The Best of Lisbon 10 Things You Shouldn’t Miss

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We fell hard, though a bit reluctantly, for the photogenic and gritty Porto, but Lisbon threw its own kind of spell over us. We had less than a week in Lisbon, but grew to love the rhythm of the city.

Grandmas tottering by in the morning, paper bags overfilled with their daily groceries clutched tight under their arms as they navigated the twisty, cobblestone streets. At night, party-goers filled the lanes by our little apartment in the Bairro Alto district; drunken, mostly happy and full of life. The city is a completely different place depending on what time of day it is.

Lisbon is also the largest city in Portugal, with a hair over half a million inhabitants. Lisboa (as the Portuguese call it) is drenched in history, and yet hopping with so many things to do that you could spend a month in the city and not see every monument, church and site worth mentioning. Here are 10 of our personal favorite things to do in Lisbon.

Look down once in a while

Many of Lisbon’s streets are paved with small tiles arranged in complex shapes. You’ll see swirls, waves, tall ships and a dizzying variety of geometric patterns, all covering the roadways of the center of the city.

Cost: Free

Tiles on the streets of Lisbon Portugal Black and White

Tiles on the streets of Lisbon

Stroll the city’s streets

For us, Libson’s greatest charm wasn’t in its (many) gorgeous churches or castles, or even in its lovely coastline. Instead, the twisting inner city streets, covered in cobblestones and pulsing with daily life were the city’s biggest draws. Even better, I’m quite sure that the unassuming city, which is so busy going about it’s daily grind, has absolutely no idea how cool it really is.

Cost: Free

Bird Soaring above the cobblestone streets of Lisbon

Soaring above the cobblestone streets of Lisbon

Visit the Lisbon Oceanarium

We’re huge fans of any chance to get closer and connect with the natural world around us. That said, we couldn’t miss the chance to see the Lisbon Oceanarium, which is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. We’d also heard this was one of the most impressive aquariums in the world, and I’d be hard pressed to argue. We were blown away by the large central aquarium, where you can watch sharks swim and see the tides ebb and flow, and the sizable, clean enclosures for penguins and otters.

Cost: 16 Euros for adults.

Lisbon Oceanarium Seahorse

Seahorse at the Lisbon Oceanarium

Try pastéis de nata at the Pasteis De Belem

Tucked a short drive outside of central Lisbon and close to Belem Tower, the Pasteis De Belem pastry shop is world renowned for their custard tarts (pastéis de nata). The tarts are made from a recipe that dates back from the nearby Jerónimos Monastery, and are reported to be made with the same (closely guarded) recipe since 1837.

We’re not lovers of custard tarts, but it’s not an exaggeration to say these little delights were a revelation. The crust is flaky, light, and not too sweet, and the inside is light and fluffy, with a hint of caramel.

Cost: About 2 Euro for three tarts

Pasteis De Belem with hot chocolate

Pastéis de nata at the Pasteis De Belem with hot chocolate

Check out the Belem Tower

Also called the Tower of St Vincent, the Belem Tower sits along the entrance to Lisbon harbor. It’s one of the remaining vestiges of the city’s old defense system and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s particularly pretty at sunset.

Cost: Free to look, and 5 Euros an adult to go inside.

Belem Tower

Belem Tower

Sip some Ginjinha

Perfect to cut the chill of a spring evening, ginjinha is made by infusing sour cherry (ginja) berries with alcohol. It’s a typical Lisbon drink, often served in a chocolate cup, and darn delicious. Ours was served with a marinated cherry at the bottom of the cup.

Cost: 1 Euro per cup (including chocolate)

Pouring Ginjinha into chocolate cups Lisbon Portugal

Pouring Ginjinha into chocolate cups

Take a ride on the tram

As they have for decades, electric trams still run up and down Lisbon’s twisty streets, with cars dodging in and around them in a chaotic blur. The iconic tram #28 runs through the Baixa, Bairro Alto and Alfama districts, clunking past small neighborhood grocers and cafes.

Cost: Just over a Euro on board.

Lisbon’s #28 tram

Lisbon’s #28 tram

Grab a loaf

Without exception, every bakery we tried in Lisbon (and we tried many) made fragrant breads fresh every morning. We’d often make a simple lunch of a fresh baguette, fruit and some cheese. Delicious!

You really can’t go wrong in Lisbon, as there’s a good bakery on virtually every corner, but Padaria Portuguesa is a small chain of bakeries that offer up fresh breads and simple breakfast items and fresh juices to go.

Cost: Less than a Euro for a simple baguette.

Peeking into Padaria Portuguesa window Lisbon Portugal

Peeking into Padaria Portuguesa

Gelato at Santinis

With a crisp red and white decor, Santini’s is said to make the best gelato in Lisbon. After giving them a try, we’d be hard pressed to argue.

Our favorites? Try the doce leite (milk caramel) and the manga (mango).

Cost: About 2 Euro per cone

Gelato at Santini Lisbon Portugal sign

Gelato at Santini

Look down over the rooftops

One of the great advantages of navigating Lisbon’s steep, twisty streets is the view that greets you at the top. Some of the best views are on the hills near the Castle of S. Jorge, looking out on the Tagus River.

Looking down over the Tagus River, Lisbon, Portugal, red roofs

Looking down over the Tagus River

Have you been to Lisbon? What were your favorite sights?

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29 Responses

    • Micki Kosman

      Step, yes Sintra was an incredible, unique place. It was cold and rainy the day we went, so we didn’t get a chance to wander around in the gardens, which I would have loved. They looked like something out of a fairy tale.

      Reply
  1. Melanie Murrish

    Love Lisbon-it’s a very livable city! I too don’t like custard tarts as we know them, but pasteis de nata are a whole different ball game.

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Melanie, I’m with you. It would take a lot of money to bribe me to eat a custard tart, but pasteis de nata are entirely different. I’m tempted to try making them at home…

      Reply
  2. Travelogged

    I was there for a few days in 2011 and totally fell in love with it! Your list captures it completely… I didn’t get to go the aquarium… Something for next time!

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Oh, lucky you! Have fun! I agree with what @Stef said above – my favorite times in the city were when we were just wandering around the streets.

      Reply
  3. The Guy

    I’ve only ever been through Lisbon Airport so I’ve never seen the city.

    This is a great informative list that you’ve provided. I particularly like the idea of eating one of those tarts and the picture of the tower is stunning.

    It is great to read this article. About a month or so ago I read another travel blogger who really hated Lisbon. It is good to get things in balance and you’ve made me curious about the city.

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Yes, it’s funny how perspectives about a city can be so different. I’ve had times where I’ve hated a city, and yet gone back a year or two later, and just loved it. Sometimes it’s about the company you’re keeping, the area of town you’re staying in, or even just your state of mind.

      Reply
  4. Val-Travel Scamming

    Oh wow!! I’m going to Lisbon in April, and this just got me so excited…I know I am going to eat my weight in milk caramel gelato…sounds amazing (and the bread, and that cherry drink served in choc cups)..good thing I’ll spend the rest of my time walking the streets!

    Reply
  5. Lillie - @WorldLillie

    Great list! I LOVED Lisbon so much more than I ever imagined. It’s ended up being one of my favorite places I’ve ever been! So romantic, and these activities all help.

    Reply
  6. Elle in Spain

    Considering Portugal is right next door to the country I live in… I know very little about the place.
    Nice intro! Those chocolate cups sounds divine.
    Elle x

    Reply
  7. Sam

    My partner and I have both been to Lisbon seperately, but not spent very much time there. We’re really looking forward to getting to know it better and hopefully spend around a month ‘living’ there next year. We’ll definitely be incorporating these things into our time there if so!

    Reply
  8. Britany

    Lisbon sounds lovely! I love a city that I can just wander around and be entranced by the streets, and this sounds like one of those places.

    Reply
  9. Evan

    Wow, great photos of Lisbon! We have not been there, yet, but as with many other places it is on our list. These are good places to visit. We will have to remember them whenever we do get there.

    Reply
  10. Lena

    Great selection. I also love their pastries, pastel de nata are amazing! When i was in Lisbon we also went onm a day trip to Sintra, a town with all the amazing castles. I think it is worth checking out as well.

    Reply
  11. Andrew Wolfe

    One of the most favourite things for me to do when traveling is just to wander around the streets and get lost, I have found some awesome cafes/monuments and other things that I would have missed if I didn’t go wandering. Some of the best expresso I’ve ever had also came from the Pasteis De Belem.

    Reply

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