We zigzagged uphill along the narrow cobble stone streets, through an array of iconic painted tiles, juxtaposed next to a freshly painted graffiti mural. I could faintly hear the Portuguese Fado music coming out the front door of each quant coffee shop and restaurant. The air smelled of wine, stew, and salt from the ocean.
Finally, our tiny winding road opened up into a Miradoura (look out point), which is one of the top things to do in Lisbon. The view overlooked the entire capital city’s citrus colored roofs and vast pacific horizon. I usually would take out my camera at this point, but instead I just stood there for about five minutes taking it all in. That’s the moment I fell deeply in love with Lisbon.
(Click below to pin it for later!)
If there’s one capital city in Europe I would recommend you visit immediately, it’s Lisbon. The inviting, and somewhat wild atmosphere is second to none. The culture still remains true to its authentic roots. AND you can enjoy a quality bottle of wine for less than 10 euros.
A quick Google search will show you that there is surprisingly an overwhelming amount of interesting cultural attraction in Lisbon. But for those of us more interested in experiencing, rather than simply seeing it all,
Here are 10 experiences to have in Portugal’s capital city and inspiration for the top things to do in Lisbon:
Watch the sun rise over the Augusta Rue Arch
This attraction is at the epicenter of Lisbon, and one of the defining monuments of the city. It also quickly became our point of reference when navigating through Lisbon as well.
Lisbon suffered a terrible earthquake in 1755 that killed at least 50,000 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. There are various monuments around the city to commemorate the city’s reconstruction, and the Arco da Rue Augusta is one of them.
You’ll find that this area is very busy during the day with tuk-tuks, cars, tourists, and random guys selling you sunglasses. However, we came here while the sun rose (only at about 8:00 a.m. in October), and the area was empty. The arch is also alongside the Terreio do Paco, which is usually very busy as well.
If you’re looking for a more aerial view, you can climb to the top of the arch to see a view over the Rua Augusta.
Take a walk along Lisbon’s “Pink Street”
The night owls, club goers, and color-obsessed travelers take refuge here at this Instagram hotspot. If you come here during the day, it’s actually a bit quiet, but during the night, this street comes to life with packed pubs, electronic music, and nightclubs.
I will warn you that in the daylight hours, it can be a bit more lackluster than all the Instagram photos make it seem. I edited out a few beer cans and pieces of trash (before recycling them like the dedicated sustainable citizen that I am).
Nonetheless, it’s still a must see in Lisbon, and when else can you party on a pink road?
Enjoy a fado show in the Alfama region
If you don’t go listen to fado music while in Lisbon, you’re doing it all wrong. Fado is the melancholy music of the Portuguese people, which combines singing with acoustic guitar picking and a whole lot of expression.
You’ll find fado shows scattered throughout the city, the best in the Alfama or Barrio Alto neighborhoods. Most of them you’ll have to pay to see, but there are some free “amateur” fado shows scattered throughout the city.
However, traditional fado shows are in fado houses, which is basically like a dinner and a show experience. Most places will serve you 3 courses of traditional Portuguese food, followed by a fado show for anywhere between 1.5 to several hours.
My partner and I play guitar ourselves, so we wanted to do the traditional experience. After hours of research, we decided on Sr. Fado, one of the most authentic and highly rated fado houses in Lisbon. It’s also located in Alfama, which is the birthplace of Fado music.
For 40 euros a person, we enjoyed a three-course meal with one bottle of wine, and an incredible show. It was truly like being invited into the home of our Portuguese friends!
If you do go to a Fado show, try to book in advance as most places, especially Sr. Fado, fill up fast! Most fado nights take place, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays.
Enjoy a Belem Pastry (or five)
(check out all the behind the scenes moments in my youtube video above!)
If you have a sweet tooth like me, you need to get your hands on one of these. Even if you don’t, you still need to. This custard stuffed tart is one of Lisbon’s most iconic foods, and over 20,000 pastries are sold every day!
Though you can find variations of this pastry around the city, to have the real deal with the ancient “secret” recipe, you’ll have to visit the Belem Pastry connected to the Jeronimos Monastery.
If you have dietary restrictions like me, you can find a mouthwatering Belem-style pastry at Zarzuela, a.k.a Gluten and dairy free heaven! I went over 3 times to this place for the pastries, pizza, and other cakes!
Watch the sun set from the various Miradouros
They don’t call Lisbon “the city of seven hills” for nothing. The plus side is that you have incredible views scattered throughout the city. Miradouros are known as viewpoints, and you’ll find the most in Alfama and Barrio Alto area.
I would highly recommend visiting Miradouro de Santa Luzia, which even has a small pool and gorgeous gardens around the look out point. There are two small bars here as well, but they fill up fast around sunset.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol is perhaps the most popular look out point, which really did take my breath away. There’s an area with a bar that’s a bit more spacious and has a gorgeous view of the ocean and Alfama region.
Other areas we didn’t get to were the Miradouro from S. Jorge’s Castle, and the Miradoura Sophia de Mello Breyner Andres.
Drink Ginjinha or Porto wine in Barrio Alto
When in Lisbon, you must try the legendary Ginjinha liqueur and the Porto Wine. AND you must do as the Portuguese do and stay out into the after hours in the thriving Barrio Alto neighborhood. So, I suggest combining the two.
The Ginjinha liqueur is a Lisbon specialty, which is a strong cherry liqueur. I personally do not like anything cherry flavored, but I did give it a try to say I’ve done it.
Even though I don’t like sweet wines, the Port wine is heavenly. It’s from the Northern region of Portugal and typically comes as a sweet red wine. I loved it.
I suggest finding a cool place with live music in Barrio Alto. If you simply explore the neighborhoods by foot, you’ll have plenty to choose from.
Have an espresso in one of Lisbon’s cute coffee shops
Lisbon is also known for strong espresso. Probably because everyone casually stays out until 3 a.m. on the weekdays. Especially if you’ve had a late night, I suggest sipping on espresso or a cold brew and people watching. Around the Rue Augusta region, there were many cute “hipster” places to choose from.
Eat fresh seafood at the Time Out Market
The Time Out Market is where you’ll find Lisbon’s trendiest eateries, fine wines, and fresh seafood. Unlike other markets in Lisbon, this place is extremely upscale and doesn’t have a “street food” vibe.
We bought an organic bottle of red wine for 12 euros (which would have been sold for three times the price in the U.S), which was a bargain. Both of us got a king crab salad with real juicy meat for around 9 euros each.
This place is definitely worth a trip if you’re an avid foodie like me!
Explore the Casa do Alentjo and Rossio’s square
You would never find this place unless you were looking for it. The Casa do Alentjo is actually a restaurant and event center, dating back to the 1700s. The house is open to the public for exploring, and shows a portal into an aristocratic past.
What I loved most about this place is that you very much see a Northern Africa influence in the architecture’s archways, tiles, and overall design. It reminded me a lot of Morocco.
Not too far from here is Rossio’s square, which is one of my favorite areas in Lisbon. It’s one of the oldest squares in Lisbon, dating back to the Middle Ages!
Take a full day trip to explore Sintra’s palaces
I realize that I could have put the Belem Tower, the gorgeous Jeronimos Monastery, or the legendary tram 28 as my 10th item on the list here (all of which are worth visiting, but were a bit too touristy for me.) However, a trip to Lisbon really wouldn’t be complete without visiting the sister town of Sintra.
Covered in dense forests and magical palaces, aristocrats built their summer homes here to avoid Lisbon’s heat centuries ago. Today, it is one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited.
Even though this area is technically outside of Lisbon, it was one of our most memorable experiences from our trip.
A few other notes on Lisbon:
- You may say “Hola” for hello in Lisbon, and in Portugal in general. To say thank you, say “Obrigado” if you’re a man, and “Obrigada” if you’re a woman. Locals will really appreciate if you can at least say these Portuguese words!
- All drugs are decriminalized in Portugal, though it is still punishable by fine. In Lisbon, it’s quite common for people to come up to you asking if you want to buy any hash or cocaine. DON’T fall into this tourist trap, as locals told me that these people are literally selling oregano and baby powder. Just ignore them and don’t go there.
- Lisbon is pretty safe, but keep your wits about you. Pick pocketing is very common, so always keep your bag close. Also, especially for ladies, just watch your drink (as you always should). I wasn’t 100 percent sure, but I had an incident where it seemed pretty obvious someone tried to put something in my drink. Just be cautious.
The more I write about Lisbon, the clearer it is I need to go back. The city of seven hills vastly exceeded my expectations and left me with a true passion for Portuguese culture.
So, I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: Just go.