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Lisbon bears the mark of an incredible heritage with laid-back pride. Spread over seven hills north of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) estuary, the city also presents a variety of faces to those who negotiate its switchback streets. In the oldest bairros (neighborhoods), stepped alleys are lined with pastel-colour houses decked with laundry; here and there miradouros (vantage points) afford spectacular views. Eléctricos (trams) clank through the streets, and blue-and-white azulejos (and glazed ceramic tiles) adorn churches and fountains.

Of course, parts of Lisbon lack charm. Even some downtown areas have lost their classic Portuguese appearance as the city has become more cosmopolitan: shiny office blocks have replaced some 19th- and 20th-century Art Nouveau buildings. And centenarian trams share the streets with "fast trams" and smoke-belching automobiles.

Some modernization has improved matters, though. In preparing to host the 1998 World Exposition, Lisbon spruced up public buildings, overhauled its subway system, and completed an impressive second bridge across the river. Today the Expo site is an expansive riverfront development known as Parque das Nações, and the city is a popular port of call for cruises, whose passengers disembark onto a revitalized waterfront.