Portugal had been on my list of top places to visit for a while. So when flight prices to Lisbon dropped to under $400 roundtrip from DC, I knew I had to book it right away. My friend and I made our way to Portugal in May of 2019 full of excitement and high expectations due to always hearing amazing things about Lisbon. We were not disappointed one bit. When we first walked out of our Airbnb to begin exploring, we instantly knew we’d love this city. There were tables full of people lined up everywhere outside, which created an incredible, lively vibe. I remember turning to each other and already saying, “we need to plan a trip back here.”
There are endless things that you can do in this vibrant city, but I want to share with you the top 15 activities that I did during my trip.
1. Eat as Many Pasteis de Nata as Possible
Pastel de nata is a Portuguese egg-custard tart that has a soft and creamy core with a flaky crust. It is absolutely amazing where every time I now see a Portuguese egg tart on any menu, I have to get it. Although nothing has compared to those served fresh in Portugal, I find myself trying to chase that satisfaction. Sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar on top with an espresso on the side, you have yourself the perfect treat. Get them fresh at Manteigaria, which has multiple locations around Lisbon. The original version can be found at Pasteis de Belem, so head there for the history but expect long lines.
2. Go to the Top of the Santa Justa Lift
This gorgeous lift provides incredible views of Lisbon. The lift itself isn’t a long ride, but only fits a few people. This means there are long lines of visitors waiting to hop on. In my opinion, the lift itself is not worth the wait so we avoided the line and went to the top of the lift through a cafe. The cafe can be found next to Convento do Carmo – simply go by the cafe onto a walkway. This will lead you to the entrance of the small set of stairs to get to the viewing deck of the lift. There will be an attendant in front of the stairs in which you pay the 2 Euro entrance fee and climb your way up.
3. Grab Drinks in Alfama
Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. Here you will find old trolleys to ride, an outdoor market, live music played by locals, and plenty of restaurants overlooking the waters and historic houses. Grab a drink and enjoy the views. This was one of my favorite places in Lisbon.
4. Shop at LX Factory
LX Factory is a trendy, artsy market with an industrial feel. It consists of vintage stores, restaurants, street art, and plenty of places to grab a drink as you watch shoppers go by. I scored some great one of a kind pieces at the clothing shops here. I will say that I wish there were even more places to shop at this market, but that’s probably because I’m quite the shopaholic. If the weather permits, definitely sit outside with a beer in hand and appreciate the surrounding artwork.
5. Visit the Belem Tower and Surrounding Area
While the tower itself isn’t that grand, the entire Belem area is worth the visit. It’s nice to hop along the rocks surrounding the tower and snapping picture along the way. However, the area is full of luscious gardens, a beautiful church, and cute streets with restaurants and cafes to stop in. Walking distance from the tower is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos statue. Head to the top of this monument for a beautiful view of Belem. Be advised though that the walls at the top of the tower are quite tall, which obstructs the view just a little for short people like myself.
6. Sit on the Stairs of the MAAT Museum
The MAAT museum wasn’t originally on my list of places to visit, but as we were visiting Belem we decided to explore sites around the area. We were walking along the water and saw in the distance the unique architecture of the MAAT museum. While we didn’t actually go inside the museum itself, I really enjoyed the outdoor area. There are stairs surrounding the building, some of which do not look like stairs at all. Take a seat as you’ll be taken away by the views from every direction.
7. Eat Peri Peri Chicken
We all know and love Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken (which is actually a South African chain of Portuguese food). So, it’s a no brainer that you have to try peri peri chicken when in Lisbon. While the piri piri peppers that are used for this chicken did originate from South Africa, it was imported to Portugal from Portuguese colonies. This chicken is spicy, crispy, and full of flavor. Now, you may be thrown off by the size of the pieces seen in the photos but just remember that the states injects its poultry with hormones to increase the size.
8. Try the Infamous Francesinha Sandwich
This is a heart attack in sandwich form that everyone should try to say you have. While a lot of people rave about this infamous dish of layered meat, cheese, egg, and a beer based sauce – I wasn’t that crazy about it. For me, the sauce didn’t tie everything today as it should have. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad by any means, but it didn’t wow me like it did for others. I always want to try dishes that a country/city is known for though and recommend everyone doing the same!
9. Consume Mozambican Cuisine at Cantinho Do Aziz
The first and last thing I ate in Lisbon. Yes, it was THAT good that we needed to go twice. The hot sauce served here is an absolute must for those who love spicy food. While everything I ordered was delicious – I would recommend getting the samosas as they were perfect. It will filled with the meat of your choice (or a corn mixture for a vegetarian option) and had a thin, flaky exterior. I came across this place because of the famous YouTuber Mark Weins and was not disappointed at all. Mozambican cuisine is popular in Portugal since Mozambique was once a Portuguese colony.
10. Fill Your Stomach at Time Out Market
I have a strong love for food markets since I never really know what I want to eat. I enjoy all cuisines so its often hard to choose. Time Out Market offers up a ton of options when it comes to food, so you’re able to select what grabs your attention or you can try multiple items in one place! There’s also retail shops in the market as well so that you can shop after fulfilling your hunger. It was crowded when we went, but we were able to snag a seat at one of the food stalls. There was also a dance session going on in the middle of market full of people dancing salsa, which was entertaining to watch.
11. Try Port Wine
Okay, so I cheated on this and didn’t drink port wine at all during my trip. I’ve had ports before and am not a fan of sweet wines in general, so I opted out of ordering ports even for an after meal dessert. However, Portugal produces great wines aside from just port! Also our Airbnb in Porto gave us a bottle of Port that I took home with me, which I’ll crack open soon! But just because I don’t fancy ports doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t, I tend to gravitate towards dry wines. So definitely give it a try especially when visiting Porto. Pictured below is my wine selection at By The Wine restaurant, which I highly recommend. They offer a great variety of wines in a nice atmosphere for dinner.
12. Enjoy a Beer on the Streets
As mentioned earlier, one thing I really loved about Lisbon was the open, outdoor seating everywhere. Walking along the streets, you overhear laughter and chatter from all directions. It just fills you with joy to be a part of such a lively atmosphere. We stopped in a Duque Brewpub for a beer, in which we enjoyed outside on the stairs nearby. The views in Lisbon are truly beautiful because of the staggered buildings surrounding you, so try to be outside as much as possible if the weather permits!
13. Walk Along the Pink Street
Lisbon’s old red light district. This area that’s easy to spot with its pink asphalt still has a vibrant nightlife with provocative themed bars and shops. While at night it isn’t really my scene, it was an interesting place to walk through and see what was once a street filled with brothels and sailors. The street isn’t as bright pink as you’d imagine due to the high volume of visitors and grime associated with that; however, the street is cleaned daily.
14. Stroll through Praça do Comércio
This grand plaza is right off the water with restaurants aligning the perimeter. It’s a nice place to walk around and feel the breeze from the water. Personally I didn’t spend too much time in the plaza because we weren’t eating or drinking at the time, but it was beautiful to walk through.
15. Take a Trip to Porto
Last, but not least…make a trip OUT of Lisbon to Porto. Porto is a charming, beautiful city that shouldn’t be skipped. It takes about 2.5 hours by train, so even if you can only stay for one night – make it happen.
Be prepared to walk a lot in Porto as many spots are accessible only by walking through narrow alleys, stairs, and hills. The place is so picturesque, it’s hard not to find a great view. We booked an Airbnb by the river, which was the perfect location. We could see the bridge from our window and it was close to a lot of restaurants and sights.
There may be major attractions to visit in Porto, but we decided to just spend a lot of our time walking around and eating. Walk across the bridge and take the gondola down near the water. There you will find tons of cafes, restaurants, and shops as well as port wine to try!
The architecture really is amazing. There were so many buildings that we would walk past that would cause me to stop and just stare in awe. The details involved in constructing these buildings years ago are incredible.
Don’t forget to catch the sunset from the bridge. You’d be the only person not doing so as crowds form all along the bridge to witness this beautiful moment as the sun gets lost below the horizon. Hues of purple, orange, blue, and pink will light up the sky and have you breathless.
There you have it. 15 (out of many) things to do in Lisbon. I feel that a lot of people skip over Portugal as they focus on its neighboring country, Spain. Personally, Portugal is one of my top European countries that I’ve visited so far. It’s beautiful, budget friendly, and the people were extremely welcoming. Do not pass on any opportunity to visit.