Heading off on a cruise to Portugal? Lisbon is a city often overlooked by travellers who instead opt for European capitals like Rome and Paris. But it offers so much, as Julianna from The Discoveries Of tells us, “Beautiful architecture married with great food and a vibrant culture combine to make a city that should be at the top of everyone’s travel list this year. Walk from the port to the city centre along the riverside, it’s a beautiful walk and the perfect introduction to the city.”
Here, we take a look at the top things to do in Lisbon in and around the cruise port:
What to see in Lisbon
Lisbon’s city centre is no more than a ten-minute car journey from the port, meaning you can easily immerse yourself in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. But if you don’t wish to venture far from the port, you’ll still have plenty of options in and around the area.
It can take half a day to experience all of Belém’s sights but there are a few stand-out attractions that can’t be missed as Juliana tells us, “A trip to Belém, with its beautiful Jeonimos Monastery, Belém Tower and Monument to the Discoveries is a must. Wandering around the monastery is like stepping back in time. Alternatively, LX Factory shows the modern face of the city, complete with some of Lisbon’s coolest shops, cafés, bars and street art.”
Belém is the epitome of picturesque. Previously the home for Lisbon’s elite to escape the depravity of the inner city, it now plays host to many of the Portuguese capital’s most highly regarded tourist attractions. Belém Tower was built to guard the city against any sea-bound attacks. Strategically positioned in the centre of the Tejo Estuary, the tower has moved on the banks of the river due to its flow. Completed in 1521, it became a symbolic image of home and hope for explorers and their crews.
While much of Lisbon is adored for its typically Portuguese buildings, the Jeronimos Monastery is arguably the country’s ultimate nod to its power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. Built in 1502, the monastery was built to commemorate the voyage undertaken by Vasco de Gama and his crew to India and as thanks to the Virgin Mary.
There are few finer examples of European Gothic architecture than this. Created by Cottinelli Telmo and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, the Monument to the Discoveries was temporarily erected in 1940 during the Portuguses World Exhibition. It was later reconstructed in 1960 to mark the 500 years since the death of the Infante Dom Henrique. It is an iconic image that recognises Portuguese seafarers and explorers who were among the first in the western world to sail the globe during the Age of Discoveries.
Visit São Jorge Castle
Towering above central Lisbon is Castelo São Jorge, the ancient seat of Portuguese power for over 400 years. With unmissable views of the city, river and port, the castle is now one of Lisbon’s finest landmarks and a must for anyone visiting the city. Despite being reconstructed in the 1920s, the layout has stayed the same since its 11th-century design.
“Most cruise ship visitors will disembark in Alfama and while this is a very nice part of the old city, there is a lot more to see,” Marek from Indie Traveller explains. “A great thing to do straight away is to head to São Jorge Castle.”
Marek considers Lisbon to be one of his favourite destinations and he talks of the pastel colours, views and cobbled streets in his Lisbon city guide. “Perched atop one of Lisbon’s seven hills, the views from its towers offer an amazing introduction to the city. From there you can meander your way back down to Baixa, a neighbourhood with historic cafés, fashionable boutiques and the triumphal Rua Augusta arch. As of 2017, you can now go inside the arch, climb to the roof and stand next to its statues for a perfect view of Praça do Comércio, which was once the commercial heart of the city in colonial times.”
What to eat in Lisbon
Portugal has been shaped by its affinity with the sea. The 800 kilometres of coastline doesn’t just make for stunning beaches, it also means that you can try some of the best fresh seafood anywhere.
Pastél de nata
Frankie from As the Bird Flies is one of many travellers who fell in love with Lisbon’s cuisine, “Lisbon is the perfect city for a warm weekend break in Europe and it has plenty to offer in terms of history, culture and food. My favourite place to grab lunch is the Mercado da Ribeira, a huge indoor food market with dishes from all over the world. At night, I love the atmosphere in Bairro Alto or the climbing streets of Alfama, the oldest part of the city, for local food and live performances of fado. And don’t forget to queue up for your pastél de nata from Pastéis de Belém. It’s a bit of a tourist spot but these secret recipe custard tarts are worth the wait and the crowds.”
Sardines are a staple of Portuguese seafood and are best enjoyed in the summer months. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés in Lisbon serving these little fish on a warm slice of sourdough bread with salad.
“If you’re visiting Lisbon, make sure that you sit down to some of the freshest seafood in the city at Cervejaria Ramiro or grab a glass of Portuguese wine and sample food from some of the city’s best chefs at the Time Out Market,” Julianna enthused. “Good food and drink is plentiful in Lisbon, from the beloved pastelerias to laidback bars dotted throughout the historical area of Alfama.”