Lisbon monument for past mariners, at harbor entrance.

What to Do in Lisbon, Portugal on a Cruise Day

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Fado. Pasteis. A glass of port. There is so much to see, do, hear and taste in Lisbon that it’s not an easy task to cram it all into one cruise day. But I tried.

In this recap, I list what I think are the best things to do in Lisbon with only one, maybe two short days on a cruise.

Passengers at the bow of the ship near the bridge at Lisbon harbor.
Entering Lisbon, Portugal old harbor. Captain opened the bow to passengers. (Photo: Sherry Laskin)

Best Things to Do in Lisbon on a Cruise

Not directly on the ocean, Lisbon is several miles inland on the Tagus river. Plan ahead so that you’re outside on deck or your balcony for the cruise into beautiful Lisbon harbor.

The Discoveries Monument dedicated to Lisbon's famous seafaring explorers.
The Discoveries Monument dedicated to Lisbon’s famous seafaring explorers. (Photo:Sherry Laskin)

Take a Walking Tour!

There are two cruise ports for Lisbon: Santa Apolonia and Alcantara. If you plan to walk into the city center, cross your fingers for Santa Apolonia. If your ship docks at the Alcantara Cruise Terminal, you will need to take a taxi to get anywhere. For the more adventurous, there is a local commuter train  nearby.

Get a map that shows the two ports plus walking guides. The orange dot on the right is the close-to-town terminal (the orange line points to downtown). You can get an idea how far away the other one (circle with orange line near the bridge) is from downtown.

Map of Lisbon Portugal with ports.
Map of Lisbon Portugal with ports.

On my first cruise to Lisbon, I walked from the Santa Apolonia terminal past the Al Fama district (more on that later) to the pedestrian shopping area, about 1.5 miles at the most.

Last visit we docked at Alcantara. I tried to walk to the downtown area, became way too lost for comfort and jumped into the first taxi that would stop.

Here’s where I prefer to begin my walking tour…the historic Al Fama district, home to Fado, the woeful  and mournful music sung as a solo with string accompaniment. This unique music originated in Lisbon in the 1800s.

Fado Museum in Lisbon.
An entire museum dedicated to the history of Fado. (Photo: Sherry Laskin)

If you walk from the Santa Apolonia terminal, you can stop at the Fado Museum on your way to the downtown pedestrian mall.

Beautiful flowers and a shrine decorate the front of this apartment home.
Beautiful flowers and a shrine are commonplace on the front of homes. (Photo: Sherry Laskin)

Remember to look up as you meander through the narrow streets. From mosaics of handmade tiles to flowerpots overflowing with colors, there’s so much to see that’s easily missed.

Intricate iron decorations are a guard rail at the top of an apartment building.
Tiled building along the Lisbon waterfront. (Photo: Sherry Laskin)

After walking past the Fado Museum towards the Al Fama district, you’ll start to see people with shopping bags sitting at small cafes along the narrow streets. You’re going in the right direction to Rua Augusta, sort of a downtown area.

Rua Augusta, Lisbon's main pedestrian street with shops, cafes and boutique hotels.
Rua Augusta, Lisbon’s main pedestrian street with shops, cafes and boutique hotels.

A Taste of Lisbon

No visit to Lisbon is complete without tasting their most-famous sweet, the Pasteis de Belem. Rich, warm custard nestled in a light-as-air puff pastry. The original bakery is located near the Belem Tower, but a few copycat bakeries make a fairly close rival.

A tray of Pasteis de Belem, little custard pies in Lisbon.
Lisbon’s famous pastry whose recipe is a centuries-old, well guarded secret. (Photo: Sherry Laskin)
Street vendor in Lisbon selling roasted chestnuts.
Vendor selling roasted chestnuts. (Photo: Sherry Laskin)

Buy a bag of fresh roasted chestnuts to munch on as you walk. Just like New York City, right? Only the price is different.

Here are a few more photos of Rua Augusta, the main shopping street in Lisbon. If you’re brave, you can rent one of these little cars and take yourself on a guided tour.

Tiny two-seater rental cars for tourists in downtown Lisbon.
Tour cars for rent. There’s a voice that narrates and tells you where to drive.
Brasilian-style churrascaria restaurant downtown Lisbon.
Brasilian-style Churrascaria in Lisbon.
Cable car at a stop sign along Rua Augusta shopping area.
Cable car through Rua Augusta shopping area.

Listen to Fado in the Evening

I’ve been fascinated with Fado for years and luckily our ship wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11pm. That left plenty of time to return after a few hours window shopping and a few sips of locally-produced port, to taxi back to the ship, freshen up and return to the Al Fama for dinner and a Fado performance.

Here is my fondest memory of Lisbon; a night at a Fado restaurant. I found this place two years earlier and was determined to find it again.

Reservations made for 8pm. I convinced my new friends, Elizabeth and Walter, to come along.

Fado Restaurant front door in Al Fama District in Lisbon.
Fado restaurant in Al Fama District

First is your dinner. There were only two choices; a meat stew-type dish or a whole fish!

Portuguese whole fish on a dinner plate with salad and lemon.
Typical Portuguese fish dinner (Photo: Sherry Laskin)

And finally at 9pm, the entertainment begins. The restaurant was packed. Seating is at small tables with new people to meet. At our table was a couple vacationing from northern France and another couple from Germany.

Fado singer and two guitar players perform at a restaurant in Lisbon.
Fado singer in Lisbon. It was really dark in the restaurant. (Photo: Sherry Laskin)

Staying Safe in Taxis at Night

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay til things really got going after the first set. All aboard was at 10:30 latest and my friends and I didn’t know the taxi situation. Apparently neither did the taxi driver.

The driver pretended not to know English, even though we said the name of the terminal in fairly decent Portuguese. He still shook his head. Jumping out the taxi’s door, we said, “Não obrigado” (no, thank you) to the driver. His buddy across the street bolted after us, swearing in perfect English.

They  were demanding we pay them both 20 Euro even though the taxi didn’t move. Panicked, we ducked into another restaurant hoping to avoid confrontation. After a few minutes, we re-emerged, hailed another cab and all was good. Just a bit shaken up.

Takeaway lesson: confirm the destination and the taxi fare BEFORE getting in to a taxi at night in a strange neighborhood. Or you can opt for a ship’s Fado shore excursion and have no worries at all. But it won’t be in a tiny, local Fado place that you stumble upon.

If you are planning a cruise to Lisbon, my best advice is to pick a cruise ship that will be there until late at night, like our Holland America ship.

Be Outside for Sailaway from Lisbon

The only way to end an evening of freshly-caught seafood, regional wine and amazing music, is a Lisbon sailaway under the stars.

Leaving Lisbon after sunset with suspension bridge lights lit.
Leaving Lisbon at night to begin our transatlantic crossing. (Photo: Sherry Laskin)

Some of the best things to do in Lisbon on a cruise day or two (if you’re lucky) is to just walk around and mix and mingle with the locals. Stop in a restaurant for a bite to eat, admire the beautiful handiwork on the buildings, and learn a few friendly phrases in Portuguese!

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