Lisbon, Europe's westernmost capital and Portugal's cultural hub, lies on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Tagus River. The city is a delightful mix of must-see museums, castles and cathedrals. Its charming neighborhoods feature residences decorated with colorful tiled facades, sidewalk cafes along pedestrian thoroughfares and enchantingly original boutiques. The sidewalks are often paved with black and white volcanic stones in patterns specific to this city.
Lisbon has a refreshingly noncommercial feel, old-fashioned and relaxed, and exploring on foot is a delight. Portugal enjoyed its heyday long ago, and some of the older buildings that reflect this era are as opulent as they get. However, much of the city was leveled in the devastating earthquake of 1755, so visitors will notice that the city's architecture is not as old as that found in some European capitals. Prices tend to be lower than in the rest of Europe, especially in the moderately priced meals, wine and entrance fees to the main attractions. If you like fish and shellfish, you've come to the right city. Pastry shops abound, many with lovely storefronts, providing sit-down respite for coffee, tea and something sweet.
Lisbon is a city of hills, and the up-and-down geography adds to its charm. One of the best ways to experience it is via a tram ride through the medieval Alfama district, Baixa (the central business district) and the Bairro Alto (the major restaurant and nightlife area). Both the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts have wonderful miradoures, or viewpoints, to take in the city below, the nearby hills and the wide Tagus River that provides ships such easy access to the city.
For cruise visitors, Lisbon is also a jumping-off point for daytrips to Portugal's resort towns -- such as Estoril, near the mouth of the Tagus and lovely Sintra with its palaces up in the hills -- or a Catholic pilgrimage to Fatima.
Cruise ships dock in four locations along the Tagus River.
The commercial port of Doca de Alcantara, with its traditional passenger liner terminal, lies just east (upriver) of the 25th of April bridge (a dead ringer for San Francisco's Golden Gate). It's about a 90 minute walk from here into town, but some cruise lines provide shuttle services into the center. Also, there is an efficient rail, bus and tram system -- or take a taxi to the center and to Belem.
The port of Rocha Conde Obidos is also a bit of a distance from the city center; about an hour walking distance. There's no metro or subway nearby.
A newer port with three berths, Santa Apolonia (or Alfama) is near the city center and conveniently sits next to Alfama, a neighborhood popular with visitors. Nearby, Jardim Tabaco Quay is the closest to the main city center and is the best port for walking downtown. It can take one ship.
Pickpockets are stealthy and omnipresent, especially on public transit or along busy sidewalks and pedestrian-only streets. Leave your valuables onboard, and secure any credit cards and money you take along.
On the positive side, nearly every museum gives a free entry or 50 percent discount to seniors older than 65, making it a better deal for this age group than the Lisboa Card. You will have to show an ID card when purchasing tickets with a discount.
Portugal's currency is the euro. For current exchange rates, check www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. You'll find plenty of ATMs and exchange bureaus in town. Be sure to change some money if you plan to pick up snacks or ride the buses, trams or metro.
Portuguese is spoken in Lisbon, though many people understand and can speak English.
Port, the fortified sweet wine for which Portugal is famous, makes for a marvelous souvenir. Before you go on a shopping spree, check your country's custom restrictions on bringing liquor home from abroad. Hand-painted tiles and cotton embroidery are classic Portuguese trademarks.