10 Things to Do in the Lisbon City Center

Lose yourself in the streets of the Portuguese capital, a charming destination just a few hours' flight from Spain

Matteo Gramegna

Matteo Gramegna

9 min read

10 Things to Do in the Lisbon City Center

Lisbon, Portugal | ©Jo Kassis

The capital of Portugal is a destination to fall in love with. The neighborhoods of the historic center trap travelers with its bohemian air, the tiled facades and the steep slopes leading to the viewpoints. You won't want to go back home.

1. Discover Lisbon with a guided tour

Through the Streets of Lisbon| ©Maria Bonita
Through the Streets of Lisbon| ©Maria Bonita

If you are short on time, the option of taking a guided tour of Lisbon is ideal. In two hours or a little more you will discover the essentials of Lisbon. The guides know every inch of the city and liven up the journey with unique and amusing anecdotes.

City tours usually start at Praça do Rossio or other central areas such as Praça do Comércio or Largo do Chafariz de Dentro, where the Fado Museum is located.

The downtown tour explores tourist highlights such as the neo-Manueline Rossio station, the Igreja de São Domingos, the Santa Justa elevator, the viewpoints and the Carmo Convent.

Book a guided tour of Lisbon

2. Relive the history of Lisbon in its Cathedral

Lisbon National Pantheon| ©Deensel
Lisbon National Pantheon| ©Deensel

On October 25, 1147, Christian troops led by Afonso Henriques (the first king re Portugal) entered Lisbon after defeating the Muslim army. After four centuries, the Moors no longer controlled al-ʾIšbūnah, an important commercial center on the Tagus estuary. To celebrate this event, the monarch had a cathedral built on the ruins of the old mosque.

The person in charge of the task was Gilbert de Hastings, an English monk who participated in the siege and was appointed bishop at the end of the conflict.

Like other buildings in the Portuguese capital, the cathedral also suffered severe damage from earthquakes. The 1755 earthquake, for example, completely destroyed the Gothic chapel and the royal pantheon. Crossing its threshold you will see simple interiors where the gloom reigns. At the top you can visit the treasury: four rooms with costumes, relics and jewelry that belonged to illustrious personalities.

Book a guided tour of Lisbon

3. Climb the Castle of St. George

St. George's Castle by night| ©Mark
St. George's Castle by night| ©Mark

This monument has always watched over Lisbon. According to historians. The castle was built by the Visigoths and expanded during the Muslim period. When it was conquered by the troops of Afonso Henriques (the future first king of Portugal), the Islamic elements gave way to the Christians.

Throughout the centuries, the fortress has witnessed numerous historical events and has had both functions of Royal Palace and military tasks. Today, many tourists climb to the top of the hill to walk on its walls and enjoy the unbeatable view over the city and the Tagus. If you also want to enjoy the experience, I recommend you to book a guided tour of St. George.

Book a guided tour of Alfama and San Jorge

4. Finish the day in a traditional restaurant

Grilled Fish| ©Maxim Sinelshchikov
Grilled Fish| ©Maxim Sinelshchikov

One of the attractions of Lisbon is its rich gastronomy. The Portuguese capital has many establishments that offer traditional dishes without having to spend an arm and a leg. In the list below you will find some of the most famous destinations:

  • O Pitéu: an outstanding place to eat the most representative dishes of the country. I recommend tasting their Mozambique prawns or the bife da vazia de novilho (Largo da Graça 95-96).
  • Floresta das Escadinhas: an authentic restaurant in the heart of the tourist area. Its specialty is grilled fish and you cannot leave without trying the sardines or the grilled octopus. The restaurant also stands out for its service (Rua de Santa Justa 3).
  • Frangasqueira Nacional: the temple of chicken. Near Jardim do Príncipe Real is a traditional establishment that is a real institution among locals and tourists. According to connoisseurs, it is in the top 5 chicken restaurants in the center of Lisbon (Tv. Monte do Carmo 19).
  • Chapitô à Mesa: a unique place worth a visit. The restaurant is an annex of a circus school and is located a stone's throw from the castle. In addition to quality Portuguese dishes, many customers choose it to dine overlooking a splendid panorama of the city (Costa do Castelo 7).

Book a gastronomic tour of Lisbon

5. Visit Bairro Alto

São Roque Church| ©Mister No
São Roque Church| ©Mister No

Next to Chiado is Bairro Alto, a district known for its lively nightlife. At the end of the day, young and not so young people flock to this area of Lisbon to have a drink at the Pavilhão Chinês (a bar decorated with thousands of objects from the 18th to the 20th century, Rua Dom Pedro V 89), at the Frágil (the bar that marked a before and after in the 1980s, Rua da Atalaia 128) or at the Noobai Café, a bar/restaurant on the Santa Catarina lookout point.

In addition to the entertainment venues, Lisbon's Bairro Alto hides other little treasures:

  • Pharmacia: an old pharmacy converted into a restaurant. Here you can eat typical dishes surrounded by dentist's chairs, stretchers and counters (Rua de Santa Catarina 2/4).
  • São Roque Church: the temple that survived the 1755 earthquake. Its austere facade hides a richly decorated interior (Largo Trindade Coelho).
  • Praça Luís de Camões: hosts the bronze statue of the poet and 8 smaller sculptures representing other authors of Portuguese literature.
  • Jardim do Príncipe Real: a graceful romantic park frequented mostly by locals. The magnolia trees, palm trees and the huge cedar tree guarantee tranquility and shade.
  • Deposito da Patriarcal: an octagonal-shaped tank and a fundamental piece of the aqueduct that supplies the city. If you want to visit it, I recommend you consult the website of the Water Museum.
  • The most famous belvederes: São Pedro de Alcântara (Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara) and Santa Catarina (Esplanada Adamastor). The latter is very busy in the evenings.

Book a guided tour of Lisbon

6. Ride streetcar 28

Tram at night| ©Lisa Fotios
Tram at night| ©Lisa Fotios

What would Lisbon be without its streetcars? Part of its charm derives from this means of transport that travels both the avenues and the narrowest slopes. This line departs from Plaça Martim Moniz a short distance from Praça do Rossio. Along the way, the 28 touches the most famous landmarks of the city:

  • Basílica da Estrela
  • Rua da Conceição
  • The cathedral, the viewpoints
  • The Igreja de São Vicente de Fora

The ticket costs approximately 3 € and the whole tour lasts between 45 and 50 minutes. However, the most suggestive part is Alfama and if you want to stay in the center, you can get off at Largo Santa Luzia where the homonymous panoramic point is located. This activity is usually liked by the kids and if you are interested in the subject, I recommend the post 10 things to do in Lisbon with kids.

Get your ticket for the tourist streetcar

7. Stroll around Rossio Square

Pedro IV Square in Lisbon| ©Thomas
Pedro IV Square in Lisbon| ©Thomas

Praça de Rossio is the heart of the Baixa and is characterized by the monument of Dom Pedro IV (the first emperor of Brazil) and by its black and white undulating paving. On the north side is the Teatro Nacional, an elegant building with a neoclassical facade, a colonnaded portico and the statue of Gil Vicente, the founder of Portuguese theater. A few meters from the theater you will find another landmark of the Portuguese capital: the Igreja de São Domingos.

Praça de Rossio is also a place of passage and home to two historic establishments of the Portuguese capital:

  • A Ginjinha: a tiny bar where only an artisanal cherry liqueur, the ginja, is served.
  • Café Nicola: a place with more than 200 years of history. In the past it was a bookstore and a meeting place for intellectuals. Inside you will see the statue of the poet Bocage who was a regular customer of the cafe.

8. Treat yourself to a break in the markets of Lisbon

Market in Campo de Santa Clara| ©Andrea Mann
Market in Campo de Santa Clara| ©Andrea Mann

The Portuguese capital has a selection of markets offering everything from clothing to fresh produce. Some of these are located in the center of Lisbon and are ideal both for shopping and for tasting some delicatessen. Read on and discover the best markets in the center:

  • Mercado da Ribeira: the most coveted destination for Lisbon foodies. In this place, traditional dishes coexist with fusion cuisine and in both cases, the quality is very high. If you are interested in good food, I recommend you to read the post about the gastronomic tours of Lisbon(Avenida 24 de Julho 49).
  • Feira da Ladra: a flea market with merchandise of all kinds, from antique trinkets to second hand clothes. This flea market specializes in antiques and is the ideal place to find an original souvenir. It is held every Tuesday and Saturday in the Alfama district(Campo de Santa Clara).
  • Santa Clara Market: a market that often goes unnoticed as it is located a short distance from the more famous Feira da Ladra. It was inaugurated on October 7, 1877 and its glass and steel structure bears the signature of the architect Emiliano Augusto de Betencourt. Today, it hosts handicraft stalls and some bars/restaurants (Campo de Santa Clara),
  • Feira dos Alfarrabistas: an open-air flea market held every Saturday. It is an obligatory stop to buy antique and second-hand books (Rua Anchieta).

9. Let yourself be captivated by the most beautiful neo-Manueline facade of Baixa

Rossio Station| ©Osvaldo Gago
Rossio Station| ©Osvaldo Gago

Rossio Station is one of the most emblematic monuments of Baixa. The building was built at the end of the 19th century following Luis Monteiro's project. The architect was inspired by the Manueline, a purely Portuguese architectural style. Its distinctive element is the mixture of marine elements (shells, ship's ropes, corals, etc.), heraldic shields, religious symbols and Arab ornaments.

The exterior of Rossio Station is characterized by the two horseshoe-shaped entrance doors and the elegant clock tower. Another peculiarity are the platforms that are located at a higher altitude than the entrance. Lisbon is a city of slopes and the architect had to adapt the tracks to the orography.

Above the tracks, you can admire the iron roof designed by Gustave Eiffel. This railway line connects the Portuguese capital with the town of Sintra, a popular destination for excursions. In the post How to get from Lisbon to Sintra you will find all the information you need.

10. Take a walk through the Chiado

Elevator of Santa Justa and Rua Augusta| ©Rob Oo
Elevator of Santa Justa and Rua Augusta| ©Rob Oo

Chiado is a very nice shopping area that in the past was the nerve center of Portuguese Romanticism. The neighborhood is known for its peculiar stores and bohemian bars such as, for example, the famous Café A Brasileira where Fernando Pessoa used to spend his evenings. However, Chiado has much more to offer. In the list below you will find the main points of interest:

  • Elevador de Santa Justa: a neo-Gothic style elevator designed by engineer Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard in the early 20th century. It connects Baixa with the Chiado district.
  • Luvaria Ulisses: a glove store founded in 1925 by Joaquim Rodrigues Simões. Two large columns protect a door that opens onto an atmosphere that preserves the style of the 1920s. (Rua do Carmo 87).
  • Pastelaria Bénard: one of the oldest in the Portuguese capital. I recommend you try their freshly baked croissants with raspberry jam (Rua Garrett 104).
  • A Vida Portuguesa: a charming store in the former David & David perfume factory. They sell bars of natural soap, decorative objects, toys and other goods with a vintage touch (Rua Anchieta 11).
  • Convento do Carmo: the ruins of a Gothic church that belonged to the Carmelite Order. Completely devastated by the 1755 earthquake, it has remained as a witness to the devastation of the earthquake (Largo do Carmo).
  • Bertrand Bookshop: the oldest bookshop in Lisbon. It has an extensive selection of works by Portuguese writers and translations into other languages, including Spanish (Rua Garrett 73).
  • Igreja do Loreto: the church of the Italians. It was built at the request of the Venetian and Genoese merchant community (Largo do Chiado).