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.
The Alcantara terminal at the commercial port has shops, taxi ranks, a few restaurants, cafes and other facilities.
Santa Apolonia's port has a more modern terminal building. There are few services inside, but once out of the secured dock area, there are restaurants, cafes with Wi-Fi, ATMs and stores for necessary sundries. It is close to the city center.
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.
Some cruise lines offer a shuttle service to Praca do Comercio, an elegant 18th-century square facing the riverfront near the Baixa (central business district in the lower town). From the square, many of the major tourist attractions are within walking distance as well as "Main Street," Avenida da Liberdade, which lies to the northwest and is a broad boulevard with upmarket hotels and chic shops.
From Santa Apolonia, a Blue Line Metro stop is located across the street from the terminal entrance alongside the Santa Apolonia railroad station. It's just two stops to the city center at Baixa-Chiado or three to Restauradores Square just north of the Rossio, the main plaza.
The metro, buses and trams are relatively easy to navigate, with unlimited-use daily passes available at ticket machines. In addition, the Rossio train station offers frequent service to the out-of-town destination of Sintra (40 minutes). Cais do Sodre station, just downriver from the city center, runs frequent trains to the riverside towns of Estoril (30 minutes) and Cascais (35 minutes), stopping near the Alcantara cruise terminal en route. From Santa Apolonia, trains run to Fatima (1.5 to 2 hours).
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.
Portuguese cuisine features lots of fish, soft-shell crabs and meat and rice dishes. When you sit down, the server may put bread, butter, one or two kinds of cheese and an hors d'oeuvre on your table. You will be charged for each one, so politely say no thank you for what you don't want, and it will be taken away.
Lisbon's most interesting restaurants are located in the hilly Bairro Alto neighborhood, adjacent to and above Baixa. The restaurants are intimate, indoors (no room for sidewalk cafes) and full of charm -- usually with a bar to one side for the locals and table seating on the other. On Rua das Portas de Santo Antao, just north of the Rossio, numerous sidewalk cafes beckon. A few outdoor/indoor restaurants are located to the left as you exit the Alcantara Terminal. Pick one where you see lots of people, preferably locals. If you're docked at the Santa Apolonia terminal, head to the Alfama district just above. The best restaurants there are often the ones without touts outside soliciting business.
For local cuisine, Cocheira Alentejana, sporting a peasant-style decor, is full most nights. Specialty of the house is dogfish soup and migas with pork (Travessa do Poco de Cidade, 19; 213 464 868; open noon to 2 a.mMonday to Friday, 7:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday; closed Sunday)
Pap'Acorda, a popular place for hobnobbing, is a two-room restaurant with bar that serves classic Portuguese seafood and ribs. Try the Spanish mussels, shellfish and rice, or acorda -- a seafood dish with eggs, bread, garlic, olive oil and coriander. Reservations are required. (Av. 24 de Julho 49; 213 464 811; open noon to midnight Tuesday - Sunday and noon to 2 a.m. Friday - Saturday)
Tagide, a funky tapas bar, offers two lunch options: one course for 8.50 euros or three for 12.50 euros, including a glass of wine and coffee. If you prefer to order separately, try the clams in white wine and garlic or roasted peppers and cheese. Leave room for custard tarts served with cinnamon ice cream. (Largo da Academia Nacional de Belas Artes 18 and 20, Chiado; 213 404 010; open 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to midnight Tuesday to Sunday)
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.