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 Lisbon experiences to have in the city. 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 in love with Lisbon.
15 Best Lisbon Experiences and Tours
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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, this is what you need to know.
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1. 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.
2. 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?
3. Enjoy a traditional 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.
4. Indulge in a few Belem Pastries
(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!
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Eat fresh seafood at Lisbon’s 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!
9. Explore the hidden Casa do Alentjo
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.
10. Visit Rossio’s Square from the Middle Ages
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!
11. Take a ride on the legendary tram 28
If you’re looking to experience Lisbon’s Old Town, you can’t go wrong with a typical touristy ride on tram 28. You’ll explore through Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique / Prazeres, which takes about one hour. You’ll be amazed how the train weaves through the narrow streets of Alfama and the views you’ll see along the way.
This tram is actually used quite often by locals, so it is an interesting experience to have. If you want to learn about the history of each area you’re passing, you can book a tram tour below.
12. Take a full day trip to explore Sintra’s palaces
A trip to Lisbon really wouldn’t be complete without visiting the sister town of Sintra. It’s definitely the best day trip to take from Lisbon, in my opinion.
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. We toured Sintra in a vintage convertible, and it was one of the most memorable travel experiences we’ve had to date.
13. Visit the Belem Tower
The Belem Tower has been around since the 1500s and today is a UNESCO world heritage site! The tower was originally used to defend the city, but then later was converted into a lighthouse. The 5-story tower sits on town of the water and is one of the most popular day trips from central Lisbon.
14. Explore the gorgeous Jeronimos Monastery
Not far from the Belem Tower is where you’ll find one of the most remarkable monasteries in the world. It is another UNESCO world heritage site that boasts Gothic architecture in an open-air structure. The Monastery and church represent Lisbon’s most prosperous period, so if you’re interested in the history, definitely take a tour.
15. Sail along the Taigus River
There’s no better way than to end your trip with a relaxing sailing cruise along the Taigus River. From here you can experience the nautical side of the port city, while taking in views Almada and the Ponte 25 de Abril, which resembles the golden gate bridge in San Fransisco.
You can either hop on a cruise or book your own private sailing boat. In the summer it is the perfect way to cool off from the strong sun!
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.
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, as you would anywhere else.
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.
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