This famously hilly city, once home to the world's great explorers, is filled with cobblestone-lined alleys and charming tabernas. While an earthquake destroyed much of the city in the mid-18th century, there are still many iconic historic sights spread out across the metropolis. Our advice: be sure to bring your walking shoes and plan to refuel on pastel de nata (egg tarts) between stops.
1. Climb high above town to St. George's Castle.
It’s almost impossible to be anywhere in this city without seeing the fortification looming above the skyline. And if you think the views are spectacular when you look up, you'll find they’re simply amazing when you look down from the ramparts and towers, which were constructed in the mid-11th century. From the observation platform, you can take in the entire city, from the squares and streets below to the red rooftops that slope down to the Tagus River.
2. Be amazed by Renaissance treasures.
Behind the stark façade of the 16th-century Jesuit Church of Saint Roch is a trove of artistic riches. It doesn’t matter which way you crane your neck: At every angle and arch, there’s enough marble and gold to inspire awe in even non-believers.
3. Discover Lisbon's maritime history.
Belem Tower was built as a fortification off the north bank of the Tagus River back in the 16th century. Today the squat limestone structure stands as a proud symbol of the glorious age of discovery, when intrepid mariners and navigators sailed around the globe and charted maps of new territories unknown to Europeans. As you ascend the spiral staircases to gaze out to sea, it’s easy to imagine them sailing off to lands unknown.
4. Explore the heights of Lisbon
This antique wrought-iron elevator connects Lisbon’s steep elevations, specifically the Baixa district and Carmo Square, which is home to the ruins of a crumbling church. Though there are cheaper ways to get vistas of the city, there’s something romantic about getting whisked up in a polished wood carriage to a viewing platform.
5. Appreciate the art of the ages.
Portugal is famous for its azulejos, the painted ceramic tiles that adorn façades of churches and other buildings. The National Tile Museum, housed in a former 16th-century convent, showcases the traditional craft in all its iterations, starting from its Moorish origins. Don’t miss the large-scale panel of the Grand Vista de Lisboa, which depicts the glorious city before the devastating 1755 earthquake.
6. Take the plunge at the Lisbon Oceanarium.
Traverse the deep seas — without having to get wet or strap on oxygen tanks — at the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. You may see a bright butterfly fish dart through branch coral or a blacktip reef shark loom overhead. Best of all, the illusion of immersion makes these creatures seem close enough to touch.
7. Commune with the ghosts of explorers.
Built in the early 16th century, Jerónimos Monastery was commissioned by King Manuel I to honor Vasco de Gama’s 1498 discovery of a route to India. The revered navigator himself is buried near the entrance of the church, which is just as much a celebration of Portugal’s golden Age of Exploration as it is a house of worship.