48 hours in gay-friendly cruise port Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal — a city containing a generous helping of Genoa (one of our favorite cities) with a side order of San Francisco — served as our embarkation point for our most recent voyage with Azamara Club Cruises. This is a bustling city, hilly, with picturesque old trams as well as funiculars for help getting up some of the steepest slopes. Like Genoa and San Francisco, Lisbon feels intimately linked with the sea.

MMOB TIP:  We knew that jet lag would be an issue because of a long layover and it did affect our visit to Lisbon. Next time we would love to disembark from a cruise in Lisbon fresh, rested and ready to go. Perhaps we’ll book one of the many transatlantic crossings terminating in Lisbon.

We’d heard a lot about Lisbon and wanted to see it for ourselves. Although the city has a grittier feel than many other European capital cities we’ve visited, we felt safe and comfortable. We loved the vibe there. Lisbon has its own distinctive sense of place, and we look forward to returning to this historic and vital city on the Atlantic.

The Santa Justa lift in Lisbon.

CAPTION:  The Santa Justa lift takes pedestrians up 7 stories to a neighborhood high above. The observation deck has a view of the ruins of the Carmo Monastery.

Best Lisbon souvenir: tiles

Lisbon and the surrounding region are known for buildings clad in tile, an influence from the time of the Moorish rule. While almost universal on older buildings, they are also often incorporated in contemporary designs. We wandered for hours appreciating the colors, designs and textures of these decorative additions to buildings. Tiles here often have a floral or geometric motif, but sometimes take the form of a mural as in this shot from our second stop, Porto, in northern Portugal.

A mural made of individual tiles in Lisbon.

Lisbon and the surrounding region are known for buildings clad in tile, an influence from the time of the Moorish rule. © Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

Individual tiles are sold everywhere from inexpensive souvenir shops to upscale art shops. We found them fun to shop for and easily packable, making excellent gifts, most of which we’ll probably keep for ourselves!

Getting around

We learned on our ride share from the airport (only 8 Euros) that the Lisbon traffic is notorious, so we used a ride share service when we needed transportation. We found it inexpensive, convenient and plentiful. Interestingly, the app would often direct us to a nearby “pick-up location” to catch the ride rather than having us wait at our location.

The Belém Tower, constructed in the first part of the 16th Century to guard Lisbon’s harbor, is about a 10 or 15 minute ride share from the central city.
Belem Tower guarding Lisbon's harbor.

The Belém Tower, constructed in the first part of the 16th Century. © Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

For shorter hops in the city, try the convenient Tuk Tuks. Less expensive than the reasonable taxis, they are ever-present and great fun, although lacking any semblance of shock absorbers.

While hanging on for dear life as we took short-cuts through the city, we enjoyed the openness of the ride, and survived our Tuk Tuk with most of our teeth intact.

Tuk-Tuks in Lisbon.

For shorter hops in the city, try the convenient Tuk Tuks. © Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

We negotiated a tour with driver Joao, a young web-development student with perfect English. Taking a private tour enabled us to avoid some of Lisbon’s frustrating traffic and see the city with a local proud to show us his birthplace.

Mark’s Italian was apparently close enough to Portuguese to make him intelligible to locals. However most people we interacted with always helped us in English if necessary.

Like Rome, Lisbon is a city built on seven hills. The city’s miradouros, or lookouts, offer wonderful views of the city and harbor. We didn’t have time to visit the Castelo de Sao Jorge, but fellow LGBTQ cruisers told us they loved this Moorish fortress.

Neighborhoods

We arrived in Lisbon during preparations for St. Anthony’s day. Joao showed us a residential street where the owners cooperate in decorating for the celebration. There, we literally ran into a group of runners from the neighborhood celebrating the end of their route. The neighbood decorations and the camaraderie of the runners reminded us that a densely populated big city can provide a strong sense of community.

Lisbon neighborhood decorated for St Anthony's Day.

The Vila Berta, a street in Lisbon all dressed up for St Anthony’s Day. © Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

Parts of Lisbon look a bit down-at-heel, but that just adds to their charm. Our guides and drivers mentioned that it has become increasingly difficult to make a decent living in the city. There is a housing boom in process that feels like a bubble ready to burst. Locals are being forced out of affordable housing to short-term rentals like AirBnB and wealthy (often foreign) buyers. We hope redevelopment won’t ruin the cool and offbeat charm of the city.

Fado music wafting into the street provides a wonderful soundtrack for exploring the city. We especially loved the Barrio Alto neighborhood which abounds with shops, bars, and restaurants.

The Bairro Alto Neighborhood in Lisbon.

Sidewalk cafes in Bairro Alto with St Anthony’s decorations. A characteristic tile facade in the background. © Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

The men’s clothing store Up!town Lisboa at R. da Misericórdia 68, on the border of the Chiado and Bairro areas, has a distinct gay vibe. They sell sexy underwear, swimwear and boutique fashion brands, none of which fit in our budget or for that matter on our bodies. Readers who spend more time at the gym than this writer will likely find the shop a great fit!

Uptown Lisboa dressing rooms look like shower stalls.

A dressing room at Up!town Lisboa made to look like a shower stall.

Portuguese delicacies

Thanks to gay travel blogging duo Two Bad Tourists, we arrived in Lisbon with our tastebuds primed to sample Pastéis de Nata. We visited Mangeigaria, a bakery in the interesting Belém neighborhood.

These small open-faced custard tarts have a pastry shell filled with creamy vanilla custard, then baked in an extremely hot oven. The filling is rich with butter and eggs and a hint of vanilla, but not overly sweet. The crunchy pastry contrasts beautifully with the creamy custard, the tops caramelized from the oven. Equalling Azamara’s creme brûlée, this is one of the best treats we’ve ever tasted.

Luckily, the bakery sells them in convenient takeout containers, which you see people carrying all over the streets of Lisbon. Every outlet has their own version, but Mangeigaria has bragging rights as far as we can tell. A young, attractive staff prepares and sells nothing but these wonderful creations and accompanying coffee drinks, churning out what must be hundreds of pastries an hour.

Monteigaria Bakery, Lisbon. Pastéis Custard tart they refer to in English as “cake” © Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard

You’ll want to eat several of these, so plan ahead, perhaps skipping a meal beforehand to make room for feasting on these pastries. Eat some in the shop, settle on how many you want to take out, then double that number and don’t look back.

Dale enjoying a pastry on the street in Lisbon.

© Mark den Hartog | MeetMeOnboard