Lisbon, Portugal

What to Do During a Lisbon Layover

It is a well accepted fact that European cruise ports expose troves of historical architecture, reveal old world charm and cater to the culinary interests of intrepid cruise visitors.  Lisbon, Portugal offers a significant dose of everything the more popular destinations tout minus the chaos that accompanies throngs of tourists. It’s well deserved prominence among the leading destinations of Europe is for good reason with a unique appeal spiked with engaging energy yet tempered by an endemic slow paced lifestyle.

48 Hours in Lisbon

With little time allowed for impromptu experimentation, a brief forty eight hour layover in the city results in a comprehensive pre or post cruise experience. While the city offers every category of accommodation from world class luxury to basic hostels, location is of utmost importance and few luxury properties can offer better positioning than the Hotel da Baixa, a classic 4 star hotel, strategically situated in a tranquil location that feeds into the city’s attractions, shopping arcades and lively riverfront.

Its iconic green tiled facade and wrought iron balconies provide a visual hallmark, lying in stark contrast to uniformly stuccoed properties elsewhere in the city. The building had laid unoccupied for decades until extensive renovations commenced in 2016. After incredible investment with innovative design concepts, the hotel emerged in April of 2018 as a virtually new property with exceptionally modern amenities, yet maintaining its characteristic style.

Lisbon, Portugal

Comfort and elegance at Hotel da Baixa | Photo: Steve Leland

In keeping with current trends, all rooms come with mini bar, personal Nespresso coffee makers, complimentary internet and fresh stylish design. Bathrooms sport white marble walls and showers and many provide with double vanities.  While the amenities of the hotel tender a compelling argument to stay put, the city beckons for exploration and just steps away an evening stroll on the Rua Augusta exposes the Baixa area’s blend of sidewalk restaurants and entertaining street performers creating a people watching paradise.

Lisbon’s Best Tourist Attractions

There are immense opportunities to visit historic monasteries, churches and museums that provide the prerequisites for a day (and night) on the town, but those of you that follow me you know that the sure way to my touring heart is through my stomach. Researching the best avenues for gastronomic gorging led me to Culinary Backstreets, an international company that partners with local insiders to offer tantalizing foodie junkets with itineraries that vary by the day.  As luck would have it, our Tuesday tour selection offered an extensive full day sampling the bounty of the sea and as the company’s name implies, visits to backstreet sights not possible on mainstream city excursions.

Conducted as a walking tour, the initial stop is made at a family owned coffee roasting facility with no signs indicating its existence, stepping inside reveals the process used in roasting boutique blends of coffee. Sampling the family’s exclusive brew meets the caffeinated needs of the morning and we diverge off the beaten path to a traditional open air laundry facility, Lavadouro das Francesinhas, where ladies gather to do laundry by hand in concrete pools.

A convenient place to savor a sweet coconut pastry made from a hand me down family recipe.

Navigating our way through narrow cobblestoned streets, our personal guide Kika shares fascinating narrative describing the lifestyle of traditional residential neighborhoods. With the earlier coffee break providing the morning jolt and a pastry under our belt, it’s obviously time for a little nip of wine as we enter a tiny characteristic wine shop for a sampling of vintage Portuguese wine.

Lisbon’s Best Bites

This is where these foodie excursions are worth the investment of time and money.  While the principal focus is on savoring endemic foods that blend in local culture, they also incorporate hush-hush venues impossible to discover from a guide book. Navigating our way through cargo containers and docked fishing boats on the seafront, we are escorted to an outside, nondescript grill of fresh seafood, then seated indoors amongst local businessmen in suits and ties, dockworkers and office ladies in dresses. Here we are treated to a multi-plate assortment of cod, Cuddlefish and side dishes with total immersion into local lunchtime rituals.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon has excellent seafood | Photo: Steve Leland

Gorging on the bounty of the sea continues at another off the radar venue featuring indistinguishable shellfish, clams and shrimp.  Then as a fitting conclusion we visit the back room of a one man grocery store operation for a locally produced cheese accompanied by a ritual sampling of Portuguese Port wine.

RELATED: Perfect Pre-Cruise Prep in Portugal

For independent browsing the city you’ll find no shortage of sights, sounds and shops to experience just steps away from the Hotel Da Baixa. The Igreja of Sao Domingos is a must see, not so much as an awe inspiring cathedral but in its ability to withstand the tragedy of the city’s earthquakes and a devastating fire in 1959 and still remain as an iconic symbol of Portuguese pride.

Contrary to the rustic appearance of Sao Domingos is the opulent Igreja de São Roque. An immense wealth of gold leaf and wood carving decorate this former Jesuit church spread over eight separate chapels. Other touristic points of interest that deserve attention are the Belém Tower, a photographic 16th-century fortress recognized as a gateway to Lisbon and the nearby Jerónimos Monastery a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Getting around in Lisbon on foot is simple but taking a ride on the Number 28 tram for 3€ takes experiencing the city to another level. Passing through many of Lisbon’s historic districts, including Graça, Alfama, Baixa, Chiado and Sao Bentoq is as good as any organized tour.

Lisbon, Portugal

When in Lisbon, ride the tram! | Photo: Steve Leland

It should be essential to start any morning with a Pastel de Nata, an embellished egg custard tart available almost anywhere, but none better than the one tasted at Manteigaria in the Time Out Market. The food hall of this traditional market building is an ideal point to start or even better, a destination to end the day with a glass of wine and a Pasteis de Bacalhau a salted cod fritter.

The climate variations of Lisbon offer a blend of comfort of year round comfort. Its hilly terrain provides photogenic views and tranquil spots perfect for afternoon beer breaks pierced by exploding Atlantic sunsets. The affordability of Lisbon is an advantage seldom encountered in European destinations and the welcoming warmth of the Portuguese people should put it high on everyone’s travel wishlist.

As a former Cruise Director, Steve has been cruising the world for the past forty years. Bringing a new dimension to cruise journalism, he continues to spin the globe searching for off the grid cruise adventures and unplugged destinations to share with Porthole Cruise Magazine readers.