Lisbon by cruise ship - lead
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Lisbon Portugal by cruise ship

In her final destination guide from a no-fly holiday with Royal Caribbean on the spectacular Anthem of the Seas, Johanna Payton explores the beautiful area of Alfama as she docks in Lisbon Portugal by cruise ship.

It seems fitting, on a dream holiday, that the last major stop should be the best. I had always dreamed of visiting Lisbon: it’s only my fear of flying that has stopped me popping down there for a long weekend of food and culture. I’ve holidayed in the Algarve, which was lovely, but Lisbon’s looks, character and capital status have always attracted me to it.

So imagine my delight when our wonderful cruise ship, Anthem of the Seas, pulled into the port of Lisbon for the day and we realised just how close we were to the city…a few minutes walk away.

In spite of the proximity, we soon discovered that the best way to see Lisbon, if you’re on a tight schedule, is to jump on a Vespa tuk-tuk. I had my reservations (I’m a nervous passenger on all sorts of methods of transport) but what fun it turned out to be. Our driver was a DJ who had lived in Camberwell, so we had a chat about south London as he whizzed us around the impossibly narrow streets and showed us the sights.

What sights they were. Lisbon is breathtaking. From the Santa Engracia National Pantheon (a monument containing the tombs of many notable Portuguese personalities) to São Jorge Castle; from the fado bars on every Alfama street corner to the picture-perfect trams ambling along the cobbles; Lisbon exudes history and culture. Known as the city of seven hills, the perspective of the place constantly takes you by surprise as one breathtaking view gives way to another.

Our hour-long tour (€40 for a group of three) centred on Alfama, the oldest district of the city. We first drove to Miradouro Nossa Senhora do Monte, a place of religious pilgrimage that also offers the most beautiful view across the city. It faces directly towards the National Sanctuary of Christ the King – an iconic religious statue that was modelled after Rio’s Christ the Redeemer – and the landmark Ponte 25 de Abril, a suspension bridge with more than a hint of San Francisco’s Golden Gate.

Miradouro da Graça offered another great view – and is a handy place to stop for coffee. From there it’s a short spin to São Vicente de Fora, a beautiful 17th-century church and monastery with gorgeous gardens that we went back to later for a moment of tranquility.

Another must-stop is Miradouro das Portas do Sol, a wide balcony area where we looked down to the river to see our cruise ship standing magnificently in the river Tagus. This was another spot we came back to later, sipping cool drinks at the fantastic Portas do Sol, a hip Ibiza-style bar and cafe with a huge, sun-soaked terrace, a shabby-chic interior, an extensive range of drinks and a good selection of snacks and sandwiches for lunch.

Our foodie-senses were on a much more traditional trajectory, however, and after a mid-morning stop at Pasteis de Alfama (for sweet delights including pastel coco and pasteis de nata, infused with almond) we searched for a taste of old Lisbon. It really wasn’t hard to find. We ate a fabulous lunch of enchidos, bacalhau a bras and – for my son – chicken and chips at a fado restaurant in the old town. They even sold a non-alcoholic Super Bock, the Portuguese beer.

Fed and watered, we climbed back down the hill, past the fado museum and back to the boat. I would have loved to visit Belem and walked right along the river but, on a cruise, there is never much time to lament your woes. As we travelled down the river, back towards the Atlantic, we made a thrilling pass under the Ponte 25 de Abril, the top of the ship clearing the bottom of the bridge by what looked like a whisker. The cruisers cheered as we sailed under its shadow and left Lisbon behind us: it’s a moment, and a city, I will never, ever forget.

Frozen yoghurt stand in Lisbon

Upon disembarkation, you may have a cool reception in Lisbon – a frozen yoghurt stand was waiting for the Anthem of the Seas passengers on a hot July morning

fado museum lisbon

Cruise ships stop near the Museum of Fado if you want to learn more about the unique (and sorrowful) music of the land

Santa Engracia National Pantheon, Lisbon

The first stop on the tuk tuk tour was Santa Engracia National Pantheon

Santa Engracia National Pantheon

Many famous Portuguese personalities are buried within this imposing monument

Tram in Lisbon

You may be chased by a tram…

Miradouro Nossa Senhora do Monte

The first time you take in the view from Miradouro Nossa Senhora do Monte it is quite a moment

view from Miradouro Nossa Senhora do Monte

Enjoy spectacular views of the stunning Golden Gate style bridge and the statue of Christ across the river

Whizzing through the streets, talking Camberwell, with DJ Isolation

Whizzing through the streets, talking Camberwell, with DJ Isolation

View of São Jorge Castle from Miradouro da Graça

There’s a fantastic view of view of São Jorge Castle from Miradouro da Graça

Bird cages in Lisbon

They still love a bird cage within the castle walls

Tuk tuks Miradouro das Portas do Sol

The tuk tuks wait for their tourists at Miradouro das Portas do Sol

Statue of St Vincente at Miradouro das Portas do Sol

St Vincente (and his crows) also stand proudly at Miradouro das Portas do Sol

terrace at Portas do Sol

You must stop at the terrace of Portas do Sol for ice cold drinks and nibbles

inside Portas do Sol

Inside the bar there is a decidedly Shoreditch feel…

tiled buildings in lisbon, Portugam

The beautiful tiled buildings are a feature of the oldest part of town

I could have stared at the tiled houses all day long - just beautiful

There’s a temptation to stare at the tiled houses all day long – just beautiful

tile shop in Lisbon

Fancy buying some authentic, antique Portuguese tiles? Well, you can

restaurant in Alfama

There are so many restaurants to chose from in the beautiful Alfama – many playing or hosting Fado in the evenings

bunting in the streets of Alfama

The streets are also full of colourful bunting and tinsel…like Christmas came early to the Alfama

garden of São Vicente de Fora

Johanna checks her map during a moment of calm in the garden of São Vicente de Fora

streets of Alfama

The quiet streets are perfect for wandering – or take a tram to see more in a shorter time (beware, they do get busy)

bacalhau a bras in alfama lisbon

One cannot go to Lisbon without eating traditional bacalhau a bras made with cod, potato and egg – it is beyond filling

Sleepy streets, alive with colour in Alfama...Johanna plans to visit again, taking the train from London to Lisbon

Sleepy streets, alive with colour in Alfama…Johanna plans to visit again, taking the train from London to Lisbon


How to get to Lisbon, Portugal without flying:

Johanna took a no-fly 14 night Mediterranean Italian cruise with Royal Caribbean, departing from and returning to Southampton.

Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground

Images: Johanna Payton

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