The land of Fado music, Portugal, has earned a well-deserved spot on the list of the top European destinations millions visit yearly. Choosing between spending your holiday touring the historical building and monuments of Braga or living the fairytale dream in Sintra can be challenging, but almost no one visits Portugal without stopping by Lisbon for a day or two. The striking views, history, welcoming nature of the locals, and more make Lisbon one of the most important and dynamic cities in Europe.
The metropolitan has witnessed many turbulent times in Portuguese history, including the 1755 earthquake and the 40 years of living under the anti-democratic conservative Anónio de Oliveira Salazar’s rule. However, it never lost its touristic appeal; the Praça do Comércio, which was completely destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake, got remodelled from A to Z during the reign of King José I, and from 25 April 1974, when the “Carnation Revolution” overthrew the fascist government, Lisbon transformed into the European gem we see today.
Because of the rich history Lisbon has and the superb year-round climate it enjoys, there are many things to do and attractions to see in the bustling city. To help you make the most of your holiday and visit all the important sites, here are 10 of the best Tourist Attractions in Lisbon, Portugal.
1. Praça do Comércio
The Praça do Comércio is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe and the most magnificent in Lisbon. Translating to “Commerce Plaza,” Praça do Comércio was the commercial hub of the city and the centre of all exotic items trades, where explorers would seek financing for voyages to India, Africa, and the Americas. Before the 1755 earthquake and the tsunami that followed it, the plaza was known as Terreiro do Paço (Royal Yard), where the old Royal Palace stood for over two centuries before the earthquake hit.
The first eye-catching highlight of the town square is the Rua Augusta arch. The triumphal arch, with all its sculpted historical figures, symbolises the rebirth of the city of Lisbon after the tragic earthquake. Today, the arch stands as a reminder of how the city and its people bounced back and thrived after such hard times. At the top stand the allegorical sculptures of Glory crowning both Genius and Valour, adorned from the side by statues of important Portuguese figures such as Vasco da Gama and Marquis of Pombal. You can climb the Rua Augusta arch and marvel at the river view, the Calçada Portuguesa cobblestone pavement, and the symmetry of the lively streets built after the earthquake.
The next attraction in the plaza is the equestrian statue of King José I of Portugal, commemorating his efforts in remodelling and reconstructing the city after the earthquake. The Portuguese king is depicted sitting on his horse, Gentil, and on one side of the pedestal stands an elephant, both of which display the royal power and nobility of the Portuguese Empire.
2. Praça do Rossio
Another aesthetic wonder in the capital of Portugal is Rossio Square, the liveliest area in the city. People of all backgrounds stop to sit and relax in the Pambaline Downtown’s square or grab a drink from any of the vibrant, atmospheric outdoor cafés adorning the area. This actually isn’t a new activity; since the early 1900s, Rossio Square has attracted intellectuals to meet at these cafes, the most famous of which is the art-deco Café Nicola, which still operates today.
The square’s official name is Praça de D. Pedro IV, but it has become known as Rossio Square among tourists. Some of the famous highlights are the two monumental baroque fountains on both sides of the square, with a central monument nestled between them—the Column of King Pedro IV. The 27-metre-high pedestal features four marble allegorical figures of Justice, Wisdom, Strength, and Moderation, all of which are the qualities of Pedro IV.
One fact to know about Rossio Square is that it wasn’t always cobblestoned. Before the 19th century, the square had a long run of sand, like all the public squares in the country at that time. In 1848, Rossio Square was paved with cobblestones in wave patterns, and this style spread to Portugal’s former colonies: Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Macao in China.
The northern wing of the square is home to the neoclassical Palladian Dona Maria II National Theater, built sometime in the 1840s. The pediment of the theatre is crowned with the playwright Gil Vicente’s statue, better known as “Portugal’s Shakespeare.” Luckily, the theatre is still in operation to this day, presenting both classical and contemporary drama. There are multilingual guided tours every Monday. The tour lasts one hour, and you can peek at the props and costumes in the dressing rooms.
3. Praça do Marquês de Pombal
European cities are home to many iconic boulevards, like Champs-Élysées in Paris, and Lisbon is no exception. Between Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon’s main boulevard, and the Eduardo VII Park, another symbol of Lisbon’s rebirth, just like the Praça do Comércio, is situated—the Marquess of Pombal Square. A monument of the Marquis of Pombal stands at the centre of the square, paying homage to the prime minister who was responsible for rebuilding much of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake.
At the centre of the square stands the bronze statue of the Marquis of Pombal, with his hand placed on a lion —a symbol of power— and looking over the area he rebuilt. The square is surrounded by several important corporate buildings, such as Portugal’s largest banks, and many avenues that lead to it. The most famous avenue is Avenida Liberdade, home to many designer shops and boutiques. Just north of the square is Eduardo VII Park, where hop-on-hop-off bus tours start. The park is also home to Lisbon’s Botanical Garden (Estufa Fria), a magnificent botanical garden worth exploring.
4. Lisbon Cathedral
Visiting Sé de Lisboa is like travelling at least 800 years back in time. With such condensed history, this cathedral is Lisbon’s most important and oldest church—an unmissable attraction in Portugal. Tourists from every corner of the world travel to marvel at this building’s historical, architectural, and spiritual value, and rightfully so!
The exterior of the cathedral resembles that of a fortification more than a religious building. The 12-century Romanesque style of the thick walls framed by two huge clock towers gives the cathedral an imposing, mediaeval look, with a rose window as a centrepiece. Despite the mediaeval vibes, Lisbon Cathedral has been through many renovations to suit each Portuguese ruler’s taste.
In the place where Saint Anthony got baptised, received his early education, and joined the choir, every corner of this magnificent cathedral has a story to tell. One space worth exploring is the Gothic-style cloister, where archaeological excavations confirmed the church was built over the ruins of a mosque and the foundations of Roman and Muslim dwellings. The blend of the Roman, Arab, and mediaeval remains of the cathedral reveals how rich the history of Lisbon and Portugal as a whole is. A must-visit area of the Sé is the Treasury Room, where the cathedral’s most prized religious and spiritual artefacts make the perfect collection to tell the history of Lisbon’s oldest cathedral.
5. Jerónimos Monastery
One of the most important attractions in Lisbon and a symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery is Jerónimos Monastery. The 16th-century architectural masterpiece is listed as a National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1983), a fitting spot for a monument part of the Portuguese identity.
The monastery was commissioned by King Manuel I in 1501 to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India. The historical and religious building is built predominantly in the Manueline style. The stunning setting of the monastery adds to its alluring charm in the noble neighbourhood of Belém, overlooking the Tagus river.
6. Belém Tower
Portuguese sculptor and architect Francisco de Arruda constructed the Manueline-style Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) between 1514 and 1520.
This tower, built on the Tagus River’s northern bank, served as the city’s defence.
The tower’s five floors rise to a patio on the roof. A narrow, winding staircase connects each story. It could be intimidating to wait your time to ascend and descend on the busiest days.
The Governor’s Hall, the King’s Hall, the Audience Hall, the Chapel, and the Roof Terrace make up the floors in that order.
There is an odd rhinoceros-shaped gargoyle on the western façade of the Tower of Belém. It’s interesting to note that in 1513, an Indian rhinoceros arrived in Portugal.
7. São Jorge Castle
The Castle of San Jorge is one of Lisbon’s best-known landmarks (Castelo de San Jorge). The Castle, illuminated both during the day and at night, is positioned atop So Jorge, Lisbon’s most extensive hill.
The neighbourhoods of Alfama and Castelo are also located on the hillside. The Visigoths constructed a minor castle in the fifth century. Midway through the eleventh century, the Moors expanded and changed it.
Later, during Afonso I of Portugal (1109–1185), changes were made, and it was converted into a royal palace. In 1938, it was finally given a thorough restoration.
One of the most striking structures in the Park of the Nations is it’s own. It “floats” on the ocean and is only reachable by a footbridge. It was known as the Oceans Pavilion (Pavilho dos Oceanos) and was one of the most well-liked attractions of the Lisbon Expo in 1998.
Everything in the Oceanarium, which spans two storeys, revolves around a giant central aquarium. We advise you to follow the arrows to visit the marine species from various oceans worldwide.
Animals that inhabit the water and are closest to the water’s surface can be found on the top floor, while deep-sea creatures can be found on the lower floor.
The Oceanarium’s giant tank is arguably its most striking feature. It is home to hundreds of different species, such as other kinds of sharks, stingrays, manta rays, and vibrant tropical fish.
If you’re taking kids on vacation, you must stop at the Oceanarium. There are family tickets available that offer a little discount.
9. Lisbon Zoo
Elephants, crocodiles, tigers, lions, lynxes, hippos, dolphins, giraffes, vultures, and ostriches, among many more animals, can be seen in the Lisbon Zoological Garden.
Additionally, the Zoo offers a variety of entertainment options for visitors of all ages, including live performances and a park-circling train. Lisbon’s Zoo is ideal for families travelling there with children, with an educational programme that is also likely to please the small ones.
10. Archaeology Museum
The most impressive archaeological collection in Portugal is housed in Lisbon’s National Archaeology Museum (Museu Nacional de Arqueologia). The Museum is located in the Belém neighbourhood, in the structure next to Jerónimos Monastery.
The well-known archaeologist José Leite de Vasconcelos founded it in 1893, and it houses artefacts that range in age from the Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages. It was once known as the Portuguese Ethnographic Museum.
Although there are many lovely artefacts, such as rare stones, gold objects, and pottery pots, our favourites are the Egyptian and Islamic halls.
The Egyptian hall will arouse many memories if you’ve travelled to Egypt. It has many human and animal mummies and an outstanding collection of old photographs.
If you have time, we advise visiting the Museum since it is close to the Jerónimos Monastery. In our opinion, it contains a fascinating collection from many corners of the world.
Lisbon combines various cultures, trends, and lifestyles to display numerous differences between the historical and modern eras. The Portuguese capital has a singular beauty and an internationally acknowledged architectural singularity. It is located near the Tagus river and is practically always sunny.
Lisbon offers a variety of opportunities to discover its wealth of monuments, neighbourhoods (Baixa Pombalina, Belém, Bairro Alto, Chiado, Bica, Alfama, and Mouraria), riverside area, Fado houses, parks, gardens, and viewpoints. Visit and take in the city’s rich natural, historical, and cultural heritage.
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