What is Lisbon known for?

Hills, custard tarts, and the Age of Discoveries are some of the things people immediately associate with Lisbon. Let’s explore these and other things Lisbon is famous for.

Located in Central Portugal at the mouth of the Tagus River, Lisbon is Portugal‘s capital and largest city, with a metropolitan area of about 2.85 million people.

Lisbon is the most famous city in Portugal and one of the most trendy in the world lately. As you would expect, it is an ancient city with incredible architecture and some of the most impressive landmarks in Portugal.

So, with no more delays, let’s examine what is Lisbon known for?

12 Things Lisbon is famous for

Seven hills

One of the best-known nicknames of Lisbon is “the city of the seven hills.” The medieval city was mostly built on several hills overlooking the Tagus River. This geography has always played a considerable role in the city, but the “seven hills” is mostly a legend.

In the 17th century, Friar Nicolau de Oliveira wrote that Lisbon was built on seven hills. These were the hills that could be seen from the Tagus River:

  • São Jorge
  • São Vicente
  • São Roque
  • Santo André
  • Santa Catarina
  • Chagas
  • Santa Ana

The seven hills were a convenient number to imitate and compare with the seven hills of ancient Rome. However, even then, Lisbon had more than seven hills, as Graça was conveniently forgotten. There are at least eight hills, but Graça cannot be seen from the river. Today with the city’s expansion, it’s much more than that.

Nevertheless, you should remember that Lisbon is a hilly city that offers fantastic views over the Tagus. Its unique geography influenced architecture and urban planning, with winding streets, steep staircases, and elevators connecting the different neighborhoods.

What is Lisbon famous for
One of Lisbon’s hills with São Jorge Castle


The famous hills of Lisbon are navigated by the not lesser-known yellow trams. They offer a unique and memorable way of visiting Lisbon, particularly the beautiful lookouts on top of the hills.

Lisbon’s tram system was constructed in the 19th century as a public transportation mode for the residents. With time, they became one of the city’s most recognizable symbols and a charming and historical activity. Many of the trams have been restored, and despite being used by everyone, they are mostly used for sightseeing, offering an enjoyable ride through the narrow streets, up and down the hills.

There are six lines with a length of 31 km and 64 trams in operation – of which 45 are historic “remodelados”, 8 historic “ligeiros” and 10 modern articulated trams. The historic remodelados are the nostalgic, charming ones that tourists (and locals) love. Their distinctive yellow color and vintage design give Lisbon a charming and romantic sense.

Tram 28 is the most famous and popular line. It runs from Martim Moniz to Campo de Ourique through the most popular neighborhoods and some of the most famous attractions in Lisbon, including Alfama district, São Jorge Castle, Baixa, and Chiado.

Well known things about Lisbon
Lisbon’s historic yellow tram

Custard tarts

What is Lisbon famous for food? Custard tarts, in Portuguese are Pastel de Nata (or pasteis de nata if plural). Tourists love custard tarts! And Portuguese too. In the last few years, they have been elevated from a Portuguese sweet pastry to a global delicacy.

As Portugal’s staple pastry, Custard tarts are the most notable of the hundreds of Portuguese conventual sweets – meaning sweets that originated in Portuguese convents.

The custard tart is a small crunchy tart made with a crispy puff pastry and egg cream custard. It is baked in the oven and should be served still warm. Sometimes top with cinnamon powder and/or icing sugar.

The Portuguese custard tart originates in Belem, Lisbon, in the Jerónimos Monastery. After the end of all religious orders in Portugal, they started to be sold next to the monastery and later in Antiga Pastelaria de Belem, which still exists and sells over 20 000 pastries per day.

In Portugal, there is a distinction between Pastel de Nata and Pastel de Belem. You can have a look here to learn about it.

Today, there are custard tarts all over Lisbon and Portugal. You can find custard tarts in every Portuguese pastry and supermarket in the Country, and if you are lucky, in a few outside Portugal.

Libon famous things
Delicious Custard tarts – What is Lisbon Famous for

Age of Discovery

The Age of Discovery or the Age of Exploration was the period from the 15th century to the late 18th. At this time, Europeans set voyages of discovery and explored other lands, seeking new trade routes, territories, and wealth. It marked the beginning of European colonialism and the beginning of globalization.

Lisbon was one of the main cities in the world during the age of discovery, particularly at the beginning of it, when Portugal was one of its leading players. Its location at the mouth of the Tagus River, in front of the Atlantic Ocean, made it a perfect hub, and it quickly became one of the wealthiest and most important cities in Europe.

Lisbon also became a center of innovation in navigation, cartography, and other related areas. Many famous explorers began their voyages in Lisbon and passed through Lisbon for long periods.

Lisbon was a cultural exchange center and the hub where explorers and traders brought back goods and shared ideas and knowledge. Portugal was one of the earlier colonizers and possibly the first great colonial power.

As the Portuguese capital, Lisbon was a crucial player in the Age of Discovery and of the most influential cities in the world. And this legacy can still be seen today as many of today’s famous landmarks in Lisbon were built at the time, including the Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery.

Interesting things about Lisbon
Monument to the Discoveries in Lisbon | photo by dpe123 via Depositphotos

Tagus river

One of the first things people associate with Lisbon is the Tagus River. Lisbon is located at the mouth of the Tagus River, close to the ocean. But, the city is much more oriented to the huge estuary than the sea. So, Lisbon’s culture, heritage, and history are highly associated with the river.

With 1,007 km, the Tagus River is the longest river on the Iberian peninsula, rising in the Montes Universales in mid-eastern Spain and flowing westward to empty into the Atlantic Ocean in Lisbon.

The river played a significant role in the history and development of Lisbon, providing a natural harbor in a strategic position for trade between Europe and the rest of the world.

Today, the river remains a crucial part of the city’s identity and a popular destination to explore its waterfront, full of historical landmarks and stunning views. The Expo, Baixa, and Belem are the three main areas to enjoy the Tagus River in Lisbon.

Top attractions in Lisbon
Tagus River and the 25 the April Bridge

1755 earthquake

The 1755 earthquake was one of Lisbon’s more marking moments and is still remembered almost 300 years later. It was one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

On the 1st of November of 1775, a massive earthquake with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean, about 290 km from Lisbon. Soon after the earthquake, a massive tsunami swept the city harbor downtown and caused widespread damage along the Portuguese coast, Spain, Morocco, and as far as Ireland.

If this wasn’t enough, the earthquake also caused several large fires and destroyed most of the city’s buildings and infrastructure. The city was reduced to rubble. But the impact was much larger than the physical destruction.

It had a profound social and cultural effect, not only in Portugal but in Europe too. Some people believe it was a turning point in European history and challenged medieval ideas that natural disasters were a form of divine punishment.

The scale of the disaster and the day it occurred (it was all Saint’s days) led to radical reforms and opened the way to secularism and the Enlightenment movement in Europe.

So, the 1755 Earthquake is something Lisbon is famous for, not only for the extent of the destruction but also for everything it meant for the city, the country, and to an extent to European society and culture.

Facts about Lisbon
Lisbon’s downtown all reconstructed after the earthquake

Fado Music

What is Lisbon famous for? Fado is one of the most popular answers. This music genre can be traced to the early 19th but may even have earlier origins.

Fado may be heavily associated with Portuguese culture, but its origin is in Lisbon. This symbol of Portuguese culture is often characterized by mournful and melancholic tunes and lyrics about life at sea, the poor, and an overall sentiment of resignation, melancholy, and fate.

A Portuguese guitar and a regular guitar typically accompany the singer. It was usually sung in the streets and taverns of Lisbon. In the 20th century, it became more popular, and Portuguese singer Amália Rodrigues achieved international success.

In November 2011, Fado was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. One of the most fascinating things to do in Lisbon is to go to a show performed in a restaurant or a club. If you enjoy music, visiting the Museum of Fado is also possible.

Everything about Lisbon
Street art representing different artists of Fado

Sunny weather and magical light

Another thing Lisbon is known for is the sunny weather and amazing light.

With generally mild and sunny weather, Lisbon has a Mediterranean climate. It has hot and sunny summers and mild winters. One of the main characteristics of Lisbon’s climate is its long hours of sunshine.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, Lisbon is the sunniest capital in Europe (Athens, Greece, is the second), with an average of 2,800 hours of sunshine annually. In summer, it reaches about 11 hours of sunshine daily; even in Winter, it’s about 5 hours.

So, for anyone looking for mild and sunny weather throughout the year, Lisbon may be the best option in Europe. Furthermore, all these hours of sunshine elevate the Lisbon light.

The location, geography, radiation, colors of the buildings, and many other characteristics create what some people call the magical light of Lisbon, which has been celebrated by artists worldwide, including painters, writers, photographers, and filmmakers.

Interesting things about Lisbon
Downtown of Lisbon


Ginja or Gijinha is a typical Portuguese sweet and strong cherry liqueur Iis made from sour cherries (known as ginja, thus the name), grown in several regions of Portugal, including Óbidos, Algarve and Serra da Estrela.

The Ginjinha is produced by infusing the ginja berries (Morello cherry) in aguardente (a distilled alcoholic spirit that contains between 29% and 60%) and adding sugar together with spices (cloves and cinnamon are the most common). Usually served as a shot in small cups or glasses (some places serve in chocolate cups) with a piece of fruit in the bottom of the cup.

Ginjinha is not exclusive to Lisbon but is a very popular and traditional drink in the Portuguese capital. There are ginjinha bars and shops in most historic neighborhoods, including Baixa, Rossio, and Alfama. Some of the most well-known and traditional places to have this Portuguese drink are Ginjinha Espinheira, Ginjinha Sem Rival, and Ginjinha Rubi. It is also a popular and handy souvenir to bring from Portugal.

Portuguese Tiles

Another popular Portuguese typical feature in Lisbon is the Portuguese tiles, known as Azulejos. Although they are available everywhere in Portugal, they are very visible in Lisbon, thus something Lisbon is known for.

Azulejo is a form of Portuguese (and Spanish) decorative ceramic tile that, besides being ornamental, they also served the functional purpose of controlling temperature. They are found on the interior and exterior of almost any type of building in Portugal, ranging from churches and palaces to ordinary private homes and public buildings, including railway stations, restaurants, and bars.

Azulejos were introduced in Portugal in the 13th century by the Moors and quickly became a popular decorative element. They have a long history in Lisbon and are a crucial part of the architecture and design of the city, often used to create intricate designs and murals.

So, while not exclusive to Lisbon (or even Portugal), Azulejos are significant for the city and draw the attention of almost any visitor to the Portuguese capital. Their bright colors and intricate patterns elevate the city’s beauty even more.

What is Lisbon Famous for
Tiles in Alentejo house, famous restaurant in Lisbon

Calçada Portuguesa

Calçada Portuguesa, or Portuguese pavement, is another typical Portuguese design feature popular in Lisbon.

Used in many pedestrian areas in Portugal, it is a decorative pavement made of small, flat pieces of stones arranged to create patterns and designs. Initially, the pavement was created using white limestone and basalt. Nowadays, basalt has been substituted with black limestone, and other colors have been introduced, like brown, red, blue, gray, and yellow.

Some designs are incredibly intricate, creating geometric and figurative pieces that make up an amazing beautiful floor. Lisbon has many popular examples among tourists, including Restauradores Square, Parque das Nações, Rossio Square, and close to Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Belem.

Although beautiful and artistic, you should note that it is not the easiest floor to walk on in high heels, and it can be slippery. Nevertheless, tourists and locals love it, so Calçada Portuguesa is a protected cultural heritage in Lisbon and an essential part of the city.

well known things about Lisbon
Calçada Portuguesa in Lisbon

Famous landmarks

As the capital of Portugal and a city with an incredibly rich history, Lisbon is home to some of the most famous landmarks in Portugal and Europe.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, which means you can find historic landmarks from many different eras and occupations, but there are also new and modern ones.

Some of the most popular landmarks in Lisbon include:

  • Sao Jorge Castle
  • Belem Tower
  • Jeronimos Monastery
  • Monument to the Discoveries
  • Lisbon Cathedral
  • Carmo Church Museum
  • Commerce Square
  • Santa Justa Lift
  • 25 Abril Bridge
  • Oceanarium
Cool things about Lisbon
Belem Tower famous landmark in Lisbon | photo by Lenorlux via Depositphotos

* Cover photo by sepavone via Depositphotos

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