What are the five best things to see and do in Lisbon?

Gillian White

The pace of everyday life in Lisbon may be a slow one, but from beaches and historical sites to musical performances and short day trips, there’s no shortage of things to do in and around Portugal’s capital city. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the top five activities in sun-drenched Lisbon:

1. Catch a Fado performance: The origins of this melancholy musical form, which is marked by solo vocalists beautifully crooning songs of loss and longing, are widely disputed, but there’s no doubt that Fado is deeply woven into the culture of Lisbon. The Alfama district is home to some of the most traditional Fado performances, often held at restaurants or Fado houses in the area. Owned by renowned Fado singer Maria da Fé, Senhor Vinho in the Lapa district is another recommended spot offering great food along with excellent performances.

2. Visit the Tower of Belém: This iconic 16th-century structure on the Tagus River is one of two Lisbon UNESCO World Heritage Sites and, obviously, one of the top historical attractions in the city. After exploring the interior of this small fortress, be sure to climb to the top for breathaking panoramic views of the area.

3. Take a street-art tour of the city: The vibrant colors of Lisbon's buildings aren't the only thing of visual interest here. Works of street art from Poruguese and international artists pepper the landscape, so there's a hidden exhibition around virtually every corner. Tons of online resources have mapped out the best in show, and there's even an app or two to help you navigate to these clandestine treasures. At the top of our list? Bordalo II's large-scale mixed-media installations using reclaimed trash and Odeith's 3D graffiti.

4. Walk through Alfama: With its narrow, winding streets lined with steep staircases, and clothes lines stretching between beautifully tiled houses, there’s a distinctly Old-World feel to Alfama, which makes sense since it’s the oldest part of the city. This is yet another district in endlessly picturesque Lisbon where you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean.

5. Photograph Praça do Comércio: Located near the Tagus River in the heart of downtown, this stunning square was the location of Ribeira Palace until the earthquake of 1755 destroyed it. Today it’s home to the city’s triumphal arch and Rua Augusta, one of the city’s busiest pedestrian walkways.

  • On August 16, 2012
    Gillian White answered the question: Gillian White

    What is the best time to visit Lisbon?

    Lisbon is the largest city in Portugal and one of the most sun-drenched capital cities in Europe, with its temperate year-round weather making it an easy destination to fall for. Still, timing is everything when planning a trip here, so first and foremost our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend avoiding the winter months if possible, when the sometimes steady rain can put a serious crimp in your outdoor exploration plans. Conversely, the scorching daytime temperatures during the heart of the summer may prove too much for avid walkers. A trip to Lisbon is probably best taken during the intermediate seasons of spring and fall, when the mild weather will clear the way for you to experience all Lisbon has to offer.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Gillian White answered the question: Gillian White

    What is the best thing to bring home from Lisbon?

    Picking out souvenirs to bring home with you as happy reminders of your trip to Lisbon is one of the most fun shopping experiences you’ll enjoy during your time in this vibrant European capital – and ideally you’ll want to find something that speaks to Lisbon’s unique character. With that in mind, our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel that one of the city’s most distinguishing features is the beauty of its cobblestone streets and striking facades of its structures and residential houses. To take a piece a piece of it home, head to the shops of Bairro Alto, where you can purchase hand-painted tiles very similar to the ones you see lining buildings throughout the city.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Gillian White answered the question: Gillian White

    What are the five best Lisbon food experiences?

    There are several food experiences and specialties well worth indulging during your visit to Lisbon, in addition, of course, to dining on gourmet international cuisine in its finest restaurants. Since you probably won’t have time to get to everything – at least on one visit – our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel these are the five culinary treats that belong at the top of your to-eat list:
     
    1. Pasteis de Nata: These little egg tarts, originally from the city’s Belém district, are a great morning or afternoon snack. You can find them at cafés and restaurants throughout the city, but Casa Pasteis de Belém is one of the most popular spots that carries them.

    2. Ginjinha: A delicious liqueur made of sour cherries, ginjinha is a Lisbon specialty taken as a shot with a piece of fruit at the bottom of the cup. Go directly to the source – the Ginjinha store – to try this sweet cherry-infused libation.

    3. Bacalhau: This dried, salted codfish is served several different ways, including with boiled potatoes and cabbage. Trust us, it’s much tastier than it may sound.

    4. Port Wine: The most famous Portuguese wine with a touch of brandy is predictably available in abundance in Lisbon. To learn more about the history of the drink, book an educational tasting at the Port Wine Institute in the city’s Chiado district.

    5. Seafood: Portugal’s seaside location means you’ll have access to some of the freshest seafood in all of Europe – and Lisbon’s local chefs have mastered the skill of dressing up the many delights of the sea without weighing it down with unnecessary sauces or garnishes.
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  • On August 16, 2012
    Gillian White answered the question: Gillian White

    Where is the best nightlife in Lisbon?

    Like many other European capitals Lisbon has a well-earned reputation for a diverse nightlife scene sure to please both late-night clubbers as well as those in search of a relaxed evening with a fine bottle of Portuguese wine – and our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel Bairro Alto, in particular, offers the best of both worlds.
     
    After a long dinner here in the neighborhood, we recommend taking in a Fado performance at Tasca do Chico or heading to romantic Cinco Lounge, where the menu features more than 100 cocktails made with top-shelf spirits. If you feel like making it a late night (or early morning, as it were), swing by Incognito, where international DJs play a mix of techno, pop and indie music throughout this hidden split-level establishment that doesn’t have an outside marquee.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Gillian White answered the question: Gillian White

    What is the best way to see Lisbon in one day?

    Don’t worry if you’re only passing through Lisbon: A day is more than enough time to see many of its top attractions, taste some of its signature specialties and basically fall in love with this charming city. We’ll warn you in advance, however, that this whirlwind tour just might leave you making plans to extend your stay.
     
    Our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend starting in Baixa, where you can snap photos of magnificent Commercial Square, walk along Tagus River and duck into cute cafés to snack on Lisbon’s famous pasteis de nata, a rich Portuguese egg tart.
     
    After you’ve had your fill hop on the yellow Tram 28, which winds through several popular neighborhoods including Alfama, Chiado and Bairro Alto. Hop off in Alfama to tour the oldest part of the city and visit St. George’s Castle before heading north to Chiado for shopping and lunch at historic Café A Brasileira. Burn off your lunch by walking uphill to the Principe Real district to browse antique shops, or head west to Estrela to check out the gorgeous basilica and Estrela Gardens.
     
    Finish your day off in lively Bairro Alto, where you can enjoy a spread of authentic Portuguese cuisine at Restaurante Principe Calhariz for dinner and sip cocktails at any number of bars and cafés.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Gillian White answered the question: Gillian White

    Where is the best shopping in Lisbon?

    Lisbon offers a diverse selection of well-known name brands along with specialty shops and vendors unique to the city. In particular, you can easily spend an entire day taking in the idyllic scenery and browsing for souvenirs in Chiado, our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ pick for the best shopping district in the city.
     
    Located between Bairro Alto and Baixa, Chiado has a nice mix of high-end stores, smaller independent boutiques and quaint book shops. Vehicles are restricted in much of the area, too, making it an ideal location to slowly wander and window shop. You’ll also find a rich variety of restaurants and cafés here, including ever-popular Café A Brasileira, one of the oldest cafés in the city’s Old Town.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Gillian White answered the question: Gillian White

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Lisbon?

    Slowly exploring labyrinthine cities such as Lisbon can prove daunting for energetic kids constantly on the lookout for the next adventure, but that won’t be a problem in a city as diverse as this one. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors have picked the five most fun things to do with children in Lisbon, from riding cable cars to traipsing ancient castles:
     
    1. Lisbon Zoo: Yes, you might be able to visit a zoo back home, but we’re guessing it doesn’t compare to this one. Kids will enjoy the normal spectrum of zoo activities, plus cool extras including cable cars, the Animax amusement park and one of the most impressive dolphin shows you’ll ever see.

    2. St. George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge): Visible from most areas of the city, St. George’s Castle has roots dating back to medieval times and is the former home of Portuguese royalty. Much of the castle has deteriorated over the years, but it still looks like a scene from a fairy tale. Kids will love climbing around on the towers – as well as the views from the top of them.

    3. Park of Nations (Parque das Nacões): Kids and adults alike will enjoy exploring this thoroughly modern part of Lisbon, which was revamped in 1998 when the city hosted Expo ‘98. The site includes water gardens, cable cars, striking views of the Vasco da Gama Bridge and tours of the area on toy trains.

    4. Carousel: Located at the entrance to the Lisbon Zoo, the opulent carousel is a fun and easy ride for everyone before or after a visit to the zoo.

    5. Lisbon Oceanarium: The city’s oceanarium is the largest aquarium in Europe and home to more than 8,000 plants and animals. Kids can get face-to-face with sharks, stingrays and a variety of other wildlife that live in the giant tanks representing four oceans. Guided tours are available, and this is also a great place for an outdoor picnic.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Gillian White answered the question: Gillian White

    What are the five best things to see and do in Lisbon?

    The pace of everyday life in Lisbon may be a slow one, but from beaches and historical sites to musical performances and short day trips, there’s no shortage of things to do in and around Portugal’s capital city. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the top five activities in sun-drenched Lisbon:

    1. Catch a Fado Performance: The origins of this melancholy musical form, which is marked by solo vocalists beautifully crooning songs of loss and longing, are widely disputed, but there’s no doubt that Fado is deeply woven into the culture of Lisbon. The Alfama district is home to some of the most traditional Fado performances, often held at restaurants or Fado houses in the area. Owned by renowned Fado singer Maria da Fé, Senhor Vinho in the Lapa district is another recommended spot offering great food along with excellent performances.

    2. Visit Tower of Belém: This iconic 16th-century structure on the Tagus River is one of two Lisbon UNESCO World Heritage Sites and, obviously, one of the top historical attractions in the city. After exploring the interior of this small fortress, be sure to climb to the top for breathaking panoramic views of the area.

    3. Take a Day Trip to Cascais: A fishing village turned royal playground, Cascais is now a haven for beach goers and just a short train or car ride away from the heart of Lisbon. The area is particularly popular for water sports such as sailing, surfing and windsurfing, and also is home to Casino Estoril, the largest casino in Europe.

    4. Walk Through Alfama: With its narrow, winding streets lined with steep staircases, and clothes lines stretching between beautifully tiled houses, there’s a distinctly Old-World feel to Alfama, which makes sense since it’s the oldest part of the city. This is yet another district in endlessly picturesque Lisbon where you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean.

    5. Photograph Praça do Comércio: Located near the Tagus River in the heart of downtown, this stunning square was the location of Ribeira Palace until the earthquake of 1755 destroyed it. Today it’s home to the city’s triumphal arch and Rua Augusta, one of the city’s busiest pedestrian walkways.
  • On July 3, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the five best places to eat in Lisbon?

    Lisbon’s food scene will not disappoint. Here you’ll find some of the freshest and most carefully prepared seafood in Europe from highly skilled chefs well versed in the art of keeping it simple and allowing the natural flavors of the fish to shine. Narrowing our favorite restaurants down to just five was difficult, but here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors choices for the best places to eat in Lisbon:
     
    1. Rosa da Rua: You’ll feel like you’re eating amongst friends at this cozy family-style restaurant located atop a hill in Bairro Alto. Here you’ll enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet full of delicious Portuguese dishes, a great way to sample a variety of the country’s specialties. The staff is friendly and more than happy to explain each and every dish, yet another reason why this is a wonderful spot to settle down for a long evening of food, conversation and plenty of Portuguese wine.

    2. Ramiro: This might be the best seafood restaurant in the city: Sweet clams, langoustines and giant tiger prawns are just a fraction of what’s on this mouthwatering menu. The food, along with a fun, inviting atmosphere, are two big reasons why this is a Lisbon institution.

    3. Restaurante Eleven: Eleven is one of Lisbon’s swankiest restaurants. Along with sweeping views of the city you’ll be treated to a variety of succulent selections that include risotto with wasabi lobster and salsifi with truffle cream. Multi-course tasting menus are also available if you just can’t decide on one thing.

    4. Café de São Bento: You’ll find a relatively limited menu here, but what is served is done to near perfection. Many feel the egg-topped steak here is the best in town.

    5. Assinatura: Come to Assinatura for a five-course “surprise” tasting menu (with wine pairings) featuring modern takes on traditional Portuguese fare. The atmosphere is upscale but relaxed, and a premium is placed on using locally sourced ingredients.
  • On July 3, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to stay in Lisbon?

    You’ll have no trouble finding a swanky, well-appointed place to rest your head after a long day of sightseeing in Lisbon, where the upscale accommodations range from sleek boutique hotels to opulent palaces fit for royalty. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ top five picks for places to stay in Portugal’s capital city:
     
    1. Olissippo Lapa Palace: If you’re drawn to the royal relics of Lisbon, consider splurging on the royal treatment you’ll receive at Lapa Palace. Built in the 19th century on a quiet hill just outside the city center, this gorgeous hotel features 109 guestrooms, swimming pool, marble bathrooms, three restaurants and sweeping views of the Tagus River.

    2. Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisboa: This world-class hotel is just steps away from Eduardo VII Park and offers facilities such as an indoor lap pool, spa and pristine gardens. Perhaps even more delightful than the hotel itself is the highly trained and knowledgeable staff, who cheerfully attend to your every need.

    3. As Janelas Verdes: This 18th-century mansion turned boutique hotel is ideally situated in central Lisbon, near the National Museum of Ancient Art. Its 29 antique-decorated guestrooms are equipped with free Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV and minibar; outside your room, sip cocktails in the courtyard or enjoy views of the Tangus River from the hotel’s rooftop bar.

    4. Hotel Britania: Hotel Britania retains the same charm and art-deco style with which it was first built in the 1940s, while also maintaining the classic Old-World vibe in its massive guestrooms with cork flooring. We love the impressive breakfast buffet here teeming with traditional Portuguese pastries, as well as an evening offering of port wine or tea.

    5. Bairro Alto Hotel: A lovely boutique hotel located in one of Lisbon’s most popular districts, Bairro Alto Hotel has 55 well-appointed guestrooms attended by an excellent staff. You’ll find multiple bars here, including the rooftop BA Terrace, which serves food and drinks and features nightly live entertainment.