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.
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