A hour-by hour travel guide on what to do if you have six hours in Lisbon, Portugal on a layover.Well, it’s been a month now since I returned from Europe and I’m just getting to my final travel blog post about Lisbon. If it makes you feel any better, I JUST showed my travel pictures to Steve this past weekend. I suppose this is what happens when you’re one month out from your wedding that you’re planning 🙂
For those of you just tuning into my travel posts now, be sure to catch yourself up to speed on my time in Switzerland and Annecy, France first. When I booked my trip to Switzerland (using ONLY frequent flier miles and credit card points – woot, woot), I wanted to use the least amount of miles and points possible so I booked the most inconvenient flights, i.e. non-direct flights and annoying layovers, like a 6.5 hour layover in Portugal. I thought to myself what the heck am I going to do with myself in an airport for 6.5 hours?! I’m the girl that gets to the airport at the last possible second, running to her gate because she doesn’t want to spend any more time than she has to in that place. So you can imagine my trepidation at the thought of being stuck in a hellhole filled with Duty Free’s and designer clothing shops for OVER six hours. Luckily, I took to the interwebs and googled “six hours in Lisbon” and found this gem on Huffington Post about what the writer did with a five hour layover in Lisbon. I figured if she can do it in five hours, I can definitely venture into the city and be back for my flight with six hours to play with.
I definitely learned a thing or two with my adventure into center city Lisbon and wanted to share my 6 hour itinerary with you so you can follow suit should you find yourself trapped in Lisbon for an extended layover.
Land at the Lisbon Airport. Make sure you checked your suitcase so you can just bring your personal carry-on with you to walk around the city with.
Make your way to ground transportation and look for signs for the Aero Bus.
Take the Aero Bus for $3 euro for a 24 hour day pass – this will get you to center city and back. Take Line #1 and get off at Rossio Square, which will put you close to popular tourist spots like the Elevador de Santa Justa and Praca do Comercio.
Time saver tip: If you’re especially crunched for time, take a taxi into center city for around $15 euro each way.
Take a little stroll around Rossio Square to get your bearings and take in the beauty of this new (but way old!) city you’re about to explore.
Grab a bite to eat. If it’s breakfast time (or any time for that matter), take advantage of Portuguese bakeries, which some believe are as good, if not better than French boulangeries. I did some research on which Portuguese delicacies I should seek out in my few hours here and bolo de arroz, Portuguese rice cupcakes, came up as one of the most traditional treats.
I stopped in a bakery that had a lot of locals inside standing up at the counter drinking bico (espresso) and eating a pastry before they went off to work. I figured if the locals like this place, it must be decent.
I heard that dipping bolo de arroz in coffee was was the way to eat it so I ordered a coffee too. I wasn’t totally sold on the bolo de arroz although I did enjoy it more when dipped in coffee but it tasted kind of like a denser cupcake and cakes just aren’t my jam in general. The next pastry I had later on the day rocked my world though.
Next, walk over to Elevador de Santa Justa (which sits just across the street from this little cafe I found). The elevator will cost you a two or three euros to ride up to the top where the view of the city is well worth the ticket price.
Construction for the elevator started in 1900 to bridge movement between the lower streets of Baixa and the higher Carmo square. And from the top, you get a 360 degree view of the city, seeing Rossio square, the Castle and the Tagus River.
Continue to talk towards Praca do Comercio (towards the water) and be sure to look down while you do. Yes, look down. I’ve never seen sidewalks so beautiful in my LIFE. These Portuguese pavements are made with flat stones, strategically placed to create beautiful mosaics or patterns.
Praca de Comercio was the former home of the Royal Palace until it was destroyed by a 1775 earthquake. After the earthquake, this square was completely remodeled.
Cross the street over to the river and look off to your right to see that bridge that looks oh-so-familiar…Who knew the Golden Gate Bridge had a doppelganger!
Start to make you way towards the right of the city if you’re facing away from the river. You’ll begin to walk uphill as if you could have time to make your way up to the Castle (I didn’t have time to but if you want to skip the eating and leisurely exploring, you definitely could). If not, there are beautiful old churches and gorgeous architecture to marvel at on your way up.
Be sure to check out the Lisbon Cathedral (or the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major). It is the oldest church in the city, beginning construction in 1147. However, due to surviving multiple earthquakes, the building has been modified.
Start to make your way back down towards Rossio Square, popping into beautiful pottery shops along the way and maybe another bakery to try a Pastéis de Nata, a traditional Portuguese dessert.
Rich egg custard is surrounded by a crispy, flaky pastry dough exterior. Now THIS is my kind of dessert. They must have come right out of the oven because mine was still warm. Although rich, I savored each and every last bite. You’ve gotta try these if you make it to Portugal.
Make your way back to Rossio Square and debate whether or not you have time for another Portuguese culinary staple, bacalhau, or salt cod. Realize it’s only 11am and no one is really serving lunch yet. And then decide just because it’s 11am doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try Portugal’s acclaimed digestif, Gingha. There is a cute little Gingha bar right in Rossio Square towards Sao Domingos Church.
Gingha is a sour cherry liquor, made by fermenting cherries in brandy. And this nice man will serve you a shot to enjoy.
And while you’re right there, take a quick peak in the Igerja de Sao Domingos, a church dedicated in 1241 and at one time was the largest church in Lisbon. I’ve been in a good number of old churches throughout my travels but the interior of this church was unlike ANYTHING I’ve ever seen.
In 1959, a fire broke out in the building which took firefighters several hours to extinguish and the interior still shows the aftermath of that fire.
Make your way back to the aero bus stop back to the Lisbon airport (the stop will be on the other side of the square from where the bus dropped you off).
Arrive to the Lisbon Airport two hours in advance of your flight. I whizzed through security (10 minutes tops) and then figured I had time to grab a bite before my flight. This is when I got my bacalhau. Apparently salted cod takes FOREVER to make because I literally watched them grilling it for 30 minutes. Bacalhau is cod that has been heavily salted and dried under the sun to preserve. When ready for consumption, they let the fish soak in fresh water for at least 24 hours to reduce the salt content. There are many different preparations for bacalhau but a common one is to serve with onions, potatoes, maybe olives and lots of olive oil, like the one here I got in the airport. It really was delicious and had a unique meaty texture.
Be wary of this because I had to learn the hard way: the Portugal airport has a customs checkpoint after security, after all the restaurants, right before you get to your gate area. So take that into account when you decide to have a nice lunch at the airport. I didn’t and thought I was definitely going to miss my flight. All for the bacalhau.
Hopefully you’ll just be making your way through customs at this point and getting to your gate to board about 45-60 minutes before your departure time.
Head into the sky, en route home, taking with you the fun memories of a six hour layover in a super cool city.