Lisbon is the colorful capital of Portugal and has the foods and sights to rank with the top cities in Europe. We'll also look at the nearby Belém district, which is packed with must-see attractions. The sites are spread out in Lisbon, which is why you have many options for lodging and any location is close to something you'll want to see.
The narrow hilly streets of Lisbon should be its national treasure. Apparently every night I miss out on a party, as every morning sanitation workers are hosing down plastic cups and trash to the bottom of the hill for pickup. Almost every turn provides a great view. Some alleys trail off at angles that will challenge even the best navigator, but that's part of the fun. Unexpected treasures await at every turn.
Trams and funiculars are available to help you deal with the steep roads. There are unique lifts, like the industrial age Elevador de Santa Justa in the Baixa district that offers a view and nothing more, and practical lifts. Tram 28 is the most famous tram, and you just have to ride it because it winds its way through tight alleys and provides some of the best people watching anywhere. Beware of pickpockets while onboard. It stops at a lot of attractions, such as Estrela Basilica, the huge domed church. Personally, I prefer the exterior of this church and the interior of the Se Cathedral, which is about 2 miles away at another tram stop.
The best part about Lisbon is letting youself get lost in the winding narrow alleys. I love exploring the Alfama district for this reason, not to mention it's the oldest part of the city. Small eateries are frequent and they don't disappoint, offering delicious and inexpensive meals such as chargrilled squid. While you're in this area, I recommend visiting St. George Castle. First established in 200BC, it was completely destroyed by an earthquake in the 1700s and finally restored in the 1940s. Enjoy stunning views from atop the walls, cool off in the garden, and learn about history from the exhibits.
As you continue finding your way out of the maze of Alfama, you'll undoubtedly run across hundreds of those famous blue tiles. Nearby is Comercial Plaza (Praca do Comercio), which I think is the best plaza in Lisbon. It is surrounded by great architecture and is along the waterfront. To the west is a delicious food market - the Mercado da Ribeira. The bottom level is the produce market and the upper level is a place to get a local snack and some wine.
Start your day with a museum. The Gulbenkian Museum in north Lisbon is worth a visit to see the vast ancient art collections. In east Lisbon is the National Tile Museum, which gives a great history on tile making from the Moorish times. Take your pick, either is worthwhile. Then, head to Bairro Alto for lunch. It's packed with cafes.
Spend the afternoon browsing local shops and get ready for a fine dining experience in Barrio Alto. In this area, you can stumble upon a number of humble restaurants where you will be given an outdoor seat and be presented with various fresh fish and meats to pick out for your meal. Prepared tableside and absolutely delicious, they were meals I still remember to this day. There are also many nightclubs in the area, but I'd recommend an evening of traditional Fado music. The passion and soulful sounds of this Lisbon staple will help you get a better appreciation for the culture.
Take the train (Linha de Cascais) toward the Belém district and enjoy a magical day. First, you can check out the popular Berardo Collection. But that's just the start of the fun in Belém! Across from the Berardo is Discovery Monument, a large sculpted tower dedicated to the great Portuguese trade and exploration achievements of the 15th and 16th century. Nearby is the Jeronimos Monastery. This impressive UNESCO site from 1501 features ornate carvings and a temple-like church that houses the tomb of Vasco da Gama.
Toward the water is one of the most notable sites in Portugal - the Tower of Belém. Constructed to overlook the Tagus River in the 1500s, it's a blend of architectural styles that I find beautifully quirky and fun. Just ensure you have time during the day to try the famously tasty custard tarts of Pasteis de Belém. The original location, opened in 1837, is the best place to go because they churn out such a high volume that you'll be sure to get a fresh one.
After eating your pastry, hop back on the train (Linha de Cascais) to continue to Cascais. This is about 45 minutes past Belém. Cascais is an old fishing village that is now packed with sun-seeking locals and tourists alike. And for good reason - not only is it pictueresque, but the seafood is top notch. My favorite place is O Pescador. If you want to be right on the beach, there are other options that tradeoff food quality for views. Be aware, you may see some nude bathers - not always a pretty sight!