Welcome to Lisbon, a city of explorers, sardines, fado music and delicious Belém pastries! If you are set on discovering the authentic heart and soul of this beautiful city, read on for our list of the best things to do in Lisbon to help you plan for your upcoming trip.
Maybe you visit Lisbon to kickback in one of the hipster cafés for the growing population of digital nomads, or you’re here to enjoy the blue skies and laidback lifestyle. Perhaps you’ve come to Lisbon for the cultural scene, or is it simply for the pastéis de nata? Either way, Lisbon draws people in with it’s charm and intrigue and makes it hard to leave. It’s no wonder it’s become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world!
Try Lisbon’s traditional food
Portuguese cuisine is a variety of things. It’s rich and hearty with lots of herbs and spices, yet also seasonal and fresh, with seafood playing a major role. Regardless of your tastes, one of the best things to do in Lisbon is try the local food – we can guarantee you’ll fall in love with it.
Pastel de Belém
Whilst you’re in Lisbon, try the delicious and much loved Pastel de Belém. You’ll hardly need us to tell you though, as they’re available to buy on just about every street corner! The Pastel de Belém is similar to a custard tart. The creamy custard sits inside a crispy, flaky pastry. Once baked, the custard on top caramelises to give it a crunch. One of the most popular places in Lisbon to try these cakes is the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém, a place where you can watch artisans making them, as well as eat a few yourself! The Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém is located on the Rua de Belém nº 84. It gets very busy, so if you’re planning to go in a big group, it’s a good idea to book online first to ensure there’s space for you.
A star ingredient in Portuguese cuisine, there are over 365 different varieties of salted codfish in Portugal – you could eat a new variety everyday for a year! The fish is covered in vast quantities of salt and left to dry under the sun. It’s an ancient method of preserving fish, allowing it to be stored for years without growing bacteria or mould. Salted codfish is so loved by the Portuguese that it’s often eaten on Christmas day! Once you get past the pungent smell, this is a must-try dish when you visit Lisbon. Try it fried, baked or inside a codfish cake (Pasteis de Bacalhau) – delicious.
Ginjinha (cherry liqueur)
You cannot leave Lisbon without trying this traditional sour cherry liqueur. You’ll find it sold through small storefronts and holes-in-the-wall around the city. Ginjinha is served in a shot glass and usually costs somewhere between €1 and €2. Some of the most popular places to get a Ginjinha shot get incredibly busy, especially in the summer. If you want to avoid the crowds, but still get a great deal, then try Ginginha do Carmo – located just outside of the second floor of the Rossio Train station. Here you can opt to have your Ginjinha shot out of a chocolate cup! And let’s be honest… There’s no better match than cherry and chocolate.
Visit the historical “A Brasileira” cafe
Many moons ago, The A Brasileira café was a meeting point for artists, writers and poets like the renowned Fernando Pessoa. Today, it is one of the oldest and most famous cafés in Lisbon, with a beautiful interior – the perfect backdrop for your holiday photos! Unchanged since 1905, the wooden booths, mirrored walls and brass fittings will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The coffee served here has also remained unchanged for the past 100 years. If you’re in need of a caffeine hit before a long day of sightseeing, order a Bica – similar to a very strong espresso.
Shop in Lisbon
There’s shopping in Lisbon for all budgets. To hunt for treasures without breaking the bank, visit the flea market Feira da Ladra and spend an hour or two unearthing antiques and second-hand relics to take home with you. The Feira da Ladra flea market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays and has summer opening times of 6am until 5pm, whilst in the winter it opens from 7pm until 3pm.
For a more modern shopping spree, head to the Armazéns do Chiado shopping centre – a historical building that was totally destroyed after burning down in 1988. Today it has been converted into a shopping mall with some of the most popular shops in the city. If you’re visiting Lisbon around Christmas time, make sure to pass by the Armazéns do Chiado at night to see it light up – it’s one of the top things to do in Lisbon if you’re after that warm, festive feel!
Take the kids to Park of Nations
One of the most kid-friendly things to do in Lisbon is visit the Park of Nations. Created in 1998 for the Lisbon World Exposition, the Park of Nations today is a modern area dedicated to leisure and tourism. Here you’ll find the second largest aquarium in Europe, the Lisbon Oceanarium, that houses all sorts of aquatic creatures from sharks to penguins. There are also gardens to walk through and a cable car with a view of the river and city below. The boardwalk is a popular route for joggers, but if that doesn’t sound like a holiday to you, there are plenty of restaurants along the river to take in the view in a more relaxed way.
Party in the Bairro Alto
The streets of Bairro Alto are fascinating in themselves. Local street artists showcase their art throughout the neighborhood, and it’s not uncommon to see huge murals on the walls of the colourful houses. It is a district known for its bars and spectacular nightlife – but it’s also a good location to look for cheap hotels in Lisbon, because of the many hostels and guesthouses in the area. Relatively quiet during the day, Bairro Alto comes alive after the sun goes down. Most of the bars are very small, so people spill out onto the street with their drink in hand. Bar hopping is the natural flow of the neighbourhood, with everyone searching for a good spot to stand in, or a bar that doesn’t have a long queue. It’s the perfect place to meet people if you’re travelling alone (or even if you’re travelling with someone else for that matter). Pavilhão Chinês Bar is an eclectic bar that used to be a mini market, but now thanks to the trinkets, comfortable sofas and decor, it looks more like an antique shop. Adding to the mysterious feel, you have to ring a bell in order to enter the bar. You’ll only be let in if there’s space for you inside. Experiencing Lisbon’s nightlife is a must while you’re visiting the Portuguese capital.
Spend a day at the beach
It gets very hot in the summer in Lisbon, with temperatures reaching 28°C. A break from the crowds of people and hot city will be welcome. The beaches of Cascais are only half an hour away from the city and there are plenty of things to do and see. There are the beaches with calmer waters in the bay in front of Cascais (Praia da Duquesa or Praia do Tamariz), but if you travel around the headland you’ll get to the more unruly, windswept beaches of the natural park (Praia da Cremina or Praia do Guincho). Adrenaline junkies are certainly able to get their fix here – it’s a great spot for surfing or kitesurfing – if you dare!
Hit up the biggest party in town
One of the best times to visit Lisbon is in the month of June, when the entire city goes sardine crazy! The whole city starts to smell like the grilled sardines and basil that are being cooked on every street corner. Traditionally on St. Anthony’s day, men offer a potted basil plant containing a love message to their loved one – you’ll see plenty of stalls selling these throughout the day. It’s one of the most exciting things to do in Lisbon during the summer because the whole city comes alive, there are parades, concerts, dances and street parties that’ll sweep you up into the magic of the day.
Is Lisbon on your list of places to travel to this year? If so, book your flight and hotel together in order to get the best deal.