From the banks of the Tagus River to the hilltops of the city center, the rich history of Portugal’s capital city is waiting to be told. And if there’s one thing that the locals of Lisbon have done consistently well for centuries, it’s to commemorate this history – and the most important people that defined it – with statues, monuments & parks that live through the ages.
The landmarks in this guide represent a few (though certainly not all) of the most important sights in Lisbon. We’ve listed them in an order that will take you from west to east in a logical flow, which will help if you only have one day. Although, we do recommend spreading this itinerary over at least 2 days, so that you can take your time and create your own adventure through aimless wandering.
The total distance between these 8 landmarks is 8.5 miles (14 km) which makes for some great walks, if you have 2 or more days. If your time is limited, we recommend using the hop-on/hop-off tourist bus or hiring a taxi or tuk-tuk to get you from place to place.
travelhelix tip: if you plan on paying the entry fee at even a few landmarks, monuments or museums, consider purchasing a flexible Lisbon Card, which provides access to 23 museums across the city, at one flat rate. It’s available in 1-, 2-, or 3-day options, and includes unlimited tickets for public transport. You can pre-purchase the Lisbon card online.
Now — go get lost!
1. Belém Tower
What better way to start your day than at the ceremonial gateway to Lisbon: Torre de Belém. Located on a very small island just off the northern bank of the Tagus River, this 16th century tower-fortress was designed to welcome friends traveling by boat, and at the same time defend the city against enemies.
Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site greets visitors with the type of rugged beauty that says “welcome to Lisbon!” (or if you’re a 16th century pirate, “stay out of Lisbon!”).
practical info: check online for ticket prices and other practical information.
2. Monument to the Discoveries
In a recent post, we mentioned how the Madeira archipelago (settled in 1419) is considered the first official discovery of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Lisbon has paid tribute to this pivotal era in Portuguese history with the iconic Padrão dos Descobrimentos, located less than a mile east of Belém Tower.
The monument itself resembles the bow of a ship, carrying 33 famous Portuguese navigators, warriors & missionaries: 16 on each side – lining the steps leading upward – and at the forefront: Infante Dom Henrique (Prince Henry the Navigator), the single most influential figure of the time.
practical info: the opening & closing hours change depending on the season, so check online for the current schedule.
3. 25 de Abril Bridge
Now that you’re fully inspired to discover, make like Prince Henry and navigate yourself further down the river. As you continue walking east along the water, you’ll approach the Ponte 25 de Abril. Known to some as the Golden Gate Bridge of Portugal, this red suspension bridge spans the Tagus River and connects Lisbon in the north with Almada in the south, by both car & train.
travelhelix trivia: the Ponte 25 de Abril is often associated with the Golden Gate Bridge. They even share the same color: International Orange. But – contrary to popular belief – they were NOT built by the same company. In fact, the Ponte 25 de Abril was built by the same company that built the Golden Gate Bridge’s neighbor to the east: the San Francisco BAY BRIDGE – how ‘bout that for some bridge trivia?!
practical info: due to the bridge’s expansion from 4 lanes to 6 in the mid-90’s, pedestrian access is now forbidden. That is, unless you’re taking part in the Lisbon marathon, which marks the ONE day each year you can cross on foot. Thousands of people flock to the bridge – and of course – stop running to take selfies. Hope you’re not planning on breaking any world records!
The distance we’ve covered so far – from Belem Tower to the bridge – is just over 2 miles. You may choose to spend 3-4 hours in this area, exploring the tower, framing the perfect photo of you and Prince Henry, and enjoying breakfast or lunch at one of the cafés near the riverfront. Or – if your time is limited, you can see it all in 45 minutes, and continue into the city toward our next stop.
4. Amoreiras Plaza
Named after the mulberry trees… that fed the silkworms… that made the silk… that drove the local silk industry in the 18th century, Amoreiras Plaza isn’t quite a historical landmark like the others we’ve covered. In fact, it’s a massive & modern shopping mall. Take the elevator to the top and you’ll be rewarded with Lisbon’s best 360° panoramic view. From this viewpoint – on a clear day – you’ll see every sight on this list.
getting there: the walk From Padrão dos Descobrimentos to Amoreiras Plaza is around 4 miles (6.5 km) and will take about an hour and a half. If you’re riding the tourist bus, it’ll take about 40 minutes, given the number of stops along the way. If you’re really pressed for time, grab a taxi and you’ll be there in around 15 minutes.
practical info: the opening & closing hours change depending on the season, so make sure to look online ahead of time for the current schedule. A viewpoint ticket will cost between 0€ – 5€, depending on age.
5. Park Eduardo VII
Less than a mile from Amoreiras Plaza, you’ll find Lisbon’s largest – and one of its most recognizable – public parks: Parque Eduardo VII. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the park and work your way up toward the top of the hill, where the world’s largest Portuguese flag proudly flies overhead. From there, take advantage of the perfect, downhill photo-worthy view of the entire park, with the Tagus River faintly visible off in the distance.
During our visit to the park, we happened to stumble upon Lisbon’s annual book fair, which lasts for several weeks between late May and early June. From what we observed, the vast majority of books on display & for sale were printed in Portuguese.
We decided our best move was to purchase something in the universal language: cold beer! As we sipped, we sat and observed the wonderful chaos that we didn’t know could exist within a book fair:
reflections from DnA: by far the most fascinating book fair experience of our lives! several hundred different tables, tents & kiosks… countless vendors selling books, magazines & snacks… authors & speakers giving public readings as small crowds of onlookers listened silently & intently… swarms of school-children of all ages enjoying their time outside the classroom, promptly breaking that silence with youthful innocence… and of course the noble teachers who bravely led the kids around, doing their best to keep their group organized within the chaos.
6. Marquis of Pombal Square
From Parque Eduardo VII, continue your journey back downhill (south… toward the river). In an instant, the park’s green tranquility quickly turns to metropolitan madness as you approach of one of Lisbon’s busiest roundabouts: Praça do Marquês de Pombal. The enormous statue that marks the center is a column dedicated to the 18th century Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo.
7. St. George’s Castle
Largely considered Lisbon’s #1 tourist attraction, Castelo de São Jorge is equal parts imposing, impressive and beautiful. Surrounded by gardens & ancillary buildings that – together – form a massive compound, this Moorish masterpiece dominates an entire hillside in Bairro Alfama and overlooks much of Lisbon’s historic city center.
While wandering the hilly streets of this area, be on the lookout for the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora and Lisbon Cathedral, which is the city’s oldest church.
confessions from DnA: unfortunately, we can’t offer you any of our own photos of the castle, as we found ourselves on the wrong end of a tuk-tuk traffic jam during one of the busiest nights of the year: free Fado music at the castle! But take our word for it: it’s beautiful, and absolutely worth the trip.
What we CAN offer you are some photos of the surrounding Alfama neighborhood just south of the castle, where we enjoyed a delicious meal at Pastel do Fado while soaking in our first live Fado experience.
8. Commerce Square
For centuries, Praça do Comércio served as a hub for artists, artisans, merchants & meal-seekers. Following the tragic Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the square was completely rebuilt, and today serves as a gathering place for locals & tourists to meet for a meal, some shopping, or just a casual waterfront conversation.
Depending on the time of day, Commerce Square may seem like a wide open concrete playground or a frenzied madhouse of tour groups and selfie sticks. Regardless of the environment, try to stop and relax for a moment – or an hour! – in Lisbon’s diverse & dynamic center of activity.
It’s been a long day and you deserve a refreshing beverage and a good meal. During our 4 nights in Lisbon, our top 2 restaurants are both within walking distance of Commerce Square: da Prata 52 (5 minute walk) & Sacramento do Chiado (15 minute walk). Enjoy!