The best things to see and do in Lisbon

The City of Seven Hills, Queen of the Sea and The City of Light are just three of the nicknames lovingly granted to Lisbon, Portugal’s largest and capital city. Recognised as the oldest city in Western Europe, Lisbon’s enchanting history matches anything offered by Rome, Paris or London with archaeological remains in the city dating back to the Iron Age.

Lisbon pairs dramatic history and wonderful architecture with a delightfully Mediterranean climate. The winters here are warmer than any other capital in Europe, and the long summer stretches from late April to October, with temperatures reaching an idyllic 25°C. This makes Lisbon an exceptional destination to explore on foot, dotted with ceramic-tiled shops and traditional cafés.

A short stroll through Lisbon’s ancient streets will introduce stunning examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Baroque, Modern and Postmodern architecture, stretching through beautiful boulevards and squares. And as you step through this delightful city, you’ll notice the almost total absence of cars – creating a wonderfully quiet and relaxed atmosphere.

For those travelling to Lisbon as part of an upcoming Portuguese river cruise, our guide to the city’s must-see sights, culinary highlights and hidden gems is a helpful and inspiring introduction to Portugal’s illustrious capital.

Must see sights

Just a short stroll through the ancient streets of the city will introduce stunning examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Baroque, Modern and Postmodern architecture, all positioned without rhyme or reason across beautiful boulevards and squares. And as you step through this delightful city, you’ll perhaps notice the absence of cars – creating a wonderfully quiet and relaxed atmosphere.

Modern Lisbon is a beautiful marriage of the old and the new, with Gothic architecture sitting alongside glamorous hotspots. Two and a half millennia of history is ripe for exploration, and no matter which way you turn, you’ll stumble across something astonishing.

A city for foodies, the local culinary offering in Lisbon is on par with any of Europe’s gourmet powerhouses. From the city’s famous pastry, Pastel de Belém, to Bacalhau (salted cod served one of over 350 different ways); the cuisine of Lisbon is steeped in history and tradition, although a new generation of chefs have taken the mantle and are running with it.

And as evening starts to fall in Lisbon, it is time to partake in one of the great local traditions: Ginjinha. This Portuguese liquor, made with sour cherry berries, is the very lifeblood of the city, and can be bought from innumerate small vendors throughout Lisbon. You’ll be amazed as the vendors skilfully pour you a measure from the bottle, depositing a singly cherry into your glass with a flick of the wrist. To drink like a local, sip your measure as you make plans to find the next vendor to repeat the trick. 

Belém Tower

Belem Tower in Lisbon at sunset

A fortified tower which was central to Portugal’s huge contribution to the Age of Discovery and global exploration, Belém Tower has had a defining role in shaping cultures around the world. With Belém as a fortified base, Portuguese maritime forces were able to defend Lisbon from invading forces and explore uncharted parts of the globe. The tower itself is a place of significant beauty, complete in a traditional Manueline style with huge interior archways. Owing to its heritage and beauty, Belém Tower was classified a World Heritage Site in 1983.

Lisbon Baixa

Lisbon Baixa

The Baixa district of the city is the very heart of Lisbon; a puzzle of charming streets linked by magnificent plazas and squares. Built in the wake of Lisbon’s devastating 1755 earthquake, this enigmatic region of the city is rich with grand 18th-century buildings and monuments which have barely changed over the past 250 years. Central to life in Lisbon, the Baixa district is home to many of the city’s best-loved cafés, restaurants and bars – perfect if you’ve got a few hours to enjoy Lisbon’s culinary treats.

Jerónimos Monastery

Cloister of Jeronimos Monastery Lisbon

Less than a mile from Belém Tower (as the crow flies) stands the hugely impressive Jerónimos Monastery. This 16th-century monastery dominates the Lisbon skyline with its awe-inspiring Late Gothic Manueline architecture, extensive gardens, jutting water features and delightful mosaic cobblestones. The stone tomb of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama sits inside the monastery, alongside that of one of the great chroniclers of the Age of Discoveries, Luís de Camões. Both tombs were crafted by the sculptor Costa Motta in a neo-Manueline style to complement the rest of the building.

Praça do Comércio

Praca do Comercio Square

A large, breath-taking square flanked on three sides by magnificent buildings, chic cafés and the River Tagus to the south. In the centre of the huge square is a statue of King José I on horseback, crushing snakes in his path as he looks out over the waters. Looking out over the square is the archway, Arco da Rua Augusta, as well as a number of places to visit including the beer museum, Lisbon story centre, a well-stocked wine cellar, and a number of restaurants serving local fare.

São Jorge Castle

Dating back to medieval times, São Jorge Castle is a domineering Moorish castle, looking over the historic centre of Lisbon. The site of São Jorge Castle has long been used as a defensive position by various tribes and societies who have settled in the region. Remnants of a circular fortified wall still remain, revealing that the castle used to serve as the central point of a citadel. The ruins of the former royal palace within these walls still remain, alongside ancillary buildings, gardens and a large public square. The view from the public square of São Jorge Castle offers perhaps the best panorama of stunning Lisbon below.

The best of Lisbon's food and drink

A city for foodies, the culinary offering in Lisbon is on par with any of Europe’s gourmet powerhouses. From the city’s famous pastry, Pastel de Belém, to Bacalhau (salted cod served one of over 350 different ways); the cuisine of Lisbon is steeped in history and tradition, although a new generation of chefs have taken the mantle and are running with it.

Join us as we explore Lisbon’s culinary highlights below.

Bacalhau à bras

Codfish with potato chips

Portuguese comfort food at its finest; bacalhau à bras is a traditional dish comprising of salted cod, sliced and fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. Often accompanied with black olives and a handful of fresh parsley, this humble dish is the most famous dish in all Lisbon, beloved by locals and visitors alike.

Where to find it

Restaurante Laurentina

For an authentic, time-honoured take on traditional bacalhau à bras, make for Restaurante Laurentina, which is renowned as one of Lisbon’s best seafood restaurants.

Petiscos

Caterer carrying tray of food

Lisbon’s equivalent of Spanish tapas; petiscos are small dishes often served as snacks or appetisers in bars, cafés and informal restaurants across the city. Often, drinkers are encouraged to choose three or four small dishes to graze on over a glass of wine or beer, with popular petiscos including salade de polvo (octopus salad) and pastéis de bacalhau (cod fritters).

Where to find it: Intimate, authentic and cosy, Taberna da Rua das Flores is the perfect setting in which to discover the delights of traditional Portuguese petiscos.

Azeitão Cheese

Portuguese cheese

Given that it’s produced just 25 miles away in the town of the same name, Azeitão cheese is a must-try in Lisbon. Granted Protected Designation of Origin status, this rich, creamy sheep’s cheese is one of the most iconic foodie products of the Lisbon region, and is best enjoyed smeared on freshly baked bread with a glass of local wine.

Where to find it

Time Out Market

Lisbon’s famous Time Out Market is the perfect place to tuck into local produce, from wine and cheese to street food favourites

Lulas recheadas à lisbonense

Squid stuffed with rice olives and feta in tomato sauce

Don’t be put off by the wordy name; this dish, literally translating as ‘stuffed squid of Lisbon style’, is arguably Lisbon’s signature dish, so it’s well worth tracking down if you’re a seafood fan. Comprising of squid stuffed with sausage, garlic and onions, the dish is baked before being garnished with a generous helping of parsley, and is divine washed down with a glass of Alvarinho white wine.

Where to find it: A classic Portuguese dish requires a classic Portuguese restaurant, and few places come more authentic than the family-owned A Primavera do Jeronimo in Lisbon’s historic Bairro Alto district.

Ginja

Ginja de obidos

No visit to Lisbon would be complete without sampling ginja, the local’s favourite after-dinner aperitif. Served in traditional bars called ‘ginjinhas’, this sweet, cherry liqueur is strong, flavourful and guaranteed to cure any and all ailments you might have – or so local people believe.

Where to find it

A Ginjinha

You’ll find ginjinhas across Lisbon, but the best place to try it is A Ginjinha, a historic bar that’s been serving up this classic Portuguese aperitif since 1840.
Fast facts


  • The population of Lisbon is around 504,718 people (2016 UN data)
  • Lisbon has never been officially declared Portugal’s capital, and has simply served as the de facto capital since 1255.
  • The city is roughly 400 years older than Rome.
  • Lisbon’s famous trams were originally called ‘americanos’, a nod to the transport’s origins in the USA.
  • Ravens have been a symbol of Lisbon since they escorted the body of Saint Vincent to the city in 1173. Subsequently, every coal merchant in the city would keep a pet raven, all of them named Vincent.
  • Lisbon was the first city to serve Guinness outside of the UK.
  • D. Pedro IV square in Lisbon is home to a public tie-mirror, complete with the message ‘componha o nó da sua gravata’ (correct your tie’s knot).
  • The recipe for Lisbon’s most famous pastry, Pastel de Belém, is known by only five men. To protect the recipe, they are sworn to secrecy and will never travel or eat together.
  • Lisbon’s Vasco da Gama bridge is the longest in Europe, at more than 10 miles long.
Impressive fountain in Rossio Square - Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal