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Lisbon - The Forgotten Gem of Europe

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For many centuries, Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, was regarded as one of the most magnificent cities in Europe. With its long history, Moorish influences, stunning location and vast riches from India and Brazil, it was a trading hub for hundreds of years. But a devastating earthquake in 1755, followed by fire and a tidal wave, reduced it to ruins and obscurity. In recent years, however, Lisbon has begun to return to some of its former glory. It was the European City of Culture in 1994, hosted Expo 98, and was the major host city for the huge soccer event, Euro2004. More people are discovering its fascinating blend of old and new. Even better, it still remains relatively affordable by European standards.

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Located on 7 hills beside the Rio Tejo (River Tagus), Lisbon is best explored on foot, as driving and parking are difficult, to say the least. Some of the hills can be taxing to climb, but in most cases a funicular or tram is available. Much of the appeal of the city is to be found wandering up and down the streets. Examples of both Moorish and art nouveau architecture are common, as well as beautiful mosaic pavements.

One of the highlights of Lisbon is the Castelo de S'Jorge, perched high above the city, and yet quite close by. Originally built in the 5th century, it has undergone many extensions, and modifications. It has been used as everything from a royal residence to a prison. The panoramic views are magnificent.

If your tastes are a little more upbeat, then the area to visit is Bairro Alto. This area has long had the reputation for containing the best restaurants and nightclubs in Lisbon. Alternatively, if you want to go upmarket, then the shopping district for you is Chiado.

Lisbon also contains a number of excellent museums. The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian contains what was originally a private collection of classical and oriental art. The very generous benefactor left his collection to the people of Portugal, along with a very generous charitable foundation. It's very easy to spend a day strolling around the gallery, even though only about a quarter of the collection can be displayed at any one time.

Depending on your interests, you can also spend time in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art), or the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (azulejo are the hand painted tiles which adorn so many of Portugal's buildings). If you prefer something a little more modern, there's also the Centro de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Centre).

Eventually, if you reach the point where you're completely saturated with art, tiles and gorgeous buildings, you can always spend some time in the Parque das Na's, or the Nations Park. It was the site for Expo 98, and now contains gardens, various family attractions, restaurants and bars. It even contains Europe's largest Oceanarium.

Lisbon is the type of city that you can try to sample in a day, but it takes much longer to truly appreciate all of its many and varied delights. Allow yourself plenty of time to do just that, and your visit to Lisbon will remain amongst your most treasured memories.

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