statue in the middle.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, view from the Camões Square in Lisbon

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação church located next to the Camões Square (go inside to see a beautifully painted ceiling)


Miradouros

Nothing beats seeing the city from above and in Lisbon, thanks to its hilly structure, we are lucky enough to enjoy quite a few of the scenic viewpoints! They are popular both with tourists and locals, day and night, everyone has got their favourite and you will probably find your own too. I bet you will never get tired of those views.

I have already mentioned two of Lisbon’s best miradouros (Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro das Portas do Sol in Alfama), but there’s a couple more worth putting on your sightseeing map.


Miradouro da Graça: a picture-perfect spot for a sunset! You can see the downtown Lisbon from here, including the Castle, Tagus River and even Ponte 25 de Abril – a red, grand bridge, that connects two sides of the city. This miradouro has an open-air cafe located just next to the Igreja da Graça and it’s shaded by pine trees. The climb up to this viewpoint gets rather steep by the end, but while you there you can just grab a drink and rest 😉

Views over Lisbon from Miradouro da Graça
Views from Miradouro da Graça

If you’re not too tired after walking up to the da Graça spot, you can visit another viewpoint – Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. It’s located only an around 10 minute walk further up. It is Lisbon’s highest miradouro and the panoramic views are just glorious! It is even better than the da Graça one, in my humble opinion 🙂 But like I said, we all have our favourites! The terrace itself is very simple, there’s no café here, just a few benches.


Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara is probably the most popular one! It provides great views over the lower city with Castelo de São Jorge in the background. It’s located on the top of Bairro Alto and right next to the Glória Elevator. There is also a lovely park with fountains and several kiosks where you can buy drinks and snacks.


For a slightly different view of Lisbon head to Miradouro de Santa Catarina in the west part of Chiado. You can look over the Cais do Sodre district and the Tagus with 25 de Abril Bridge. There is a park here and a small café/bar. It is not the most touristy spot, but one popular among the young, local crowd.

View from Miradouro de Santa Catarina in Lisbon
View from Miradouro de Santa Catarina

Quick tip: if you’d like to see some of the best miradouros in one go, to save yourself time and effort you should start from the top. So go the highest point first – Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. You can even take Tram 28 to Largo da Graça and walk from there! Then go down to Miradouro da Graça. Further down you can stop at the viewpoint at the Castle de São Jorge and make your way to Miradouro das Portas do Sol and de Santa Luzia.

And because Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and Miradouro de Santa Catarina are in different parts of the city, you can visit them while you’re walking around Bairro Alto and Chiado. Hope that helps 🙂


Transport

Although Lisbon is a city easy to explore on foot, those feet get really tired climbing the steep streets. So there are great solutions to help you with that, which Lisbon is actually famous for: funiculars and trams! There are six tram routes, three funiculars, and one vertical lift – Santa Justa.

Funiculars

All three funicular railways (ascensors) in Lisbon were designed by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard. That is the same engineer who designed the Santa Justa Lift! The price of a ticket when bought on board is €2.90, however with the Vava Viagem card this is €1.45.


Ascensor da Bica is the most picturesque one.

Ascensor da Bica in Lisbon

It operates from near the waterfront at São Paulo Street, up and down the picturesque Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo, to Calhariz Square in Bairro Alto on an 11.8% incline.

It is the only one funicular that runs straight through the street with actual houses on both sides.

Ascensor da Bica in Lisbon going down
Ascensor da Bica

Ascensor da Glória offers a 275-metre ride from Praça dos Restauradores to Bairro Alto (Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara) on a 17.7% slope. And there are actually 2 lines running parallel to each other, so it’s a very cool experience when on board, to drive past another tram 🙂

It is the most popular funicular among tourists and locals, so expect long queues to jump on board!

Ascensor da Glória in Lisbon - bottom stop
Ascensor da Glória

Ascensor do Lavra is the city’s oldest cable car (opened in 1884), but the least touristy. It runs between Anunciada Square to Câmara Pestana Street and its 188-metres long route is the shortest one, but the steepest (22.9% incline).

At the top, you can take a stroll to the Jardim do Torel, a small local park, offering great views over the Baixa area. 

All three funiculars were classified as Monumento Nacional (National Monument) in 2002.

Trams

If you’re tired of climbing all of the steep streets (and rightfully so!) you can easily jump on one of Lisbon’s famous trams (or elétricos). They are truly a symbol of the city, so it seems essential now to get aboard a vintage yellow tram and enjoy the screechy and rattly ride through the narrow city streets.

The most popular with tourist is Tram 28, going from Martim Moniz to Campo do Orique and winding through the districts of Graça, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela for around 10 km. So it’s an easier way of getting close to all of the attractions and viewpoints, as well as getting a great overview of the downtown area.

in Lisbon inside Tram 28, behind the driver

This route gets really busy with tourist, so sometimes you have to queue up on the tram stop and wait for quite some time. If you’d like to secure a seat the best thing to do is to show up very early at the first stop on Martim Mortiz.

Tram 28 emerging from around the corner in Lisbon

Quick tip: You can purchase a single ticket on board for €3.00. But a much better option is the 24-hour public transport ticket, which includes the metro and all tram and bus services, as well as Elevador de Santa Justa and the Elevador da Glória. This ticket costs €6.40 and can only be purchased from the metro stations. 

If you’d like to feel how it is to ride on Tram 28, take a look at this video! 👇🏻

My ride on Tram 28

Belém

If you would like to venture a little bit further out of central Lisbon, jump on the tram 15 in the Cais do Sodré station in the Praça do Comércio and go to Belém – a charming district located to the south-west of the city, at the mouth of the River Tagus.

It was from here that Vasco da Gama set off for India in 1497! Belém’s great maritime history, national monuments, museums and riverside location make it a place you can’t miss. It also feels like a breath of fresh air, because it’s filled with parks, green plazas and open spaces, such a nice change from busy city life!

And I can’t not mention pastéis de Belém that are a must-eat while you’re there 🙂

Belém Tower and park in Lisbon

Quick tip: Quite a few of the sights are closed on Mondays and many are free on the first Sunday of the month, so double check before going and plan away!


The most known attraction is the Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) – a symbol of Lisbon and the Age of Discovery, as well as UNESCO’s World Heritage monument.

Belém Tower in Lisbon

Built in 1520 as a fortress to defend the mouth of the Tagus River, years later the tower was transformed into a lighthouse and customs house. At that time it was stood in the middle of the estuary, but time and tide have shifted the river’s course since and now it sits close to the river bank.

It is a beautiful example of the Manueline style (created during the reign of King Manuel I), incorporates many stonework motifs, ornate balconies and a gargoyle of a rhinoceros – it was Europe’s first recorded evidence of the existence of a rhinoceros (!).

You can of course go inside (bear in mind that there is a limited number of people allowed to enter so it is advisable to make your way there as soon as the tower opens). A tour takes you from the lower battery, which served as a magazine and a dungeon, to a top terrace where you get a breezy panorama of Belém.

Belém Tower in Lisbon

The admission to the tower costs €6 for an adult and €3 for a concession. You can also buy a combined ticket here for the Tower and Jerónimos Monastery to skip the line at the monastery later. Tickets can be purchased online on the tower’s website.


Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) is a spectacular religious building that was historically associated with the early sailors and explorers, Vasco da Gama spent his last night there before his voyage to India.

The Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon

Construction on it began in 1501 and lasted for a hundred years. The Jerónimos Monastery’s church and the two-story cloister are considered the greatest examples of Manueline architecture in the country, and the decorative ornamentation and symbolism are breathtaking. And in the Church of Santa Maria you can find the tombs of Vasco da Gama and poet Luis de Camões.

The Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon - side view

The entrance fee for the monastery is €10.00 for an adult, €5 concession, and you can purchase your tickets here.


While by the river bank you simply can’t miss the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), the 52-metre high monument built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, one of Portugal’s greatest discoverers.

Monument to the Discoveries (west side) in Lisbon

It represents the prow of a caravel (a small sailing ship) with sculptures of important historical figures such as King Manuel I, Luis de Camões, Vasco da Gama, Magellan and several other notable Portuguese crusaders, monks, cartographers and cosmographers. The only female is queen Felipa of Lancaster, mother of Henry the Navigator.

Monument to the Discoveries (east side) in Lisbon

To see Belém from above you can visit the observation deck on top of the monument, that also overlooks a magnificent marble mosaic of a compass and a world map. It is 50 metres in diameter and was a gift to Portugal from the Republic of South Africa.

It costs €6 or €3 concession, for online tickets visit this website.


You can’t leave Belém without trying their famous pastéis de Belém! You might have heard about pastéis de nata – a typical and delicious Portuguese egg custard tarts, you can buy them everywhere in Portugal.

Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon
Pastél de Belém, or as I call it, a piece of heaven

But Belém ones are considered to be the original and the best and you can buy them only there. So head to the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém, the shop that invented that mouth-watering dessert in 1837 and still makes them following the original (secret!) recipe. You can either sit in or queue up to grab a box to take away. I have to say it was my favourite thing to do in Belém 😀 I bought a box of 6 and ate all of them by myself. Can you tell I have a sweet tooth? 😉


And if you walk along the riverside back towards central Lisbon you can admire an impressively futuristic building of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT).

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) in Lisbon

You can walk across the roof (for free) to enjoy some are stunning views of the 25th April Bridge and the river.

If you’d like to visit the museum and its many exhibitions the entrance fee costs €5, concession €2.50 and it’s free for all visitors on the first Sunday of every month.


Other attractions in Belém include the National Museum of Coaches (Museu dos Coches), Ajuda Palace (Palácio Nacional da Ajuda), Ajuda Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico da Ajuda) and Berardo Collection Museum at the Centro Cultural de Belém.


Quick tip: If you’d like to visit most of these attractions you might consider getting yourself the Lisboa Card, as it will save you some money! The 24-hour Lisboa Card costs €20.00, 48hr is for €34.00 and the 72-hour one €42.00. You’ll get a free or discounted entry to many of Lisbon’s attractions and all your transport is for free too. For more information visit the Lisboa Card’s website.


Other attractions in Lisbon

There are also a few other places that you might like to visit if you have enough time ⬇️

LX Factory

LX Factory is a modern hip art centre that is home to various start-up businesses, like funky restaurants, cafés, bookshops, art galleries and workspaces. 

LX Factory in Lisbon

Sitting almost directly below the 25th of April Bridge, its graffiti walls and decadent look are a testament to the revival of the former super-industrial complex from 1846. Now the LX Factory is considered to be one of the most creative and innovative hubs in Portugal.


A place you should definitely pay a visit to while in the LX Factory is Livraria Ler Devagar (“reading slowly” in Portuguese). This alternative bookshop, concept store, art gallery and internet café was named one of the 10 most beautiful bookstores in the world!

Livraria Ler Devagar in Lisbon

Time Out Market Lisbon

Time Out Market Lisboa is a food hall located in the Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodré.

Mercado da Ribeira Market in Lisbon

Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeira has been a landmark since the 1890s, but it has become a trendy culinary hotspot only when it was converted into a food court by ‘Time Out Lisbon’ in 2014.

Time Out Market in Lisbon

It is a foodie’s heaven with more than 30 restaurants and bars, where you can spend half a day sampling food from some of Portugal’s most famous chefs, some even Michelin-starred!

Pink Street

This is one of the most instagrammed streets in the city, probably 🙂

Located in Cais do Sodré district Rua Nova do Carvalho used to be Lisbon’s Red Light district actually! And now, years later, it is a trendy nightlife spot, with many popular bars and clubs.

The metamorphosis happened in 2013 when, to turn the neighbourhood’s shady reputation into something hip, the street was painted in pink. And since then it’s been called by locals Rua Cor de Rosa.

25th April Bridge

The Ponte 25 de Abril bridge is one of Lisbon’s most notable landmarks. It is the largest suspension bridge in Europe (1013m) and the 20th longest in the world! It closely resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and it’s often called its twin sister, but it’s actually 100 metres longer than its ‘brother’ 😉

View of the 25 April Bridge in Lisbon

And if you decide to cross the bridge you can take a close look at the monument of Christ the King (Cristo Rei) and you’ll get a fantastic alternative angle looking down on the bridge and central Lisbon.


As you can see Lisbon is a fascinating city full of charisma, history, monuments, vintage streetcars and gorgeous sights. So either you have just a weekend or a full week to spend here you will find an abundance of things to see, do and eat. And it will probably become a place you will want to return to!


Love,

Jo xx

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2 Comments

  1. This absolutely brilliant the way you described Lisbon! Congrats for the good work 👏🏽👌🏾

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