Lisbon, the vibrant capital and largest city of Portugal, beckons travelers from around the world with its compelling blend of history, culture, architecture, and cuisine. As one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Lisbon’s story spans over 3,000 years, with each era leaving its unique imprint on the city. From the remains of ancient civilizations and imposing medieval castles to cutting-edge art galleries and world-class restaurants, Lisbon offers an alluring mix of old and new. The city’s rich array of attractions cater to all interests and tastes, making it a dream destination for any traveler. As you plan your journey, you may wonder: what to do in Lisbon? Read on to discover the vast possibilities that await in this captivating city.
One of the most effective ways to experience the wide array of Lisbon’s offerings is to embark on a guided tour. On a Lisbon tour, you will be escorted to the must-see destinations by knowledgeable local guides who will provide context and insider information that you won’t find in any guidebook. Tours come in many styles, from open buses to tuk tuks to walking tours on foot. Read on for an overview of the top sights and neighborhoods to visit on a Lisbon tour.
A Lisbon tour is incomplete without exploring the Alfama district, the oldest part of the city with roots tracing back to the Moors. Here, you’ll immerse yourself in an old-world ambience with winding cobblestone streets, laundry hanging between buildings, street musicians playing mournful fado tunes, and the scent of grilled sardines wafting through the air. A Lisbon tour guide will point out key attractions like the Lisbon Cathedral with its blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles; the National Pantheon that houses tombs of famous legends like Vasco da Gama; and Saint Anthony’s Church, the patron saint of lost things. Don’t miss the Fado Museum to learn about Portugal’s traditional music and perhaps take in an evening performance at a local restaurant.
After the devastating 1755 earthquake, Baixa was re-built with organized grid-like streets focused around the grand Praça do Comércio, a Lisbon tour stop. Architectural aficionados will appreciate the 18th century buildings, many housing shops and cafes today. Stop into Conserveira de Lisboa, a 1930s art deco canned fish store seemingly frozen in time. People watch in Rossio Square and gaze at the National Theater’s neoclassical façade. Don’t miss riding Tram 28, rattling through Baixa and Alfama’s narrow streets where full-size buses can’t reach.
In the 16th century, the Belém district was the launching point for many of Portugal’s maritime expeditions of discovery and expansion, making it a highlight of any Lisbon tour. Today it remains a stately neighborhood home to several iconic sights. Tour the interior of the 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery, a triumph of the ornate Manueline style, and visit the adjacent Maritime Museum showing Portugal’s naval achievements. Stop to view the limestone Tower of Belém, once part of the city’s defenses, also showcasing Manueline architecture. Don’t miss Portugal’s famous custard tarts at Pasteis de Belém cafe, where the dessert originated.
Bairro Alto & Chiado Districts
Looking for a lively nightlife, hip boutiques, and youthful vibes? Then head to the Bairro Alto and Chiado districts. Walking tours here include the charming Luísa Duarte Espaço, filled with ornate tiles, antique furniture, and fashion. Feel the soul at the Anglican Church of St. George, where fado musician and icon Madredeus got her start. Pop into the circa-1779 hands-on science museum, Pavilhão do Conhecimento. As evening sets in, experience Bairro Alto transform into a buzzing hive of restaurants and bars.
Parque das Nações
This revitalized district in eastern Lisbon dates only to the late 1990s, built for Lisbon’s Expo ‘98 world fair. Parque das Nações makes for a great final stop on a Lisbon tour, as anywhere you look embodies modern riverside living. Eye-catching buildings include the swooping metallic checkerboard dome of the Oceanarium and the 145m high Vasco de Gama Tower. Take an elevator ride up for panoramic city views. Promenades and gardens line the waterfront, watched over by the 17m high sculpture, She Changes. It’s worth visiting to see how yesterday meets tomorrow in Lisbon.
Key Neighborhoods Beyond the City Center
While Lisbon’s historic central districts tend to be the focus of most tours, visitors with more time can venture beyond the city center for a more complete picture. Excursions by tram, metro or taxi reveal insight into Lisbon’s local life.
The hilltop, medieval Moorish Alfama may get top billing, but neighboring Graça and Mouraria also serve up winding alleys, miradouros (viewpoints), fado taverns and street art. Shop for vintage duds and enjoy coffee on tree-shaded esplanades in arty, alternative Príncipe Real. Escape to village-like charm in historic quarters like Alcântara, Campo de Ourique or Estrela dotted with pastelaria cafés, greengrocers and cutting-edge boutiques. Catch committees debating policy at the grand columned Assembly of the Republic in Sao Bento.
In residential neighborhoods beyond the center, experience Lisbon’s modern incarnation away from the tourist crowds at street markets selling handmade crafts, contemporary art shows, and concept stores. Have a picnic amid the Gulbenkian Foundation’s sculpture gardens and woods in leafy Campo Grande. Take in city views alongside locals from hilltop lookouts like Nossa Senhora do Monte. Discover why Parque das Nações has cemented its place as Lisbon’s expo-turned-cultural hub. By getting out in Lisbon’s districts, visitors encounter the full living mosaic of Portugal’s capital.
Top Museums in Lisbon
As a world-class European capital, Lisbon boasts no shortage of top-notch museums and galleries exhibiting Portugal’s cultural heritage and global treasures. Most Lisbon tour itineraries will feature visits to one or more of the city’s highlights:
The National Azulejo Museum showcases the iconic blue ceramic tiles in every possible application from church décor to opera house halls. The National Coach Museum dazzles with one of the world’s finest collections of 18th-20th century royal coaches, lavishly decorated with gold, velvet and bronze. The stately National Museum of Ancient Art holds the world’s best collection of Portuguese painting and religious works from the 15th to 19th centuries. The Berardo Collection Museum at the Belem Cultural Center impresses visitors with its A-list collection of modern and contemporary art masters from Dalí to Warhol. The Design and Fashion Museum uniquely focuses on haute couture textiles, clothing and accessories from the 18th century to today. The National Museum of Contemporary Art focuses strictly on post-1970s Portuguese contemporary works across media in a minimalist, light-filled building. The MAAT contemporary art museum juxtaposes cutting-edge permanent and visiting multimedia exhibits against its breathtaking riverside setting. Beyond the galleries and exhibits, most tours will also highlight Lisbon’s numerous azulejo-cloaked churches, cathedrals and palaces exhibiting centuries of stunning Portuguese tiles.
Top Markets for Shopping & Food
Lisbon brims with enticing markets offering local flavor whether browsing handicrafts and vintage items or sampling Portugal’s fresh produce and iconic foods. Markets encountered on many Lisbon tours include:
Feira da Ladra
– Lisbon’s famed twice-weekly flea market selling everything from records to antiques in the hilltop Alfama district. Go Tuesday or Saturday.
Mercado de Ribeira
– This historic food market hall in Cais do Sodré underwent a gorgeous renovation pairing gourmet food stalls with cultural events and live music.
– Riding the vintage Tram 28 is a Lisbon highlight, passing the lower Este-Oeste flea market with art, clothing and more.
– This re-purposed industrial complex in Alcântara now hosts cool boutiques, cafes and the Sunday LxMarket for antiques, food and art.
Time Out Market
– The city’s vibrant food hall in Cais do Sodré brings together top chefs, restaurants and food shops from across Lisbon under one roof.
No Lisbon tour is complete without savoring iconic local cuisine and drinks. Sample custard tarts, salt cod and sardines. Sip strong bica espresso, ginjinha cherry liqueur and vinho verde wines and port from the Douro Valley. A Lisbon tour guide opens doors to the authentic tastes that truly dine, define and delight Portuguese locals and visitors alike.
Key Tips for Visiting Lisbon
To make the most of a Lisbon tour, it helps to know a few key tips for navigating and better understanding your surroundings:
Bring comfortable walking shoes
- Lisbon is extremely hilly and best explored on foot from landmark to landmark. Leave the heels at home. Carry small bills and change
- Many local shops and restaurants may not accept large bank notes, credit cards or foreign currency at small transactions. Take the metro and key tram lines
- Avoid traffic above ground by riding Lisbon’s efficient subway system. Tram lines 28 and 25 offer scenic city tours. Book skip the line tickets
- For big sights like the Jerónimos Monastery and Belem Tower, pre-booked tickets let you bypass the queues. Travel early or late
- Do crowded sights first thing in the morning or later afternoon to avoid large tourist buses and hordes. Pack light layers
- Lisbon can be cool and breezy, especially near water. A light sweater or jacket allows you to adjust. Don’t overplan.
- Leave room to get “lost” in neighborhoods, make detours and discoveries off the tourist path. Try prego no pão
- You can’t leave Lisbon without trying this succulent steak sandwich on fresh-baked bread! Booking Your Lisbon Tour
Advance planning ensures you experience Lisbon’s top sites and hidden gems stress-free. Reputable tours should have informative websites, experienced guides, reasonable group sizes under 30 and clear cancellation/refund policies. Here are top tour types to consider:
Guided Walking Tours
– The best overview of landmarks, history and culture on foot via well-planned routes. Go independent or small group. Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours
– Flexible, budget way to hit major sites. Buses come with commentary and headsets. Tuk Tuks/Go Cars
– For a fun, quintessential Lisbon experience, book an open-air tuk tuk ride around the city’s hills and vistas.
– Sample regional wines, cheeses, pastries and other Portuguese cuisine on walking tours with tasty local stops.
– Dine while listening to live performances of Portugal’s intimate, melancholic national music.
– See Lisbon landmarks from the Tagus River with drinks and dinner included. Special sunset/nighttime cruises available.
– Bicycle around Lisbon for a workout while sightseeing, stopping for snacks along the way.
– For specialized interests, access or mobility issues, private tours ensure personalized attention.
However you choose to visit Lisbon, going with an organized tour takes the guesswork out of experiencing the city’s essential sights, tastes and attractions to the fullest. Let your qualified guide whisk you through the best of Lisbon’s past, present and future.
Conclusion of what to do in Lisbon
A city with over 20 centuries of history, Lisbon delivers fascinating attractions and culture around every corner. By taking a comprehensive Lisbon tour, visitors can fully appreciate the Portuguese capital’s layers of ancient ruins, medieval lanes, riverfront landmarks and modern culture. Guided tours ensure you understand the significance of the top sights from the Jerónimos Monastery to São Jorge Castle while learning insider details only the locals know. Beyond museums and monuments, explore authentic cuisine and artisan shops for the complete picture of Lisbon. Whether you choose a panoramic bus tour, curated food tour or intimate walking excursion, a rewarding journey awaits. Let Lisbon’s charm, warmth and timeless beauty wash over you.