Here’s the best piece of advise I can give to anyone who wishes to see Lisbon in a long layover. Please DON’T.
Because Lisbon has some serious cool to its credit. Tropical(ish) weather, waterfront views, food and drink fit for kings and a culture so vibrant, you’d forget Paris and New York.
In my 12 hours, I’ve discovered the secret to seeing Lisbon – Move there. No really.
It all began when I flew from Frankfurt to Sevilla, opting for a 12 hour layover in Lisbon.My flight took off from Frankfurt before sunrise on a cold, snowing Thursday. Needless to say I slept through the whole flight. When I opened my eyes, the whole planet had somehow transformed into a gorgeous summery, Wes Anderson movie set!
I rolled into a pretty city that looked like a giant lemon cake. Yellow trams, pink homes and green streets that smell of fresh pastry full of smiling people sipping coffee and enjoying an easy pace of life. Who cares if it’s a weekday? Não tô nem aí.
Here’s how to Lisbon in 12 hours
Willy Wonka at Santa Justa
Yup, it looks exactly like Roald Dahl’s imagination. While it moves only vertically, it offers one of the best panoramic views of the city. A towering wrought iron structure (sandwiched between two buildings), two giant cabins fitted with glass & wood makes for a thrilling ride up the city. The lift ends at the base of a narrow spiral staircase that leads to a viewing platform where you can savor a 360 degree view of Lisbon. Get ready to be awe-inspired.
Insider Tip : You elevator ride free if you’ve purchased a 24-hour public transport ticket. Hit this baby up first to avoid serpentine day time queues.
All that viewing can make you hungry (true story) plus you REALLY don’t want to leave Lisboa without trying this iconic treat. You know which one am talking about –
Pasteis De Belem is the Taj Mahal of Lisbon – an ode to eternal love powered by men with spanking taste. Legend says that the monks of the monastery next door started selling these sweet tarts after the liberal revolution of 1820 shut down convents and monasteries. They eventually sold the recipe to a sugar refinery close by, which started the pastry shop that you see today. The ‘secret recipe’ is known only to a handful of people which is made by the kilos everyday behind closed doors.
There is a reason why people from all over the world go completely crazy over these simple egg tarts. The fact of the matter is that they’re insanely delicious. Creamy soft custard centers set in a crunchy puff pastry case, baked till just wobbly are ideal bites of heaven. The café keeps shakers of cinnamon handy for a touch of sin.
A 500 year old Gothic Monastery where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal before leaving for India. It is also where he was laid to rest. The monks at the monastery were known to give spiritual guidance to sailors for their exploration and so the structure itself is characterized by maritime motifs. Spend a couple of hours admiring the columns of ropes, sea monsters and corals and getting inspired to explore the world.
Lunch at Mercado Da Riberia
Short on time but big on appetite? One of the best places to sample Lisbon’s most delicious eats is Mercado Da Riberia. It houses some of the city’s most iconic restaurants and cafes, including Michelin Starred outposts.
The Mercado was once a crumbling structure struggling to stay up when Time Out stepped in to restore the market and bring in business in return for a fee from the restaurateurs. The result is a tasty mix of local produce, proud cuisine and craft cocktails all under one roof.
A quick walk around and a bag of fresh strawberries later, I settled on an appetizer of fresh oysters with lime and a main course of fresh cod seared in sea salt and olive oil, on a bed of roast potatoes and sautéed greens. Washed down with some excellent strawberry cocktails by my bartender and host at Cinco E Meio.
The only way to really do justice to Lisbon, is to visit Alfama. The oldest quarter in the city is also the most historic and kitsch. What was once a poor neighbourhood is now a flourishing melting pot of more than 30 nationalities.
I would suggest walking from the Mercado towards Sao Miguel Church through the winding artsy streets of Alfama. You’ll find colour coordinated houses, with laundry drying on ropes and walls painted with quirky graffiti – unlike most European metros, Lisbon doesn’t shy away from openly expressing its colourful personality.
Insider’s Tip: Walking around Alfama is an uphill task with the sheer number of steps, narrow alleyways and cobbled roads most of which are inclined climbs. Proper footwear, bottles of water and an attitude of adventure is all you’ll need.
Praça do Comércio
End your day at Praça do Comércio – one of Lisbon’s grandest plazas that opens up to breathtaking views of the Tagus estuary. This is the perfect place to close your quick trip around this inspiring city. Sit yourself on a bench at the edge of the plaza and feel the fresh ocean breeze on your face. Cue peace.
All Images by Ishita Thakur