Last Updated: November 15, 2021

What Is Lisbon Famous For? (Not Just Trams)

Somewhat of a hidden gem for years, but now firmly on the tourist map, Lisbon is a thriving city jam-packed with great food, overflowing with history, and teeming with local culture despite its international vibes. It truly is a melting pot of all things – whether you’re a graffiti lover, a historian, or a foody, you’re going to love a trip there.

But what is it that Lisbon is famous for? Let’s take a look at some of its most distinctive features.

Yellow Trams

yellow trams lisbon

When you first visit Lisbon, it’s hard not to notice its cobbled streets and iconic cheerful-looking yellow trams.

The charming Remodelado trams have been around since the 1930s, and they make for a fantastic way to explore the city. Not only do they get you from A to B, but whizzing through the streets in one of these is a great way to take in the scenes and get a sense of daily Portuguese life. They certainly aren’t the smoothest forms of transport out there with their rattling and harsh brakes… but that’s definitely part of their charm and the ride is one you’re unlikely to forget.

There are various routes available, but the 28 route is the most useful for visitors, as it passes through central Lisbon as well as various districts on the tourist hit list. With tickets costing just €3, a ride on one of these wagons should be on any visitor’s to-do list.

Pasteis De Nata

pastel de nata

You won’t be able to walk down a street in Lisbon without encountering one of these tasty bundles of joy. Pasteis de Nata are certainly one of the things Portugal is most famous for and nowhere is their popularity more evident than in the country’s capital. Pastry cups are filled with creamy custard (some more eggy than others) and usually topped off with a dash of cinnamon. These little snacks cost next to nothing (often less than 50 cents) and go down far too easily with a morning coffee.

The Belém district is a lovely area long-popular among tourists (and reached via the 28 tram) for various reasons, one of which is Pasteis de Belem, which is rumored to be the birthplace of these delicious snacks – if you’re in the area, you should definitely try and pick one up.

Bairro Alto

barrio alto lisbon

Bairro Alto is famed for its bustling nightlife and, with heaps of restaurants, live music (including loads of fado), and quirky bars, it’s easy to see why. It’s hard to imagine how busy this area gets at night if you pass by in the daytime but, trust us, the streets really do transform.

The Bairro Alto is the perfect starting point for a night on the town, and it is just a short walk from the city centre itself. You can also do some late-night shopping there if you like, as the shops tend to be open later in this area, but be careful if you’ve polished off a few glasses of wine!

Many of Lisbon’s famous landmarks are also within walking distance from here including the Alfama district with the Castle and Lisbon Cathedral, as well as the Elevador de Santa Justa, which is actually in the middle of downtown.

Fun in the Sun

Lisbon is known for its gorgeous sunshine all-year-round. Sure, the temperature drops in winter, but it remains a bright, sunny place to be even when things cool down. It’s actually the sunniest capital city in Europe, and it receives 300 days of sunshine a year, with averages of 4.5 and 11.5 hours of sun in December and July – it’s not surprising that Lisbon is such a cheerful place to be! Especially since it sits right on the banks of the Tagus River, right on the Atlantic coast!

The city is well-suited to its sunshine, and there are tonnes of places you can sit outside and drink and dine throughout the year. We recommend visiting Lisbon in September/October and April/May if you want to escape the busy summer tourist season yet experience a pleasant climate.

belem tower

Belem

Belem is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Lisbon and for very good reason. And it is not only because of its tasty pastries!

It was actually a port of many famous departures back in the 15th and 17th centuries. Explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Prince Henry the Navigator are just two of these great men.

And one of the most prominent architectural buildings to see while in Belem are the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower. The tower is officially called the Tower of Saint Vincent and it previously served as a fortification at the point of embarkation and disembarkation

for many of the aforementioned voyages.

Sintra

What Is Lisbon Famous For?

The magical town of Sintra is just 25km away from Lisbon and easily accessible by public transport, making it one of the most famous day trips you can make from the capital city.

The most popular attractions located in Sintra are the Pena National Palace and the Castelo dos Mouros. The palace is located within a park and its colorful walls and lavish adornings give it a fairytale-like feel. The castle is way up in the hills and you can easily spend half a day wandering along its walls and taking in the breathtaking views. Make sure you take plenty of sun cream, snacks, and water with you, as the route isn’t for the fainthearted and it’s nice to go slow and really soak up the sights.

Adult tickets for the castle cost 8 and for the palace 14, and tickets are cheaper for children and seniors (plus there are family tickets available).

Flaming Chorizo… At Your Table

We were absolutely blown away the first time we ordered chorizo from a quaint restaurant on a cobbled back alley in Lisbon. Who would have known that moments after ordering a simple ‘Chorizo’ off the menu we’d be presented with flaming chorizo and our very own set of tongues. The semi-sliced chorizo slowly opens up, and you can eat it fresh from the flames once it’s toasted how you like it.

The toasting really brings out the flavors, and it certainly makes a dramatic entry, but be warned – you might end up ordering them far too often!

Fado

Fado music was born in Lisbon back in the 18th century. Historically, it was a spontaneous form of music and ‘performances’ would burst out of almost all situations – in houses, cafes, gardens… you name it.

Featuring stringed instruments, predominantly guitars and mandolins, this soulful music is linked with the struggles of lower classes in everyday life, and it was initially frowned upon by the higher societies. 

These days, if you want to hear a bit of fado, head to the neighborhoods of Barrio Alto and  Alfama in the evenings and you’re sure to be serenaded outside restaurants or when you’re sitting in the squares.

This is, however, only skimming the surface of this unique music that was in fact designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011. If you want to learn a bit more about Fado as a genre, then you should check out the Museu Do Fado, which walks you through the lives of key contributors as well as the history of the music. 

Street Art

What Is Lisbon Famous For?

Lisbon is famed across Europe for its impressive street art and, whether or not such art is your thing, you can’t help but be impressed by the dedication of the artists. These pieces of work brighten up often overlooked spots, and are in stark contrast to many of Lisbon’s oldest buildings, creating a unique blend of old and new.

Some local artists, such as Vhils, have risen to international fame in recent years, while many works are created by anonymous artists.

You’ll spot plenty of examples as you stroll around casually but, if you’re really interested, there are walking tours available. The tours make sure that hit up the best spots as well and will give you heaps of information on the artists themselves and the history of Lisbon’s street art.

Ginjinha

If ever there was a drink to define Lisbon, it’s Ginjinha. This liquor is made by fermenting ginja berries, which are known for their cherry-esque flavor. Various spices are added, including cinnamon and cloves, giving the drink a very hearty, almost festive, feel overall.

But it doesn’t stop there… this wholesome drink is served in small chocolate cups, typically with a piece of fruit at the bottom. The small shot-sized drinks are sipped before the cup itself is devoured, making for one sensual drinking experience.

Although you can find ginjinha throughout Lisbon, there are some establishments that have been around for years and have truly perfected the art. If you want a truly authentic ginjinha experience, check out some of the bars mentioned in this article.

It’s Seriously Hilly

What do Lisbon and Rome have in common? They were both built on seven hills. Although this fact is common knowledge about Rome, it seems to be less well-known about Lisbon.

The hills make for some great viewpoints, such as the Castelo de São Jorge located in the city centre, and there are some fantastic sunset spots too – just make sure you pack a decent pair of shoes as you might have to climb a little first!

Oceanário de Lisboa

The Oceanário de Lisboa (or Lisbon Oceanarium), located in the Parque das Nações was the centerpeice for the World Fair in 1998. It is now a popular family tourist attraction hosting over 450 species of fish and ocean mammals, including sharks, otters, stingrays and a whole lot more.

Tuk-Tuks

Although tuk-tuks have long been commonplace across South East Asia, India, and Africa, in recent years they’ve become firmly established in Lisbon too (which isn’t surprising, considering all those hills). If you’re looking for a fun way to get from A to B, you can always flag one down for a short journey, but their major selling point is their tours.

The open-sided vehicles are great for checking out day-to-day life as you whizz around the city, and they’ll keep you nice and cool in those hot summer months too.

There are heaps of tours available, ranging from 1-2 hour tours to entire day trips, and some even include drinks and meals. If you’re looking for some tour inspiration, then check out this website, and, if you’re feeling guilty about your fuel consumption, don’t forget that there are eco-friendly tuk-tuk trips too.

Azulejos

Azulejos Lisbon

Azulejo tiles are everywhere throughout the country and some of the finest are located in the Portuguese capital. They’re on walls, floors, ceilings, and the best part is that there are heaps on the outside of buildings. These charming decorations only add to the quaint feel of Lisbon’s cobblestone streets, and it’s definitely worth making time to stroll around and admire them (they’re also extremely photogenic).

If you want to take things a little further, then there’s an entire museum dedicated to the history of these beautiful tiles (National Tile Museum of the Azulejo), which have been around since the 1500s.

Cork

Cork handbags, cork visas, cork tablemats… Lisbon is covered in cork! As a country, Portugal manufactures half of the world’s cork, so perhaps it’s not surprising the Portuguese have gotten creative. You’ll see entire shops dedicated to cork products littered throughout Lisbon, and they make for a great holiday souvenir or a present for people back home.

Explorers

Lisbon’s port was the starting port for some key voyages during the Age of Discovery. In recognition of Portugal’s role in exploring the globe, a monument was constructed in honor of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, a key player during the Age of Discovery. The monument is situated on the Tagus riverbank, but you’ll see references to explorers throughout Lisbon if you keep your eyes open.

Sardines

What Is Lisbon Famous For?

With miles of rugged coastline, Portugal has long had a connection with the sea. Although fish of all kinds are consumed throughout Portugal, on a trip to Lisbon you’ll definitely notice that the Portuguese are big into their sardines. Although they were initially discovered by the Romans who set up camp in Portugal in 19 BC, these tasty fish have remained a firm favorite in Portugal ever since.

Served with bread or simply on a plate, this dish, packed full of oily goodness, can be found in almost every Portuguese restaurant in Lisbon, but check out this article for some of the best places to get your sardine fix.

Summing Up

It may be Portugal’s largest city, yet Lisbon has managed to retain a sense of charm and familiarity rarely experienced in Europe’s capitals. With enough restaurants, coffee shops, and bars to keep anyone entertained, as well as local dishes, drinks, and affordable prices, Lisbon really is a treat for any foodies out there. The winding streets are adorned with tiles and street art, and you’ll get used to the rattling sound of trams approaching in no time. Sitting outside is common year-round, and there are tonnes of museums and historical sites to visit. Plus, the quiet streets take on a new lease of life in the evenings, with their live music and open-aired bars. Whether you’re there for a long weekend, a weeklong holiday, or even just a Friday night, you can be sure to find whatever it is you’re looking for in Lisbon.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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