Centuries of reinvention and restoration pile on top of one another in Portugal’s dazzling, sun-blessed capital.
Here, time-worn trams trundle through medieval streets and the scent of freshly baked custard tarts permeates the air. Modern Portugal has emerged in this historic city, too, offering nightlife, shopping and business to rival Europe’s major capitals.
Pack in as many of Lisbon’s sights as possible by riding tram route 28 through the historic heart of the city. This pleasingly rickety old form of transport is one of the best ways to see the city as it trundles through neighbourhoods such as Graça, Baixa and Estrela. From this charming vantage point you’ll get a sense of the city’s enticing old-world atmosphere.
Hop off in the district of Alfama to better appreciate the history and ambience of Portugal’s capital. Here you can take your pick of historical attractions to fill the rest of your sightseeing time. São Jorge Castle and Lisbon Cathedral will both compete for your attention in this Moorish district, but it’s equally fun just to wander around the maze of cobbled streets.
Alfama also offers an elevated perspective of the city. Climb to one of the viewpoints, known as miradouros, to see panoramic views of Lisbon and the River Tagus. From Portas do Sol or the top of the National Pantheon you will be able to appreciate the shape and character of Lisbon as a whole.
As your trip draws to a close, try some of the local cuisine. The best restaurants in the city all serve seafood fresh from the Atlantic, but you should also take the chance to try bacalhau, a centuries-old dish of salted cod cooked in hundreds of different ways.
Spend your first day in Lisbon exploring the Baixa neighbourhood, the historic centre. Wander around its cobbled streets on foot or use the historic tram to hop between the different corners of the city. Take your pick of attractions such as the Museum of Ancient Art, the Castle of São Jorge and the iconic yellow facades of the Praça do Comércio.
Go on a hunt for Lisbon’s elegant azulejos. These time-worn, highly artistic tiles unique to Portugal decorate many of neighbourhoods. The National Museum of Azulejos is east of the city centre, but you can also find azulejos on the exteriors of churches, stations and governmental buildings. Wander around Moorish Alfama to see some of the finest tiles in the city, including azulejos telling the stories of saints’ lives on São Vicente de Fora Monastery.
For a quintessentially Portuguese evening experience, find a fado house – restaurants and bars offering live traditional folk music accompaniment with your meal. Stick around Alfama for some of the best opportunities to hear these melodically melancholic tunes.
Spend your second day in Belém on the western edge of the city, packed with monuments and landmarks that capture the spirit and history of this fascinating city. Don’t miss the iconic Tower of Belém, a medieval fortification guarding the edge of the Tagus estuary. And it’s hard to overlook the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a stunning monastery with an adventurous history. Explore its ornate stone halls before heading to the Museum of Coaches with gilded vehicles from the 17th century onwards.
After all your sightseeing, stop for a meal by the water’s edge. Seafood is on offer in abundance, but while you’re in Belém you shouldn’t miss out on the desserts. This neighbourhood is arguably one of the best places in Portugal to find the pastel de nata, a flaky egg-custard tart that is one of the country’s finest and most famous sweet treats.
Take your time in Portugal’s stunning, characterful capital and enjoy far more than just the city’s most obvious highlights. Use a full week here to take a circular route, heading east and looping around the surrounding area before finishing up in modern Lisbon, back near the airport.
Start in the eastern suburb of Bélem, a history buff’s dream. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the Tower of Bélem and the Museum of Coaches are the most popular stops here, but the seasoned Lisbon visitor can discover even more. Spend time in the Botanic Gardens or explore the fascinating Maritime Museum. Equally intriguing are the Palace of Bélem and the riverside Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology.
Days two and three
Keep heading west for two days, exploring the dramatic sunny coastline outside Lisbon. The town of Cascais is understandably popular, with excellent facilities and a spacious beach. Go further into Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, however, to discover some of the most scenic spots in the region. Guincho, Adraga and Ursa beaches all promise relaxing days by the Atlantic Ocean in beautiful settings. To find out more about the park, visit the tourist centre in the dramatically situated Cabo da Roca lighthouse.
Complete your exploration of the park in the breathtaking town of Sintra. Take longer here if you prefer palaces to praias, as there are enough sights to fill several days. The Moorish castle is a dramatic ruin perched on a hilltop, promising panoramic views. Also unmissable is the Palace of Pena, a bright-yellow palace from the 19th century, the 20th-century Quinta da Regaleira and the dazzling-white National Palace.
Days five and six
Come back into Lisbon from Sintra to explore the different layers of history that sit side by side in the city centre. One of the best ways to experience Portugal’s capital is to find your favourite miradouros or viewpoints. Ride a vintage funicular to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, for instance, for unrivalled vistas of Lisbon.
Wander around Alfama, which has retained much of its Moorish character, stopping at its cathedrals and castles. Church-hop through central Lisbon, visiting sights such as the Church of São Roque, which hides an azulejo-filled interior behind its less impressive façade.
Take your pick from a whole host of evening entertainment options. Multifunctional venue The LX Factory hosts restaurants and artistic events, while Alfama is the home of several celebrated fado houses. Alternatively, hit the streets of Bairro Alto for an unforgettable night of clubbing.
End your trip to Lisbon in Parque das Nações, one of the city’s most modern quarters, just by the airport. You’re likely to end up here if you’re in Lisbon on business, but this stylish district with its eye-catching architecture and sleek shopping malls is worth a stop whatever your reasons for visiting. One of its highlights is the family-friendly Oceanarium, with immersive, wrap-around aquariums housing around 8,000 creatures and a commitment to conservation and education.