Best Things To Do In Lisbon, Portugal
Touted as a modern metropolis to rival London and packed with places of interest, Lisbon is a city that is really going places. There is a plethora of history here, with tales of everything from Roman imperialists to exotic Berber pirates, Moorish builders to fierce Reconquista knights, all wrapped up in the grand palaces and heritage districts. But there is also an atmosphere of bohemianism and the surprise of the new here too. Let’s explore the best things to do in Lisbon.
Best Things To Do In Lisbon, Portugal
1. Wonder at the Torre de Belém
If there is just one landmark you visit when touring through the Portuguese capital, make it this one.
Soaring high above the seafront of the Lisbon quays, this great tower displays a veritable fusion of architectural styles from the Mudejar to the Moorish, the Gothic to the Romanesque.
It has stood watch over the mouth of the Tagus River since its construction under the patronage of Saint John back in the 16th century.
Since then, it has risen to become perhaps the most iconic feature of the city, famed as the last sight adventurers like the prodigal Vasco da Gama would have seen as they drifted out into the vast Atlantic Ocean.
2. Get lost in the Alfama District
The compact little Alfama District is Lisbon’s answer to the old town centers of Europe’s other ancient capitals.
Like the Forum of Rome, it’s hailed as the oldest part of the city, although this one dates back to the Moors of Africa instead of the kings of Latium.
Delving into the warren of winding streets and alleys that forms the district is one of the top activities for visitors to Portugal’s capital.
As you stroll, great cathedrals like the Lisbon Cathedral and tile-fronted chapels reveal themselves on the corners.
There are also the remains of old city walls and hidden squares with alfresco cafes aplenty.
3. Make a trip to Sintra
‘Did you go to Sintra?’ is the usual question asked by veterans of Portugal’s capital.
Despite being a totally different city and situated more than half an hour away from Lisbon by car, the glorious town of Sintra remains one of the major attractions here.
Daytrips are common, while others will want to spend a couple of days exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It sits high up amidst the mythical Mountains of the Moon, displaying elegant baroque churches, colorful mansions and the grand palaces of former Portuguese kings and queens.
4. Conquer the bulwarks of St George’s Castle
St George’s Castle is unquestionably the most visible landmark of Lisbon’s historic center.
Standing tall and firm above the streets of the old Alfama district, the great citadel was first built more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans.
Since then, it has been developed by subsequent rulers of the city, from the Berbers to the Reconquista knights.
Today it has mighty palisades and crenulated towers to admire, along with an encircling dry moat and other anti-siege features.
Pass beneath the large gate here and notice the Portuguese royal seal, marking the country’s monarchic strength.
5. Go underwater in the Lisbon Oceanarium
Located out in the blue waters of the Tagus Estuary, the huge Lisbon Oceanarium rises like a hulking aircraft carrier.
Inside, the structure houses countless exhibits related to marine life, which together pull in over one million visitors each year.
You can get up close to colorful puffer fish as well as watch the marauding sharks.
You’ll see curious moray eels and meet cuddly penguins.
There are also interesting collections of sea anemones and corals, not to mention an artificial boating lagoon out front where you can rent a pedalo if it is sunny.
6. Sé: Lisbon’s Imposing Cathedral
In the city’s Castelo district near the ancient Alfama neighborhood, Lisbon’s fortified Romanesque cathedral – the Sé – has undergone several design makeovers since the original structure was consecrated in 1150. A series of earthquakes culminating in the devastating 1755 tremor completely destroyed that which stood in the 12th century.
What you see today is a blend of architectural styles, the standout features being the twin castellated bell towers that embellish the downtown skyline – particularly evocative in the late afternoon when a setting sun burnishes the brickwork with a golden veneer.
Inside, a resplendent rose window helps illuminate a rather gloomy interior, and you’re likely to head straight for the treasury where the cathedral’s most valuable artifacts are on display, items that include silverware made up of chalices and reliquaries, intricately embroidered vestments, statuary, and a number of rare illustrated manuscripts.