5 Things You Really Should Do in Lisbon

I love Lisbon. I fell in love with the gorgeous Portuguese capital more than four years ago and this love has been growing stronger ever since. The five months I lived there in 2011/2012 have been filled with enduring sunshine, wonderful people and abundance of indescribable beauty. I dream of moving back every day!

Although Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal, it is still pretty small compared to the other Western European capitals. To be honest, if you wanted to see all major sights, you could do that in less than two days: You would go see the Castelo, take a tour with the Eléctrico 28 and be awe-struck at the monastery of Belém. I did all that several times and I would recommend you to seize these guide book suggestions as well — but this is totally not everything that Lisbon is about!

For me, Lisbon’s incomparable atmosphere is best grasped by the five following tips — even if you don’t have months to explore my favorite city, I’m convinced you can have the most fulfilling, inspiring time by sticking to them.

1. Treat yourself

The Portuguese have an undeniable sweet tooth. Their pastries are so manifold that it takes weeks to try them all. In the fall and before Christmas they stretch out their scope of sweets even further. When in Lisbon (or anywhere else in Portugal) try as many pastries as possible – you won’t regret it!

My favorites were, of course, the famous pastéis de nata (custard tart) and tarte de maçã (little apple tart) and, in the Christmas season, sonhos.

If you fancy something more hearty in between sightseeing, sit down at any (!) little café and ask for the daily soup. The Portuguese love soup — even in the heat of summer. Soups are always delicious, often vegetarian and never cost more than 1,50 €. They are great traditional Portuguese cuisine (for example caldo verde, green soup) and they are so affordable! What more to ask for!

2. Go to the beach

A huge deal to Lisbon’s overwhelming charm is the Atantic Ocean being so close. I loved weaking up from the sound of seagulls in the morning, although I lived in the city center… Lisbon’s and thus Portugal’s history are so closely connected to the water that it is unthinkable to not be constantly aware of it — even the street lamps have little ships in their decor!

Water is an omnipresent factor in the Portuguese identity — so go and experience it! No matter what time of the year it is!

If you have a little more time on your hand, take one of the trains from Cais do Sodré station to Cascais, which leave every 15 minutes. Within a few minutes you will reach the ocean – the train ride alone is a highlight.

Get off the train in Estoril for a pretty broadwalk and to have coffee with a stunning view; get off in Carcavelos to see the favorite beach of the Lisbon people and to check out hot surfers; go all the way to Cascais to explore the little dazzling beach town. Taking these trips is quick, cheap, and absolutely worth it!

3. Go out

It’s not a secret anymore, but Lisbon has a wild party scene… you can dance at fancy clubs with a view of the illuminated Ponte de 25 Abril until sunrise. I had the time of my life going out in Lisbon!

All of those crazy party nights start out in Bairro Alto. This 18th century neighborhood is almost deserted during the day, but turns into a huge party area at night. Pretty much every house has a bar or a club in their basement. People buy drinks in the uncountable tiny bars and stand outside all night.

From stylish restaurants, live Jazz or karaoke bars, to student clubs with shots in glasses made out of ice, or giant Caipirinhas — there really is nothing you couldn’t find in Bairro Alto!

You can go there on every day of the week, but the best day is Thursday, because that’s the time the Portuguese enjoy their early weekend (most students leave for the weekend on Fridays), but there are not as many tourists as on the actual weekends.

Go to Bairro Alto, have blast, see where your unforgettable Lisbon party night leads you!

4. Take a break

The Portuguese like it slow. They’re almost never in a hurry, they take their time to seize every little good thing about their lives. So, please, don’t be a hectic tourist around them.

If the lady on the register in the supermarket asks her costumer for a recipe for the item she just bought, chill. They might be talking for a while. Portuguese mentality is a lot about taking it slow, being relaxed and enjoying what you got.

Do yourself a favor and discover the relaxed Portuguese in you! Maybe you can’t see every museum in town in three days, but that’s not the point:
Take it slow. Find yourself a little pastelaria on a pretty street. Sit in the sun. Order a coffee. Watch the people. Enjoy life. You won’t manage everything in time anyways. So, why hurry?

5. Get lost

Getting lost is the best way to get to know a city — and Lisbon is the most perfect city to get lost in. All the little streets, the moms drying their laundry in front of their kitchen windows, the old men peeling oranges and watching people pass by… Just wander aimlessly and keep your eyes open. That is the one and only way to truly see and experience Lisbon!

Best neighborhoods to get lost in are, of course, the medieval Alfama as well as Bica, Lapa, and lovely Principe Real.

Just stroll and see how Lisbon’s beauty finds you. Combine this with #1 and #4 and you will have had the best, most authentic experience in Lisbon.

I love Lisbon. Lisbon loves me. And it will love you too!

 

  • I’m completely sold! Booking flights to Lisbon is now the objective of my week!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you 🙂 That’s what I was aiming for! I would go back in a heartbeat 🙂

    • Lasse Alexander

      This only confirms my relocation to Portugal. And i have heard the gay scenes are amazing as well. At least i hope so 😀

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad

    I went to Portugal when I was 17 (4 years ago) with my little brother and I think we missed everything you said, two days isn’t nearly enough time to spend there! But I do remember the gorgeous tiles and hills and views… it was one of the most special cities I’ve ever visited.

    • JulikaSarah

      Well, it took me months to figure all this out… so, as long as you percieved Lisbon as a gorgeous city, you were pretty successful considering the short time you were there! 🙂 Who knows, maybe an opportunity will open up eventually so that you can go back sometime – it did for me, too 🙂

  • These are great photos! Lisbon is an awesome city

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you! I think so too! 🙂

  • Lisbon sounds awesome Julika and I really love your photos too! Looking forward to reading your other posts 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you so much! I’m pretty new at this so I really appreciate your support!

  • This is the second post I’ve read about Lisbon today! Something must be in the air… I can’t believe I haven’t been to what appears to be a fabulous city, but this must be amended soon! I absolutely love your suggestions Julika, especially #5.

    • JulikaSarah

      Well, I guess that would be the universe telling you to travel to Lisbon very soon, right? 🙂 I’m sure you won’t regret it! Thank you so much for commenting, Pola!

    • Rute

      I am from Lisbon, born and raised! I live in London now, for over 10 years! This text just reminds me of my happy days when I was younger. The sunshine, the people, the beach, friends, etc. That is the real essence of Lisboa. If you haven’t been go. Enjoy it. I miss it everyday and I couldn’t find a better way to describe it! Lovely post! Thanks Julika. 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you so much, Rute! It means so much to me when someone from Lisbon approves of what I write about!

  • raquel

    lovelly post about Lisbon as matter a fact we’re all of that, or Lisboa is. i’m portuguese and i love the way tourists love Lisboa, i wish everyone how lives in this town could be as respectfull as you’re!
    Thank you so much for made Lisboa, a city of the world

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you, Raquel! I appreciate your support so much!

  • Graz

    Great text, but please correct soon that terrible “barrio”: it’s “bairro”! Bairro Alto!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks for the hint! Indeed, a terrible typo 🙂

  • Hey Sarah…..You’re doing a pretty good job there…specially at loving Lisbon…Lisbon is like a lady, there’s def. something very captivating about her, and the first time she kisses you, you fall in love forever…as a native of Lisbon (lived there till I was 20), then moved to NYC, I’m still so in love with my city…luckily as a flight attendant I get to go back very often, actually will be going tomorrow….keep on spreading the word, but we still wanna keep it Europe’s best kept secret…..

    • JulikaSarah

      I love your description of Lisbon as a lady! It’s so true! Of all the cities I’ve been to so far not a single one could keep up with Lisbon 🙂 Thank you so much for your compliments – I appreciate them a lot!

  • Sandra

    I fell in love with Lisbon in 2008 and moved here in 2011. Thanks for the post and for sharing many fine details of this lovely city. Visit, return and/or consider moving here!

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks so much, Sandra! I loved calling Lisbon my home town for a while – and I will definitely come back!

  • Hello Sarah, you truly have described us Lisbon citizens so well, and it is such an humbling and heartwarming feeling when someone from abroad comes for a visit and wants to stay longer than that. Lisbon may be rough around the edges, but even after 8 centuries it stays true to itself, so I am positive that when you return here, Lisbon will be waiting to welcome you again with that sun ever so bright, one or millions of expressos and a hug from a friend 🙂 loved this page, will check it out asap 😀 oh, do not forget it is almost “sonhos” time here 😀

    • JulikaSarah

      Obrigada Joana! I appreciate it so much that you told me I described Lisbon and its people well! That really means a lot to me! I’m sure Lisbon will always welcome me exactly like you said – I’m looking forward to that already!
      Oh, I don’t know how to survive December without sonhos… I’ll have to convince someone to send a few to Germany 😀

  • Eichie

    A very apt guide! Lisbon is a truly wonerous place! I just wish I could live and work there! One day perhaps! Citizens of lisbo you really are truly blessed to live in such a wonderfulll coty

    • JulikaSarah

      You are so right, Eichie! I’m dreaming of moving back to Lisbon every single day too! 🙂

  • Nós Lisboetas cá esperamos por vocês todos pessoal, venham cá, disfrutar de tudo o que Lisboa tem para vos dar. Provisoriamente ou definitivamente, serão sempre bem vindos à nossa bela cidade. E se precisarem de alguma coisa, não hesitem em pedir a um qualquer português em qualquer rua ou esquina, prometo que não se vão desiludir .Obrigado pelo Post Julika, muito orgulho!! =) Kisses from LX
    PS : Julika da próxima vez experimenta a zona de Belém, torre de Belem, mosteiro dos Jerónimos e à night experimenta as docas que são mesmo ali ao pé! =)

    • JulikaSarah

      Obrigada pelo seu comentário, Fernando! Tens razão – as pessoas de Lisboa são as mais simpáticas do mundo! 🙂
      E, claro, estava muitas vezes em Belém e adorei lá! 🙂

  • Holiday Addict

    I’ve just booked a short trip to Lisbon (in April). It will be my first visit to Portugal and I can’t wait! This fab post has really got me looking forward to it. Love your 5 tips!

    • JulikaSarah

      Oh, lucky you! It might be warm enough to go swimming in April already 🙂 I’m sure you will have an amazing time!

  • Really nice article and so cool photos, we love this post 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Obrigada! I appreciate your kind words a lot!

  • Cláudia

    Hello Julika. You made an amazing description of my city. We are truly blessed, but sometimes we didn’t value the beauty, history and small issues that make Lisbon an unique city. We’ll be waiting for your visit!

    • JulikaSarah

      Muito obrigada Cláudia! I can’t wait to go back to Lisbon! 🙂

  • Erica

    eat pastries and hang out at cafes? check and check! those are pretty much my favorite things to do. ever!

    • JulikaSarah

      Perfect! 🙂 There’s nothing better than coffee, pastries, and sunshine, right?

    • Erica

      absolutely. I can’t wait to go in less than a month! I wonder if the sunshine will last that long… 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      I’m pretty sure it will! Most of the photos in this post were actually taken in January 🙂
      Let me know if you need any further recommendations 🙂

    • Erica

      Nice! It actually looks like it will be nice and warm when we’re there. I am hopeful – 2 swimsuits hopeful 🙂

      I’m obsessed with good food- I’d love to know your top 2 picks for places to eat! 🙂

  • Lisbonhost

    Thanks Julika,
    Great compilation of things to do in Lisbon. I have been recommending this article to some of our clients in http://www.lisbonhost.com for advices on what to do in Lisbon. By the way, if you ever come back to Lisbon, you are our guest to one of of daily tours! Would be a pleasure to meet you in person and share our love to Lisbon

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you for reading and sharing! 🙂

  • Ali

    Great post lady! I’ve just had a trip to Lisbon and I’m excited that you listed many things that I got a chance to do myself!! I didn’t have the insider info, but I somehow managed to stumble upon the beach, the nightlife, and of course the delicious pastries!!

    http://pressedwordsat.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/lisbon-day-1/

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks so much Ali! That’s the best thing about Lisbon: If you open your eyes, you’ll just randomly stumble upon all the great things!

  • Simão

    Great review of my city, thank you Julika for describing Lisbon’s true essence to other people! 🙂 Ever so often we tend to forget what this city has to offer, only to realise that it really IS special in many ways that even words fall short to describe. Sure Lisbon is not as big as NYC nor Paris, but in many ways it can be compared to other big cities in the world!
    Once again thank you Julika and hope you return soon enough to sunny Lisboa 😀 … I’ve just been to the beach today with 32 ºC …. in October! 😛

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you for reading and this lovely comment Simão! I miss Lisbon and its amazing beaches so much!

  • Maddy Garcia

    Thank you for your post! Lisbon is my birth city, and the city where I live in and from where I will never leave!!!! Lisbon is the white city due to the sun, the buildings, the history and the glamour!!!!! In the Summer, Lisbon is hot, sexy and totally usable (day and night, city and beach, monuments and splanades)… In the Winter, Lisbon is mysterious, cosy and dreamable (comfortable cafeterias and small restaurants, museums and exhibitions, hotels and hostels)… Lisbon is the city that breaths history, talks experience, and speaks happiness!!!! I am a Tour Guide and a National Tourism promotor, and I advise tourists what to see, where to eat, where to go out, where to sleep… Never and not only in a touristic way, but like Lisboeta!!!!!! Be happy!!!! discoveringmaddy@gmail.com

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you Maddy! I love the way you described your Lisbon! That’s everything I love about it too! 🙂

  • Sharon

    I’m going to lisbon for the first time in february and this just made me so excited!! Actually staying in cascais but will probably dedicate a couple of days to venturing into lisbon. What can i expect weather wise first week of february?

    • JulikaSarah

      Sounds amazing, Sharon! Cascais is a great place to stay! If you’re lucky, you can expect sunshine and around 17 degrees Celsius 🙂

  • Miranda

    Great I found this! Planning to go there for the new year, never been but I have at least 4 portugese friends there! So excited, can’t wait! I will bring along also my little 21 months old son (and hubby too :-))))

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks Miranda! Hope you’re having a wonderful time in Lisbon!

  • Cherrelle

    Im going to lisbon for the first time in a week. Its just for three days but your article is very useful 🙂

    • JulikaSarah

      Thanks! I hope you had an amazing time!

  • Noa

    loved reading you, flying to lisboa 2moro ♥

    • JulikaSarah

      Thank you, I hope you loved your time in Lisbon as much as I did!

  • Lisbon Traveller

    Thank you for sharing such lovely pics! We’re starting this new concept – Lisbon Traveller – planning trips to Lisbon with local tips, away from the touristic scene. It will come in to help sharing such a great city 🙂

  • Holmesy76

    I’m heading there tmrw. I didn’t know what to expect but now I am very excited for the art, culture and pastries!! x

  • Holmesy

    Loving lisbon right now! Soooo Christmassy! x

    • JulikaSarah

      So glad you like it! 🙂

  • Borga Voffe

    On my way 🙂 Will stay in Chiado. Will indeed have a long walk up Alfama. Will definitely take electrico 15 to Belem. Might be a week of memories for life.

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  • Janice

    this was NOT helpful.

  • Viviane

    Wow!!!
    I’ll be travelling by myself for the first time… and starting this “discovering me” journey in Portugal next week (Lisbon for 2 days, Porto for 2 days as well, then Spain and so on…)! Anyway, I was going through different websites, listing all that I had to see in such a short amount of time in Lisbon… and read this :
    “Do yourself a favor and discover the relaxed Portuguese in you! Maybe
    you can’t see every museum in town in three days, but that’s not the
    point:

    Take it slow. Find yourself a little pastelaria on a pretty street. Sit in the sun. Order a coffee. Watch the people. Enjoy life. You won’t manage everything in time anyways. So, why hurry?”
    !!!! Thank you for your post!! I have to admit, I’ll have some difficulties taking stuff off the “TO DO” list… I dont want to miss out on anything… but you are right… there’s no way I can manage all of this in 2 days!! I just wished I knew what was really worth seeing/doing!! *lol* I guess I’ll have to figure it out!

  • Imelda

    Sarah thank you so much..we are planning our trip now! 🙂

  • Leah

    jULIKA woud like to ask your help we will be going to Lisbon in Sept and planning to stay from Sept.18-22 .. we want to spare one day going to Fatima .. but the rest of the 3 days we don’t know how to go around to see the city… Most of the time when we travel in Europe we take the hop on hop off tours .. but i have been reading the reviews and it was really bad .. what is the best way to explore the city..? would taking a day tour be advisable and then spend rest of the two days going on our own to go back to the sites? We are planning to stay in the Baixia area near the Rossio is that central enough .. thanks

  • Rabina Sekhri

    your list so generic. your a stupid poo head

  • Julia

    Thank you sooo much for this marvellous article! I’m going to Lisbon soon and will certainly follow your recommendations! Have a nice day! Best Regards, Julia

  • JamieLauren

    I just booked my tickets and am crying with excitement!

  • smq

    I’m from India, and i’m going to start Uni der in Jan. Can’t wait to try all this 🙂

  • canequinhas

    As a Portuguese, I feel proud of my country and specially proud of this lovely reviews.
    I live in Ireland now, but I can be far away from Portugal that long. And yes, each time I fly back, I eat a Pastel de Natal! heheheh

  • Thank you for this amazing list. As an “alfacinha” (person born and raised in Lisbon) I couldn’t have described it better 🙂

  • GlenAfleck

    Just found your website while searching for Lisbon. I think you’ll be happy to know we just bought flights to Lisbon today for this summer! Will you be going to Lisbon again?

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  • Just booked my trip to Lisbon! Thanks for these awesome tips!