Lisbon started off as a layover but turned into five fun-filled days that I’ll never forget. The best way to describe it is, “I followed my heart and it led me to Portugal.” After experiencing the rich culture, coastal views, and kind hearted people, I believe everyone should add Lisbon to their bucket list. There’s so much to do and see, so I’ve put together a curated list of 11 perfect things to do in Lisbon. I hope this list inspires you to visit Portugal, and I’m fully convinced it’s the perfect place to travel solo or with others.
1. Explore Alfama
Afama is Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, filled with historic charm and gorgeous moorish architecture. It’s famous for the hilly, cobblestone streets, yellow trams, tile-covered buildings, and phenomenal ocean viewpoints. Originally a fishing town, Alfama is the most iconic and picturesque neighborhood in Lisbon. It’s the area that made me fall in love with Lisbon.
I highly recommend booking your hotel or Airbnb in Alfama because the location is perfect for everything you’ll want to do in Lisbon. If you’ve already booked your accommodation elsewhere, I suggest spending an entire day in Alfama. Don’t forget your camera because this place is beyond photogenic!
2. Visit Breathtaking Viewpoints
The viewpoints in Lisbon are unlike any others I’ve seen. They’re the perfect spots to watch the sunset, enjoy a glass of wine, or practice photography. I suggest arriving early (before 10am), since they get pretty crowded during the day. Lisbon is a sleepy city, so things aren’t hustling and bustling until noon.
My Favorite Viewpoints:
- Miradouro de Santa Luzia is an observation deck, located beside a garden and decorated with traditional tiles. There’s a pergola and a view of the river, making it a flawless photo spot. This spot gets crowded, so I recommend going before 10am or later in the evening.
- View Point (not a very creative name, I know) is my favorite view of Lisbon. It’s an observation deck that feels like a giant patio overlooking the river. The view is just incredible, and it’s my favorite spot in the whole city. I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves, but sunset here is magical. There are a couple bars and restaurants by View Point, so it’s the perfect place to spend an evening.
3. Visit Torre de Belém
Belém is a peaceful district in west Lisbon, with riverside parks, scenic views, and the impressive Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.
I spent an entire day exploring Belém, but the highlight of my day was Belém Tower. The tower was originally built for defense, but it was mostly used as a prison. There’s an entire waterfront park around it, a beach area in front of the tower, and an amazing view of Ponte 25 de Abril. Ponte de Abril looks like the Golden Gate Bridge because it’s also painted red.
The view of Torre de Belém against the river was just breathtaking. There were sailboats passing by, people enjoying picnics, vendors selling drinks in pineapples. Torre de Belém is a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is just another reason not to miss out of this area! As of August 2022, you can pay about 9 euros to enter the tower, but I decided not to buy tickets .
Finally, Belém is only a 10 minute bus (or tram) ride from Alfama.
4. Shop at Local Tile and Ceramic Shops
If you love the traditional azulejo tiles as much as I do, then skip the touristy souvenir shops. My favorite local ceramic shops are By Nunes and Ceramica – Elizabete Silva & Dina Nunes. Both shops are located in Alfama, and they sell the most beautiful hand painted tiles, pottery, jewelry, and lots of other traditional art. I really enjoyed talking with the artists and learning more about Portuguese ceramics. I ended up shipping a box home because I didn’t have room for all the ceramics I bought! I absolutely love them and will hold onto them forever.
5. Book a Photoshoot
Booking a photoshoot guarantees perfect photos while in Lisbon. Let’s be honest, taking selfies or asking strangers to take group photos is simply not as good as hiring a professional photographer! Photoshoots support someone’s business, and you’ll have amazing photo souvenirs to last a lifetime.
As a solo traveler, booking photoshoots was a great way to hang out with locals, to get travel recommendations, to have fun, and to build confidence. After all, once the trip is over, all you have are the photos.
So how can you find a photographer?
- Search “experiences” on Airbnb. This makes booking and payment easy, and you can look at reviews from other people.
- Search Instagram for, “Lisbon photographers.” This will give you more options and allows you to choose an editing style that you like. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to figure out how to send the deposit payment. I used MoneyGram, since it converts currency and allows you to send money internationally.
6. Shop Local at Feira da Ladra
Fiera da Ladra is an open-air flea market in Alfama, and it’s the perfect place to find Portuguese treasures. The market features local artists, jewelry makers, handmade ceramics, antiques, souvenirs, and 14th century tiles. It’s also a great place for second hand clothes and books.
Besides the ceramic shops mentioned above, Feira da Ladra was my favorite local shopping experience in Lisbon. I bought some azulejos, art prints, and some beautiful handmade jewelry pieces. Throughout my month-long Europe trip, I bought the most souvenirs in Lisbon because I love the moorish inspired tiles and pottery.
7. Plan a Day Trip to Cascais
Cascais is the most gorgeous beach town I’ve visited, and it’s only a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon. The train from Lisbon to Cascais runs every 20 minutes, so it doesn’t require tons of planning. Since Lisbon doesn’t have beach access, Cascais is the perfect place to spend a beach day. The Santa Marta Lighthouse, Boca do Inferno, and flawless beaches with crystal clear water are just some of the reasons I still dream of Cascais. You seriously can’t travel to Lisbon without also seeing this paradise.
8. Enjoy a Glass of Vihno Verde
Vinho Verde (green wine) is a spritzy, light wine made in Northern Portugal. The name refers to the region where the grapes are grown, and it’s made with a blend of white grapes. While many people associate Portugal with red wines, Vinho Verde is loved by locals and enjoyed in Portuguese homes across the country. You can find this wine at practically any restaurant in Lisbon, so I recommend trying a glass (or two) with dinner.
9. Eat a Pastel de Nata (or two… or three…)
Pastel de Nata is Portugal’s most famous pastry. It’s a delicious custard tart, invented by the monks at Jerónimos Monastery in the 8th century. These tasty treats are everywhere around Lisbon, but the most popular Pastel de Nata bakery is called Pastéis de Belém. The line is long, but it moves quickly, so I recommend checking it out while you’re in Belém. You can find this popular pastry everywhere in Lisbon, so I recommend trying them at several different bakeries.
10. Visit a Ginjinha Bar
Ginjinha is a Portuguese liqueur, made with ripe cherries and brandy or fortified wine. It’s sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. Portuguese grandmas sell it on the streets of Alfama, in a small, hollow chocolate cup for a euro. I had never seen or heard of Ginjinha before visiting Lisbon, but I ended up buying a bottle and bringing it home. Ginjinha is delicious and definitely something to try while in Lisbon!
A popular way to drink Ginjinha is at a Ginjinha bar, and there are many located throughout Lisbon. Here are some suggestions for the Ginjinha bars in Lisbon!
11. Plan a Day Trip to Sintra
Sintra is probably the most popular day trip from Lisbon, and after visiting I can definitely see why! It’s only a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon, and the trains leave from Rossio Station every 30 minutes. This means you can easily travel to Sintra, without planning transportation far in advance.
Sintra has a magical, forest feel. It’s popular for its 19th century castles, palaces, and gardens that transport you back in time. In fact, the entire area is preserved as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cooler climate inspired Royalty and nobility to build their summer homes and palaces here. Pena Palace, the iconic Romanticist castle in Sintra, was built as a summer home for the Royal family in 1854 and was previously a monastery.
I’ll be writing a more detailed blog post about Sintra, but my three main tips for visiting Pena Palace are:
- Buy your tickets in advance! They can sell out during peak season. Buying in advance will help avoid the ticket booth line too.
- Go early! Pena Palace was the most touristy place I visited in Portugal. I was shocked by how many people were there, and I wish I had arrived earlier. The attractions close pretty early, so arriving early will help maximize your time.
- There is more than just Pena Palace! While Pena Palace is beautiful, Sintra has many other exciting attractions, like the Initiation Well, Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua (PSML), and Sintra National Palace. You’ll want to spend at least a day here, but you could easily spend two days exploring Sintra.