Lisbon, Portugal, was the crown jewel of the Portuguese maritime trading empire in its heyday; it was built by traders who roamed the world and their global view is reflected in Lisbon today. It has the great palaces and churches you’d expect of any European capital--many in the Portuguese Manueline style (you’ll see this in the Belem district) as well as the elegant 18th-century Pombalene style that you’ll find downtown. But it’s full of whimsy as well--imaginative cobblestone patterns in its street, centuries-old tiled facades in the older quarters and art nouveau shops and cafes. Turn-of-the-last-century trams still trundle along its streets and you can take funiculars up its steep hills.
For a great introduction to Lisbon, take tram 28 past plazas, the Estrela Basilica and the Sé Cathedral. Get off at St George's Castle to walk its ramparts and gaze at the Tagus River. Then wander the maze that is the Moorish Alfama quarter. Varied Lisbon also has great modern architecture. Its Oceanarium is one of the world’s largest and is a deep-sea diving experience without any of the risk. The MuDe Fashion and Design Museum holds one of the world’s leading design collections. But it’s a city to savor, a place where you can settle down in a street-front cafe and watch Lisbon parade by, or to find a terrace or esplanade atop one of Lisbon’s seven hills and take in the panorama spread out before you.
For nightlife, Bairro Alto is the city’s main hotspot; you can find slower pace and lots of atmosphere in the lantern-lit Alfama district. The Portuguese take dining seriously; you can find restaurants serving Portuguese classics--fish and shellfish--as well as the foods from the former Portuguese colonies of Brazil and Mozambique, as well as restaurants with continental menus.
Central Lisbon is relatively compact and best seen on foot. You can get around the city on a network of funiculars, buses and subways. The Lisbon Metro is not only a transport system but an attraction in and of itself. It’s a public art collection, with wonderful glazed tiles, paintings and sculptures, with some works by famous contemporary artists.