Before my trip to Lisbon Portugal, I had an itinerary of what I wanted to see and do while I was there. However, after day number two, I knew that I was going to be back. So I scrapped a few of my plans and decided that I was going to be back with Madison and that we were going to do them together.
Lisbon is a city so rich with things to see and do, it’s impossible to fit everything into a single trip. That’s what I learned as I started researching the city and building my itinerary. It offers the perfect combination of art, music and culture, incredible architecture, historic sites and museums, delicious food, exciting nightlife, friendly locals – I could go on. When you’re visiting for a limited amount of time, you’ll want to be careful as you make your plans to ensure you’ve found room for the city’s top attractions.
Not sure what those are? I’ve got you covered! If you’re planning a trip to Lisbon, you’ll want to make room in your itinerary for these top things to see and do:
Visit the Lisbon Oceanarium
The Lisbon Oceanarium is considered one of the best aquariums in the world, and is home to a fascinating array of underwater creatures. Learn about the various ecosystems of the ocean and the different species that call them home, and watch sharks, stingrays, and all kinds of fish swim through the massive tanks – they’re so large, you truly feel like you’re underwater at times.
Whether you’re visiting alone, with friends, or as a family, the Lisbon Oceanarium deserves a spot on your itinerary!
Climb the Belém Tower
Situated a few miles west of Lisbon, it’s well worth a trip on public transit to reach this one-of-a-kind site. The Belém Tower is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site and was once a critical piece of Libson’s defense system. Now, this structure on the north bank of the Tagus River stands as a testament to the incredible architecture of the 1500s. Climb the five floors of the tower until you reach the top, where you can admire the view from the rooftop terrace. Be careful if you’re claustrophobic – the only way up is a single narrow staircase.
Indulge in Portuguese Pastries at a Local Baker
While Portuguese pastries may not have the same international recognition as those from France or Italy, don’t be fooled. Bakeries in Lisbon serve up some of the best pastries around, and you can’t say you’ve truly experienced the city without sampling some of the local sweets.
Before leaving Belém, consider stopping in at the Pastéis de Belém shop, the original makers of the Pastéis de Belém custard tarts. It’s been said that only three people in the world know the recipe. In other bakeries, it’s known as the Pastéis de Nata. These custard tarts are one of the most popular local options, but you can’t go wrong with virtually anything you’ll find at a local pasteleria. For a truly authentic Portuguese experience, sign up for a local cooking class and try your hand at baking your own!
Experience History at the Castelo de São Jorge
The castle is rich with history, with portions dating all the way back to the 6th century, Castelo de São Jorge is an easy place to spend a few hours exploring. Serving as a defensive structure and home to Portuguese royalty over the years, the castle is now home to a restaurant and a museum that highlights its former purpose. You can explore much of the castle’s grounds, admire the views of Lisbon from the walls, and even sign up for a tour for a better understanding of the castle’s significance.
Listen to Fado, the Music of Portugal
Fado holds a special place in the hearts of the Portuguese people. Representing a key piece of local heritage, this soulful, melancholy style of music has been around since the early 1800s and typically features a string instrument, like a mandolin or guitar, along with a singer.
To listen to fado, plan a visit to a local fado house. Fado houses are essentially places where you can go for dinner and a show. Dine on authentic Portuguese cuisine and enjoy a taste of real Portuguese music – just make sure you read the fine print! Many fado houses don’t charge for entry but do require a minimum purchase.
Go to Museu Nacional Do Azulejo
For a museum experience you won’t find anywhere else, visit the Museu Nacional do Azulejo – a museum that showcases the importance of tiles in Portuguese culture and history. It may sound less than thrilling, but you’ll be amazed by the beauty you find inside. The murals are truly impressive, and the building itself is a beautiful work to behold – and a great spot to snap a couple of photos.
Take a Day Trip to Sintra
If you’re in Lisbon, you can’t afford to miss a chance to visit Sintra. Like the Belem Tower, this spot is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located about 40 minutes outside of Lisbon by train, it’s well worth the journey. Sintra is home to spectacular castles, stunning palaces, and some of the most picturesque views you’ll find anywhere in Europe. Tour the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, explore the Palácio da Pena, and grab lunch at a local restaurant before heading back into Lisbon for the evening.
There’s so much to see and do here, you’ll want to optimize your time. Try to leave early in the morning to beat the crowds and make the most of your day trip to Sintra.
Explore the Mercado Da Ribeira, A Well-Loved Local Food Market
Lisbon is a foodie’s dream. If you’re on the hunt for a spot to experience as much of the city’s culinary delights as possible, look no further than Mercado da Ribeira (TimeOut Market). This market is home to a number of different food stalls serving up everything from Portuguese classics and French-inspired favorites to burgers, Thai, and desserts. Want a glass of wine? You’ll find that here too. While this spot has been home to a market for hundreds of years, the Mercado da Ribeira is a recent concept, coming to life only a few years ago. That makes this spot a trendy destination for locals and tourists alike, so if you’d like to avoid the crowds, plan your visit during off-hours.
This is only a sampling of all there is to see and do in Lisbon. While you can’t go wrong with most activities you’ll find in the city, by adding a few of these to your plans, you’ll be guaranteed to walk away with some quintessential Lisbon experiences on the books. And don’t forget to bring back some unique Portuguese items.