23 Must-See Sights in Lisbon

Head to Lisbon for a stunning mix of ancient sites and modern wonders, from a 16th century Moorish castle to the largest aquarium in Europe.

September 04, 2019
By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Thinkstock

Photo By: Thinkstock

Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Thinkstock

Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Thinkstock

Photo By: Thinkstock

Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Thinkstock

Photo By: Mafalda Frade

Praça do Comércio

Lisbon's primary square occupies the grounds of Portugal's old royal palace, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1775. The architecture alone makes Praça do Comércio worth a visit. However, the area also serves as a rally point for the nearby Cais de Sodré ferry, where you can catch a ride to the beaches of Cascais, Estorial and Oeiras.

Baixa

The central neighborhood of Baixa is postcard Lisbon. Seafood restaurants, cafes and shops line the beautifully tiled streets here. Two large squares — Restauradores Square and the Marquis of Pombal Square — flank the entrances to Baixa. The legendary Praça do Comércio guards its ancient port on the Tagus River.

At its heart, the majestic Avenida da Liberdade cuts a path of mosaic tile through terraces, gardens and monuments to the city's past. Simply put: Baixa is the most historic district in Lisbon, a must-see for every visitor.

Estádio da Luz

The 64,000-seat Estádio da Luz is widely considered one of Europe's most beautiful soccer stadiums. The stadium serves as homefield for the overwhelmingly popular S.L. Benfica soccer club, who can be seen playing there year-round. If you're fortunate enough to be in town on game day, consider splurging on a ticket — Portugese soccer fans are as rabid as they come.

Castelo de Palmela

The impossing walls of Castelo de Palmela sit just over the Tagus River from downtown Lisbon and within the borders of Arrabida Natural Park. By car, it takes about 40 minutes to travel from Commerce Square to the castle gates.

Spectacular views await travelers who venture to the castle. There is no admission fee to walk the castle walls and soak in the incredible natural landscape below. A reasonably-priced restaurant, Taverna o Bobo da Corte awaits those who work up an appetite while exploring.

Parque das Nações

The distrcit of Parque das Nações was created from the rubble of an industrial district in 2012, and its sites are a stark contrast to the historic architecture found elsewhere in Lisbon. The area is a popular destination for locals and tourists, who converge there to enjoy its scenic waterfront, Lisbon's world-class oceanarium and views of the Vasco da Gama tower and bridge.

Se Cathedral

This stunning cathedral is nearly 900 years old. Its cornerstones date back to 1147 A.D., when crusaders captured Lisbon from Moorish rulers. However, excavations of the cathedral grounds have revealed evidence of human occupation long before the Middle Ages — remains of a Roman road and kitchen have been discovered underneath the courtyard.

Locally, the Se Cathedral is simply refered to as Se, and for a time an entire city district was named for the structure. The cathedral is open for visitors from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. No admission fee is required.

Museu dos Coches

Lisbon's Museu dos Coches (or National Coach Museum) houses one of the finest collections of historic carriages on the planet. Why should you care about carriages? You don't need to be a carriage enthusiast to appreciate the incredible attention to detail that some of these vehicles exhibit. Carriages have found their way here from across Western Europe, and many display jawdropping wood carving and gold work. From royal carriages to the everyman's buggy, the museum offers a fascinating look at transportation before the reign of the automobile.

Admission to the Museu dos Coches costs about $10.

Ericeira

Located about 30 miles outside of Lisbon, the coastal town of Ericeira offers world famous surf breaks and seaside dining. Board a bus at Lisbon's Campo Grande bus station for the short trip over to the coast. Tickets cost between $6 and $10 and are available from the bus driver. At Ericeira, you can check out the beach or rent a surfboard and wetsuit for about $30.

Alternately, you could rent a car and make a pit stop at our next day trip destination.


Palacio de Mafra

Truly one of the most stunning sites in Portugal, the sprawling grounds of the Palacio de Mafra are found just minutes from the surf breaks of Ericeira. The former convent and royal residence towers more than 200 feet above the town below, and some 36,000 ancient books call the palace home. To call this building impressive would be an understatement.

The palace is open for visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry costs about $7 depending on the exchange rate between U.S. dollars and Euros. Note: The palace is closed on Tuesdays.

Sintra

A 30-minute drive from Mafra will place you in the foothills below Pena National Palace. The impressive, 19th-century Unesco World Heritage site was built to the precise specifications of King Ferdinand II, and it's the bellcow of the Lisbon suburb of Sintra. Pena National Palace encompasses some 500 acres of winding paths and gardens, but Sintra is no one-trick pony. Sintra is absolutely brimming with palaces, villas, mansions and castles molded into the mountains and forest surrounding the town.

Torre de Belem

Belem Tower may be the most dramatic structure in Lisbon. Today, it's an Instagram famous site, but in the 16th century, Belem Tower was a functional fortress guarding access to Lisbon from the Tagus River. For about $10, you can tour the tower's interior and climb its battlements, which rise some 98 feet into the air. For an additional $5, you can pair Belem Tower with a tour of our next stop, Jeronimos Monastary, just a short walk away.

Jeronimos Monastery

Built in the early 16th century, the Jeronimos Monastery exemplifies Portuguese late Gothic-style architecture in Lisbon. You'll find the monastery just over one kilometer to the east of Belem Tower. Be sure to visit the monastery's two-story cloister, seen here. It's the signature attraction in a structure that houses the tomb of legendary explorer Vasco de Gama.

Single tickets to Jeronomis Monastery cost about $15. For a few dollars more, you can get a ticket that also covers Belem Tower.

Rooftops of Alfama

These vibrant red tiled rooftops can be found in Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon. During the days of Moorish conquest, in the 6th century, the district constituted the whole of Lisbon. However, Alfama spent the ensuing centuries as a home for transient sailors and dock workers, garnering a reputation as a tough part of town.

Today, Alfama is home to trendy shops and cafes. It's the perfect place to spend an afternoon exploring. Searching for the best view? Try climbing to the top of the National Pantheon.

Santa Justa Elevator

When the Santa Justa Elevator opened in 1902, it was heralded by locals as an engineering marvel. First steam powered, it transitioned to electric power in 1907. Today, it remains in use, offering stunning views of Lisbon and the Tagus River. The lift negotiates a sudden elevation change of 147 feet in Lisbon's lower Baixa Pombalina district and runs for an average of 16 hours per day.

Tram 28

For a scenic view of Lisbon, take this vintage tram through the streets. Stops along the way include St. George’s castle, the terrace area of Portas do Sol and the famous flea market Feira da Ladra. En route, you'll pass through the popular districts of Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela.

Though Lisbon is synonymous with tram cars, only five lines remain operational in the city. Of those, Tram 28 is by far the most popular. Lines to hop on the tram can extend for over an hour, but at just over $4 for a tour of the city, the line might be worth the wait.

Vasco da Gama Tower

At nearly 500 feet, the futuristic-style Vasco da Gama Tower is Lisbon’s tallest building. The tower is an active hotel and does not allow visitors to visit the top floor, unless you book it for an event. However, you can take a visit to Sayanna Wellness Spa on the 23rd floor, where you can swim and relax with an incredible view.

Rua Garrett

Rua Garrett offers high-end shopping, as well as museums and theaters. The street is renowned for its shops, many of which are found on Armazéns do Chiado, an eclectic mall located on the street's eastern end. Popular nearby sites include the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the ruins of Carmo Convent and the Santa Justa Elevator.

Castle of Sao Jorge

This Moorish castle overlooking Lisbon is one of the city’s most significant historical attractions, and it houses a unique, hidden gem: a camera obscura. Camera obscuras — early precursors to cameras that use a natural optical phenomenon — were all the rage in Victorian times. Latin for "dark chamber," the camera obscura projects an image from outside the room via a small pinhole, into the darkened room. The devices served as an early drawing aid.

Less than 100 camera obscuras are estimated to be in operation around the world, and you can find one of them in the Castle of Sao Jorge's Tower of Ulysses. Admission to the castle costs about $13. Plan to spend a half day there exploring.

Cascais

The coastal town of Cascais is one of the richest areas in Portugal. It is also a popular vacation hub, with beaches to the west and lush green mountains to the north. You can access Cascais from Lisbon by taking a train from Cais do Sodré station. The ride takes about an hour and costs around $6 each way.

Bring your beach towel and a change of clothes for exploring the lavish Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães, a 1900 palace that houses a collection of paintings, antique books and artifacts. Though Cascais has gained international fame for its stunning beaches, the area's architecture is equally as impressive.

Vasco da Gama Bridge

Spanning the Tagus River for nearly 7.6 miles, the Vasco da Gama Bridge is the second longest bridge in Europe. The bridge has been open since 1998, and it carries six lanes of traffic over the very waters that Vasco de Gama himself sailed over 400 years ago when embarking on expeditions to South America, Africa and Asia.

Photographers often utilize the shoreline near Centro Vasco de Gama to capture up-close views of the bridge.

Pedro IV Square

Pedro IV Square in Lisbon is also known as Rossio. A popular meeting place for locals, the square includes a bronze statue of Pedro IV, king of Portugal during the early 1800s.

Though Pedro IV once oversaw the Portugese Empire, his bronze replica now oversees some of the most lively nightlife in Lisbon. You'll find the square in the always-happening Baxia district, not far from the National Theatre and Rossio Railway Station.

Campo Pequeno Bullring

The Campo Pequeno Bullring in Lisbon was built between 1890 and 1892. It reopened as a multi-event venue in 2006, featuring several cinemas in addition to restaurants and a shopping mall. But the most authentic Campo Pequeno experience still comes inside the 10,000 seat arena.

Concerts frequent the venue, as do traditional Portugese bullfights. Visitors who are so inclined can usually attend a bullfight from Easter until late summer. Fights always start on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Concert and bullfighting tickets are available at the building's ticket office or on Stubhub.

Lisbon Oceanarium

The Lisbon Oceanarium has a collection of more than 450 marine species, making it Europe’s largest aquarium. Ticket prices range from about $16 for a single adult to $50 for a full family. The massive, saltwater exhibits replicate environments in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Antarctic coastline. Inside, you'll find sharks, rays, eels, barracuda, tuna and hundreds of lesser-known species.

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