Over the last few decades, Lisbon has emerged as one of the coolest and most exciting destinations for a city break.

With its old cobbled alleys, bright yellow wooden trams, glittering river, and eye-catching tiled façades, the Portuguese capital is unusually photogenic. But aside from its beauty and history – and bright, balmy weather – there are plenty of other reasons why Lisbon has created such a name for itself.

There’s so much to do here that attempting to see the city over the weekend – even a long one – has become increasingly tricky. With the wealth of UNESCO-listed heritage sites, history buffs are spoilt for choice, while culture vultures can enjoy everything from unique museums to musical performances. And that’s without mentioning the city’s famous food scene…

However long you have in Lisbon, though, there are some sights and activities that simply can’t be missed. Luckily, the city is very walkable, so you can cross off most of the following suggestions without having to jump on public transport – unless, of course, it’s one of Lisbon’s iconic trams.

Here are the 10 best things to do in Lisbon.

1. Ride the 28 tram

Ride the 28 tram

One of the best ways to get your bearings in Lisbon is to hop on the tram. While this is a normal means of transport for locals, the 28 tram is different. Painted a vibrant yellow, these vintage wooden streetcars are one of the most iconic symbols of Lisbon. They’ve been clattering through the streets since 1914, and the sound of trams screeching on their rails is synonymous with the city.

The route of the 28 tram runs from the central Baixa district through some of Lisbon’s prettiest neighbourhoods. This, combined with the retro appeal, makes it popular with tourists. In peak season, the tram gets busy, and you can expect to queue, so taking one of the earlier trams is wise if you want to avoid the crowds. A single ticket costs €3, regardless of how far you travel.

2. Listen to Fado music

Whether or not you consider yourself a fan of the music style, catching a traditional fado performance is one of the best ways to get a feel for Portuguese music and culture. Fado music is believed to have originated in Portugal in the 19th century and, since then, it’s become a deep part of the national culture and identity. No visit to Portugal is complete without listening to these melodic tunes!

As you walk through the old town of Alfama in the evening, there’s a good chance you may hear the wistful strains of fado echoing down the streets. Fado is defined by its sense of longing or wistfulness, so the music is always tinged with melancholy, even at its most upbeat. Eating dinner by candlelight while listening to live fado is an atmospheric experience, so try to catch a live performance if you can. If you don’t stumble upon a performance, head to Fado & Wine, Clube de Fado, or Sr. Fado.

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3. Eat a pastel de nata

Eat a pastel de nata

You can’t come to Lisbon and not try its most famous culinary export: the pastel de nata. If you have a sweet tooth, these cinnamon-dusted egg custard tarts might become your new favourite treat. And, even if you don’t, these chewy-yet-soft pastries are the perfect accompaniment to a coffee. For those who don’t eat eggs, multiple Lisbon bakeries also offer vegan pastéis de nata!

There are traditional bakeries all through the city, but the most famous place to try these pastries is Pastéis de Belém. This beautiful blue-tiled bakery makes 20,000 tarts a day, and their recipe is the only one that’s truly original. The tarts were created in the 18th century by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, and the recipe has stayed a closely-guarded secret ever since!

4. Climb the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery

The pastel de nata are reason enough to visit Lisbon’s Belém neighbourhood, but if you need another reason, it’s also where you’ll find the city’s undisputed architectural showstoppers: the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém. These unique monuments are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and excellent examples of the Gothic Manueline style.

While the monastery is just a couple of minutes from Pastéis de Belém, the tower is a 15-minute walk away – so if you’ve overindulged in tarts, it’s the ideal bit of exercise! The tower was built on the banks of the Tagus River between 1514 and 1520. While it was originally built to defend the city, it later became a lighthouse and customs office. It can be an effort to get to the top, but the views are worth it.

5. Visit São Jorge Castle

Visit São Jorge Castle

From the moment you arrive in Lisbon, you’ll likely glimpse the São Jorge Castle. Built by the Moors in the 11th century, this hilltop castle dominates the city’s skyline just about wherever you are, and its history is fascinating. The Romans originally built a fortress here in 200 BC – but since the castle was built, it’s served as a royal palace, a military barracks, and now a national monument and museum.

If you’re interested in archaeology and history, the museum is well worth visiting – but simply strolling around the building, admiring its 11 towers and ramparts, is an experience. The real highlight, however, is the view. Gazing out at the higgledy-piggledy red rooftops and the Tagus River beyond is truly thrilling for first-time visitors.

6. Ride the Santa Justa elevator

If you’re curious about either engineering or architecture, you can’t pass up the chance to catch a lift in the Elevador de Santa Justa. Quite possibly the world’s most beautiful elevator, the lift was designed by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, who was a student of Gustave Eiffel. This embellished, neo-gothic elevator has been going since 1902 and, today, it’s incredibly popular with tourists.

Strolling through the downtown district, you can’t miss it – and while there will be queues, try not to be put off. Rising 45 metres in the clanking wrought-iron lift is an experience to remember and, at the top, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the city.

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7. Taste your way around the city

Taste your way around the city

Custard tarts may be Lisbon’s most famous culinary export, but the city is one of the foodie capitals of the world, and there’s something for everyone here. Portuguese food has a unique flavour, and fans of seafood will be particularly happy, as one of the national dishes is pastéis de bacalhau – salted cod fritters that can be eaten hot or cold, and are found in cafés, bars, and restaurants throughout the city.

One of the best ways to get a feel for the cuisine is to visit the Mercado da Ribeira, a giant domed food market where you can sample everything from local cheeses and meats to Michelin-starred food from Portugal’s most famous chefs. Bairro Alto is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, as well as the most exciting nightlife. If you consider yourself a foodie, why not consider a gastronomic holiday in Lisbon and Portugal?

8. Explore the LX Factory

Many of Lisbon’s most famous sights and attractions can give you an understanding of the city’s past. But if you want to discover a more modern side to the capital, head to LX Factory. Located in the neighbourhood of Alcântara, in the far west of the city, this area was once home to Lisbon’s textile and printing industries. Today, however, it’s one of the city’s coolest spots.

While the area has held onto its industrial warehouse vibe, it’s now packed with various independent shops, cool boutiques, eclectic restaurants, and trendy bars. Weekends are the best time to go, as there’s a roster of events – and, on Sunday, there’s a flea market teeming with creative and unique goodies. When you’ve finished shopping, head to the rooftop bar to enjoy a cocktail in the sunshine!

9. Learn about Lisbon’s famous tiles

Learn about Lisbon’s famous tiles

Lisbon is famous for its pretty tiled facades and, as you stroll around the city, you’ll see them everywhere. They adorn the walls of grand churches and humble houses alike and, while it’s almost impossible to stop yourself from snapping pictures – particularly if you’re into Instagram – it’s also worth learning a little about these iconic tiles.

Known as ‘azulejo’ tiles, these glazed ceramic tiles have been used to decorate the city since the 13th century. Portugal is rich in clay, and many of its ceramics artists are world-renowned – so if there ever was a place to pick up ceramic souvenirs, Lisbon is the place! Head to the National Tile Museum to learn more about the city’s ceramic history, and admire many gorgeous examples of tile art.

10. Soak up the sunset

Given its location, on the western tip of Europe – and the fact that it’s built across seven steep hills – Lisbon is perfectly placed to soak up the sunset. Finding the best spot to do so is rather a passion for locals and visitors alike. It’s fun to find new places to watch that famous golden light illuminate the city and the sunsets here are truly sensational.

Rooftop bars are a good shout – especially if you want to enjoy a cold glass of vinho verde or local beer as you relax – but you might also want to head to one of the city’s viewpoints. These are known as miradouros and are found throughout the city. Perhaps the best for sunset is Miradouro da Senhora do Monte; this is the highest point in Lisbon, and the views at sunset are a sight to behold.

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Final thoughts…

Lisbon is a city absolutely deserving of its reputation. Whether you have a weekend in the city or a whole week, you won’t be short of things to see and do… and there’s a good chance you’ll still leave wanting more.

History buffs will have a blast exploring the museums, castles, and churches, while even strolling around the city can feel like you’re walking around an open-air museum. But modern Lisbon is just as compelling as old Lisbon, and ideally, you’ll get to experience a good mix of both during your stay.

However, this is a city made for walking and the wealth of bakeries, cafes, restaurants, and bars means there’s never a shortage of places to rest weary feet – or fuel up on local delicacies!

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Have you been to Lisbon? Or are you tempted to go after reading this article? We’d love to hear about your travel experiences in the comments below.