5 experiences you absolutely must have in and around Lisbon, Portugal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - 2015/07/20: High angle view of restaurant terrace in Alfama neighborhood by river. (Photo by Raquel Maria Carbonell Pagola/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LISBON, PORTUGAL - 2015/07/20: High angle view of restaurant terrace in Alfama neighborhood by river. (Photo by Raquel Maria Carbonell Pagola/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Portugal is filled with stunning cities that would take a lifetime to experience properly. But there’s a very good chance that Lisbon is the best of the best. It’s both the capital city of Portugal and the country’s largest city, making it a key destination for all types of travelers.

Lisbon is a coastal city overlooking the Atlantic Ocean as well as the gorgeous Tagus Estuary. The sea is key to this place and the type of experiences you’ll find there. But there’s so much to do in Lisbon that it’s almost impossible to know where to start.

Spend time in Sintra

Lisbon, Portugal
Tourists take pictures from the Portas do Sol viewpoint in the Alfama neighbourhood in Lisbon on August 11, 2020 ahead of the UEFA Champions League finals. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images) /

As odd as this seems, the first suggestion on this list will send you out of Lisbon. But you can hardly say that you’ve been to Lisbon without relaxing in Sintra. The resort town is just outside of the city in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains.

Once you’re there, it’s pretty easy to see why residents of Lisbon go to Sintra, to take a step back from city life. The mixture of palaces, coastline, and mountains as well as more than a few stellar places to eat make this a great stop.

Check out the Lisbon Oceanarium

Back in the city, there are several sights to take in. But a big one for both residents and visitors is the Lisbon Oceanarium. This is reputedly the largest indoor aquarium in Europe, so it is a must-stop venue for anyone who enjoys these kinds of places.

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There are multiple exhibits, each featuring a wide array of animals. That includes birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and more. This is also one of the few aquariums in the world that is home to an actual sunfish making it a rather unique destination.

Sun, sand, and seafood in Cascais

Lisbon is marvelous but once again you’re being sent on a day trip from the city. And what a day trip it is. Cascais is a fishing town on the coast that has several marvelous beaches, not to mention more than a few places to get great seafood.

The word of the day in Cascais is lavish. This town was only for Portuguese nobility back in the day, something you can really see in the architecture. Now, it’s a prime holiday retreat for anyone and everyone who wants to enjoy its charm.

Wander the Alfama District

Lisbon, Portugal
PORTUGAL – 2015/04/04: View from the Tagus River of Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal with the old city Alfama. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

As the oldest neighborhood in all of Lisbon, the Alfama District is a can’t miss stop. The settlement of this region goes all the way back to 1200 BC, which already makes it an interesting destination. Spending time here is the equivalent of walking through a living, breathing history.

This probably won’t come as a surprise but there are a lot of historic buildings and sites, not to mention some incredible architecture. But even more impressive are the cafes and restaurants in this area. The food here is reputedly unreal.

Visit the National Museum of Ancient Art

Growing from its roots thousands of years ago, Lisbon has long had a vibrant arts and culture scene at its core. That is particularly evident at the National Museum of Ancient Art, one of the most visited museums in a city almost overflowing with them.

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Opening its doors in 1884, it was conceptualized as a place to display the collections of the Portuguese Royal Family and the National Academy of Fine Arts. Now, it houses more than 40,000 items spanning the vast history of the city.