One day in Lisbon, Portugal

Tips for taking a walking tour of the city.

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 day. But I tried.

Not directly on the ocean, Lisbon is several miles inland on the Tagus river. Plan ahead so that you’re able to be on deck for the cruise into Lisbon harbor.

Nieuw Amsterdam entering Lisbon on the Tagus River
Guests aboard the Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam are invited onto the bow.
Discoveries Monument Lisbon
The Discoveries Monument dedicated to Lisbon’s famous seafaring explorers.

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.

Here’s 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.

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

Colorful Portuguese tiled building along the Lisbon waterfront
Tiled building along the Lisbon waterfront

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.

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

Stop for a to-go beverage or just say hi and take a photo.

Friendly shopkeeper in Lisbon
There’s always a smile when you walk into a shop.

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.

Pasteis de Belem
Lisbon’s famous pastry whose recipe is a centuries-old, well guarded secret.
Vendors selling roasted chestnuts.
Vendors selling roasted chestnuts.

Just like New York City, right? Only the price is different.

Here are a few more photos of Rua Augusta.

Tour cars in Lisbon
Tour cars for rent. There’s a voice that narrates and tells you where to drive.
Brasilian-style Churrascaria in Lisbon.
Brasilian-style Churrascaria in Lisbon.
Cable car through Rua Augusta shopping area.
Cable car through Rua Augusta shopping area.

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 in Al Fama District
Fado restaurant in Al Fama District
Typical Portuguese fish dinner
Typical Portuguese fish dinner

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 in Lisbon
Fado singer in Lisbon

Sadly, 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.

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 at night
Leaving Lisbon at night to begin our transatlantic crossing.

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