Top 10 places to visit in Lisbon
Interested in visiting Lisbon? Discover the top ten places to visit in Portugal's capital...
Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, offering a unique blend of history and modern living, wrapped in Portugal's beautiful sunlight.
Bathed by the river Tagus and embraced by the seven hills that surround its historic area, Lisbon is also one of the oldest capitals in Europe. Nonetheless, it remains young and vibrant, having successfully adapted its old-age European charm to modern times without losing its authenticity.
From the typical "bairros", where you can hear Fado at night and see neighbours greet the passers-by from their windows to the more modern bustling city-centre where world-famous restaurants are side by side with the traditional "tascas"... Lisbon will always be "menina e moça" as in the famous Carlos do Carmo song, and a lifetime isn't enough to uncover all its charms!
However, if you don't know where to begin or if you have little time to get to know the city, you can start with our list of the 10 best places to visit in Lisbon:
1. Torre de Belém
Lisbon's best-known monuments are a tribute to the audacity of the Portuguese people, who through the centuries have been able to dream beyond the smallness of the country's territory and set out to conquer new worlds.
Being the Age of the Discoveries one of Portugal's most important historical achievements, it's no wonder that the country's capital has so many places that honour this heroic past.
One of them is the famous Tower of Belém, built between 1514 and 1519, and classified as a National Monument and as a World Heritage site by UNESCO:
This beautiful fortress, bathed by the north bank of the river Tagus, has a late-Gothic "Manueline" style, with royal heraldry, as well as sea motifs such as ropes, knots and animals, as well as Moorish elements.
2. Jerónimos Monastery
On the opposite side of the Belém Tower, you’ll find Portugal’s most visited monument: the Jerónimos Monastery. This masterpiece of Portuguese architecture is also a National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Monastery, founded by King Manuel I at the beginning of the 16th century, is located in a historic and monumental setting by the River Tagus. Its construction started in 1501 or 1502, the first stone being laid on the symbolic date of January 6 — Epiphany, or "Dia de Reis" (Day of Kings) as it is known in Portugal.
Symbolically linked to some of the most important moments of Portugal's History, this monastery witnessed the coming and going of ships and caravels during the Age of the Discoveries, having been inhabited by monks until the second quarter of the 19th century.
Today, the Jerónimos Monastery still preserves the Manueline church, as well as a large part of the magnificent conventual facilities that receive thousands of tourists every year. It is considered one of Portugal's most impressive works of Manueline architecture, with various religious, nautical and royal elements that are immortalised in stone.
3. Rossio square
The Praça de D. Pedro IV square, known by the locals as “Praça do Rossio”, is one of Lisbon’s most popular plazas.
Throughout its history, it has witnessed plenty of historical moments. From bullfights, festivals, fairs, plays and military parades, to revolutions and capital executions.
After the 1755 earthquake, which practically destroyed the city of Lisbon, this square was entirely rebuilt. However, it was not until 1846 that the D. Maria II National Theatre was built and the monumental fountains were added, two of the symbols for which the square is best known.
In the centre of the square is the statue of Pedro IV, the 28th king of Portugal and the first emperor of independent Brazil. This statue was inaugurated in 1870.
Throughout centuries, Rossio has always been one of the most vibrant places in Lisbon, with writers, artists and politicians gathering in conversation and drinks in the cafés around the square.
Even today, you will find in Rossio two of the most popular cafés in Lisbon: the Nicola and Pastelaria Suíça.
4. Rua Augusta Arch / Praça do Comércio
Another famous square is located at the end of Rua Augusta, where you have to pass under the Triumphal Arch to have a breathtaking view of the immense estuary of the river Tagus.
For centuries this riverfront square was the main entrance to Lisbon for those arriving by boat. Before the 1755 earthquake, it was called Terreiro do Paço, with the Royal Palace then occupying the west wing of the square.
The current name "Praça do Comércio” (Commerce Square) is a result of the period of reconstruction that followed the earthquake, revealing the intention of transforming Lisbon into a more modern city, focused on the commercial, financial and bourgeois class that greatly contributed to its reconstruction.
Amongst its main tourist attractions are the equestrian statue of King D. José I facing the river, which was placed in 1775, and the Martinho da Arcada café-restaurant, located under the north arcades, near the entrance of Rua do Ouro.
5. Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Another monument on the Tagus riverbank that marks the epic history of the Portuguese Discoveries is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, located in Belém.
Designed by the architect Cottinelli Telmo, the monument was originally made in 1940 entirely out of perishable materials, on the occasion of the Exhibition of the Portuguese World to honour the historical figures involved in the Portuguese Age of Discoveries. The current replica, in concrete and stone, was created later, having been inaugurated in 1960.
The monument has the shape of a stylised Portuguese caravel, with D. Henrique the Navigator at the bow, holding a caravel in his right hand and a map in his left. In two descending rows, on each side of the monument, are the statues of 32 notable Portuguese connected to this historical period, including navigators, warriors, friars, scientists and literary icons, such as Luis de Camões, Portugal’s most famous poet.
6. Parque das Nações
The Parque das Nações area, as we know it today, is the result of a profound rebuild of one of Lisbon’s old industrial zones. With the aim of holding the 1998 World Expo here, this riverside area, which stretches over a 5-kilometre strip, has become a new city district and a vibrant centre for cultural activities, bringing a new dynamic to the eastern part of Lisbon.
Along the riverside, there are various gardens, as well as several examples of urban art and modern architecture, where buildings as emblematic as the Oriente train station, the Lisbon Oceanarium, the Vasco da Gama Tower or the Atlantic Pavilion stand out.
Among the many things you can do at Parque das Nações, a visit to the Oceanarium, or a trip in the Parque das Nações Cable Car are two of our favourites!
7. Pastéis de Belém pastry shop
Lisbon's most famous pastry shop is located right next to the Jerónimos Monastery, and there are often customer lines at the door throughout the year.
Founded in 1837, the Pastéis de Belém bakery is the only one in Portugal that can sell the famous pastel de nata under the name “Pastéis de Belém”.
This ancestral recipe, which is a secret, is made in the same way since it was created by the medieval monks of the Jerónimos Monastery, offering a unique flavour and texture that distinguishes a Pastel de Belém from the rest of the cream pastries sold throughout Portugal.
Read more about Pastéis de Belém
Like many other traditional pastries in Portugal, the history of the Pastel de Nata goes back centuries, its origin directly related to the "Pastéis de Belém" which are still made to this day...
8. Santa Justa Elevator
Thanks to three lifts and an elevator, all classified as National Monuments, going up and down the streets of Lisbon not only becomes easier, but the surrounding landscape gains new viewpoints from which to be admired.
The three lifts include:
Ascensor da Glória, which connects the Praça dos Restauradores to Bairro Alto;
Ascensor da Bica, which goes from Largo do Calhariz to Rua de São Paulo, passing through the steep Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo, with the river Tejo in the background;
and Ascensor do Lavra, the oldest in Lisbon, which connects Largo da Anunciada to Rua Câmara Pestana, through the Calçada do Lavra.
Besides transporting people from one level to another in the capital, Lisbon's lifts are also a tourist attraction, and the Santa Justa Elevator is undoubtedly the most famous:
With more than a century of existence, it connects the Baixa to Chiado, connecting Rua do Ouro and Rua do Carmo to Largo do Carmo, offering a 360-degree view from the top.
Its cast-iron structure in a neo-Gothic style is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, whose style is believed to have influenced the engineer responsible for its project, Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard.
9. Saint Jorge Castle
Built in the middle of the 11th century, the Moorish-style Saint Jorge Castle is located in an area of difficult access at the top of one of Lisbon’s hills. Taking advantage of the natural landscape of this area, the castle had a purely defensive function, housing the military garrison and, in the case of a siege, the elites who lived in the citadel.
Currently, it still preserves 11 towers, as well as traces of old buildings and a cistern. The landscaped gardens of Saint Jorge Castle also have several examples of native Portuguese trees, such as cork oaks, wild olive trees, carob trees, strawberry trees, stone pines and fruit trees.
10. Café A Brasileira
Café A Brasileira, also known as “A Brazileira do Chiado”, was founded in 1905 in Rua Garrett, near Largo do Chiado. The café is one of the most popular in Lisbon, known for selling "genuine Brazilian coffee" and for its famous clients throughout history, namely the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa who was a frequent visitor.
The café's founder, Adriano Soares, made the space famous for its connection to culture and arts, having hosted several political, artistic and literary events, as well as modern art exhibitions.
Today, A Brasileira is a popular spot for tourists, who marvel at the café’s impressive décor and rich history. A perfect place to stop, enjoy a cup of strong Portuguese coffee, and relax in Lisbon’s amazing sunlight!
Read more about Portuguese coffee and how to ask for it
Normally, the Portuguese prefer to drink espresso but there are plenty of other varieties available. Find out how to ask for your coffee in Portugal and enjoy its unmistakable aroma and flavour...
Being a city of many charms, Lisbon has something to offer to all people and any time of the year is perfect for discovering the city!
If you visit Portugal, don't forget to include a few days to get to know Lisbon. But don't just stick to the best-known places, as there is an unknown Lisbon that is also plenty of “secret spots” that are worth discovering and many local tour operators that can help you have a unique experience.
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