Twenty reasons to visit Lisbon

An open-air cafe at Miradouro da Graca, with Castelo de Sao Jorge in the background, in Lisbon.
An open-air cafe at Miradouro da Graca, with Castelo de Sao Jorge in the background, in Lisbon. Photo: Getty Images

Shaney Hudson explores a city of stunning vistas.

1 Get an eyeful: Miradouro Lisbon is a city ruled by landscapes. Pressed against the wide expanse of the River Tagus, the seven thigh-burning hills of Lisbon combine to create a city of stunning vistas. Scattered across the hilltops are miradouros, a series of pedestrian plazas that offer unbridled views of the city, castle and river, accessed by creaky funiculars, trams or on foot. They are popular at sunset and dotted with cafes.

2 Praca do Comercio Before you head for the hills, start your tour of the city at the Praca do Comercio, the grand neoclassical riverside square that anchors the city to the River Tagus. Home to the local tourist office, pricey terrace cafes and the beautiful triumph arch. Stroll to the edge of the river to get a feel for the city.

3 Custard tarts Follow your nose (or just look for the massive queue spilling onto the street) to Pasteis de Belem, a 175-year-old bakery that specialises in the revered Portuguese-style custard tarts that come with a well-browned top. Although they can be found all over Lisbon, the ones at Pasteis de Belem are made to a secret recipe. pasteisdebelem.pt.

4 Rua dos Correeiros archaeological site The Rua dos Correeiros archaeological site is part of the wave of philanthropically funded art and history galleries opened across Spain and Portugal. Among the ruins is a bathhouse and the footprint of a Roman fish market as well as a human skeleton that is thought to have been "hastily"' buried during Roman times. Admission is free, and there are free English-language tours daily at 5pm. 9 Rua dos Correeiros.

5 Tram 28 The rickety vintage carriages of the 28 tram that rumbles through the hills of Bairro Alto, across the Baixa and up into the Alfama district, are one of the city's most entertaining adventures. The tram is also one of the best ways to access the Se Cathedral, Castelo de Sao Jorge and Feira da Ladra flea market. Enjoy the views, hold on to your valuables, be prepared to jostle for a seat and have a firm grip - the trams can brake suddenly, sending passengers flying across the carriage.

6 Castle Dominating the cityscape is the Castelo de Sao Jorge. The impressive fortress surrounding the castle was built in the 11th century during the Moorish occupation, and through the millennium it has been the royal palace and military barracks. Although today the castle complex is more of a replica, kids can climb all over the ramparts, explore the museum and archaeological site, and watch the peacocks and stray cats battle for territory in the gardens. However, the real highlight is the stunning view of the city and the river. castelodesaojorge.pt.

7 We Hate Tourism Tours Quirky and fun, We Hate Tourism Tours bills itself as a different kind of tour company, aiming to show visitors Lisbon and its surrounds the locals' way. Small-group dinner tours, jeep tours of the city's seven hills and all-day tours to Sintra, Cascais and Belem are offered. The cheerful operators keep a small stall at the Feira de Ladra market where you can book tours, pick up a free map and chat about the city. wehatetourismtours.com.

8 Convento do Carmo The Convento do Carmo church is a powerful reminder of the 1755 earthquake that devastated Lisbon. The walls of this Gothic church remained standing but its roof and arches crumbled, and today it remains open to the elements. It is best to head to the church early, when the morning light illuminates the empty grounds, giving an eerie, contemplative air. At the back of the church is a diverse collection of archaeological relics, including an Egyptian sarcophagus and exquisite antique tile work. museusportugal.org/aap.

9 Flea market The Feira da Ladra flea market is held in the Alfama district on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Get in early to rummage for gems or you might be left looking at a whole heap of junk, and don't dilly-dally if you want something - I saw a stash of 1950s vintage National Geographic maps I had my eye on snapped up by someone else. Campo de Santa Clara, Alfama.

10 Elevador de Santa Justa Unexpected, eye-catching and iconic, this iron elevator connects the Baixo with the Bairro Alto and is Lisbon's most surprising attraction, looking like a cross between the Eiffel Tower and an air-traffic control tower. The Elevador de Santa Justa opened in 1901. A ride to the top is free (and there's a cafe with great views) but spend €1.50 ($1.90) and you can gain access to the rooftop balcony that offers 360-degree views and brings you level with the upper arches of the Convento do Carmo.

11 Torre de Belem Torre de Belem is one of Lisbon's highlights and one of Europe's most picturesque UNESCO monuments, and it's well worth the 15-minute tram ride from Lisbon's city centre. Perched at the mouth of the river, the 16th-century tower is accessed by a rusty walkway over the water (expect to get a little splash during high tide or rough seas). You can climb to the top but expect an intimate stairway shimmy with fellow tourists on the tiny mediaeval staircase that connects the floors. torrebelem.pt.

12 Jeronimos Monastery An architectural candy box, Jeronimos Monastery is a beautiful example of the Manueline style and Lisbon's No.1 tourist attraction. Head there in the late afternoon when the crowds have left and admire the carved detail on the cloisters, the brilliant tiled walls in the refectory and the great view of the church from the second-floor choir loft. Tip: visit the Torre de Belem first and buy a combined ticket - you can then skip the queue at the monastery later in the day. mosteirojeronimos.pt.

13 Berardo museum The Berardo Collection of contemporary modern art is the highlight of the Centro Cultural de Belem, just across the road from the Jeronimos Monastery. If you're pressed for time, stick to the second-floor collection, which focuses on art from 1900 to 1960 and includes impressive pieces by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso set out chronologically in a generous space. berardocollection.com.

14 Eat One of the best things about Lisbon is its diverse dining scene. Start your day with a 70-Euro-cent espresso and pastry at the bar at A Brasileira (120 Rua Garrett) in Chiado. For traditional Portuguese seafood at agreeable prices, head to Dragao de Alfama (8 Rua Guilherme Braga). It often has impromptu fado performances late after service on the weekends. For haute cuisine, chef Jose Avillez continues to dominate the Lisbon dining scene, revamping well-known Belcanto restaurant in early 2012 (joseavillez.pt).

15 Bairro Alto Hotel After a full day out, wind down with a sundowner on the intimate rooftop terrace of the Bairro Alto Hotel. Regularly voted one of the best terrace bars in the city, it offers a bird's-eye view over the rooftops to the river. The 55-room hotel has large, luxury rooms in a top location, footsteps from the trendy Bairro Alto - perfect for those wanting easy access to the city's nightlife and restaurant district, while tram 28 stops right by the door. Be sure to ask the attentive staff for their tips on where to see live fado music. bairroaltohotel.com.

16 Mude Just through the triumph arch on Rua Augusta is the Museum of Fashion and Design, nicknamed Mude. The collection is housed in a bare-bones concrete space that oozes cool. Fashionistas will drool over the couture pieces by Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier and Givenchy on display, while culture vultures can admire design innovations such as Post-it notes and paper clips. Closed Mondays. mude.pt.

17 Bairro Alto The Bairro Alto might appear a little rough around the edges but start strolling the streets of Lisbon's nightlife district and you'll discover an eclectic mix of wine bars, speciality shops, design emporiums, fado spruikers, live-music venues, restaurants, tapas bars and gin joints offering an intimate and varied night out. Keep in mind things don't get going in the Bairro until about 10pm.

18 Chinese Pavilion bar Unremarkable from the outside, inside the walls are covered with collectables ranging from china dolls and tin toys to giant ceramic frogs and military helmets. Bow-tied waiters take orders for classic cocktails from a menu designed to resemble an art deco magazine, while the back saloon has two billiard tables for guests. A few minutes' walk up from the Bairro Alto, it's worth one drink just to have a stickybeak. barpavilhaochines.blogspot.com.

19 Fado Fado, which is Portugal's grassroots bluesy folk music, can be heard all over the city - you just need to know where to look. Some spruikers offer tourist-oriented dinner-and-show packages each evening in the Bairro Alto, but it's during the after-dinner service in the unassuming restaurants throughout the Alfama that you'll encounter the best performances. Ask your hotel for a recommendation and be sure to book in advance to secure your place, otherwise you might end up on the doorstep with a glass of wine listening from the street - although that sometimes adds to the overall atmosphere.

20 Oceanario Despite being blessed with so much sun, Lisbon needs a back-up rainy-day activity and luckily the Oceanario de Lisboa is a fantastic attraction well worth a trip. Within a short walk of the Oriente metro station in the expo grounds, the oceanarium is set around a giant tank that features sunfish and sharks, and offers up-close encounters with penguins, puffins and otters. The spacious expo grounds also include a cable car and vibrant restaurant scene. oceanario.pt.

Shaney Hudson was a guest of Bairro Alto Hotel.

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