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Cruise Diva Goes Ashore in Europe:
The Mediterranean
Sights to see & things to do

Lisbon, Portugal

Paradoxically, the capital of Portugal is as Mediterranean in flavor as, say, Barcelona. However, Lisbon is a long way from the Mediterranean Sea. Located on the estuary of the Tagus River, Lisbon’s natural harbor opens onto the Atlantic Ocean, which offered her explorers a natural base from which to begin their discoveries of new lands.

In contrast to the history of the area—the Phoenicians established a port in Lisbon around 1200BC—much of the city appears newer and more modern, with little original evidence of her early settlers, the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. In 1755 a terrible earthquake and subsequent tidal wave of enormous proportion swept away nearly everything in its path, devastating parts of Lisbon. Fortunately, many important monuments and buildings were spared.


Some of the most famous sites in Lisbon are the Belém Tower, built in the 16th century to defend the mouth of the Tagus; the Manueline style Jerónimos Monastery with its adjacent stunning cloister and the Maritime and National Archaeological Museums housed on its grounds; the striking Monument to the Discoveries, offering homage to Prince Henry the Navigator and all other Portuguese explorers; the House of Facets, a 16th century palace with a façade entirely covered with stones carved into diamond points; and the Roman arches of the aqueduct spanning the Alcântara Valley.

The Alfama district rises from the Tagus and marches up the hill capped by St. George’s Castle, which overlooks the city with spectacular views and fine gardens within.  This medieval area was first occupied by the Visigoths and then the Arabs and Christians.  It’s a maze of narrow streets and lanes punctuated by archways, walls decorated with antique tiles, and wrought-iron balconies.  The entire area was nearly destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and its dilapidated appearance is presently undergoing renovation.

One of Lisbon’s most magnificent views is from the crest of the elegant Parque Eduardo VII.  With a good guidebook and walking map you can catch a taxi and head out to any of the districts of Lisbon on your own.  In the Barrio Alto a favorite adventure is the ride on the Glória funicular, one of the old-fashioned streetcars that appears to have escaped from a transportation museum.  Ships excursions will provide passengers with city highlights and independent tours can be arranged at hotels.  Rental cars aren’t recommended due to the heavy traffic and lack of parking.  Taxis are available by the ride (metered) or for half a day or the whole day for exploring the city—negotiate the rate before you head out.

For an evening of special entertainment, a club with fado performers is the place to go. Locals will gladly steer you to the clubs where the best fado is to be found. (Fado is a soulful and nostalgic expression of emotions, sung to the accompaniment of a twelve-stringed guitar.)


Portuguese tiles, colorful pottery, delicate porcelain, and crafts are sold everywhere, but the downtown shopping district on Rua Augusta is the place to find quality merchandise ranging from local haute couture and fine Portuguese leather goods to watercolors created by sidewalk artists.  Check the jewelry stores on this pedestrian street for delicate filigree jewelry, either in 19 carat gold, sterling silver, or vermeil.  Renowned Madeira tablecloths and delicately embroidered linen shawls are a find at Madeira House on Rua Augusta.

Famous port wines are available in many shops but the best selection and prices are at the Instituto do Vinho do Porto stores (there is a handy store at the airport for last-minute purchases).  Shops close from 1:00 to 3:00 pm, so head for the upscale Amoreiras or Colombo Malls.  Check with the locals for the location and days that the many open-air markets are open.  The “Thieves Market” is purported to be the one for real bargains.


Most accessible are the resort areas west along the coast toward Cascais and Estoril (once known as the “Resort of Kings”). Across the 25 April Bridge, a small train or bus will deliver you to the southerly beaches of Costa da Caparica, a favorite of Lisbonites.

Back to Europe, Mediterranean Ports of Call

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