Lisbon will touch all of your senses with its scenic views of the Tagus River, hilly medieval streets, grand history, delicious food, superb wines and friendly people.
These Lisbon, Portugal, travel tips include only places and activities that I experienced. I saw a lot, but but there is still so much more to see and do in this beautiful city. Lisbon was the very first stop on my career break trip to Europe. It will forever hold a special place in my heart and memories.
- I. Top 5 things to do in Lisbon
- 1. Visit Castelo São Jorge (Saint George’s Castle)
- 2. Walk the ancient streets of Alfama
- 3. Spend a day in the Belém district
- 4. Visit the city center
- 4.1. Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio)
- 4.2. Rua Augusta Arch (Arco da Rua Augusta)
- 4.3. Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa)
- 4.4. Betrand Bookstore (Livraria Bertrand)
- 4.5. Rua das Portas de Santo Antão
- 4.6. Rossio Square (Praça Dom Pedro IV)
- 4.7. Rossio Train Station (Estação Rossio)
- 4.7. Carmo Convent (Convento do Carmo)
- 5. Taste delicious Portuguese food and wine
- II. Day trips from Lisbon
- III. Frequently Asked Questions
- 1. How many days in Lisbon are ideal?
- 2. How to plan a trip to Lisbon on a mid-range budget?
- 3. Where to stay (first time visitors)?
- 4. What is the weather like in Lisbon?
- 5. Is Lisbon safe for solo female travelers?
- 6. What should I wear?
- 7. Are Uber and taxi available?
- 8. Is public transportation available?
- 9. Do I need to leave a tip in restaurants?
- 10. Do people speak English?
5 things to do and see in Lisbon
1. Visit Castelo São Jorge (Saint George’s Castle)
Built in the 1st century BC, this massive fortification is now a national monument and museum. Go for the history, scenic views and majestic sunsets. Allow 2-3 hours for a non-rushed visit. Neighborhood: Santa Maria Maior / Alfama. Visit the official St. George’s Castle website for hours, tickets and guided tours.
2. Walk the ancient streets of Alfama
This is one of those “get lost to get found” activities. The Alfama is a maze of charming, narrow cobblestone streets and steep steps filled with history, museums, restaurants, fado houses, colorful Portuguese tiles and homes with clothes hanging outside the windows. It is the oldest district in Lisbon, dating as far back as 1150, and one of the few to survive the 1755 earthquake.
Points of interest and activities:
2.1. Sé Cathedral:
Marvelous historical church and museum, former place of imperial coronations. Also the starting point for the Portuguese route of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. Visit the official Sé Cathedral website.
2.2. Church of St. Anthony:
Tradition says it was built on the site where the saint was born in 1195. Only a 3-minute walk from the Sé Cathedral.
2.3. Jewish quarters:
The Jewish settled in this area in the 13th century. Type Rua da Judiaria in Google Maps and feel transported back in time once you arrive.
2.4. Listen to fado music in a traditional fado house (evening event):
Fado music speaks to the soul, just like the blues. The lyrics tell tales of broken hearts, sailors lost at sea and deep longings. The Alfama district is filled with cozy family-run establishments where performers sing and play while you dine or sip a glass of wine. Many will charge an entry fee (10 to 20 €) or minimum consumption.
2.5. National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo):
Art museum dedicated to traditional Portuguese tile work, housed in a 16th century convent. Don’t miss the inner courtyard and the gold-ornamented Madre de Deus Church. There is a lovely cafe for refreshments and light meals. If you’re pressed on time, I would skip it (you will see beautiful tiles and churches all over the city). Visit the official National Tile Museum website for hours and tickets.
2.6. Ride the historical Tram 28:
A charming experience since 1914, but brace for crowds as it is super touristy. If you don’t have the time, simply walk the tram line as it will take you to many of the landmarks mentioned above. You can pay cash when you board the tram or use a Viva Viagem card that also gives you access to buses and the subway.
2.7. Miradouro Santa Luzia:
Lookout terrace with city views and a top tourist destination. Disclaimer: this site was on my original “must do” list, but I skipped it. I had already seen the city from many gorgeous viewpoints and got lazy!
3. Spend a day in the Belém district
From this neighborhood, 16th century explorers discovered new routes to East Africa, India and Brazil. It has many plazas, gardens, restaurants and gorgeous riverside walkways. Getting there is easy: simply hop on a bus, tram, taxi or Uber. Only a half hour ride from Praça da Figueira (central Lisbon).
3.1. Belém Tower (Torre de Belém):
Considered one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a fortification built in the 16th century on the banks of the Tagus River. From here, explorers set sail to conquer land, people and resources during the Age of Exploration. It was the last sight of their homeland before they ventured into the Atlantic ocean. Buy tickets online to avoid long lines. Visit the official Belém Tower website for hours and tickets.
3.2. Jeronimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos):
Construction of this stunning complex began in 1501. The architecture style is Manueline (Portuguese late gothic). Make sure to visit the cloister and the Church of Santa Maria. The monastery houses the tombs of Vasco da Gama (16th century explorer), Luís de Camões (16th century, considered Portugal’s greatest poet, compared to Shakespeare) and Fernando Pessoa (one of the most significant Portuguese writers of the 20th century). Prepare for long lines and plan accordingly. Visit the official Jeronimo Monastery website for hours and tickets.
3.3. Eat pastel de nata at Pastéis de Belém:
You can find the delicious sweet custard pastry pastel de nata anywhere in the city. When a local taxi driver told me that the best pastel de natal came from this place, I thought he was exaggerating. He was absolutely right: I tried the delicacy in many places, but Pastéis de Belém’s products, around since 1837, were superior in texture and flavor. If you don’t have time to sit down, there is a takeout line. Just a short walking distance from Jeronimos Monastery. Visit the official Pastéis de Belém website.
3.4. Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries):
Walk along the banks of the Tagus River to reach this monument built in 1939 to celebrate the Age of Discoveries. It is a 30-40 minute walk from the Belém Tower, but the view is worth it. Sit down by the river and feel the breeze on your face.
3.5. Sail the Tagus River:
This was a bucket list item for me. I wanted to sail the Tagus to see what 16th century explorers last saw before they ventured into the Atlantic ocean and “discovered” my native Brazil. It was an awe-inducing, unforgettable experience. There are many tours available. I recommend captain Rui’s tour, where I sipped delicious Port wine into the sunset.
4. Visit the city center
These highlights are in the Baixa/Chiado/Rossio districts, all within walking distance or a short Uber/taxi/tram/metro ride.
4.1. Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio):
Impressive 18th century plaza overlooking the Tagus River, built as a symbolic entrance to the city. Sit down for a meal at one of the many restaurants. Walk across the street to listen to local musicians playing pop and bossa nova in the river bank (beautiful sunsets!).
4.2. Arco da Rua Augusta (Rua Augusta Arch):
Adjacent to Praça do Comércio, this impressive arch (see photo above) connects to the pedestrian-only Rua Augusta, filled with shops. A visit to the viewing platform only costs 2.50 €.
4.3. Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa):
Considered the oldest elevator in Europe (since 1899), this funicular connects the lower and upper parts of the city. I didn’t feel like standing in line, so I didn’t ride it. However, the streets around it beam with aliveness. Add it to your list, with or without an elevator ride.
4.4. Bertrand Bookstore (Livraria Betrand):
Book lovers, rejoice! This is the oldest bookstore in the world, in business since 1732. Though not the original location, this is the building where some of the greatest Portuguese writers used to geek out (Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiroz and Antero de Quental to name a few).
4.5. Rua das Portas de Santo Antão:
Charming pedestrian street with lots of seafood restaurants. Once there, stop by Casa do Alentejo. Built in the 17th century and turned into a casino in the 20th century, it is now a cultural institution to preserve the history of the Alentejo region. The building boasts a gorgeous Moorish style courtyard with colorful tiles and a fountain. There is also a restaurant on site.
4.6. Rossio Square (Praça Dom Pedro IV):
19th century plaza paved with traditional tile mosaic (the same style that inspired the seaside streets of Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). Surrounded by restaurants, cafes and the National Theatre Dona Maria II. Metro station: Rossio.
4.7. Rossio Train Station:
From Rossio square, walk to this gorgeous neo-Manueline style station lined with charming cafes and restaurants. Trains to Sintra depart from here. Whaaat? No pictures???
4.8. Convento do Carmo (Carmo Convent):
Roofless ruins of a beautiful church with gothic arches, destroyed in the big 1755 earthquake. It’s now a museum with an immersive video experience. District: Chiado. Visit the official Convento do Carmo website for hours and tickets.
5. Taste delicious Portuguese food and wine
Traditional Portuguese cuisine is a delicious, mouth watering blend of mild Mediterranean flavors, including garlic and superb olive oil. I LOVED this 17-tastings Portuguese food tour I found on AirBnB. Come with an appetite and you won’t regret it!
Here’s a starter list of Portuguese dishes to get your taste buds salivating:
- Grilled sardines: try it even if you’re not a fish person. Pour olive oil. You’re welcome.
- Cod fritters (bolinho de bacalhau): superb appetizer, excellent with a cold beer or white wine. I really enjoyed mine at Taberna Sal Grosso in the Alfama (inexpensive dishes, everything so good!). Calçada do Forte 22, 1100-256 Lisboa. +351 910 137 713.
- Cod (bacalhau): there are more than 100 types of cod-based dishes. Some of my favorites are Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (with potatoes, hard boiled eggs and black olives), Bacalhau com Natas (a bit heavier, with potatoes and cream) and Bacalhau à Lagareiro (for the olive oil aficionados).
- Alheira: a fake pork sausage, normally poultry-based, seasoned with garlic. It has a curious history: during Inquisition, the Jewish would eat this sausage to avoid persecution.
- Pastel de nata: a Portuguese institution! Sweet custard-based pastry, great with coffee.
- Rabanada: the Portuguese version of French toast is crispy on the outside, custardy on the inside and topped with cinnamon and sugar. Being from Brazil, I grew up eating this delicacy. The popular A Brasileira has THE BEST rabanada I’ve eaten in my life, a delicious version with local Estrela da Serra cheese. This charming café and restaurant in the Chiado district is normally packed with tourists and locals. You can have a photo op with the statue of the great writer Fernando Pessoa (I did, because I have no shame!).
- Estrela da Serra cheese (Queijo Serra da Estrela): made of sheep’s milk, it is a Protected Designation of Origin (DOP in Portuguese) product in the European Union.
- Wine: Portugal has different wine regions and so much to explore. Baccus is very happy here: the wines are wonderful! If you are on a budget, you can order a bottle for 8-12 € and you won’t regret it.
Day trips from Lisbon
Day trip to Sintra:
Located only 18 miles (30 km) from Lisbon, this magical town boasts castles, palaces, nature and lots of mysticism. There are many tour operators that can take you there, but I chose the independent route and boarded a train at the centrally located Rossio Station in Lisbon. My one-way train ticket only cost 2.25 € (plus 0.50 € for the “Viva Viagem” card). I spent two nights in Sintra and wished I had stayed an extra night to soak in all of the nature. Visit the official Sintra website.
Day trip to Fátima:
Fátima is one of the top Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, supposedly where the Virgin Mary appeared to shepherd children in 1917. Though I’m not religious, I grew up Catholic and Fátima was a bucket list item. There are dozens of tour operators that can take you there for the day. I bought a day tour from Porto, but Fátima is closer to Lisbon.
Frequently Asked Questions – Lisbon, Portugal
1. How many days in Lisbon are ideal?
Six days/five nights are enough to cover all of the highlights listed above without feeling rushed. Stay longer if you want to add day trips. 2-3 nights is too short in my opinion, especially if you like to take your time in museums and churches.
2. How to plan a trip to Lisbon on a mid-range budget?
- Accommodation: 70-150 € per night for a studio /1-bedroom apartment/ hotel room in the city center (Alfama, Baixa, Chiado, Rossio). As with most of Europe, prices are higher in the summer. My 1-bedroom apartment in the Alfama cost 70 €/ night in the winter.
- Meals, attractions and transportation: 100-120 € per day. You can dine very well for 20 – 25 € per person (appetizer, main meal, glass of wine, dessert or coffee).
3. Where to stay (first time visitors)?
I recommend a central location so you can walk everywhere or take public transportation. Districts: Baixa, Chiado and Rossio. Also the photogenic Alfama if you don’t mind steep steps and hills.
In the winter, I stayed in a 1-bedroom apartment the Alfama, booked through Booking.com. The area is delightfully charming and you will soak in huge Portuguese vibes. I wouldn’t stay there again as there are too many hills and steps, making it challenging to walk around with luggage, particularly when you travel alone. In the summer, I spent a couple of nights at the Browns Boutique Hotel in Baixa/Chiado, in the heart of the city center (in a flat area!), and loved it.
4. What is the weather like in Lisbon?
You can find more about Lisbon weather here. I landed in Lisbon in early March. The weather ranged from cold to mild (mid-50s to low-60s ℉) with some rain. I dressed in layers and carried an umbrella at all times. I returned in late May to catch my flight back to the US. By then, the weather was warm (70s- 80s ℉ during the day, 60s ℉ at night).
5. Is Lisbon safe for solo female travelers?
Yes. I walked alone at night on many occasions and always felt safe. Crime rate is very low. Of course, you should always exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings anywhere you travel.
6. What should I wear?
Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes. Ditch the high heels. Layer up during the off-season. Cover up your knees and shoulders when entering churches. Jeans and nice sneakers are fine in most places, including mid-range budget restaurants.
7. Are Uber and taxi available?
Yes, Uber and taxi are available and are also quite affordable compared to other major European cities.
8. Is public transportation available?
Yes. Public transportation in Lisbon is excellent. I bought a Viva Viagem metro card and moved all over the city by subway, bus and tram. For schedules, I simply typed my query on Google. Example: “Bus from Rossio to Belem” would list the starting point, schedule table, number/name of stops and arrival time.
9. Do I need to leave a tip in restaurants?
There is no obligation, but in Portugal a 5-10% tip over the cost of the final bill is appreciated. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but always carry some euros, just in case.
10. Do people speak English?
Portuguese is the official language, but most locals also speak English.