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Elizabeth Olwen is a Toronto-based Surface Pattern Designer. She designs pretty patterns, and licenses them to manufacturers for use on all sorts of products, including bedding, stationery, fabric, home decor, apparel and much more.


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love for lisbon

Elizabeth Olwen

When I came to Lisbon, I felt like it wrapped me in a big warm hug. I love that it’s a city unafraid of colour, with infinite shades of peach, pink and yellow. And it’s also a city that celebrates pattern, which is something that feels so welcoming to me, as a pattern designer. There is pattern everywhere. I have fallen in love with the more popular, iconic designs but savour the magical moments when I spot a tile design that is new to me. They’ve inspired me so much that I started trying to envision what my own tiles in Lisbon might look like… like the in the image above. It’s also just a really friendly, safe, walkable, warm, sunny, coastal city with the most magical light and great food. It’s pretty easy to fall in love with this place. I’ve only been here for about 6 months and I still have so much to learn but I thought I’d put together a little list of things that I might recommend for people who are visiting Lisbon for the first time.

Distinctly Portuguese or Lisbon things
• The tiles (azulejos)! They’re just incredible. 

• The hills. Be prepared! It's called the City of Seven Hills because it is indeed a hilly place, but it results in so many beautiful and interesting views of the city. 

• The light — it’s called the city of light for a reason. It glows! The houses are such warm colours, peach pinks yellows, so when the sun reflects off of them, it results in this incredible glowing warmth. It's magical and one of the things I love most.

Quiosques. The kiosks around the city are plentiful, and are so charming! 

• Miraduoros (viewpoints) provide you with the best views of the city. Usually there are cafes or patios to grab drinks and watch the sun go down. A Lisbon must! 

Bordalo de Pinheiro, a famous ceramicist. You will see his stuff (or copies of) all over the place. Vhils is an urban artist that has found fame worldwide. Bordalo II makes 3D murals around Lisbon — look out for them around the city. 

Don’t leave Lisbon without…
• Having gelato at Nannarella.

• Eating a pastel de nata at Manteigaria (there are multiple locations).

• Having some Vinho Verde. A green, sometimes slightly bubbly, light wine that's perfect for summer. Or anytime, really. 

• Taking a good long wander, or many wanders, through the little streets and neighbourhoods. To me, it's not a city where I feel you must check all the boxes of must-see destinations — it's more of a place where you should just set out, and see where you end up. It's the perfect city for wandering and you can never predict what you'll see along the way. Pick a destination and slowly weave your way towards it. 

• Watching a sunset (ideally at a Miraduoro, or at Pharmacia, or at Park bar - it's a busy spot but the drinks are great and the view is amazing — I think it's worth it during sunset or in the afternoon for a rooftop cocktail. It's in a parking garage (hence the name) -- take the elevator up to the top, and when it lets you out, keep walking up to the top and you'll find it).

• Going to Cascais (and seeing the ocean while you're out that way!). It’s a cute city about a half hour outside of Lisbon and easy to take the train to. Get off a few stops early at São João do Estoril and walk along the ocean all the way to Cascais — it's gorgeous, and soothing, and nice to see a different side of life outside of the city. If it's a decent day for it, you can chill out and watch the surfers — something I find endlessly fascinating. Also, considering having lunch at one of the little beachside restaurants along the boulevard. Once you get to Cascais, make sure you take a good wander through the cute streets. And if you're hungry, there’s a cute, friendly vegan spot with rooftop patio called House of Wonders. One of my favourite things I’ve done since coming here was renting a bike in Cascais, and riding the bike trail all the way to Guincho beach (check out Boca da Inferno along the way). It's breathtaking.

• Going to Sintra. It's a full-day thing but if you can swing it, it’s a pretty magical place. Go see Pena Palace. It's like a fairytale.

• Going to the tile museum (and have lunch at their beautiful café).

• Taking a tuk-tuk ride - honestly, they’re just fun. And they’ll take you to see a bunch of different miraduoro’s all at once so it's a very good use of time if yours is limited!

• Landeau chocolate cake is pretty awesome.

• Eating a bifanas (pork) or prego (beef) — these sandwiches are super simple, really humble fare but very tasty. Must be eaten with an imperial (little beer)! 

Shops worth checking out
• A Vida Portuguesa (I recommend the one in Intendente — Largo do Intendente Pina Manique 23 —it’s the largest)

• Cortiço & Netos, a shop for discontinued tiles! Go if you love groovy old tiles as much as I do. 

• Ó Galeria, an Illustration gallery with affordable art prints by portuguese artists! 

• Cerâmicas na Linha is a shop that sells beautiful ceramics by the pound.

• Fabrica Features is a cute design-y shop and they usually have small art shows on that are worth seeing. 

• Embaixada — I mainly like this for the interior of the building, it’s so impressive.

Cafes with great coffee or a casual breakfast
Copenhagan coffee lab
Hello Kristof

Breakfast of champions
The Mill
Dear Breakfast 
Cafe boa vida

Food Temple!
AO26 Vegan Food Project

Casual drinks
Cafe Tati
By the wine

Where to eat
Where to begin? There's lots of great food but I'm still figuring this part out. Or check out my friend Nathalie's blog post all about food! She's got great taste :) Definitely try some portuguese fare, which has lots of seafood. I can't recommend any single spot for that, usually the little neighbourhood tascas do a great job. For now, I'll point you to my Foursquare lists, but a few off the top of my head are… Koppu ramen, Chutnify, Pharmacia, O Prego da Peixaria, and Sala de Corte. Enjoy!

Hope these make this magical city just a little bit more magical for you too! And now, for some eye candy. xo

Some views of Lisbon… colourful and as obsessed with pattern as I am. 

Some views of areas in and around Cascais, and the last one is Pena Palace. Every time I've been to Sintra the weather has been different, and Sintra is like a chameleon - the experience can be totally different on foggy vs. clear day - but believe me, both are awesome and it's kinda fun to see what you're gonna get.