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When one imagines a beautiful city brimming with a rich cultural heritage, ancient buildings and neighborhoods, and a lot of hills with gorgeous views, one may immediately think "Rome!" However, Lisbon quite easily fits the bill. The capital of Portugal, Lisbon is nonetheless not on the radar for a lot of Europhile travelers, which is both a shame and an irony, as the city does not suffer the relentless, spoiling tourism and crowds of better-known cities on the continent. One suspects Lisbon's day in the sun is coming, though, so get there while this gem remains relatively "undiscovered"--a state that, Portugal's famous native explorers Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama would assure you (were they here), never lasts long.
You might as well take on the hilly climb up to Castelo de Sao Jorge on your first day. But once you have reached the top, take plenty of time to drink in the magnificent views from this Moorish castle, built circa the fifth century. And if you get there early enough, you might be able to see the sun rise over both the city and the Tagus River.
More than any other neighborhood in the city, the Alfama represents Lisbon's Old World, Arab-influenced past, as evidenced in the narrow cobblestone streets and buildings so close together you couldn't get a dime between them. With its charming old taverns, cafes, and street markets, it's a wonderful way to drink in the atmosphere of the city, while catching some marvelous views as well. Make sure you stop to have lunch here!
This wonderful museum, also in the Alfama, is worth a look. It contains ceramics, frescoes, textiles and silver from Portugal's seventeenth and eighteenth century.
From the outside, this severe-looking church does not dazzle, but inside the gothic chapel and sculptures are worth a look.
A tram ride will take you to this westward district of Lisbon, where the city's history comes alive.
This marvelous sixteenth century tower overlooks the sea and is a classic example of the unique Manueline architecture that is seen in Portugal: A blend of Gothic and Moorish styles infused with both maritime and botanical designs that were a nod to Portugal's naval prowess.
Recently granted World Heritage status, this lavish sixteenth-century monastery was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama's discovery of India. The building is a typically Portugese merger of Gothic, Moorish, and Manueline styles, and contains much intricate, detailed sculpture within its walls.
Also located in Belem, this museum reigns as one of the largest and most important in the country. It occupies two buildings, including a rennovated convent, and houses an impressive collection of European paintings dating from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth--not to mention ornamental arts, silver, tapestries, and ceramics from throughout the world, items that showcase Portugal's rich past as a colonial, seafaring power.
Before heading back to the center of the city, make sure you have a snack at this renowned pastry shop, which has been serving customers since 1837. The recipe for their pasteis de nata(a custrard filled tart) is a heavily guarded secret.
Start your final day off right with a leisurely shopping expedition in Lisbon's Lower Town, which is a bustling area filled with cafes and shops.
After a satisfying day of shopping, you may be up to some serious clubbing and barhopping. This Lisbon neighborhood is relatively quiet during the day, but really comes alive at night.
Lord Byron called Sintra, one of the oldest towns in Portugal, a "glorious Eden." Eighteen miles north of Lisbon lies this enchanting town on a hillside overlooking the Atlantic ocean. There are palaces, castles, gardens, horse-drawn carriages, and even a beach (the Guincho) to entice any visitor easily smitten with its relaxing, almost decadent charm.
If you're visiting Lisbon in the summer and yearn for the beach, go here. Costa da Caparica is a rare thing: a relatively unspoiled beach area. It is heavily favored by Lisbon residents, but there are still plenty of areas where you can escape the crowds if you choose to do so.