What to do in Lisbon, Portugal

Written by William Lee

Looking for ideas on what to do in Lisbon, Portugal?

Lisbon, Portugal, offers a myriad of activities and attractions for travelers seeking to immerse themselves in its rich history and vibrant culture. From exploring historic districts to indulging in modern art scenes, Lisbon has something for every type of traveler.

Key Takeaways

  • Destination: Lisbon, Portugal
  • Activities: Sightseeing, Art Exploration, Historical Landmarks
  • Attractions: Belém District, Alfama Neighborhood, São Jorge Castle, Bairro Alto, Chiado, Príncipe Real Neighborhoods, MAAT and Centro de Arte Moderna, Jerónimos Monastery,Torre de Belem, Praça do Comércio

Top Attractions in Lisbon

Belém District

The Belém District is a historic area in Lisbon that is synonymous with Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. It’s located along the northern banks of the Tagus River and is home to some of Lisbon’s most iconic landmarks and monuments.

Notably, the district features the Jerónimos Monastery, a stunning example of Manueline architecture, and the Tower of Belém, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Belém is also famous for its cultural attractions, including the Belém Cultural Center (CCB), which houses the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Monument to the Discoveries, celebrating the Portuguese explorers. Furthermore, Belém is known for its traditional pastries, particularly the Pastéis de Belém, a custard tart that originated in the district.

With its rich historical significance, beautiful parks, and riverside location, Belém offers a unique blend of cultural experiences, making it a must-visit area in Lisbon.

things to do in lisbon

Praça do Comércio

Praça do Comércio, often referred to as Terreiro do Paço, is a monumental square located in Lisbon, Portugal, and is one of the most significant landmarks in the city. Historically, it served as the location of the Ribeira Palace until the devastating earthquake of 1755, which led to the palace’s destruction along with much of Lisbon. Following the earthquake, the square was completely remodeled as part of the Pombaline reconstruction under the direction of the Marquis of Pombal, making it a prime example of 18th-century urban design.

The square is open on one side to the Tagus River, creating a stunning waterfront vista that has long been a gateway for travelers arriving by sea. The other three sides are lined with symmetrical buildings, originally government offices but now host to a variety of restaurants, offices, and cultural spaces. At the center of the square stands the statue of King José I, inaugurated in 1775, symbolizing the city’s recovery and resilience.

Praça do Comércio is also known for its distinctive yellow-painted façades, a characteristic feature of the Pombaline style. The square has witnessed many significant events in Portuguese history, including the assassination of King Carlos I in 1908. Today, it’s a popular gathering place for tourists and locals alike, offering breathtaking views, historical significance, and a lively atmosphere. The Arco da Rua Augusta, an archway leading into the Baixa district, frames one end of the square, serving as a grand entry point to Lisbon’s downtown and offering visitors a path to explore further into the heart of the city.

Jerónimos Monastery

The Jerónimos Monastery, or Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, is a monumental piece of architecture located in the Belém district of Lisbon, Portugal. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a shining example of the Manueline style, a Portuguese variant of late Gothic that is highly ornate, incorporating maritime elements and representations of the Age of Discoveries.

Commissioned by King Manuel I in the early 16th century, the monastery was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success. Construction began in 1501 and took 100 years to complete, funded by the wealth flowing into Portugal from the newly discovered trade routes.

The monastery is dedicated to the Order of Saint Jerome (Hieronymites), whose monks provided spiritual guidance to sailors and prayed for the king’s soul. Its church, the Santa Maria de Belém, houses the tomb of Vasco da Gama, recognizing his and the monastery’s significant roles in Portugal’s maritime history.

The Jerónimos Monastery is celebrated for its stunning façade, intricate cloisters, and the impressive Church of Santa Maria, which are adorned with carvings of maritime motifs, such as ropes, sea monsters, and other elements that pay homage to the sea and Portugal’s explorations. The cloisters are particularly noted for their detailed and delicate stonework, considered among the most beautiful in the world.

The site symbolizes Portugal’s Age of Discoveries and serves as a monument to the country’s history of exploration, maritime prowess, and cultural exchange. Today, it attracts visitors from around the globe, drawn to its historical significance and architectural beauty, making it a pivotal cultural landmark in Lisbon.

Alfama Neighborhood

The Alfama district is one of Lisbon’s oldest and most captivating neighborhoods, known for its narrow, winding streets that echo with the sounds of Fado music emanating from traditional restaurants and bars.

This historic area, which survived the devastating 1755 earthquake, offers a glimpse into the past with its ancient buildings, including the impressive São Jorge Castle that towers above, providing stunning views over the city and the Tagus River.

Alfama’s rich cultural tapestry, historic architecture, and vibrant atmosphere make it a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience the soul of Lisbon.

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