Lisbon: Your City Guide
When it comes to travel destinations, Lisbon is in a class by itself. This Portuguese capital is grounded in history and tradition while still being a thoroughly modern city.
Lisbon has become a destination for travelers over the last few years and when you take a closer look at all the city has to offer, it isn’t hard to see why!
We’ve put together this Lisbon travel guide to help you decide what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Lisbon!
What To Do in Lisbon
Lucky for any tourist, there are plenty of things to do in Lisbon! From
exploring the cobblestone streets of famous districts like Alfama to
visiting historic and cultural sites, if you plan properly, you can get
it all in!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Castelo de Sao Jorge
The Castelo de Sao Jorge is one of the most visited sites in Lisbon.
This castle dates back to Portugal’s earliest history. First established in 200BC by the Romans, the castle saw the rise and fall of many rulers including the Romans, the Visigoths, and the Moors.
In 1256, Castelo de Sao Jorge was the seat of Portuguese power when the capital was moved from Coimbra to Lisbon. By the late 16th century, the castle had lost its previous significance and was used as a prison and arsenal.
As was the case with many buildings in Portugal, the castle was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. Unfortunately, at the time, the building was not considered significant enough to rebuild.
Luckily, there was a massive restoration project that took place in the late 1930s that led to the attraction you can visit today.
There are rebuilt ramparts and watchtowers as well as inner gardens and courtyards to explore. The castle provides incredible views of Lisbon and houses a museum full of interesting artifacts that have been found on site.
Elevador de Santa Justa
The Elevador de Santa Justa is both a stunning work of art and an engineering masterpiece.
constructed in 1900, the elevator was once an essential part of
Lisbon’s transportation system. The lift carries passengers to the Largo
do Carmo from the Baixa district 45 meters below.
still technically a part of the public transit network, the elevador de
Santa Justa is primarily a tourist attraction.
wrought-iron exterior is adorned with neo-gothic arches and intricate
patterns and the rich, polished wooden carriages add a level of luxury
to the ride.
At the top of the lift is a viewing platform
offering some of Lisbon’s best vistas. If you really want to see
something stunning, visit the platform in the late afternoon/early
evening. The setting sun catches the castle and the Se Cathedral in a
way that makes them practically glow.
Because this is a primary
tourist attraction, there are often long lines, especially in the summer
months. But, if you’d like to avoid a long wait while still taking in
the views, try going the other way!
The longest lines are often
at the bottom of the elevator. Ride the Ascensor da Glória train to the
top of the hill and take the elevator down, instead.
Terreiro do Paco
A trip to Lisbon without a visit to this historic square would be a mistake.
Before the great earthquake of 1755, this location was home to the Paco da Ribeira or Royal Palace.
Today the buildings are government offices but the beautiful 18th-century facades are some of the recognizable buildings in Lisbon. The square is open to pedestrians and strolling through the square to the River Tejo is a relaxing way to spend some time.
Located in Belem near the Tagus River, Jeronimos Monastery is a
UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built to celebrate Portugal’s famous
Age of Discovery.
Construction on the building began in 1501 and
wasn’t completed for 100 years. The Church of Santa Maria located
inside has remarkably high arched ceilings and beautiful stained glass
The entire monastery serves as an example of the
Manueline or late Portuguese Gothic style. By strolling beneath the
gothic arches and into the courtyard at the center, you can get a real
sense of the skill and craftsmanship that went into this building. To
see it is to understand why it took 100 years to complete!
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, construction on the Torre de Belem or Belem Tower was completed in 1520.
An iconic feature of Lisbon’s skyline, Belem Tower was once used to defend the city from invaders. Later, it was used as a lighthouse.
The tower is considered one of the must-see places in the city and as such can get crowded. Only 120 people are allowed inside at one time so access can be slow. For best results, visit early. It is often possible to beat the crowds by showing up when the tower opens in the morning.
There is a lookout at the top of the tower from which you can see all the way to the coast. But take your time getting to the top. The tower’s interior is like a military time capsule and more than worth exploring in its own right.
Padrao dos Descobrimentos
While in the Belem district, visiting Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery, you should also pay a visit to Padrao dos Descobrimentos.
This monument first opened in 1958 and pays tribute to the Age of Discovery. In the 170 foot stone carving, you can see significant historical figures like Vasco da Gama and Prince Henry the Navigator.
The monument also has an observation deck at the top you can visit and look around.
Plan a Day Trip
As the capital city, Lisbon is well connected to surrounding regions making it the perfect place to launch a day trip.
few hours away you can visit and explore interesting locales like Porto
and the Douro Valley but for explorations a little closer to home, both
Sintra and Costa da Caparica are less than an hour outside the city.
For history and architecture buffs, Sintra is a must-see.
Sintra is home to the brightly colored Pena Palace. Situated high on a hill, it is difficult to miss the red and yellow exterior. Considered to be one of the world’s most magnificent palaces, it is surrounded by woods and hidden pathways, incredible views, and many unexpected ornaments. You could spend all day wandering the grounds!
More than just the palace, Sintra has a number of interesting locations to see including the ruins of a 9th-century Moorish fortress, the Palace of Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira, the Palacio de Monserrate, the Palacio Nacional e Jardins de Queluz, and plenty of boutique shopping, and scrumptious cafes.
It may be a small town but there is lots to see and do so if Sintra is on your list, plan your trip before you go in order to maximize your time there.
Costa da Caparica
If you want to hit the beach, the small resort town of Costa da
Caparica is less than 30 minutes outside of Lisbon. What is a visit to
Portugal without a visit to one of its many beaches?
Popular with the Portuguese, this location is not really on the radar of most tourists as most of them head to the Cascais.
coastline here covers the entire western edge of the Setubal Peninsula
and at 24km, it makes up Europe’s longest continuous sandy shoreline.
The town and modern development is located on the northern edge of the beach and is easily reached by bus from Lisbon.
Here you will find crystal clear waters and dozens of reasonably priced cafes and restaurants where you can sample some of Portugal’s best seafood and decadent delicacies like pasteis de nata.
There is some surf here but the waves are not massive. If you are a curious beginner or an intermediate surfer, this spot is ideal. More experienced surfers will want to head to the shores of the Algarve coast instead.
If you travel farther south along the coast you will find the Arriba Fóssil da Costa nature reserve where the beaches are a little more “wild” and pristine as they are protected from development.
Costa da Caparica is perfect for both families and childless adult travelers looking to get out of the city for a day.