Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is a city open to the sea and carefully planned with 18th-century elegance. Its founder is said to be the legendary Ulysses, but the theory of an original Phoenician settlement is probably more realistic. Known in Portugal as Lisboa, the city was inhabited by the Romans, Visigoths and, beginning in the 8th century, the Moors. Much of the 16th century was a period of great prosperity and overseas expansion for Portugal. Tragedy struck on All Saints’ Day in 1755 with a devastating earthquake that killed about 40,000 people. The destruction of Lisbon shocked the continent. As a result, the Baixa (lower city) emerged in a single phase of building, carried out in less than a decade by the royal minister, the Marques de Pombal. His carefully planned layout of a perfect neo-classical grid survived to this day and remains the heart of the city. Evidence of pre-quake Lisbon can still be seen in the Belém suburb and the old Moorish section of the Alfama that sprawls below the Castle of St. George. Lisbon is a compact city on the banks of the Tagus River. Visitors find it easy to get around as many places of interest are in the vicinity of the central downtown area. There is a convenient bus and tram system and taxis are plentiful. Rossio Square, the heart of Lisbon since medieval times, is an ideal place to start exploring. After a fire destroyed parts of the historic neighborhood behind Rossio in 1988, many of the restored buildings emerged with modern interiors behind the original façades. The city boasts a good many monuments and museums, such as the Jeronimos Monastery, Tower of Belém, the Royal Coach Museum and the Gulbenkian Museum. High above the Baixa is the Bairro Alto (upper city) with its teeming nightlife. The easiest way to connect between the two areas is via the public elevator designed by Gustave Eiffel. Cruising up the Tagus River to the ship’s berth, you can already spot three of Lisbon’s famous landmarks: the Monument to the Discoveries, the Tower of Belém and the Statue of Christ, which welcomes visitors from its hilltop location high above Europe’s longest suspension bridge.
Set on the Maghreb coast, Tangier is Africa’s outstretched hand to Europe. With its bustling markets and lively waterfront, this city on Morroco’s north is an energetic and invigorating place and an exciting immersion into an incredible continent. The location, on the highly strategic narrowing of the Strait of Gibraltar, made Tangier a vital Phoenician trading town – and the resulting city is an invigorating mesh of cultures and curiosities. View less Part of the fun of Tangier is the well-rehearsed dance, as you dodge good-natured hawkers, and this is certainly a place to stroll with confidence and purpose. Delve into the mayhem of the walled Medina of Tangier for a rush of stimulation, as bartering and bantering echoes along the tight alleys. Crowded, noisy and busy, you’ll be sold to with a smile as you wander between stands of colourful spices, dried fruits and fabrics in this authentic Moroccan marketplace. Refresh and escape the sun with a fresh orange juice – or a sip of mint tea. Close to the city, you can find the Caves of Hercules, a coastal hollow that opens at both ends. The Phoenicians cut a window in the shape of the African continent, which reveals views of the Atlantic’s waves, and legend says Hercules rested within its confines. From Tangier, you can also venture inland to the Rif Mountains, where gorgeous Chefchaouen – a village of bright blue alleyways – waits. Punctuated by blooming flowers, the entire town is a beautiful, moulded artwork of colour, spilling down the mountain like a waterfall.
Bathing in the sunshine coast’s stunning subtropical climate, and laying out endless spectacular beaches, it’s no surprise that Malaga is one of Spain’s most popular cities. The already impressive cultural appeal of this holiday city has skyrocketed over recent years, and with a storied old town and Moorish fortifications, Malaga has a lot to offer. Nearby, you can recline on the renowned beaches of the Costa del Sol, or venture inland to discover the Moorish treasures of Granada and Cordoba. View less La Malagueta beach is Malaga’s spacious urban beach, perfect for a sunbathe and a dip in the warm water, before enjoying seaside cocktails or seafood tapas in the restaurants nearby. Malaga and the Costa del Sol may be best known for glorious weather and beaches, but Malaga can now stake a genuine claim as an artistic powerhouse too. Visit the renowned Picasso museum – housed in the artist’s birthplace – before exploring the freshly opened outpost of the Pompidou Centre. The art also spills out onto the streets in the colourful Soho district – splashed with vibrant street paintings. Known as La Manquita – or the one-armed woman – the city’s cathedral rises over the historic old town. Its huge bell tower stands tall, but an accompanying second tower was never completed – hence the nickname. The Alcazaba fortress palace looms over the waterfront and forms a spectacularly preserved remnant from the era when the Moors controlled the Andalucía region. Discover more of the Arabic influence by visiting Granada’s Alhambra palace, or Cordoba’s La Mezquita mosque. Together with Seville’s converted cathedral, the cities form Andalucía’s Golden Triangle of Moorish wonders.
On the crossroads of mighty cultures, this Murcian port has endless ancient stories to share. A valuable natural harbour attracted many civilisations to this sun-bathed, southeasterly setting – following its foundation by the Carthaginians in 227 BC. Blending the imprints left by countless cultures on this global junction, the presence of everyone from the Vandals to the Phoenicians and Moors can be felt as you explore, walking between ruins and celebrated modernist architecture along Calle Mayor. Cartagena is crowned by the soaring Castillo de la Concepcion – rise to the stout castle aboard a panoramic lift. Inside, look through reams of archaeological treasures, or admire the rolling views down over the port and across the waters. Watch out for the electric blue peacocks who strut flamboyantly. Cartagena’s emergence as a visitor destination coincided with a stunning discovery in 1988 – the bowl of a gloriously preserved Roman Theatre. Enter to sit among the grandiose ancient venue, so evocative, you can’t help but imagine the historic performances that have graced its stage. Wander the breezy waterfront, looking across the narrow strait towards Africa’s distant haze, and spotting gleaming warships. Cartagena’s perfect harbour means it has been one of Spain’s oldest strategic navy positions since the 16th century. Settle to enjoy the joys of tapas in lively bars – sampling crisped paella, squid and honeyed-aubergine. Easter’s Semana Santa festivities are typically lively here, as hooded processions, lavish floats and sombre fiery displays roll through the streets.
Valencia is Spain’s third largest city and capital of the region. It was originally founded by the Romans on the banks of the river Turia in 138 BC. In 711 AD the Moors arrived and converted the area into a rich agricultural and industrial center, establishing ceramics, paper, silk and leather industries. Muslim rule was briefly interrupted in 1094 by the legendary Castillian knight, El Cid. Valencia boomed in the 15th and 16th centuries, becoming one of the strongest Mediterranean trading centers. Valencia is a vibrant, friendly and chaotic city that boasts an outstanding fine arts museum and one of the most exciting nightlife scenes in Spain. The city center is about 3 miles inland from the coast. Plaza del Ayuntamiento marks the center of Valencia. Surrounded by flower stalls, it is also home to the town hall and the main post office. The cathedral was begun in the 13th century and finished in 1482. It has many architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque. The octagonal bell-tower, called Miguelete, is one of the city’s landmarks. The small cathedral museum boasts a tabernacle made from 550 pounds of gold, silver, platinum, emeralds and sapphires. It also purports to be the home of the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. West of the cathedral is the oldest part of the city, known as El Carme. Situated across the river in the Jardines del Real is the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Fine Arts Museum. Works include those by El Greco, Goya and Velázquez.
The infinite variety of street life, the nooks and crannies of the medieval Barri Gòtic, the ceramic tile and stained glass of Art Nouveau facades, the art and music, the throb of street life, the food (ah, the food!)—one way or another, Barcelona will find a way to get your full attention. The capital of Catalonia is a banquet for the senses, with its beguiling mix of ancient and modern architecture, tempting cafés and markets, and sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches. A stroll along La Rambla and through waterfront Barceloneta, as well as a tour of Gaudí’s majestic Sagrada Famíliaand his other unique creations, are part of a visit to Spain’s second-largest city. Modern art museums and chic shops call for attention, too. Barcelona’s vibe stays lively well into the night, when you can linger over regional wine and cuisine at buzzing tapas bars.
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