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The best things to do in Lisbon

Your guide to the best things to do in Lisbon – for the perfect break in Portugal’s elegant and vivacious capital

© istockphoto/Andrii Bozhok
Lisbon, Portugal

With its world-class restaurants, excelling in seafood, its reputation for style and long pedigree in art and culture, Portugal’s first city remains high on every discerning weekend-breaker’s hit-list.

Whether you're just spending 48 hours in Lisbon or want to sample the best Lisbon restaurants on a longer stay here you’ll find the top Lisbon attractions, along with some insider tips on the essential things to do in the city that many visitors miss.

The best things to do in Lisbon

Torre de Belém

A trip to the capital should take in the Torre de Belém, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Portugal’s most famous monuments. The Gothic tower was built to guard the entrance to the harbour and has some fine examples of Portuguese stonework dating from the 1500s.

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Belém

Aqueduto das Águas Livres

Central Lisbon is relatively compact, and traffic can be awful, so it’s best to explore on foot. Get an idea of its layout from the top of the Aqueduto das Águas Livres – the city’s majestic aqueduct, erected in the 18th century under King John V. Go in the morning or late afternoon to escape the crowds and get an unrivalled view of Monsanto forest and the city’s sprawl.

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Campolide

Igreja de São Vicente de Fora

Portugal's first king, Afonso Henriques, laid the foundation stone for the first church of St Vincent 'Outside' - that is, beyond the then city walls - hardly a month after taking Lisbon from the Moors in 1147. He was fulfilling a vow to construct Christian houses of worship on the sites where Portuguese soldiers and northern European crusaders lay buried. The big draw are the cloisters, richly decorated with early 18th-century tile panels, some illustrating La Fontaine fables. Inside there's the royal pantheon of the Braganza family, the last dynasty to rule Portugal. The figure of a weeping woman kneels before the twin tombs of Dom Carlos I and Crown Prince Luís Filipe, shot by assassins in 1908.

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São Vicente 

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

It's difficult to know where to start in this, one of Europe's leading fine arts museums, with exhibits dating from 2000 BC to the early 20th century.  Save time for the final room and its breathtaking glass and metal art nouveau jewellery by René Lalique. Audio-guides are available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese to help you get the most from the experience. There are also excellent temporary exhibitions, with pieces lent by institutions around the world. Downstairs is an art library (which often hosts midday classical recitals on Sundays), an excellent café and a small gift shop. Don't miss the Centro de Arte Moderna at the southern end of the park.

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São Sebastião

MUDE - Museu do Design e da Moda

Lisbon's Museum of Design and Fashion highlights the links between the two disciplines: the permanent displays were donated to the city by a private collector with an interest in both fields. It's housed in a cavernous former bank headquarters. The underground vault and second-floor gallery host temporary exhibitions, while the ground floor showcases the main collection: iconic and experimental clothing, footwear and accessories, household design and furniture - even the odd scooter.

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Baixa Pombalina

Time Out Market Lisboa

Recommended

The food court of Lisbon’s historic market hall – the Mercado da Ribeira – was taken over by Time Out in early 2014. The revamped (and bustling) Time Out Mercado da Ribeira is now home to 35 permanent stalls from some of Lisbon’s most celebrated foodie shops and restaurants. Try Portuguese wines from Garrafeira Nacional, ice-creams from Santini, and pastries from Aloma – or get a flavour of one of the country’s culinary heroes, Henrique Sá Pessoa, at his on-site eaterie.

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Cais do Sodré
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The best music and nightlife in Lisbon

Lux Frágil

Recommended

Lisbon's best club, with two dancefloors (one loungey, one sweaty) and a roof terrace overlooking the river. As the hip furniture indicates, it's a see-and-be-seen place, but the crowd is friendly and the measures Lisbon-large. House and guest DJs offer everything from electro and hip hop to bursts of '80s music. Thursdays are popular with locals keen on leftfield names; on Saturdays the place is mobbed by out-of-towners. Lux's programme - which includes live bands and the odd Sunday afternoon event, as well as big international DJs - and its catch-all social role remain unrivalled. Exude photogenic importance at the door if you arrive after 2am.

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São Vicente 

MusicBox

Recommended

The managers of this key club in Cais do Sodré have music industry connections and exploit them creditably. It's one of the city's most interesting venues, with a regular programme of rock bands, electronic live acts, singer-songwriters and DJ sets (all night on Fridays). Note that some shows may start as late as 2am; for details, check the website, which is comprehensive. The space has an underground feel and look (it's literally beneath steep Rua do Alecrim) and is located in what was once one of Lisbon's seediest streets - and is now one of its buzziest at night.

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Cais do Sodré

Sol e Pesca

This little place has metamorphosed from fishing equipment store to trendy snack bar with only the lightest of makeovers. It has kept the original name ('Sun and Fishing') and decor, but now sells canned fish and other delicacies to accompany the well-priced beer. You can also buy a tin to take away - some of them have lovely designs.

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Cais do Sodré

Lounge

Lounge, a roomy Bairro Alto-style bar, has moderate prices, an unkempt and youngish crowd, and interesting musical events. On regular nights, decent DJs spin an underground mix of electro and minimal techno, and there's the occasional themed party. It's packed inside and out at weekends, when ordering a drink can be a challenge.

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Cais do Sodré

Casa Independente

In a decaying mansion that has housed all manner of clubs and associations over the past century or so, this is the latest (and probably the liveliest) incarnation. The large front 'Tiger Room' hosts gigs and DJ sets, there are various small rooms that are good for a chat or a spot of work on your tablet, and the café and back patio are great places to relax. The bar serves a good range of teas, fresh juices and cocktails, while finger food is served until midnight.

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Intendente

Senhor Vinho

This classic Lisbon venue has helped to launch countless fadistas, including Mariza and Camané. The best known of the current crop are Joana Amendoeira and Aldina Duarte - whose recordings have been selling well - but Duarte, Francisco Salvação Barreto and Liliana Silva are also expert singers. 'Mr Wine' is owned by a grande dame of fado, Maria da Fé, but she herself performs rarely these days. The food here is good (albeit with slow service) and booking is essential.

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Estrela/Lapa/Santos
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The best shops in Lisbon

LX factory

Essential things to do on your retail therapy excursion include a trip to renovated industrial complex LX factory, a shopping city within the city. This uber-trendy venue hosts an eclectic selection of places to eat, drink, dance and spend some serious Euros.

Gardénia

Tiny Gardénia is a compulsory stop for local footwear fetishists, thanks to an always interesting selection of funky foreign and Portuguese brands. It sells some clothes too. There are branches in several major shopping centres, as well as round the corner in Rua Ivens (with accessories), up on Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (men's shoes only), and down the road in Armazéns do Chiado.

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Chiado

Pelcor

The cork bags and accessories on display at this showcase for an award-winning brand come in a variety of colours, offset by the clean white decor. You'll be amazed at the fine items - from wallets, belts and hats to iPad cases - that can be made from this truly environmentally friendly material (its use contributes to protect a unique ecosystem).

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Chiado/Cais do Sodré

Conserveira de Lisboa

This small, wood-panelled space opened in 1930 and is lined with a dazzling array of colourfully packaged tins - sardines, tuna, anchovies, fish paste and the like. The store now also stocks a range of gourmet jams and liqueurs for tourists.

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Santa Maria Maior
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