- Lisbon is undergoing a 21st Century revival, with the restoration of a picturesque square and a new cruise port
- Buy a Lisbon card for unlimited public transport travel and free entry to many museums - all for about £13 a day
- The city's buildings are dressed to impress with the dazzle of ceramic tiles everywhere around the city
By Gareth Huw Davies for The Mail on Sunday
Published: 21:07 GMT, 24 October 2015 | Updated: 21:07 GMT, 24 October 2015
This thrillingly hilly and historic city has steep and mazy streets of polished cobbles that resound to the clank of antique trams.
Now it is undergoing a 21st Century revival, with a new cruise liner port, the restoration of a majestic square and a pink pedestrianised street.
Here are the top six things you should make sure you do Portugal's fascinating capital.
Lisbon is undergoing a 21st Century revival, with a new cruise liner port, the restoration of a majestic square and a pink pedestrianised street
1...Take the tram
Lisbon is already one of Europe’s most popular cruise ports and is preparing for expansion in 2016 when the striking new terminal at Santa Apolonia opens a mile from the city centre.
For an easy overview, take the 1930s wood-panelled 28 tram. Clanking up outrageous gradients, it connects many of Lisbon’s abundant points of interest.
Speed past coloured buildings as you travel by tram. If you fork out for The Lisbon card, you get unlimited public transport travel and free entry to many museums – a one-day pass costs €18.50 (about £13)
The route from Baixa to Alfama and the castle is busiest (beware pickpockets), but I like the trip to the quieter Estrela district, for the ornate, baroque 18th Century Basilica da Estrela.
The Lisbon card gives unlimited public transport travel and free entry to many museums – a one-day pass costs €18.50 (about £13).
From the hills there are some wondrous viewpoints. Sink into a cosy sofa on a hotel terrace bar and look down on to terracotta rooftops.
Another great sight is the 1799 Aguas Livres Aqueduct, north of the old city.
2...Queen of tarts
Every day in a locked room in Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, three master bakers begin the secret preparations for one of the world’s most perfect tarts – luscious, warm custard dusted with cinnamon, all inside a spiral of crisp pastry.
Tasty mysteries: Nobody else knows the exact recipe of Lisbon's delicious pasteis de Belem, but that doesn't stop the hoards of crowds forming to sample the tarts each day
Nobody else knows the exact recipe and as soon as the day’s first batch of pasteis de Belem – this is the only place they make them – is out of the ovens, the queues begin to build.
Don’t mistake this, the epicure’s version, for the good, but routine, pasteis de nata, sold in cafes city-wide.
3...Out on the Tiles
Lisbon buildings are dressed to impress. The sparkle and dazzle of ceramic tiles is everywhere – on the outside of restaurants, palaces, churches, bars, shops and railway stations.
The tiles’ rich narrative is told in the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), in a former 16th Century convent.
Lisbon buildings are dressed to impress. The sparkle and dazzle of ceramic tiles is everywhere – on the outside of restaurants, palaces, churches, bars, shops and railway stations
The tiles’ rich narrative is told in the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), in a former 16th Century convent
Back on the street (take care on slippery black-and-white mosaic pavements), graffiti artists have been commissioned to festoon the sides of derelict buildings with bold and colourful works.
The Praca do Comercio was Lisbon’s equivalent of St Mark’s Square in Venice, a great central pedestrian hub of pomp and pageant, where merchants unloaded the treasures from Portugal’s empire.
The 18th Century square, which had became frayed and dowdy, was restored in 2011. And this year saw the opening of the latest in an impressive list of boutique hotels – the Pousada de Lisboa.
Another tasteful and sensitive city-centre conversion is Embaixada, a former palace transformed into a rather superior shopping mall. But the city’s best makeover is the pedestrianised Rua Nova do Carvalho.
It’s called Pink Street, because that’s the colour they painted this hub of music venues, restaurants and outdoor art gallery.
They celebrate Portugal’s illustrious maritime past in Belem, a mile down the Tagus from the city centre, with the Monument to the Discoveries, thrusting heroically out over Europe’s western edge.
Historic wonders: Head to the ocean to see the impressive Unesco World Heritage site, the Tower of Belem
There’s a real tug of adventure on the breeze off the Atlantic. Here, Magellan and Vasco da Gama pondered great voyages, then set sail to seek distant lands and fabulous riches.
Topping Lisbon’s glittering list of attractions from Portugal’s Golden Age are the lavish Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and the Tower of Belem, both Unesco World Heritage sites.
But the city has some notable 21st Century additions.
Experience the impressive architecture of the The Jerónimos Monastery near the shore of the parish of Belém
The Museum of the Orient opened in 2008, celebrating the Portuguese presence in the Far East, with sumptuous furniture and textiles, paintings and ceramics.
Another impressive new collection is Museu Colecao Berardo (Berardo Museum), which charts the main 20th Century artistic movements from cubism to pop art, with works by Picasso, Warhol and Miro.
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