What to see, do, drink and eat during your trip to Portugal’s largest city, Lisbon.
Heading into our Portugal trip I’d heard nothing but good things about Lisbon. “It’s the absolute best!” some would tell me. “I loved it so much I moved here!” others have said.
While eventually it did live up to (reimagined) expectations, I’ll be honest.
At first, I wasn’t impressed with Lisbon.
It’s not like the Algarve with a natural oceanfront. It also doesn’t have the bulk of sights like neighboring city of Sintra. But after a half day exploring I realized Lisbon is its own kind of unique. It’s more of a living city and the best way to experience it is exploring the neighborhoods on foot.
If you’re visiting Lisbon, here are my must-sees for that itinerary — and bring comfy shoes, because you’ll be walking. A lot.
1. Santa Justa Elevator
Located in the center of the city, right near Baixa, is on of the best places to view Lisbon: the Santa Justa Elevator. This 148′ high elevator takes you up from the Baixa neighborhood to the tip top of Lisbon, letting passengers out to the ruins of the Igreja do Carmo church.
You can access the elevator with a regular metro card, but if you want to see the 360-degree viewing deck, you’ll have to shell out a couple extra euros. (By the way – the viewing deck? Totally worth it. We got some of our best photos up there!)
2. Bairro Alto
Lisbon’s party neighborhood, the Bairro Alto, is whole lot of fun. Whether you’re looking to go out hard or people watch and laugh at those who went out too hard (also fun), you can do both — and more — in Bairro Alto.
While this section of Lisbon has more bars than I can count (hello, good time!) we most enjoyed our stop at The Old Pharmacy, a wine bar that has, among other things, a Port wine flight. Since we couldn’t get to Porto (the birthplace of port wine) on our trip, we figured this was our second best option. And spoiler alert: It was. Can I get a YUM?!
3. Tram 28
Lisbon had roller coasters before they were cool — in the form of a swerving, chaotic public transit system that takes you all over Lisbon. Tram 28, the iconic bright yellow train, takes passengers from the heart of Lisbon (just north of Baixa) through the Graça District, on to the Alfama and then further outside the city for a scenic, loop route. (Here’s a helpful map.) It’s crazy packed, so expect to be smooshed, but if you’ve lived through the NYC subway you’ll be more than fine.
You can catch it at the Praça da Figueira square, and we used our daily metro card to ride.
4. Alfama and Fado
It’s not every day you have the opportunity to enjoy table-side music as you chow down on seafood, but in the Alfama, it’s different. Restaurants throughout this charming, historic district have live, traditional Portuguese Fado music performances for diners, mostly during dinner time.
While we didn’t end up buying their CDs (and Frank gave me the stink eye when the singing kept him from eating his food) it’s absolutely an experience I’d totally recommend. Just about any restaurant in the Alfama has this offering, but here are some of the less touristy spots.
5. Tower of Belem
A quick train ride will transport you from cosmopolitan Lisbon to the quaint, monument-filled town of Belem. We went up to the top of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos/ the monument of discoveries before making our way to the beacon of this little town: the Tower of Belem. This old tower, erected in the 1500s, is incredibly photogenic from the outside with a quaint little park that overlooks the water.
Side note, visit any day but Monday, because when we visited on Monday, the tower and the local monastery were closed for entry. Womp womp.
To get here, catch the 15E tram from Praça da Figueira to Algé.
6. Pasteis de Belem
One thing that wasn’t closed on Mondays – thank God – was the Pasteis de Belem pastry shop. Pasteis are the iconic, custard-filled pastry of Portugal, and no one does it better than Pasteis de Belem.
The bakery, in business since 1837, uses a famous (and secret) recipe from the nearby monastery, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Words can’t describe how tasty these pastries are, but I’ll give it a try: don’t-ever-want-to-stop-eating, finger-looking, must-eat-more-IMMEDIATELY good.
7. Ginjinha Liqueur
I’m usually all beer or wine all the time, but when I read about Ginjinha, Portugal’s famous liqueur drink, I caved for the sake of research (see what I do for you guys? Ha!). Made with a combination of sour Ginja berries (like cherries) and aquardente alcohol, Ginjinha is a syrupy concoction that tastes slightly like cough meds (but the kind you like, not the gross stuff).
Some establishments serve this in a chocolate “cup,” but the best, most authentic spot to try it is the A Ginjinha bar, the home of this drink. They don’t serve it in chocolate, but as you’ll see from the crowd, it’s still perfection.
8. Praça do Comércio main square
Tired of walking yet? The end is in sight: We only have one more stop! Praça do Comércio is one of Lisbon’s busiest, most popular squares, but despite the crowds, it’s a great spot to people watch and end your day. This square is close to everything, and has some great shops nearby for souvenirs.
Must-Knows Before You Go
Lisbon may feel big, but it’s small enough to walk almost everywhere We stayed in the Baixa district at Lisbon Short Stay Apartments (a quirky but cool Airbnb-type hotel) and, given its central location, were able to walk just about everywhere. If you plan to use the tramway — especially to and from the airport and train stations — get either a one-time or day pass, as it’s an expensive way to get where you need to be. (Obviously if you’re only using it once, just stick with the one-time pass.)
Lisbon has a lot of drug dealers who make bank on the streets, especially in the Bairro Alto area. Don’t be concerned when they approach you, just say no and move along (they weren’t aggressive at all).
And last thing, while this city is fun to explore, it’s almost important to build in time for day trips with Lisbon as your home base. It’s the central train hub, and offers routes to a number of local cities including one of my favorites, Sintra!
If you’re planning on a trip this magical fairytale town, click on over to my one-day in Sintra itinerary! And for all you Lisbon lovers out there — please comment below with any attractions I missed!