With 260 days of sun a year, history teeming from every pore, and some of the friendliest capital-city dwellers in Europe, Tadhg Peavoy says Lisbon comes close to being the No 1 European city break destination.

Getting to the Portuguese capital from Ireland is easy, with Aer Lingus jetting in directly from Dublin.

And with the two countries also located in the same time zone, one doesn't even have to break stride to make the journey across the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay to Europe's most south-westerly tip.

Upon arrival in the heart of Lisbon itself, one cannot help but glance around in awe at the very unique beauty the city has to offer. The sun invariably breaks through an azure sky and casts an orange glow on a metropolis composed largely of sandstone, with picturesque terracotta roofs stretching out across the landscape, which is built upon seven hills: it is at once both captivating and impossibly romantic.

Roaming around Lisbon is one of the primary joys of a stay, as there is so much to take in, with an ambulatory pace the best way to allow the culture and antiquity to percolate one's mind.

Around the centre of the town itself, there is a profusion of beauty to start one's trip. Praça da Figueira - bang in the centre of Lisbon - is a fine place to commence a journey. With its statue of King John I looking down over the town in a custodial manner, it's also a good place to have a coffee and pastry and plan what attractions one wants to put at the top of the itinerary.

From there Lisbon opens up around a visitor, the immediate vicinity is composed of shopping streets and cafés, which bustle with life and laughter as the city goes about its business through a strange dichotomy of mellowness and all-out franticness.

A stone's throw from the centre is the Rossio Railway Station, which was designed in the 19th century by José Luís Monteiro. The building itself is stunning and worth a gander.

If you wish to travel out to the beaches surrounding the city, notably Cascais and Carcavelos, you can get a train to them from Cais do Sodré station; after a short train ride you can hope off and enjoy the Atlantic Ocean and beaches in all their glory.

However, a short hop in the city is probably better spent staying in the town itself and making a journey out to the historical region of Belém.

Following the coastal route west one can take in a spectacular view out across the Tagus River, and the 25 de Abril Bridge which connects the city to the municipality of Almada.

Belém itself is the place to immerse oneself in the history of Portugal in the Age of Discovery. It was from this point that many of Portugal's great navigators set forth on their expeditions. Belém Tower stands out as a highlight; the UNESCO World Heritage Site was a prominent part of a defence system for the city and is an architectural marvel.

Nearby, the Jerónimos Monastery is also a must-see. It's one of the best examples of Manueline-style architecture and sits regally in the centre of the area - it's stunning.

After taking in the sights of Belém, food is next on the agenda. Traditional Portuguese restaurants are located just off the main street, with fresh seafood the order of the day. Grilled sardines are the speciality of the city, while prawns, octopus, squid and cod are the other seafood worth trying.

The Portuguese tend to wash all that down with wine from the Douro region. The simplicity of the food here is the beauty of it, with salads, cheese, bread and olives being the staples.

The star culinary attraction of Belém; however, is the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. There they serve the most famous pastéis de Belem - a beautiful Portuguese custard tart.

Grabbing a coffee and some tarts and lounging in the park across the road is the perfect way to relax and let your sightseeing soak into the mind.

The other area of the city that has to be seen on a first trip to Lisbon is the old town. Again, located near the central Praça da Figueira, one can either amble up the hill towards the old town or take the tram. Ambling is a good way to get a feel for the winding streets and the slightly crumbling, but still mesmeric architecture, while heading towards the summit.

However, the trams themselves are also something special; the single-carriage beauties rattle up the hill on the old lines with a hasty abandon.

Once at the top, the Castle of Sao Jorge welcomes in visitors who wish to look down over the city unfolding below.

In addition to history, food and drink in the town is abundant in its supply.

The Bairro Alto area near the centre is the first place to frequent in the evenings. Here several streets lead off a central square with bars and restaurants lining up on either side to welcome the reveller.

Bar-wise, cocktails are the order of the 'day'. Simply find a road that is happening, pick a bar that is jamming, and get inside.

The other area worth a look for a dose of craic is the Docks. In that area there's a strip of bars that caters for a whole range of musical tastes. The bars look out onto the water, which is a compelling mix of the industrial and the nautical.

One of the best bars and eateries in the area is Le Chat. Perched on a hill overlooking the Docks, it has a wide terrace that perches out over the drop with the view broadening out below. The cocktails here are awesome, especially the Beverly Hills Tea.

Meat lovers will be delighted by the proliferation of their favourite food on Lisbon menus; two restaurants well worth a visit are Café de Sao Bento and Café del Rio.

Café de Sao Bento is a little out of town, past Bairro Alto, and is a wonderfully unique setting. To enter, you have to be buzzed in, at which point you are seated in an opulent dining room with velvet seating, dark wooden panelling and incredibly friendly waiters.

There is a range of starters on offer, including beautiful pata negra smoked ham. But this place is about the fillet steak; eat it with the house special cream sauce or Portuguese style – fried with garlic and laurel.

Café del Rio is located just off the Docks and offers gourmet burgers; you can go for Portuguese specialities, international style, or fish or vegetarian options.

The interior design itself is superb, with parts of the original structure of the building left exposed on the wall of the modern, white interior.

Just across the road from Café del Rio is one of the town's largest squares, with a beer museum, terrace cafés lining the perimeter and bands entertaining the masses.

The bar at the beer museum is a great stop, with brews from every Portuguese colony on offer.

It's the perfect place to sit back, relax with a cerveja, and promise yourself that you will return to laidback Lisbon.

Tadhg Peavoy

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