There are many different versions of Lisbon and so many different experiences in Lisbon to explore.
There’s a version of Lisbon for everyone:
- Lisbon. The White City, as called by the Swiss director Alain Tanner.
- Lisbon of the Discoveries, the Tagus River, the Belém Tower and St. Jerome Monastery.
- Lisbon of the beautiful Azulejos (Glazed Tiles) with hues of blue and white – and polychrome ones too. But let’s focus one the cobalt blue and white ones for now.
- The traditional Lisbon, Alfama, Fado and the Bohemian Bairro Alto.
- The Picturesque Lisbon, with its typical neighbourhoods and narrow streets and alleys, from Sé to Cais do Sodré.
- The Elegant Lisbon of the Chiado and Lapa.
- The Baroque Lisbon with richly decorated churches and basilicas.
- The Contemporary Lisbon, from the diverse architecture to the lively cultural life.
There’s so many facets to Lisbon that I am sure you’ll be amazed at its diversity and unique beauty.
See also A Guide to Lisbon Neighborhoods and exploring Lisbon in 2 days.
Here are the our top things to do when visiting Lisbon
When seeking the best experiences in Lisbon, make sure to include a few of these on your list. Trust me on those, I’m a Lisbon guide.
The Lookouts Points. The reward after climbing the hills of Lisbon.
The only way is up to visit these spots. Lisbon’s voluptuous topography offers its rewards. After a steep climb, you surely will be rewarded with stunning views.
Ideally, you should do it on foot to have the Lisbon full experience!
For a quick and smoother ride up some of the city’s steepest hills, Lisbon operates three bee-yellow elevadores (funiculars/trams), which were originally water-powered.
One of the most charming rides is the Elevador da Bica which creeps up to Rua do Loreto through the Santa Catarina district. At the end of Rua Marechal Saldanha, is the Miradouro de Santa Catarina with a few popular outdoor cafés, offering exhilarating views across the river and the 25th of April Bridge.
The other lookout point you should not miss is S.Pedro de Alcântara.
The lookout was built in the 19th century. This is Lisbon’s “hotspot” and it was recently restored.
Located at the top of the journey of the Glória Elevator, nearby Bairro Alto, provides a spectacular perspective over Lisbon’s Eastern side. You’ll see the appealing old quarters of Graça, Saint Vincent Monastery and St. George Castle.
You will have the best views at the end of the day, when the lights of Lisbon are lit and the slope of the castle is illuminated.
Belém. Centuries of History and a Little Treat.
It can get very crowded and touristy, but Belém is totally worth a visit. The views to the Tagus River are stunning and, in some days, you’ll almost feel like being at sea.
Belém is intrinsically linked to Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery, the site where navigators set sail to discover the world from 1400s onwards.
It’s the area where you will find the most visited attractions, St. Jerome Monastery (a must), Belém Tower (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites), the Monument to the Discoveries and The Coach Museum.
The latter being a gem in a worldwide context. Here you will be able to see a precious and one of a kind collection of royal ceremonial coaches and carriages, that will immediately teleport you to ages long gone by.
First stop should be the St. Jerome Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Portuguese), a Manueline masterpiece that will leave you inspired. I could spend hours just looking at its intricate limestone work!
Nearby, in the waterfront, you’ll find the Belém Tower, symbol of Portugal’s maritime glory – also a stone jewel.
A stroll in the Belém Gardens and in the waterfront is mandatory. Open sky, the river breeze, the white hues of the buildings, as well as the contemporary Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT).
Don’t miss the chance to taste the divine traditional Pastéis de Belém (Custard tarts). It’s just a short walk away and fresh off the oven. If it’s too crowded, take them with you to the gardens and have your delicious treat outdoors.
Blessed be the monks that created them!
See also: Ordering Coffee in Portugal
Chiado and Baixa Pombalina. Augusta Street Arch for Stunning Views.
Start your stroll in Chiado, one of the most elegant parts of the city, with centenary cafés and probably the best historic shops in town.
In the beginning of the 20th century the menus of the finest cafés were written in French, as it had ambitions of being “Lisbon’s Little Paris”.
Walk down towards Santa Justa Elevator. It connects the higher part of Chiado and Carmo to the lower streets of Baixa (Downtown).
Baixa, the next stop, is the best place to admire the typical Pombaline architectural style so characteristic of Lisbon.
Pombaline is named after the feared and admired statesman Marquis of Pombal. He was in charge of revamping the city after the devasting earthquake of 1755. The architectural features are spectacular and one of a kind. Especially if you consider it was one of the first anti-seismic construction systems in the world.
Don’t miss the Arch of Augusta street, where you can admire stunning views to St. Jorge Castle, Pombaline Downtown, Commerce Square and, last but not the least, the Tagus River.
Gulbenkian Museum and Foundation
The Gulbenkian Museum houses one of the world’s finest private art collections.
Gulbenkian Museum is a true gem, being voted as one of the seven best small museums in the world.
The Foundation premises include a large auditorium with a wide selection of music concerts, from classical to contemporary. There is also a space for temporary exhibitions, a congress area with auditoriums and other rooms, as well as the previously mentioned Gulbenkian Museum, the Art Library and a Modern Art Centre.
Don’t miss the chance to visit its beautiful gardens. If you visit in the beginning of August you will be lucky to get “Jazz em Agosto” (Jazz in August). It’s a rather quirky jazz festival with worldwide musicians playing live on a beautiful outdoor amphitheatre.
The National Tile Museum. Discover the Unique Art of Azulejos.
The National Tile Museum is one of a kind in the world. It is housed in the 16th century Convent of Madre de Deus – a rather secluded venue in the Xabregas district but well worth a visit.
Over the centuries the Portuguese have developed a particular form of art consisting of paintings on ceramic tiles, a mastery known as “Azulejaria” (from “azulejos” – glazed tiles). Even though not originally Portuguese, the art was developed in the country in a very peculiar and unique way.
You can admire a unique collection consisting of some 1,300 tiles, from ancient to contemporary styles.
The highlight lies on the third floor with a Great Lisbon Panorama tile panel. It dates back to the early 1700s, depicting Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake.
Always look down!
All over the city (that can be applicable all over Portugal too), you’ll find beautiful cobblestone pavements made of several types of limestone.
The patterns can be so ornate and rich that will leave you literally mesmerized. Watch out for the “open sea waves” pattern at the central square of Rossio, in Downtown district.
Last but not the least, bring comfortable footwear with a good “grip” for your trip to Lisbon (check out SUAVS and use the code TRAVELDUDES15 for 15% discount). The Portuguese cobblestone pavement can take its toll on the feet and it can be very slippery – especially on the first days of rain.
For a more in-depth or detailed visit Lisbon with Pats to help you maximize your time and have the best and memorable experience of Portugal’s capital city.