The 8 Best Things to Do in Lisbon for First-Timers
Lisbon may have had some tough times economically of late, but you wouldn’t know it as a visitor to the colorful Portuguese capital. This vibrant city hasn’t skipped a beat for tourists. There are restaurants, bars, clubs, museums, and enough things to do in Lisbon to keep you entertained for weeks. Of course, the views and numerous day trips haven’t changed either. Given the city’s convenient location and superb rail infrastructure, it’s the perfect addition to a Portuguese rail journey.
The best things to do in Lisbon
1. Walk the city
Lisbon is a hilly city – there are seven to be exact. This means that you’ll expend lots of energy walking the upper reaches of the city, but the payoffs are stunning views across sizeable river. There’s a vibrancy and energy that flows through Lisbon’s streets. It would be a shame not to spend a few hours walking the various districts to soak up the culture and history.
Insider tip: Getting lost in Lisbon can take its toll on your feet, so consider a walking tour to make sure you stay on track. There are several free walking tours in and around the city and they’ll point out important historical landmarks along the way.
2. Explore the oldest district in Lisbon
The streets of Alfama are among the city’s most captivating. A walk through the oldest district in Lisbon is a rewarding experience no matter the time of day. Signs of the city’s Moorish presence still characterize the region, and the winding alleyways and irregular streets make for a great morning or afternoon’s walk. There are dozens of small restaurants, cafés, and Fado clubs throughout the district, many of which are still frequented by locals.
Insider tip: Make your way to the Santa Luzia scenic viewpoint for stunning views over Lisbon.
3. Gorge yourself on pastéis de nata at a pastelaria
You can’t go to the city and not eat the world-famous pastéis de nata. You’ll find a pastelaria on pretty much every corner in Lisbon. These small Portuguese delicacies are cheap, tasty and perfect for snacking on while on the move.
Insider tip: Order at least two to save you having to join the queue again – one is somehow never enough.
4. Watch a Fado show
Fado is a traditional folk music dating back to the early 1800s, and it’s still popular throughout Lisbon. These days there are dozens of clubs that offer live performances of this dark and thought provoking style of music. Many clubs cater exclusively for tourists (translations included). But if you ask around, you might find a hidden gem off the main traveler itineraries. Even if you fail to find the ultimate local spot, witnessing a Fado show will still be a fascinating window into historical Portuguese culture.
Insider tip: Clube do Fado is somewhat touristy but widely regarded as one of the best locations to witness a live Fado performance.
5. Take the tram to Lisbon’s most historical area
Belem is Lisbon’s most historical region. You can reach it with a scenic tram ride from the heart of the city. Once in Belem you’ll be spoilt for choice with monumental attractions. Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower, and Ajuda Palace are the most popular among visitors. There are also several cafés and restaurants in the area, with pleasant walks through the gardens and along the riverfront.
Insider tip: Antiga Confeitaria de Belém serves up some of the country’s most celebrated pastéis de nata. Brave the queue and order a few to sample in the park across the road.
6. Take a day trip to Sintra
Anyone who’s been to Lisbon has been told to take a day trip to Sintra. If you have the time, you should heed this advice. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is just a 40-minute train ride away from Lisbon, but you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to another world. There are several things to see and do in Sintra, but the most popular attractions include Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, National Palace, and Regaleira Palace and Gardens.
Insider tip: There is too much to see and do in a single day at Sintra. Do not be over ambitious, rather pick those attractions that interest you. Purchase a round-trip bus ticket at the Sintra train station on your arrival.
7. Party like a Lisbonite
Lisbon may be famous for its beautiful views, food, and interesting history, but nothing will put you in touch with the city quite as well as a few nights on the town. Lisbon is one of Europe’s party capitals. Whether you’re looking for a wild night of clubbing or a few drinks in a former brothel, Lisbon’s nightlife has you covered.
Insider tip: As a first-timer in Lisbon, start in the old neighborhood of Bairro Alto. Then follow the crowds down the hill when the bars there close at around 2am.
8. Take the train to Cascais
There’s a fantastic train that runs along the river all the way to the ocean. Many of the small towns along the route are worth stopping at, but if you’re after the postcard perfect small Portuguese beach town, then head to Cascais. This quaint fishing village has been a popular destination since European nobility frequented it in the early 20th century. These days it’s a vibrant pedestrian friendly town, perfect for an afternoon’s exploring.
Insider tip: Take a short walk out of town to Boca do Inferno, or Mouth of Hell. It’s here that waves crash into the rock and create a bizarre noise that gave the attraction its name.
Portugal’s capital may have earned a reputation as one of the party cities of the world – and it’s a well-deserved accolade. But there’s so many more things to do in Lisbon. So be sure to schedule a few days there on your next Eurail journey in Portugal.