Layover In Lisbon
Since my first visit, the cobblestone streets of Lisbon captured my heart. I’m sure it’s a combination of pastel de nata, incredible views, old world charm, tiled buildings in dreamy pastels … shall I continue? In my third summer of flying to Lisbon I still feel I haven’t seen enough! I attribute this partially to how cheap the alcohol is and secondly to how amazing our hotel pool is. Something about visiting this amazing city just makes me want to relax! It always feels homely and welcoming.
I was fascinated to hear that the streets in Barrio Alto (the old part of town) used to be categorized into specialty stores. Some of these little stores still remain, with their leather gloves, handmade shoes or artisanal soaps quaintly on display. I think this was the first characteristic of Lisbon that struck me as intensely interesting. I’m a sucker for pretending I’m in the past.
Beyond the incredible shopping, Lisbon and Portugal are littered with palaces and castles. I won’t comment on these yet as I’ve only gotten as far as marveling over them online. (This is when the relaxing gets in the way.)
I’ve spent many days wandering the popular street Avenida da Liberdade and enjoying the eclectic sardine shops and grand square. Recently I even had the opportunity to watch a world cup game among thousands in Terrio do Paco, where they had a larger than life screen set up and an audience to match.
I’ve had a Lisbon “To-Do” list forever and thought now a good a time as any to get started. Here’s how to enjoy a “sleep in late, see a little” type day in the city.
- Step 1 -
Vacations/Layovers can be exhausting. On one hand, there is so much pressure to do and see everything possible in a short span of time you end up failing to experience much of anything. Enjoy the sunshine, have a casual glass of sangria and start the day with a go-with-the-flow mentality. Maybe you’ll see a different path you want to take, maybe something won't suit you and it takes 5 minutes instead of your intended hour. I find the best way to travel is to do whatever the heck you want (within the confines of the law, people)
- Step 2 -
Find an amazing restaurant or café to start your day off right
Food is always a huge part of my itinerary. Actually, if you include coffee I’d put it somewhere around 75% of all my plans. I just love food, I love the freedom different restaurants and cafes have in expressing their desired atmosphere and brand and think that a well-done eatery can have such an impact on my mood.
On this day I chose to eat at Amelia Lisboa, the sister restaurant of Nicolau Lisboa, which I’ve had my eye on since day one. Nicolau is a bit earthier and masculine whereas Amelia is a full-on tropical-vibes girly paradise.
The curb appeal is through the roof on a quiet street – two pastel pink awnings beam over the entrance. Inside, Amelia grabs your attention from every corner with neon accents, lots of lush greenery and the cutest blue and white starburst tiles I’ve ever laid eyes on. Furthermore, there were tasseled umbrellas over wicker chairs and tastefully eccentric artwork.
Here’s where things get even better, the menu was inexpensive. Shut. The. Front. Door. Usually, cuteness comes at a price - we all know it. You go in expecting about $6-$7 for your cute latte with the heart shaped foam art and at least $15 for your insta-brunch you could have made at home for $3. Its known and expected. But to my delight, Amelia is ridiculously reasonable. My coco-papaya smoothie and decadent avo-toast came to about $15 together. Total Score.
Finally, the fact that the restaurant was playing some surprisingly fitting oldies music made me feel like calling the day and living on their outdoor patio for the remainder of my layover.
- Step 3 -
If you’re planning to walk long distances,
break it up!
There are so many interesting nooks and crannies in Lisbon, and in any place to be honest. Sometimes the hidden gems (planned or not) show up in places between your bigger stops. Ok, I’ll cut to the chase here, foreign public transportation confuses me and I’d rather walk. But sometimes an hour saunter to your next destination can be overwhelming. Planning little stops along the way breaks up the large chunks of walking and consistently gives you something to look forward to.
Since I knew it would be a hot day I chose Gelateria Nannarella as my first stop. I’m not lying when I say my relationship with this gelato was intense.
It was the silver lid covered, real local in-season ingredients topped with a crown of whipped cream (the real stuff not “whipped topping”) type of intense. Nannarella has a bundle of flavors, some that change daily and others seasonally. They pride themselves on making preservative/dye/fake stuff free gelato. Some would call it the best gelato in Lisbon – and as an avid gelato scoffer, I would agree. Also, the building is beautifully tiled. Bonus points.
My cone was Lemon gelato, my all-time overall #1 pick and something that had merlot in it called Zabaione which is translating as “Port Wine Cream” Yum.
Feeling energized and hopped up on natural sugars I had the energy to proceed past many beautiful pink buildings to Embaixada – a concept store. Honestly the term “concept store” makes my mouth feel dry and my eyes instantly roll. Concept stores make me think of space-age cars/utilities/clothes that are modern and sleek you can’t touch and don’t exist yet – but you can put your name on a 100year waitlist for if you have $10 trillion dollars and your first born to give up.
Ok, a little dramatic I know but the point is that I typically wouldn’t include anything with “concept” in the title on my travel itinerary. Embaixada was the exception.
Imagine a shopping gallery inside of a Moorish neo-Oriental style Palace built in 1877. Now imagine the shopping gallery specializes in Portuguese design and houses a restaurant and gin bar. This place is seriously cool and made a huge impact as we walked in to hear the Weekend’s call out my name echoing through the 3-story gallery.
It made me feel some real “what episode of Reign am I in? “ways. Wrong era, wrong place, doesn’t matter.
The gallery features a restaurant, a tailor, a seriously gorgeous interior design shop and my favorite a little organic type pharmacy with all sorts of neat European goodies – like solid shampoo bars and face serums. Finally at the entrance are two areas set up with soaps by a Portuguese brand called Castelbel out of Porto, who got me with their Pastel de Nata scented soap.
Next I had planned to head to Pavilhão Chinês for a post-shopping refreshment but unfortunately ran out of time before dinner. Pavilhão Chinês is a bar and teahouse doubling as a world-war era toy museum housed in a building that used to be a Chinese grocery store. And on my next visit, I will go!
- Step Four -
Put a little research into dinner
Sure sometimes you stumble into a place that knocks your socks off at an amazing price just by pure luck. These moments are rare and should be cherished. More often than not I find impromptu restaurants to be pretty meh. There is nothing I loathe more than paying a chunk of money for an average meal and bad service. Specifically in a tourist destination, where prices are already inflated and staff sometimes unwelcoming. I’d rather hit up a pizza joint and enjoy it on a curb than have a bad restaurant experience. Sometimes a quick search on Trip Advisor, Pinterest or a word of mouth recommendation can be a saving grace.
I had intended on dining at Lost In, an Indian restaurant and Esplanada (a.k.a patio) with a marvelous view and adorably colorful outdoor furnishings. But upon arrival learnt they weren’t doing a full menu. Still, I’d highly recommend this place for a romantic or peaceful sunset overlooking the rooftops of Lisbon.
Instead, a quick walk down the road following an extremely scenic park with sweeping views obstructed by a metal fence brought me to The Decadente a modern Portuguese restaurant set inside the Swiss Ambassadors former residence.
I found the atmosphere at The Decadente was lovely the dining room was large and airy but still felt cozy and intimate.
The restaurant was empty when we arrived (as Europeans always dine so late!) and packed as we were finishing up. I had a delicious Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto, a taste of the Tuna Tar Tar and a cocktail that was perfectly refreshing in a bitter way whose name I will never remember.
I’m pretty chuffed with myself for organizing a day that wasn’t too ambitious. Sometimes when planning it can be difficult to gauge how much you can realistically get done within your time span – and scaling back when there are so many amazing attractions is difficult. Luckily sorting my points into geographical order made sense and helped me decide what to include in this first day of my ever growing Lisbon bucket list!