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. For 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 top affords a stunning Lisbon canvas. Similarly, the highpoint of any visit to Castelo de São Jorge is the panorama from the battlements. The best sightseeing option at Parque das Nações, east of the city centre, is to hop on the Telecabine Lisboa cable car. Back in Chiado, the atmospheric ruins of the 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. 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 visitor attractions. 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 complementing 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 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 Histórias, an exhibition centre dedicated to Paula Rego, Portugal's greatest living 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 inn.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Draped over an outstanding coastline, 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.

Read more about Cascais Resort Town →

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 recently refurbished rooms of fantastic opulence and decoration. One of the most impressive is the Ballroom, which is furnished with beautiful Oriental porcelain and German stained-glass windows. The Arab Room is also rich in splendid décor. The dramatic views from the ramparts embrace the entire Lisbon coast, as far as Ericeira.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The fairytale Pena Palace completely captures the imagination of visitors who are enchanted by its whimsical architecture and splendid location.

Paul's expert tip: Admission to the palace also includes access to the park.

Read more about Palacio da Pena →

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 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 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 travel like a local and the experience is great fun.

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

Paul's expert tip: The tam departs form 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 celebrated 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 and was built to honour Vasco da Gama who navigated the first sea route to India in 1498. Across the park is another monument to the country's astonishing period of maritime exploration, the Padrao dos Descrobrimentos – Monument to the Discoveries. The view form the top is breathtaking. Within walking distance is another UNESCO World Heritage gem, the beautiful Torre de Belem. Break for refreshments at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem for coffee and delicious custard tarts, made to a secret recipe and the best in Portugal.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The more controlled organisation of this official tour allows passengers to thoroughly absorb the sightseeing experience in total comfort.

Paul's expert tip: If you visit Sunday morning, entrance is free. Alternatively, arrive late afternoon long after the tour buses have departed.

Read more about Mosteiro dos Jeronimos →

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 the 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 pieces is a pair of ancient South American mummies displayed in a glass case.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Indelibly etched in the psyche of Lisbon residents, the magnificent ruins of Carmo stand as testimony 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 →

Parque das Nações

An edifying point of interest, the telecabine, or cable car, that runs above the river's edge at Parque das Nacoes provides visitors with an uplifting panorama of the entire Nation's Park area and the Tagus estuary. The cabins glide lazily between two stations set either end of the park and the "flight' takes around 20 minutes to complete. Along the way, the bird's eye views take in favourite sights like the MEO Arena (the former Atlantic Pavilion) the fantastic Oceanarium, the striking Vasco da Gama tower with its Myriad Hotel and the river. Each cabin can easily accommodate family groups and the experience adds a lofty dimension to any sojourn to this part of the city. For kids especially (children under 6 travel free), the trip is a real adventure but adults, too, will appreciate the different views this unique sightseeing attraction offers.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The only cable car operation in the city, the views afforded from the cabins are wonderful and the experience quite memorable.

Paul's expert tip: After your "flight" why not nip into the hotel attached to the Vasco da Gama tower and order cake and coffee on the outside terrace.

Read more about Telecabine Lisboa →

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 S–o 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 to visit 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. Inside the arch is an elevator that whisks visitors up to a viewing platform 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 recent re-opening 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 a handy kiosk-café. Located at various points throughout the capital, these attractive belvederes are sited specifically to take advantage of Lisbon's most striking scenic views, always dramatically enhanced given its hilly topography. A particularly absorbing panorama can be enjoyed from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcântara. 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 eastern 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 São 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 São Pedro de Alcântara →


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