14 Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal for First-Timers

14 Best Things to Do in Lisbon for First-Timers

From river views to tram rides, there’s plenty to experience in Lisbon!

Lisbon, the City of Seven Hills — where every narrow alley and cobblestone street whispers tales of the past. Its vibrant spirit awakens with the sunrise, casting a golden glow on its countless historic facades. From the historical splendour of its monuments to the modern architecture along the Tagus river, it gracefully balances tradition and innovation. With countless things to do in Lisbon, this enchanting poem written in stone awaits your discovery! 

Since it will be your first time in Portugal’s capital city, take your time and slowly unfold it like a book. You will get to feel the warmth of its people, experience its vibrant culture, admire the charm of its history and marvel at its stunning views. We’ve also come up with a list of the best things to do in Lisbon for a memorable vacation.

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Also read: 15 Airbnbs in Lisbon Close to the Capital’s Top Sights

Best things to do in Lisbon on your first visit

1. Embark on an adventure in Alfama

Things to do Lisbon, Alfama

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Step back in time to a bygone era while experiencing the authentic heart of Lisbon in Alfama. This historic district offers a unique and enchanting atmosphere that captivates visitors. Wander through its labyrinthine network of cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways. As you stroll around, you’ll find yourself surrounded by colourful buildings adorned with traditional Portuguese ceramic tiles. 

Alfama street

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Alfama is home to some of Lisbon’s oldest and most well-preserved architecture. This includes the impressive Sé de Lisboa, a stunning cathedral that is the oldest in the city. There is also the unique Casa dos Bicos, a building adorned with diamond-shaped stone spikes called bicos — hence the name. 

As the sun sets over the Tagus, a warm, soft glow covers the district’s charming streets and historic buildings, creating an unforgettable ambience. To fully embrace this moment, we recommend heading up Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro da Graça. These are arguably the best scenic spots for an overlooking view of the cityscape. 

2. Step into the history of São Jorge Castle

Things to do Lisbon, São Jorge Castle

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Visiting São Jorge Castle is like stepping into a living history book. Here, you will find ancient fortifications, enjoy panoramic views of the city, and immerse yourself in the heritage of Portugal. As you approach the castle, a majestic stone-wall entrance will greet you with its grandeur. 

The castle’s origins trace back to the 10th and 11th centuries, when Lisbon served as a Moorish port city. It played a vital role in Lisbon’s defence for centuries and was later transformed into a royal palace. Inside the castle’s walls, you’ll discover charming cobblestone courtyards surrounded by medieval buildings. The castle also features well-kept gardens, and it’s not uncommon to encounter peacocks roaming freely. Besides admiring the beauty of the castle, there are also interactive exhibits and occasional cultural events to keep you occupied.

3. Discover the charms of Belém 

Things to do Lisbon, Belem Tower

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Embark on a historical and cultural journey through time. The picturesque neighbourhood of Belém, located to the west of the city centre, is a treasure trove of landmarks and monuments. When you are there, be sure to visit the Belém Tower

This is an iconic fortress that stands proudly on the edge of the Tagus. You can climb the tower for panoramic views of the river and the city. Its Manueline-style architecture and role in Portugal’s Age of Exploration make it a must-see for first-timers! 

4. Hop on the Tram 28

Tram 28 ride

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Sit back and relax as Tram 28 will take you on a charming and nostalgic journey through the city’s historic heart. This iconic train route offers a unique and immersive experience that allows you to witness Lisbons’s vibrant neighbourhoods. As you ride, you’ll pass by historic landmarks, narrow streets, and colourful buildings. 

Because Tram 28 navigates through steep and winding streets, it is often so narrow that you can almost reach out and touch the buildings. You’ll also get to witness locals going about their day, children playing on cobblestone streets, and bustling markets. Although this tram provides an end-to-end journey, you can also choose to hop on and off at different stops to explore specific areas. Be sure to get your cameras ready as you step into this moving capsule!

5. Admire Lisbon’s street art

Lisbon street art

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Street art in Lisbon is like an open-air gallery that reveals the city’s creative spirit, diversity, and urban expression. You can find them almost anywhere in Lisbon — along the streets of Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo and in neighbourhoods like Alfama, Bairro Alto, and Mouraria.  

These large-scale artworks often feature bold designs, intricate details, and a myriad of vibrant hues. Lisbon’s street art isn’t limited to traditional walls; it often spills onto utility boxes, staircases, and even abandoned buildings, transforming mundane urban spaces into works of art. Some street art installations invite viewer participation, too; hence, you can become part of the artwork by interacting with it or taking photos! 

6. Unlock your creativity at LX Factory

Things to do Lisbon, LX Factory

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If you are an art enthusiast, this is for you! LX Factory is a creative wonderland where art, culture, and innovation thrive amidst a former industrial complex. It is home to numerous art galleries, studios, and exhibitions that feature the works of local and international artists. 

You’ll find a diverse range of artistic expressions, from painting and sculpture to photography. There’s also a bookstore named Ler Devagar, which features an extensive collection of books, a charming cafe, and an impressive book-making machine. On Sundays, LX Factory hosts a vibrant market where you can find antiques and vintage clothing, handicrafts, and more.

7. Explore the gastronomic oasis of Mercado de Campo de Ourique

For food lovers, Mercado de Campo de Ourique is one of the best places to visit in Lisbon! Here, you will get to savour an array of mouth-watering dishes, sample gourmet treats, and experience the vibrant energy of one of Lisbon’s most popular food markets. 

As you wander through the market, you’ll encounter a diverse array of food stalls and eateries. From traditional Portuguese dishes to international flavours and innovative fusion cuisine, there’s definitely something for everyone. 

bacalhau (salted codfish)

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Do you know that Portugal is known for its seafood? So, you will find an abundance of seafood options at the market. This includes grilled sardines, bacalhau (salted codfish), seafood rice dishes, and many more!

pastéis de nata

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Complete your visit to Lisbon by savouring the famous pastéis de nata. These delectable custard tarts have been a beloved Portuguese treat for generations, so don’t miss it!

8. Immerse yourself in a fado serenade 

Often described as the “soul of Portuguese music,” fado is a genre known for its poignant lyrics, melancholic melodies, and heartfelt performances. A fado night in Lisbon is like immersing yourself in a deeply emotional and culturally rich musical experience that offers a glimpse into the soul of Portugal. Because it’s a live music performance, you will witness talented singers and musicians — also known as fadistas — pouring their hearts into their renditions. 

Fado is typically performed in intimate and cosy settings, such as small bars, traditional restaurants, or dedicated fado houses. These venues create an atmosphere that allows the audience to connect closely with the performers. Most venues will offer a dining experience, allowing you to enjoy traditional Portuguese meals while savouring the music. It’s really one of the best things to do in Lisbon!

9. Spend your night out in Bairro Alto 

Night out in Bairro Alto - things to do in Lisbon

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Now, on to the livelier part of this list of best things to do in Lisbon! Bairro Alto is a vibrant neighbourhood where the city’s culture, nightlife, and creative spirit converge. This historic area comes to life in the evening and offers a unique and lively experience. It is the epicentre of Lisbon’s nightlife, with countless bars, clubs, and live music venues. Oh, and some of the best fado houses are actually here in Bairro Alto! 

The parties in Bairro Alto often continue till the wee hours of the morning, so you can expect late-night revelries. As you explore the district, you may encounter street performers, from musicians and artists to magicians and mime artists, who contribute to the vibrant atmosphere. It’s a neighbourhood that seamlessly blends tradition with modernity, creating an unforgettable atmosphere that captures the essence of the city’s spirit. Considering that you are on vacation, take this chance to unwind at one of the top Lisbon attractions!

10. Ascend to the sky on the wings of Santa Justa 

Things to do Lisbon, Santa Justa Lift

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Elevator de Santa Justa, aka Santa Justa Lift, is a historic time machine that transports you to a different era while offering breathtaking views. This iconic wrought-iron elevator is not just a practical means of transportation, but also one of the coolest Lisbon attractions. 

Riding the elevator is a vertical journey that takes you from the Baixa district to the level of the Carmo Convent and the Chiado neighbourhood; saving you the effort of climbing steep hills. The actual elevator ride is relatively short, lasting just a minute or so. However, the main highlight is the stunning panoramic views it offers from the top. As you reach the top, you can access a viewing platform with additional panoramic views. So, go ahead and take more photos and enjoy the scenery. Definitely a must-do in Lisbon!

11. Enter into the world of art at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is one of Portugal’s most prestigious cultural institutions and a must-visit for art enthusiasts and history buffs. It boasts an extensive and diverse collection that spans various cultures and time periods. This includes pieces by renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Van Dyck. Despite its exceptional collection, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is often less crowded than other major European museums, allowing for a more intimate and contemplative experience.

The museum is named after Calouste Gulbenkian: an Armenian philanthropist who donated his vast art collection to Portugal. The museum also offers educational programs, workshops, and guided tours for visitors of all ages, making it an engaging and educational experience. 

Things to do near Lisbon 

12. Experience chill vibes at Praia da Conceição

Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Praia da Conceição is located in the nearby town of Cascais. This beach offers a refreshing escape where you can relax, sunbathe, and swim. Expect a wide expanse of golden sands that gently slope into the azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The Sintra Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the beach, creating a sense of serenity and tranquillity. Finally, the calm and shallow waters near the shoreline make this beach ideal for swimming — especially for those travelling with kids! 

13. Go on a whimsical day trip to Sintra 

Things to do near Lisbon - Sintra

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Located just a short train ride from Lisbon is the town of Sintra. With its scenic landscapes, historic palaces and lush forests, a day trip here is one of the most enchanting things to do near Lisbon. This little town has a handful of attractions to offer — such as Palacio da Pena! Perched on a hill overlooking Sintra, its colourful turrets, whimsical design, and stunning views make it feel like a fairytale castle.

For the thrill-seekers, you can choose to engage in outdoor activities such as hiking to Castelo dos Mouros (aka the Moorish Castle). There’s a trail that takes you to the hilltop ruins of this medieval castle. It also offers panoramic views of the Sintra hills and the surrounding landscape.

14. Savour the essence of Portuguese wine

After all that partying and exploring Lisbon attractions, you might need to unwind and rejuvenate. So, why not go on a wine-tasting tour? Portugal is famous for its wine cellars, many of which are located in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is approximately three hours away from Lisbon. 

You can visit Sandeman Cellars, which is owned by the same popular Port wine brand. This winery houses barrels of aged Port wine and offers guided tours of their cellars. You can also sample a variety of Ports — from tawny to vintage — while learning about the production process and history. Wine tastings in Portugal often include food pairings that complement the wines perfectly. You can savour local cheeses, charcuterie, and traditional Portuguese dishes alongside your drink. 

Also read: 15 Most Walkable Cities in the World to Visit or Live In

As you start on your journey through this dynamic city, remember that Lisbon’s magic lies not only in its attractions but also in its people, cuisine, culture, and heritage. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned traveller, Lisbon’s allure remains timeless, promising an unforgettable experience with each visit. Savour every moment, embrace every opportunity and enjoy your exploration! 

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About Author

Anthea Wong
Anthea Wong

Anthea loves adventures, so much so that she will plunge into the unimaginable depths of different cultures and traditions when she is travelling. Besides tasting different cuisines, witnessing stunning landscapes, and meeting fascinating people — she enjoys documenting her experiences, too.