Over the past few years, Portugal’s capital city has appeared on just about every single traveller’s radar. And with good reason too: Lisbon is beautiful, it’s easy to get around, and there’s plenty to see and do as well. If you’re looking for advice on what to see and do, here are ten things to do in Lisbon that you can’t miss.
- 1 Try Portugal’s National Dish
- 2 Get your Take on the Big Debate
- 3 Listen to a Fado show
- 4 Hop Aboard a Lisbon Tram
- 5 Go Bargain Hunting at Lisbon’s Flea Markets
- 6 Make Friends in the Co-Working Space / Hostel
- 7 Go Miradouro-Hopping
- 8 Experience the Buzz of the Bairro Alto
- 9 Sample the Best of Lisbon’s Top Restaurants
- 10 Try your Hand at Speaking Portuguese
- 11 Explore the City by Bike (or Tuk Tuk)
Try Portugal’s National Dish
Portugal’s national dish, bacalhau, appears on just about every menu in every café and restaurant in Portugal. The Portuguese love bacalhau so much, and eat it so often, that they apparently have more than 365 different ways of cooking it – one for every day of the year.
You probably won’t get to try all 365 ways of cooking bacalhau, but do try a few of the different ways. Some of the most popular are bacalhau com natas and bacalhau à brás. You’ll probably also find pastéis de bacalhau (croquettes made of bacalhau) on a petiscos menu, which is a very easy way to sample the third method without having to order an entire main meal.
Note: Bacalhau takes around 48-72 hours to desalinate. If you’re planning on cooking bacalhau in your Airbnb or Wimdu, make sure you have enough time for the preparation. Any less than this and your food will taste horribly salty.
Get your Take on the Big Debate
The pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tart, originates from Lisbon and sampling one of these heavenly delights at Pastéis de Belém is an absolute must. Even though Pasteis de Belém have the most original recipe for pastéis de nata, they’re not the only pastelería that produces them. In fact, despite being the oldest producer, some people say that they’re no longer the best in the city.
Saying this sparks a fiery debate amongst locals, who all have their own favourites – Manteigaria and Aloma both normally earning mentions in this debate. There is rarely a consensus, and the only thing that you can do is do the research and decide for yourself.
Listen to a Fado show
Fado is a unique style of traditional Portuguese song that’s incredibly mournful – almost like a Portuguese version of soul music. The lyrics focus on loves lost, wars lost, and better days for Portugal. Yes, it’s a little bit melancholy!
You’ll find fado performances throughout Lisbon, and most places serve dinner as part of the performance. Food quality tends to be more miss than hit at these places, and you’re much better off eating somewhere else first and then attending a show. Clube de Fado in Alfama and A Tasca do Chico in the Bairro Alto both let you do this.
Hop Aboard a Lisbon Tram
Portugal’s iconic trams are still a big part of Lisbon’s furniture. Although many have been replaced by larger and more modern trams, many people still use the rickety old wooden trams every single day.
Riding on one of those is an experience in itself and a fantastic way to get around the city. Most visitors take the Tram 28, which goes through some of the city’s most scenic and touristic areas. Just be aware: pickpockets have been known to get on this tram as well, so be sure to keep your possessions close by.
Go Bargain Hunting at Lisbon’s Flea Markets
Lisbon has several great flea markets, the most famous of which is probably Feira da Ladra. This flea market has been in operation since the 12th Century, making it one of the oldest and longest-running flea markets in the world. It’s a fantastic place to pick up antiques and collectibles, and to try your hand at haggling in Portuguese.
Make Friends in the Co-Working Space / Hostel
If you are feeling a bit lonely, we recommend checking out Selina Secret Garden in Lisbon. This beautifully designed hostel has a fun community space where you can work, live, and get to know other people.
The editors of this blog spent a month in their Co-Working Space and loved the vibe. Located in a pretty central area, you can check-in and gain access to the things happening around the place as well as make use of their brightly colored walls, pool, and garden area.
There are some locations that just have amazing views and the Portuguese have a word for these: miradouros. There are miradouros all over Lisbon, they’re all signposted, and you can expect a fantastic view from every one of them.
The best (in my opinion) is probably Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara near the Bairro Alto, but Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro da Senhora do Monte are both also worth visiting. Going to all these beautiful viewpoints is one of my favorite things to do in during my two week Portugal itinerary.
Experience the Buzz of the Bairro Alto
The Bairro Alto is Lisbon’s main nightlife area. It’s made up of a maze of small, narrow streets, all of which contain tiny bars and restaurants offering cheap beers and caipirinhas. Drinks are usually served in plastic glasses, allowing you to take them outside into the streets.
This creates a buzzing and friendly atmosphere that you definitely want to experience when you come to Lisbon (although you might want to stay in a different part of town). Eating like a local in Lisbon often entails eating at a leisurely pace, enjoying the food, wine, and of course, desserts.
Editor’s Note: Take a look at our Europe Packing List Guide for Info on What to Bring!
Sample the Best of Lisbon’s Top Restaurants
When you visit a new city, it can be hard to decide which restaurants are worth visiting. This is especially true in Lisbon, where there are more great restaurants than most people’s visits can accommodate.
One way to conquer this conundrum is to visit the Time Out Market in Cais do Sodré, a market which hosts stalls from some of the best restaurants in Lisbon. This way you can sample food from several different restaurants, and then decide which ones are worth having a full meal at.
A few favorites are the steak sandwiches at Prego, the buhlão pato rice (cooked with garlic, lemon and coriander) with swordfish from Marlene Vieira. Of course, egg tarts from Manteigaria are a must!
Try your Hand at Speaking Portuguese
Most people who visit Lisbon have very little knowledge of Portuguese. This is understandable: Portuguese is rarely taught in schools and unless you’re visiting Portugal or Brazil, you’re unlikely to come into contact with it.
Visiting Lisbon, you have the perfect opportunity to take a stab at speaking Portuguese. Even if it’s just a few words like thank you (obrigado for men and obrigada for women) or hello (bom dia, boa tarde, boa noite), it makes the experience of visiting a new place a lot more fun.
Explore the City by Bike (or Tuk Tuk)
Lisbon has just launched a bike-sharing scheme so, if you’re feeling brave, you can be one of the first people to trial it. Lisbon is not a city that’s traditionally associated with cycling: it’s very hilly, hot in the summer, the roads are narrow, and the driving can sometimes be a little erratic. But, it’s a city that’s currently in a state of change, and making it more cyclist-friendly is a change that both tourists and locals will welcome.
If you don’t feel like biking around, there are tons of tuk tuk tours which can take you around the highlights of the city! It is a fun way to see the city without huffing and puffing over the hills!
Hopefully, this article has given you a few ideas on the best things to do in the area. Afterall, Lisbon is a city full of culture, history, museums, and art so make the most out of your time in this fascinating city. If you’re looking for more things to do in Portugal, you can check our guide on Things to do in Porto and Things to do in Ericeira