Exploring Portugal - what to do in Lisbon?

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is a vibrant and beautiful city that has lots to offer, from historic places to awesome viewpoints. It's also possible to combine a city and beach holiday in Lisbon.

Tram 12 in front of the sardine store, Lisbon

Published on 9/23/2019. Updated on 12/14/2019. Text and photos by Tero Auralinna.

This is the second story of three story serie about traveling in Portugal. This post offers my experiences and must-see places I have discovered in Lisbon and nearby.

Wandering in Alfama - the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon

Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon. It's full of narrow cobbled alleys and steep stairs between the beautiful old buildings decorated by Portuguese tiles. You can easily wander there for many hours.

Tram passing Sé de Lisboa at Alfama Tram passing Sé de Lisboa at Alfama

There are lots to see. To name a few highlights you will find many great viewpoints, Castelo de São Jorge, Sé de Lisboa Catedral, flea market, and postcard-perfect scenes. It's also the best place to watch and photograph Lisbon's famous old trams. Trams are rattling and squealing in the narrow streets and tight corners.

Alfama city view

Ride with the famous 28 tram

Tram 28 is the most famous of Lisbon's trams. It connects Martim Moniz and Campo Ourique. It's so popular route that it's always full of passengers. If you want to get a seat and see something you should be at the starting point very early in the morning (Martim Moniz or Campo Ourique).

Lisbon Trams on Rua das Escolas Gerais - Tram 28 Lisbon Trams on Rua das Escolas Gerais

These old trams are part of the public transportation system and you can use Viva Viagem card for paying the travel. It's unfortunate that tourism has ruined this handy transportation for the locals.

There are also those red and green tourist trams which are more expensive but less crowded.

Best viewpoints in Lisbon

Lisbon is a beautiful city and there are multiple viewpoints which provide spectacular views to the city from different perspectives. It's fun to locate all the top districts from the bird's-eye view.

São Jorge Castle (Castelo de São Jorge)

You'll find São Jorge Castle from the top of São Jorge Hill. It's one of Lisbon’s most iconic landmarks. You'll see it from everywhere in Lisbon. Due to its central and high location, you'll get good views from the fortress or its walls.

Views from the wall of São Jorge Castle Views from the wall of São Jorge Castle.

Miradouro da Graça

Miradouro da Graça viewpoint is my favorite. I would recommend coming just before the sunset and see the city after dark. There is also a bar and terrace where you can have a drink and enjoy the scene. It might be windy and cold at night so be prepared. The bar also provides blankets for staying warm.

Miradouro da Graça, viewpoint in Alfama, Lisbon Miradouro da Graça, viewpoint in Alfama

Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

Miradouro da Senhora do Monte is another great viewpoint in Lisbon. Its location is about a kilometer from Miradouro da Graça so you might want to visit both viewpoints when you are around.

Sunset watchers at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte Sunset watchers at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro de Santa Luzia

When wandering in Alfama you'll probably pass these two often. Both have nice views over Alfama to the River Tagus (Tejo). Miradouro de Santa Luzia itself is a very beautiful place with its benches made with Portuguese tiles. There is also cafes and bars around. If you are going to São Jorge Castle take a break here before or after the visit.

Miradouro das Portas do Sol, Alfama Miradouro das Portas do Sol, Alfama

Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara

This viewpoint is near Bairro Alto and it provides you an awesome view from the other side of the city. Unfortunately, this year (2019) there is a renovation ongoing which limits the views and atmosphere in the small park around this viewpoint.

Hotel Mundial Rooftop Bar

Hotel Mundial Rooftop Bar offers almost 360° panoramic views to the city. Be early to get a nice table. There will be a queue already before the bar is open. Hotel Mundial has a quite centric location so you will have good views on different areas of the city.

Lisbon beaches

You'll need to travel a little bit to find a beach around Lisbon. Lisbon's nearest beaches are on the way to Cascais. You can read more about them from my earlier blog post about Cascais & Sintra.

Also, check out Lisbon beach guide for more detailed information.

Best places to view 25th of April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril)

There are two great locations to admire this famous Lisbon bridge which is often compared to Golden Gate Bridge because they both have similar structure and color.

From the Santo Amaro Recreation dock you can have a view from almost directly below. There are couple of restaurants and bars also.

25th of April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge and Cristo Rei statue viewed from the Santo Amaro Recreation dock.

Cristo Rei is an another great location which is on the other side of the river and gives you views from the above of the bridge.

Cristo Rei - National Sanctuary of Christ the King

Sanctuary of Christ the King is an open-armed Christ statue which you can see from everywhere in Lisbon. Construction started in the year 1949 and took ten years to complete. There is a viewing platform in the heights of 80 meters where you can get really fabulous panoramic views over the Lisbon and especially to the 25th of April Bridge. Main attraction here is the view so go only on a clear day.

25th of April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) view from the Cristo Rei 25th of April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) photographed from the Cristo Rei.

The easiest way to access Cristo Rei is to use Ferry from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas. Then you can take a bus 101 to the monument. Cacilhas bus station is very close to the ferry port. Ferry to Cacilhas takes about 15 minutes and bus about the same. There is also plenty of parking space if you’re going by car.

Lisbon view from the Cristo Rei Lisbon view from the Cristo Rei. Vasco da Gama Bridge - the longest bridge in Europe, on the horizon.

White and green Viva Viagem card can be used on the ferry but the only green one is accepted on the bus. You can also buy a ticket from the bus.

Lx Factory and Livraria Ler Devagar

Lx Factory is located partly under the 25th of April Bridge, Alcântara area of Lisbon, in the old industrial site. There you can find various range of shops, bars and restaurants, art studios, design companies, street art and co-working spaces. Various art and music events are also held there. Every sunday there is an open air market selling trendy, vintage, hipster, and second hand stuff.

One highlight of Lx Factory is Livraria Ler Devagar bookstore. This is a quite unique place and good spot for the Instagram picture.

Livraria Ler Devagar, Lx Factory Unique bookstore Livraria Ler Devagar at Lx Factory.

You can reach to Lx Factory by tram 15 or bus.

Time Out Market and Mercado da Ribeira

When you happen to be around Cais do Sodre train station, take a visit to Time Out Market. The Time Out Market is the largest food hall in Lisbon. Under one roof there are together numerous great bars, restaurants and dessert places.

When in here, be sure to visit Lisbon's best fresh food market Mercado da Ribeira. It's in the same building than Time Out Market. It's selling fresh fish and other traditional fresh products at a much better price than the grocery stores nearby.

Belém

Belém is the district in the western Lisbon where you can find many iconic tourist sights and as well the original source of these tasty Portuguese tarts.

Easiest way to travel to Belém is by tram 15 or Cascais train from Cais do Sodré.

All attractions in Belém are popular so it might require a little bit waiting to get inside.

Monument of the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) Monument of the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos)

Must see in Belém

The Church of Santa Maria de Belém, Jerónimos Monastery The Church of Santa Maria de Belém is magnificent.

Jerónimos Monastery is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Tower of Belém. Tomb of Vasco de Gama is also located in Jerónimos Monastery.

Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos)

Pastéis de Belém is a patisserie where Pastéis de Belem tarts are baked by the original recipe. This recipe was invented in Jerónimos Monastery and it might be over 200 years old. Pastéis de Belém started to bake these pastries in the year 1837. Elsewhere Pastéis de Belem tarts are called Pastéis de Nata.

Find treasures from Feira da Ladra flea market

Lisbon’s main flea market Feira da Ladra has all kind of stuff, from touristy items to antiques. If you want to buy nothing, you can still do some window shopping here for hours.

Feira da Ladra flea market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, from dawn to the afternoon.

There is a park (Jardim Botto Machado) next to the flea market where you can stop by in Clara Clara Café and enjoy a cup of coffee with river views.

The perfect way to start a Saturday is to jump into the tram 28 and wander a couple of hours at a flea market. This was our plan last time but somehow I got mixed up with the days. On the spot, we noticed that there is no flea market because it's Sunday.

Edward VII Park (Parque Eduardo VII)

The viewing platform of Parque Eduardo VII park which is known of its symmetrically patterned hedges provides you a pleasant view over Praça Marquês do Pombal, Avenida da Liberdade, and the River Tagus (Tejo).

Edward VII Park (Parque Eduardo VII) Nice view over the Parque Eduardo VII to the River Tagus.

It's also the biggest park in Lisbon and got named after King Edward VII who visited Lisbon in the year 1903.

There is also a huge Portugal flag. And it's also a great location for an airplane spotting.

A night out at Bairro Alto

Bairro Alto is a car-free district which is full of bars, restaurants, and shops. Don’t go too early. This place comes alive at night. Narrow streets are full of terraces and people enjoying the night. This is a great place for bar-hopping.

Bairro Alto Neon sign at Bairro Alto

One scenic route to the Bairro Alto is Calçada do Duque street which is starting near Rossio. This route has probably a couple of hundred steps. Stairs will lead you to the Bairro Alto with a view to the São Jorge Castle on behind of you. There are also many restaurants along the way.

There are also two funiculars you can use to access Bairro Alto: Elevador da Glória and Elevador da Bica. The Elevador da Glória was opened to the public in the year 1885. And Elevador da Bica seven years after in the year 1892. You can use the Viva Viagem card on funiculars. It’s cheaper than buying a ticket on board.

While on Bairro Alto take a look from viewpoint Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara.

Confeitaria Nacional

Confeitaria Nacional is an excellent place to try the delicious Pastéis de Nata or other yummy cakes. You'll find this patisserie from the corner of the busy Praça da Figueira.

We kinda found this place by accident and when we have ordered we just noticed that it’s one of the oldest patisserie in Lisbon. It’s been open since 1829. The best table is hidden behind the stairs next to the window.

Rua Augusta Arch (Arco da Rua Augusta)

Rua Augusta is the main walking street in the Baixa area. At the beginning of the Rua Augusta, there is a triumphal arch-like Rua Augusta Arch. You can visit the arch and have nice views from the top.

Praça do Comércio, Rua Augusta Arch Praça do Comércio and Arco da Rua Augusta

Trips from Lisbon

One of the great things in Lisbon is that there is also much to see outside of the city. These places are relatively close so they are also great destinations for day trips.

Cascais, Sintra and Cabo da Roca

Cascais, Sintra and Cabo da Roca in between them are places you might want to add to your Portugal bucket list.

Check out my earlier blog post if you want to know more: Exploring Portugal - Cascais & Sintra.

The easiest way to travel to Cascais is by train (Linha de Cascais) from Lisbon Cais do Sodre train station. To Sintra, you can travel from Rossio or Oriente train station.

Azenhas do Mar

Another day trip destination you might wanna consider is Azenhas do Mar. It’s a photogenic, small coastal town near Sintra. There are beautiful white houses on the edge of the cliff. Under the village, there is a small golden sand beach surrounded by the cliffs. There is also a good seafood restaurant at the beach with nice views of the ocean.

Azenhas do Mar Azenhas do Mar is a picturesque, tiny village on the cliffs.

From Lisbon, you can access Azenhas do Mar by a combination of train and bus. At first, take a train to Sintra de Portela. Then you can continue by a Scotturb bus 440 or 441 from Sintra de Portela’s bus station.

Azenhas do Mar Ocean Atlantic ocean crashing onto the cliffs.

General tips to Lisbon

Where to stay?

I would recommend to get a hotel from Baixa district, Lisbon downtown. There are lots of hotels, shops and restaurants. Baixa has very central location so you can easily access all other districts from there.

For a more authentic experience, I would recommend getting a nice apartment from Alfama. Though remember that Alfama district is very hilly so you have to then climb every time back there.

Lisbon public transport

In Lisbon, there is a comprehensive public transportation network. You can use buses, subway, trams, ferries, and trains for transportation.

Walking is also a great option because the Lisbon center is not so large. You can easily walk from the district to the next one.

You'll find ticket machines at least from the subway and train stations. Easiest way to travel is to buy a Viva Viagem card with zapping credit. You can load an amount to the card and then just show a card to the reader when entering to the transportation. There is also a 24-hour ticket option which pays itself rather quickly if you happen to use public transportation a lot.

Lisbon Guru website has a thorough guide to the Viva Viagem usage and options.

Weather

My experiences are only from July. Days are quite hot but during the evening and night, it might get chilly and windy especially on top of those hills. So some warm clothes are usually needed even on summer.

Safety

Personally, I feel Lisbon to be a very safe city and never have experienced any serious threats.

You will meet drug dealers but just politely say no thanks and there will be no problems. Dealers are mostly hanging in the plazas like Praça do Comércio or Praça do Rossio.

Pickpockets have been a problem especially in popular trams like 28 and 15 and also in the subway. I haven't seen any suspicious activity but take care of your belongings. Pickpockets will mostly target the low hanging fruits so keep your valuables in a safe place and try to get a seat in public transport. Try to avoid crowded places and be careful if strangers are approaching you.

Washing clothes

There are multiple self-laundry services around the city. On the last trip, we washed clothes in WashStation Baixa-Castelo which was fast and easy to use. Price included all detergents and there are also drying machines so you don't need to worry about how to dry wet clothes after washing.

Souveniers from Lisbon

Portuguese wine is always a good souvenir but if you are on hand-luggage only you have to think something else.

Cork from Portugal is used to make a different kind of goods like wallets, beer mats, postcards, bags and even shoes. I was amazed by how multi-purpose, and good quality and strong material cork could be. Though the quality might vary so be picky where you buy your cork products. Here is an excellent and very thorough blog posting about Portuguese cork if you're interested to know more about the process and everything related to the cork.

There are many canned fish stores around Lisbon (Conserveira de Lisboa, O Mundo Fantástico das Conservas Portuguesas). You can buy colorful, nicely packed, and different types of conserved fish from the shops. I find these also a nice souvenir. If you're planning to eat conserved fish on the spot then I would recommend turning to the nearest grocery store for more reasonable pricing.

Conserved Portuguese Sardine, O Mundo Fantástico das Conservas Portuguesas Conserved Portuguese Sardine, O Mundo Fantástico das Conservas Portuguesas

Garbags is a Portuguese firm which produces various eco-friendly upcycled, unique products like bags, tablet & smartphone cases, notebooks, belts, and different kind of accessories. They are using waste materials and useless products to create something new. Currently, they have two stores in Lisbon and one in Porto. Check out Garbags website.

Wine recommendation: Julian Reynolds Red Wine

Julian Reynolds Red Wine was the discovery from my first trip to Lisbon. I walked into a wine store and asked red wine recommendation and got Julian Reynolds. It has been since then my favorite red wine.

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