Best Sightseeing in Lisbon

Sightseeing in Lisbon: Follow an Itinerary of Compelling Visitor Attractions

Sightseeing in Lisbon allows you to discover celebrated landmarks, monuments and neighbourhoods. A perfect introduction is to wander up to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara in Chiado. This splendid terrace is set in gardens high above the Baixa (downtown) and is a great way to get your bearings. Taking the elevator to the top of Arco da Rua Augusta also allows you to see the sights from a lofty viewpoint. Further afield is the Cristo Rei on the river’s south bank. The observation platform affords a stunning Lisbon canvas. Similarly, the highpoint of any visit to Castelo de São Jorge is the panorama enjoyed from the battlements. For something a little different, head for Pilar 7 in Alcantara. This highly original visitor attractions affords sightseers a wonderful view of Lisbon's iconic suspension bridge. Back in Chiado, the atmospheric ruins of Igreja do Carmo remind visitors of the destructive force of the great 1755 earthquake. In keeping with the religious theme – and a “must see” on any itinerary – is the majestic Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém. Elsewhere, the quirkiest way to see Lisbon’s sights is to jump on board Tram 28. The streetcar trundles across the city passing a number of historic buildings. Lisbon sightseeing doesn’t necessarily mean staying in the city. For a change of scenery, divert inland to Sintra and the magical Palácio da Pena. Alternatively, head along the coast and spend the day at Cascais Resort Town and enjoy some authentic holiday sightseeing by the sea. 


Outside the City

A day excursion to Cascais is a wonderful way to complement any visit to Lisbon. Located on the Lisbon coast 30 km west of the city centre, the resort town is easily reached by direct train from Cais do Sodre rail terminal. A chic, upmarket destination with more than its fair share of visitor attractions, sightseeing options include anything from a leisurely promenade walk along the ocean-front esplanade, to exploring the old town –" a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and alleys fringed by cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Museums and art galleries abound, places such as the Casa das Historias, an exhibition centre dedicated to the late Paula Rego, Portugal's greatest contemporary artist. Several pocket-sized beaches and a splendid marina frame Cascais bay. Further west is the 16th-century cidadela, a historic sea fort that's been beautifully converted into a pousada, an upscale hotel.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Draped over an outstanding coastline and often described as Portugal's Riviera, Cascais is worth several hours' exploration, especially during summer.

Paul's expert tip: You can climb to the top of the Santa Marta lighthouse situated near the cidadela for fine views of the resort and surrounding area.

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Outside the City

One of the region's most distinguished historical landmarks and a fixture on the Sintra sightseeing circuit, the Pena palace crowns the highest peak of the Serra de Sintra hills. Dating from the 19th century, the building features several different architectural styles, with colourful domes and turrets surrounded by a castellated wall. Commissioned by Queen Maria II for her husband Ferdinand, the palace is full of rare and priceless antiques and curios from all over the world displayed in beautifully styled rooms of fantastic opulence and decoration. One of the most impressive is the Ballroom, which is furnished with stunning Oriental porcelain and German stained-glass windows. The Arab Room is also rich in its splendor. The dramatic views from the ramparts embrace the entire Lisbon coast, as far as Ericeira.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Portugal. Combining a visit with exploring Sintra proper is a memorable day out.

Paul's expert tip: Admission to the palace also includes access to the park, itself a wooded and verdant destination.

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A convenient and wholly novel way of taking in the Lisbon sights is hop aboard the number 28 tram (electrico). Distinguished by its bright yellow paintwork, this quirky-looking streetcar follows the contours of Lisbon's hilly topography, a sometimes steep and winding route that snakes across town like an itinerant strand of spaghetti. The tram passes several iconic landmarks such as the cathedral and the impressive Basilica da Estrela. The journey also affords a leisurely trundle through neighbourhoods like historic Alfama, the bustling Baixa (downtown) and elegant Chiado. It's a fantastic way to discover the capital and offers an authentic local travel experience. Beware, however. Because of its popularity, the No 28 is always crowded, which presents nifty-fingered pickpockets with often rich pickings.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: This is not an official sightseeing streetcar. Instead tram 28 is part of the public transport system which means the experience is genuine and authentic.

Paul's expert tip: The tram departs from Martim Moniz, a huge square near the Baixa, but there are dozens of stops dotted around the city.

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Nowhere in Lisbon is Portugal's golden Age of Discovery better illustrated than in Belem, a pretty suburb set on the riverfront west of the city centre. It's easy to spend a day here exploring such wonders as the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, easily the most impressive of Belem's sightseeing wonders. This UNESCO protected monastery dates from around 1500, commissioned by King Manuel I to celebrate Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's discovery of a sea route to India in 1498. The building dazzles the eye from the onset, the exterior a riot of decorated stonework the decoration of which extends to the magnificent cloister, itself especially rich in ornamentation. Meanwhile, the highpoint of the church is the spectacular nave and its vaulted, spider web-like ceiling supported by columns resembling twisted rope. Here you'll find the tomb of the aforementioned Vasco da Gama while on the other side of the church lies another sepulchre, that of the 16th-century poet Luis de Camoes, whose epic poem Os Lusiadas chronicles the Discoveries.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The monastery at Belem is one of Europe's finest religious sightseeing destinations and is wholly deserving off its World Heritage status.

Paul's expert tip: Entrance to the church is free, but arrive early or late afternoon to avoid the tour buses.

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A somewhat sombre experience awaits sightseers visiting the atmospheric ruins of the Carmo church. Indeed, this is one of the more poignant of Lisbon's historic sites. Built between 1389 and 1423, this was once the city's grandest church. But on the morning of All Saints' Day in 1755 a violent earthquake struck the city and among the many buildings destroyed or badly damaged was this church, full at the time with worshippers. Most perished under tons of masonry. The surviving Gothic arches of the convent serve as a reminder of that fateful day. Inside, an engaging archaeological museum now occupies the main body of the church and houses a miscellany of sarcophagi, statuary and mosaics. Look out for the Roman tomb carved with reliefs depicting the Muses, and the splendid stone tomb of Ferdinand I. Among the more bizarre exhibits is a pair of ancient South American mummies.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Indelibly etched in the psyche of Lisbon residents, the magnificent ruins of Carmo stand as resillience to the forces of Nature.

Paul's expert tip: For a wonderful perspective of the church exterior, make your way to the observation platform at the top of the nearby Elevador de Santa Justa.

Read more about Igreja do Carmo →

24 de Julho & Docas/Alcantara

Ever wondered how they built Lisbon's suspension bridge? Anyone interested in the engineering behind the city's iconic Pone 25 Abril will be well rewarded with a visit to the Pilar 7 Experience. This is one of Lisbon's most original sightseeing attractions and allows those to discover the technology employed to construct one of Europe's most recognised river spans. The Pilar 7 Experience Centre features an exhibition room, which chronicles the history behind the impressive structure. You're then taken on a fascinating guided tour of the massive concrete base, the walls of which are stencilled with information panels explaining various stages of the building and construction process. Afterwards, visitors are invited to take a panoramic elevator up to a vertigo-inducing viewing platform set 80 meters (262 feet) above the ground and parallel to the busy roadway deck. From here the views are simply jaw-dropping.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: An original sightseeing idea that brings visitors not only up close and personal to an iconic Lisbon landmark but affords stunning views into the bargain.

Paul's expert tip: Take the optional virtual reality tour for an immersive trip into inaccessible parts of the bridge.

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A sightseeing favourite, Lisbon's castle is the most ubiquitous of the capital's tourist attractions and is a "must see" on any visitor itinerary. The 1755 earthquake destroyed much of the original structure and what you see today is the result of careful renovation. However, while not strictly authentic the castle remains a compelling draw. The heavy-set outer ramparts surround the picturesque Santa Cruz district and the inner walls enclose gardens and archaeological excavations, which have revealed evidence of Roman and Moorish presence. It's possible to walk the entire length of the sturdy battlements and climb the lookout towers, one of which, Torre de Ulisses, has a camera obscura that projects views of the city onto the inside walls of the tower. To take the best photographs, head for the Observation Terrace: the panorama is the finest in Lisbon.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: One of Lisbon's, indeed Portugal's, great historical landmarks, the castle remains part of the city's identity and is a compelling sightseeing draw.

Paul's expert tip: Tickets aren't sold at the main entrance. Instead look for the office on the right of the path leading to the castle.

Read more about Castelo de Sao Jorge →

Outside the City

Looming large on the south bank of the river is one of Lisbon's most incongruous monuments, the Cristo Rei (Christ the King) statue. It's the Portuguese version of Brazil's famous Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro and while much smaller in scale, it's still an impressive sight. The statue itself is 92 feet tall but stands on a pedestal 270 feet high. It was inaugurated in 1959. It's certainly worth the effort taking the ferry across to Cacilhas and then making the 30-minute walk to the statue because the views are staggering and take in all of Lisbon, the Ponte 25 de Abril road bridge and the Tagus estuary. A lift, plus a few steps, takes sightseers to the platform beneath the statue. Coincide any excursion with good weather for the finest perspectives.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The view back across the river towards the city is absolutely stunning. The perspective also takes in the Lisbon coast and the south bank.

Paul's expert tip: Visiting mid-afternoon means the sun is falling on the city from the west - better light for photographs.

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Lisbon's eye-catching triumphal arch, better known as the Rua Augusta Arch, is one of the city's most recognised historic monuments. Standing on the north side of Praca do Comercio, the 19th-century landmark was designed by architect Santos de Carvalho to celebrate the reconstruction of the city after the 1755 earthquake. The roof is surmounted by an allegorical figure of Glory, crowning figures representing Genius and Bravery with wreaths. Sightseers can reach the top via elevator and the clock room. Here a mechanical clock dating from 1941 is located, powered by a series of weights and pulleys. An exhibition panel displays an illustrated timeline charting the history of the arch. Visitors must then climb a spiral staircase to stand at the top of the monument where sweeping views are afforded from the belvedere. The panorama takes in the vast square below, the river to the south and over the Baixa district to the north.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Closed to the public for many years, the re-purposing of the arch has provided visitors with another spectacular Lisbon sightseeing opportunity.

Paul's expert tip: Consider purchasing a family ticket that also includes entry into the nearby Lisbon Story Centre.

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One of the delights of exploring Lisbon is discovering the city's miradouros (viewpoints) – purpose-built terraces usually designed around landscaped gardens and more often than not featuring a handy kiosk-cafe. Situated at various locations throughout the capital, these attractive belvederes are sited specifically to take advantage of Lisbon's most striking scenic views, always dramatically enhanced given the city's hilly topography. A particularly absorbing panorama can be enjoyed from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. This sweeping veranda is set near the top of the city's Bairro Alto district, near Principe Real, and affords sightseers with a picture postcard aspect of downtown Lisbon. The most obvious landmark is the Castelo de Sao Jorge, but a useful tiled map placed against the balustrade helps you pinpoint other places of interest, including Sao Vicente de Fora and the cathedral.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: One of the finest views of the Portuguese capital can be enjoyed from this lofty vantage point, popular with residents and tourists alike.

Paul's expert tip: Saunter up to the viewpoint at dusk for a truly magical perspective, when the city sparkles below and its historical landmarks are illuminated.

Read more about Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara →


Meet Paul Bernhardt

Paul Bernhardt cut his teeth as a press photographer in England before leaving the UK to settle in Portugal, where he has lived for over a decade, and where he started to focus on more...  More About Paul