To call Lisbon old world is spot on. The city is older than Rome! In fact, Lisbon Portugal is one of the worlds oldest cities. I’ve been here several times and it never fails to charm me. Its one of my favorite European destinations and I’ve been here at least 10 times so far as a cruise ship musician. As a visitor arriving by cruise ship, there are a couple of docks you could arrive at. I’ve been to the cruise ship docks of both Alcântara and Jardim do Tabaco quay. Alcântara, near the 25 de Abril Bridge, is further from the city center and you’ll need to take a free shuttle, which is how I first met this amazing place. The shuttle will take you from the dock at Alcântara into the city center. Exiting the shuttle at the main square, Praça do Comércio on the Tagus river, is the perfect starting point, and one of 3 must see sites for a first time visitor. Lets go!
As you exit your shuttle and start to explore the area, you’ll notice the spacious, open square has a large monument of King Jose I and is the entrance to the city through the magnificent Triumphal Arch. Much history has been made in this square. In 1908, this spot saw the double assassination of the king of Portugal, King Carlos I and the one who would succeed him, Prince Royal Luís Filipe.
Pass through the triumphal arch and onto Rua Augusta. Stop and turn around. Lets admire the arch for a moment. Standing on the other side and looking up, you’ll notice a large clock on the top of the arch. Don’t worry about the time, you have plenty of time to explore starting from this spot where all the action is.
The main pedestrian street, Rue Augusta, is jam packed with charming cafes, shopping and covered with ornamental tiled walkways. I love these tiled designs on the ground, which seem unique to Portugal because I’ve seen similar tiled walkways in other parts of Portugal that I’ve been to. As I took in the sights, meandering along the shops and cafes, I came across a man with his toy dog, sitting on the street, playing accordion for tips. You should’ve seen my surprise when I returned to Lisbon one year later and found the same man and his cute pup, sitting in the same spot!
As I reach the end of Rue Augusta pedestrian walkway, the city opens up to another incredible square, known as Rossio Square or Pedro IV Square. This is one of the main meeting points for locals and tourists alike. You really get the feeling that this is the center of it all! Many streets branch off in endless directions from this center spot.
Rising high into the air from the center of the square is another monument that can be seen from all directions, and honors Pedro IV. The ornamental tile under your feet form a pattern of waves surrounding the monument and two water fountains located in front of the national theater (D. Maria II), which was built around 1450. Cafes and shops buzz with activity on the perimeter. The famous yellow trolleys transport folks up hill and out of sight in all directions. Good luck trying to find one thats not covered in graffiti. Continuing onward and veering off to the left, walking past the train station, we enter yet another large square called Restauradores Square. Here, we find the Hard Rock Cafe, and several hotels which used to be theaters. This square is the start of a more upscale neighborhood with high end restaurants and shops.
Avenida da Libertade is the name of this street, with plenty of trees and statues, outdoor cafes and pigeons.
“Wait, My ship is docked somewhere else!”
If you find yourself arriving at the Jardim do Tabaco quay cruise port, you’ll notice you’re docking very near several must see sights. Most notably the National Pantheon (Church of Santa Engrácia). Its a bit of an uphill hike, but well worth the effort. Or you can admire it from the top deck of your ship as its docked very near this site.
Back down near the port, you’ll be able to walk into the city center, admiring unique tiled facades on the buildings and sidewalks alike. I always like to stop into a little cafe along this walk knows as Hotdogs and Milkshakes. This place is decorated like an American 50’s style diner with posters of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. I took advantage of the cheap coffee and free wifi.
Jardim do Tabaco quay is a good spot to dock as you’ll be very close to several sites and be able to walk directly into the main shopping areas without having to take a shuttle. You’ll get off the ship and all the sites will be to your left or up the hill to the National Pantheon. Enjoy the unique tiled walkways, charming cafes, and bustling shopping in this historic and amazing city. It can feel a bit rough around the edges and it has a little too much graffiti for my liking, but still I’m planning to return many more times!