A day excursion to Cascais is a wonderful way to complementing any visit to Lisbon. Located on the Lisbon coast 30 km west of the city centre, the resort town is easily reached by direct train from Cais do Sodre rail terminal. A chic, upmarket destination with more than its fair share of visitor attractions, sightseeing options include anything from a leisurely promenade along the ocean-front esplanade to exploring the old town – a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and alleys fringed by cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Museums and art galleries abound, places such as the Casa das Histórias, an exhibition centre dedicated to Paula Rego, Portugal's greatest living contemporary artist. Several pocket-sized beaches and a splendid marina frame Cascais bay. Further west is the 16th-century cidadela, a historic sea fort that's been beautifully converted into a pousada, an upscale inn.
One of the region's most distinguished historical landmarks and a fixture on the Sintra sightseeing circuit, the Pena palace crowns the highest peak of the Serra de Sintra hills. Dating from the 19th century, the building features several different architectural styles, with colourful domes and turrets surrounded by a castellated wall. Commissioned by Queen Maria II for her husband Ferdinand, the palace is full of rare and priceless antiques and curios from all over the world displayed in recently refurbished rooms of fantastic opulence and decoration. One of the most impressive is the Ballroom, which is furnished with beautiful Oriental porcelain and German stained-glass windows. The Arab Room is also rich in splendid décor. The dramatic views from the ramparts embrace the entire Lisbon coast, as far as Ericeira.
A convenient and wholly novel way of taking in the Lisbon sights is hop aboard the number 28 tram (electrico). Distinguished by its bright yellow paintwork, this quirky streetcar follows the contours of Lisbon's hilly topography, a sometimes steep and winding route that snakes across town like an itinerant strand of spaghetti. The tram passes iconic landmarks such as the cathedral and the impressive Basilica da Estrela. The journey also affords a leisurely trundle through neighbourhoods like historic Alfama, the bustling Baixa (downtown) and elegant Chiado. It's a fantastic way to discover the capital and travel like a local and the experience is great fun.
Nowhere in Lisbon is Portugal's golden Age of Discovery better celebrated than in Belem, a pretty suburb set on the riverfront west of the city centre. It's easy to spend a day here exploring such wonders as the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, easily the most impressive of Belem's sightseeing wonders. This UNESCO protected monastery dates from around 1500 and was built to honour Vasco da Gama who navigated the first sea route to India in 1498. Across the park is another monument to the country's astonishing period of maritime exploration, the Padrao dos Descrobrimentos – Monument to the Discoveries. The view form the top is breathtaking. Within walking distance is another UNESCO World Heritage gem, the beautiful Torre de Belem. Break for refreshments at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem for coffee and delicious custard tarts, made to a secret recipe and the best in Portugal.
A somewhat sombre experience awaits sightseers visiting the atmospheric ruins of the Carmo church. Indeed, this is one of the more poignant of Lisbon's historic sites. Built between 1389 and 1423, this was once the city's grandest church. But on the morning of All Saints' Day in 1755 a violent earthquake struck the city and the among the many buildings destroyed or badly damaged was this church, full at the time with worshippers. Most perished under tons of masonry. The surviving Gothic arches of the convent serve as a reminder of that fateful day. Inside, an engaging archaeological museum now occupies the main body of the church and houses a miscellany of sarcophagi, statuary and mosaics. Look out for the Roman tomb carved with reliefs depicting the Muses, and the splendid stone tomb of Ferdinand I. Among the more bizarre pieces is a pair of ancient South American mummies displayed in a glass case.
An edifying point of interest, the telecabine, or cable car, that runs above the river's edge at Parque das Nacoes provides visitors with an uplifting panorama of the entire Nation's Park area and the Tagus estuary. The cabins glide lazily between two stations set either end of the park and the "flight' takes around 20 minutes to complete. Along the way, the bird's eye views take in favourite sights like the MEO Arena (the former Atlantic Pavilion) the fantastic Oceanarium, the striking Vasco da Gama tower with its Myriad Hotel and the river. Each cabin can easily accommodate family groups and the experience adds a lofty dimension to any sojourn to this part of the city. For kids especially (children under 6 travel free), the trip is a real adventure but adults, too, will appreciate the different views this unique sightseeing attraction offers.
A sightseeing favourite, Lisbon's castle is the most ubiquitous of the capital's tourist attractions and is a "must see" on any visitor itinerary. The 1755 earthquake destroyed much of the original structure and what you see today is the result of careful renovation. However, while not strictly authentic, the castle remains a compelling draw. The heavy-set outer ramparts surround the picturesque Santa Cruz district and the inner walls enclose gardens and archaeological excavations, which have revealed evidence of Roman and Moorish presence. It's possible to walk the entire length of the sturdy battlements and climb the lookout towers, one of which, Torre de Ulisses, has a camera obscura that projects views of the city onto the inside walls of the tower. To take the best photographs, head for the Observation Terrace: the panorama is the finest in Lisbon.
Looming large on the south bank of the river is one of Lisbon's most incongruous monuments, the Cristo Rei (Christ the King) statue. It's the Portuguese version of Brazil's famous Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro and while much smaller in scale, it's still an impressive sight. The statue itself is 92 feet tall but stands on a pedestal 270 feet high. It was inaugurated in 1959. It's certainly worth the effort to visit because the views are staggering and take in all of Lisbon, the Ponte 25 de Abril road bridge and the Tagus estuary. A lift, plus a few steps, takes sightseers to the platform beneath the statue. Coincide any excursion with good weather for the finest perspectives.
Lisbon's eye-catching triumphal arch, better known as the Rua Augusta Arch, is one of the city's most recognised historic monuments. Standing on the north side of Praca do Comercio, the 19th-century landmark was designed by architect Santos de Carvalho to celebrate the reconstruction of the city after the 1755 earthquake. The roof is surmounted by an allegorical figure of Glory , crowning figures representing Genius and Bravery with wreaths. Inside the arch is an elevator that whisks visitors up to a viewing platform where sweeping views are afforded from the belvedere. The panorama takes in the vast square below,the river to the south and over the Baixa district to the north.
One of the delights of exploring Lisbon is discovering the city's miradouros (viewpoints) – purpose-built terraces usually designed around landscaped gardens and more often than not a handy kiosk-café. Located at various points throughout the capital, these attractive belvederes are sited specifically to take advantage of Lisbon's most striking scenic views, always dramatically enhanced given its hilly topography. A particularly absorbing panorama can be enjoyed from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcântara. This sweeping veranda is set near the top of the city's Bairro Alto district, near Principe Real, and affords sightseers with a picture postcard aspect of eastern Lisbon. The most obvious landmark is the Castelo de Sao Jorge, but a useful tiled map placed against the balustrade helps you pinpoint other places of interest including São Vicente de Fora and the cathedral.