Must see attractions in Lisbon

  • Top ChoiceSights in Belém

    Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

    Belém’s undisputed heart-stealer is this Unesco-listed monastery. The mosteiro is the stuff of pure fantasy: a fusion of Diogo de Boitaca’s creative vision and the spice and pepper dosh of Manuel I, who commissioned it to trumpet Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India in 1498. Wrought for the glory of God, Jerónimos was once populated by monks of the Order of St Jerome, whose spiritual job for four centuries was to comfort sailors and pray for the king’s soul. When the order was dissolved in 1833, the monastery was used as a school and orphanage, until about 1940. Entering the church through the western portal, you’ll notice tree-trunk-like columns that seem to grow into the ceiling, which is itself a spiderweb of stone. Windows cast a soft golden light over the church. Superstar Vasco da Gama is interred in the lower chancel, just left of the entrance, opposite venerated 16th-century poet Luís Vaz de Camões. From the upper choir, there’s a superb view of the church; the rows of seats are Portugal’s first Renaissance woodcarvings. There’s nothing like the moment you walk into the honey-stone Manueline cloisters, dripping with organic detail in their delicately scalloped arches, twisting auger-shell turrets and columns intertwined with leaves, vines and knots. It will simply wow. Keep an eye out for symbols of the age, such as the armillary sphere and the cross of the Military Order, plus gargoyles and fantastical beasties on the upper balustrade. If you plan to visit both the monastery and the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, you can save a little by purchasing a €12 admission pass valid for both.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Alfama, Castelo & Graça

    Castelo de São Jorge

    Towering dramatically above Lisbon, these mid-11th-century hilltop fortifications sneak into almost every snapshot. Roam its snaking ramparts and pine-shaded courtyards for superlative views over the city’s red rooftops to the river. Three guided tours daily (in Portuguese, English and Spanish), at 10.30am, 1pm and 4pm, are included in the admission price (additional tours available). These smooth cobbles have seen it all – Visigoths in the 5th century, Moors in the 9th century, Christians in the 12th century, royals from the 14th to 16th centuries, and convicts in every century. Inside the Tower of Ulysses, a camera obscura offers a unique 360-degree view of Lisbon, with demos every 20 minutes. There are also a few galleries displaying relics from past centuries, including traces of the Moorish neighbourhood dating from the 11th century at the Archaeological Site. But the standout is the view – as is the feeling of travelling back in time amid fortified courtyards and towering walls. There are a few cafes and restaurants to while away time in as well. Bus 737 from Sé or Praça da Figueira goes right to the gate. Tram 28E also passes nearby. A set of escalators traversing the hill from Praça Martim Moniz opened in 2018.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Alfama, Castelo & Graça

    Alfama

    Wander downhill (to save your legs) through Alfama's steep, narrow, cobblestoned streets and catch a glimpse of the more traditional side of Lisbon before it too is gentrified. Linger in a backstreet cafe along the way and experience some local bonhomie without the tourist gloss. As far back as the 5th century, Alfama was inhabited by the Visigoths, and remnants of a Visigothic town wall remain. But it was the Moors who gave the district its shape and atmosphere. In Moorish times this was an upper-class residential area. After earthquakes brought down many of its mansions (and post-Moorish churches) it reverted to a working-class, fisher-folk quarter. It was one of the few districts to ride out the 1755 earthquake. With narrow lanes of residential houses and grocery stores, it has a distinct village atmosphere; you can quickly feel like an intruder if you take a wrong turn into someone's backyard. Early morning is the best time to catch a more traditional scene, when women sell fresh fish from their doorways. For a real rough-and-tumble atmosphere, visit during the Festas dos Santos Populares in June.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Marquês de Pombal & Around

    Museu Calouste Gulbenkian – Coleção do Fundador

    Famous for its outstanding quality and breadth, the world-class Founder's Collection at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian showcases an epic collection of Western and Eastern art – from Egyptian treasures to Old Master and Impressionist paintings. Admission includes the separately housed Coleção Moderna. The chronological romp kicks off with highlights such as gilded Egyptian mummy masks, Mesopotamian urns, elaborate Persian carpets, Qing porcelain (note the grinning Dogs of Fo) and a fascinating Roman gold-medallion collection. Going west, art buffs admire masterpieces by Rembrandt (Portrait of an Old Man), Van Dyck and Rubens (including the frantic Loves of the Centaurs). Be sure to glimpse Rodin’s passionate Eternal Springtime sculpture. The grand finale is the collection of exquisite René Lalique jewellery, including the otherworldly Dragonfly.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Alfama, Castelo & Graça

    Tram 28E

    Don't leave the city without riding popular tram 28E from Largo Martim Moniz. This rickety, screechy, gloriously old-fashioned ride from Praça Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique provides 45 minutes of mood-lifting views and absurdly steep climbs. With its polished wood panelling, bee-yellow paint job and chrome fittings, the century-old tram is like the full-scale model of a fastidious Hornby Railways collector.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bairro Alto, Chiado & Cais do Sodré

    Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara

    Hitch a ride on vintage Ascensor da Glória from Praça dos Restauradores, or huff your way up steep Calçada da Glória to this terrific hilltop viewpoint. Fountains and Greek busts add a regal air to the surroundings, and the open-air kiosk doles out wine, beer and snacks, which you can enjoy while taking in the castle views and live music.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Parque das Nações

    Oceanário de Lisboa

    The closest you’ll get to scuba diving without a wetsuit, Oceanário is mind-blowing. With 8000 marine creatures splashing in 7 million litres of seawater, no amount of hyperbole does it justice. Huge wrap-around tanks make you feel as if you're underwater, as you eyeball zebra sharks, honeycombed rays, gliding mantas and schools of neon fish. Keep an eye out for oddities such as filigree sea dragons, big ocean sunfish, Portuguese sardines, otherworldly jellyfish, frolicsome sea otters and squiggly garden eels. You’ll also want to see the recreated rainforest, Indo-Pacific coral reef and Magellan penguins on ice. In light of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, entertainment aquariums have fallen out of favour, but for what it's worth, this conservation-oriented oceanarium offers no entertainment shows, it reproduces, as opposed to capturing, in the wild wherever possible, and runs the largest environmental education program in Portugal. It was also building a more sustainable restaurant and cafe at the time of research.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Baixa & Rossio

    Praça do Comércio

    With its grand 18th-century arcades, lemon-meringue facades and mosaic cobbles, the riverfront Praça do Comércio is a square to out-pomp them all. Everyone arriving by boat used to disembark here, and it still feels like the gateway to Lisbon, thronging with activity and rattling trams. At its centre rises the dashing equestrian statue of Dom José I, hinting at the square’s royal roots as the pre-earthquake site of Palácio da Ribeira. In 1908 the square witnessed the fall of the monarchy, when anarchists assassinated Dom Carlos I and his son (perhaps most astonishing, however, was its use as a car park in the 1980s!). The biggest crowd-puller is Verissimo da Costa’s triumphal Arco da Rua Augusta, crowned with bigwigs such as 15th-century explorer Vasco da Gama; come at dusk to see the arch glow gold.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bairro Alto, Chiado & Cais do Sodré

    Igreja & Museu São Roque

    The plain facade of 16th-century Jesuit Igreja de São Roque belies its dazzling interior of gold, marble and Florentine azulejos – bankrolled by Brazilian riches. Its star attraction is Capela de São João Baptista, a lavish confection of amethyst, alabaster, lapis lazuli and Carrara marble. The museum adjoining the church is packed with elaborate sacred art and holy relics. Free guided tours are offered in four languages. For English, arrive on Thursday (3pm), Friday (11.30am and 4.30pm), Saturday (10am) and Sunday (3pm).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Belém

    Museu Coleção Berardo

    Culture fiends can get their contemporary-art fix at Museu Coleção Berardo, the star of the Centro Cultural de Belém. The ultrawhite, minimalist gallery displays billionaire José Berardo’s eye-popping collection of abstract, surrealist and pop art, including Hockney, Lichtenstein, Warhol and Pollock originals. Temporary exhibitions are among the best in Portugal. Also in the complex is a cafe-restaurant that faces a grassy lawn, a bookshop and a museum store.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Baixa & Rossio

    Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros

    Hidden under the Millennium BCP bank building are layers of ruins dating from the Iron Age, discovered on a 1991 parking-lot dig. Fascinating archaeologist-led tours, run by Fundacão Millennium (booking ahead year-round is highly advisable), descend into the depths – in English or Portuguese (departing on the hour and depending on bookings). The extremely well-done site is now rightfully a National Monument. You'll visit a small museum of artefacts found on premises before heading down into the web of tunnels, the majority of which are believed to be the remnants of a Roman sardine factory (and its owner's home) dating from the 1st century AD. It's worth noting that archaeologists had to remove medieval and Islamic ruins (among others) to reach these startling structures. Highlights include Lisbon's only visible Roman mosaic, dating to the 3rd century, numerous baths and fish-preservation tanks, and a Visigoth burial site with a remarkably preserved 30-year-old male skeleton. The entire 850-sq-metre site is notably well maintained and is easily one of the city's most fascinating attractions.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Príncipe Real, Santos & Estrela

    Basílica da Estrela

    The curvaceous, sugar-white dome and twin belfries of Basílica da Estrela are visible from afar. The echoing interior is awash with pink-and-black marble, which creates a kaleidoscopic effect when you gaze up into the cupola. The neoclassical beauty was completed in 1790 by order of Dona Maria I (whose tomb is here) in gratitude for a male heir. Don't miss the presépio, home to the incredibly elaborate 500-piece Nativity Scene made of cork and terracotta by celebrated 18th-century sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro; it's in a room just beyond the tomb. Climb the 112 steps of the dome for far-reaching views over Lisbon.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Belém

    Museu Nacional dos Coches

    Cinderella wannabes delight in Portugal's most visited museum, which dazzles with its world-class collection of 70 17th- to 19th-century coaches in an ultramodern (and some might say inappropriately contrasting) space that debuted in 2015. Don't miss Pope Clement XI’s stunning ride, the scarlet-and-gold Coach of the Oceans, or the old royal riding school, Antigo Picadeiro Real, across the street. The easily missable upper level hosts temporary contemporary-art exhibitions.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bairro Alto, Chiado & Cais do Sodré

    Convento do Carmo & Museu Arqueológico

    Soaring above Lisbon, the skeletal Convento do Carmo was all but devoured by the 1755 earthquake, and that's precisely what makes it so captivating. Its shattered pillars and wishbone-like arches are completely exposed to the elements. The Museu Arqueológico shelters archaeological treasures, such as 4th-century sarcophagi, griffin-covered column fragments, 16th-century azulejo (hand-painted tile) panels and two gruesome 16th-century Peruvian mummies.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Baixa & Rossio

    Igreja de São Domingos

    It’s a miracle that this baroque church dating to 1241 still stands, having barely survived the 1755 earthquake, then fire in 1959. Its sea of tea lights illuminates gashed pillars, battered walls and ethereal sculptures in its musty yet enchanting interior. Note the Star of David memorial outside, marking the spot of a bloody anti-Semitic massacre in 1506. The square is a popular hang-out spot for Lisbon’s African community.

  • Sights in Belém

    Torre de Belém

    Jutting out onto the Rio Tejo, this Unesco World Heritage–listed fortress epitomises the Age of Discoveries. You'll need to breathe in to climb the narrow spiral staircase to the tower, which affords sublime views over Belém and the river. Francisco de Arruda designed this giant pearly grey chess piece in 1515 to defend the city's harbour, and nowhere else in Lisbon is the lure of the Atlantic more powerful. The Manueline show-off flaunts filigree stonework, meringue-like cupolas and – just below the western tower – a stone rhinoceros. The ungulate depicts the one Manuel I sent Pope Leo X in 1515, which inspired Dürer’s famous woodcut. Crowds here can be intense on weekends (especially Sundays) – a warning to claustrophobes.

  • Sights in Alfama, Castelo & Graça

    Miradouro da Graça

    A much-loved summertime hang-out of lisboêtas, this miradouro (lookout) sidles up to the baroque Igreja da Graça. It has an incredible view of the castle sitting plump on the hillside, the river and the Ponte 25 de Abril. Sunset is prime-time viewing at the kiosk terrace.

  • Sights in Alfama, Castelo & Graça

    Largo das Portas do Sol

    This original Moorish gateway affords stunning angles over Alfama’s jumble of red rooftops and pastel-coloured houses, underscored by the true blue Rio Tejo.

  • Sights in Alfama, Castelo & Graça

    Miradouro do Castelo de São Jorge

    One of Lisbon's privileged views is on offer from this outstanding lookout point on the grounds of the Castelo de São Jorge.