As the downturn takes its toll, Lisbon’s tourist bosses are marketing the city as the affordable place to go in Europe.

But there’s much more to the Portuguese capital than value for money. It’s visually awesome and charming.

Whether you’re sitting in a cafe with hundreds of others waiting eagerly for a custard tart made to a monk’s secret recipe (that’s at the Antiga confeitaria de Belem); staring out from one of seven hills to a stunning panorama; or getting a vertical lift up one of those inclines (Santa Justa Lift), this city of secrets reveals itself before your eyes.

We start at the breathtaking Rossio Square. From there – or atop the nearby Augusta St Triumphal Arch – there is a fantastic view across the Tagus River and over to the Cristo Rei, a scaled-down version of Rio’s Christ The Redeemer.

For the history of the city head to Lisboa Story Centre, very close to the square. There you will hear about ancient civilisations, intrepid explorers and the terrifying 18th century earthquake which devastated the city but spurred an incredible rebuilding effort.

Then take one of the beautiful 150-year-old trams or, better still a Tuk Tuk tour (ecotuktours.com), up the winding slopes by-passing the intricate streets to the viewpoints.

The most awe-inspiring is at the Sao Jorge Castle which sits high above the city and dates back to the 15th century.

Aquariums exist in almost every city in the world but it’s well worth paying a visit to the OceanÃrio de Lisboa. Submerged into the dock, it’s an architectural masterpiece. You enter via a walkway and look down at the scores of jellyfish coming in from the Atlantic.

Inside, the exhibition is separated into four sections allowing you to watch penguins at play while seabirds swoop overhead.

Take a walk through a tropical rainforest and gaze at frolicsome sea otters, all alongside the usual collection of fish and sharks. It’s the second biggest in Europe – behind Valencia – but arguably superior.

Despite its seaside location, Lisbon is not your typical beach holiday. It’s a city with a difference and one that’s perfect for a European break.

Go to visitlisboa.com .