LisbonInsideOut: Ellis, co-founder of Atlas Lisboa

Ellis Dixon, co-founder of Atlas Lisboa

What is LisbonInsideOut?

LisbonInsideOut is a new interview series that I’ve created to learn why foreign people, that live or have lived in Lisbon, chose this city and what they love about it.

This week I’m introducing you to Ellis Dixon, an American girl who trade New York for Lisbon and founded Atlas Lisboa, an online Lisbon guide filled with useful information for both locals and expats – basically a must-read if you’re new to the city!

Who is Ellis?

Before I met Ellis, I had read a few articles from Atlas Lisboa and I really enjoyed them. I was happy to see someone else writing quality content in English about this beautiful city that I live in.

She was actually the one that approached me first regarding a possible contribution at Atlas Lisboa (which is on pause for the moment, due to my endless list of projects). I met up with her for a few drinks and I was instantly taken by her blooming personality 🙂

Ellis has that typical girl-next-door look, she is funny, smart and super talented. Besides having created Atlas Lisboa, she is also an English teacher at the American School of Languages AND a freelance fashion designer – yup she has a lot on her plate! I truly admire her dedication to Atlas and how she manages to handle so many projects at once.

Ellis Dixon

What made you move to Lisbon?

I guess it seems cliché to say I fell in love with the city, but that’s what happened. I’ve traveled to a lot of amazing cities all over the world and I’ve certainly fallen in love before, but nothing compares to how I felt (and still feel) about Lisbon. This place is special.

Making the move from New York to Lisbon was one of those “We should totally do that one of these days” kind of ideas that my partner and I had had for years. It finally happened when I lost my job as a fashion designer (a long and boring story) and we decided to use it as a reason to leave the U.S.

We sold off all our stuff with the exception of a few boxes of books and our backpacks, and spent the next year and a half living in Costa Rica and touring and working around South America. Once we felt we had seen enough, we headed straight for Lisbon, not certain if it would be a good fit for us. But about 48 hours after our arrival, we knew we would do whatever it took to stay. Fast forward almost six years, and we’re still here.

How long have you been here?   

Five and a half years.


What do you do/what is your profession? 

I’m the co-founder of the blog, so that takes up most of my time—it’s like raising a child! With the help of my partner who is a freelance editor and writer for English-language magazines we nurture it, and we help it grow. It’s more of a privilege than work, per se, especially now that I see it beginning to walk. Otherwise, I work as a freelance fashion designer for clients in the U.S., Taiwan, and Australia and I teach English at the American School of Languages in Lisbon.

What is your favorite place in the city and why?

I love gardens so the obvious choice for me is Estufa Fria in Parque Eduardo VII. It’s one of my favorite places to get lost in or just sit down and read a book for a while. In general, it’s kind of difficult for me to sit still while I’m outside because I really love walking, so when I have ants in my pants or I need to think, I usually end up walking alongside the Tejo between Cais do Sodré and Belém. I’m pretty sure all my best ideas happen there while I’m on the move.

Depending on what I need, be it to chill or to move, these two places bring me instant peace and I feel totally rejuvenated afterwards.

Estufa Fria

If you could take something from Lisbon home, what would it be?

I’m originally from Memphis, Tennessee, so I’m sitting here trying to imagine what pieces of Lisbon would look like there and it’s making me laugh. I’m literally imagining the silhouette of Cristo Rei alongside the pyramid on the Memphis skyline, and it looks ridiculous. That rules out landmarks, I guess!

Bringing the seafood is out of the question because Memphis is landlocked, and most people are not all that into eating octopus, squid, chocos, or any other strange looking sea critters (this is barbeque and catfish country we’re dealing with here). So, I guess I’m restricted to bringing the light and the weather. I think Memphis could use some of that. Come to think of it, EVERYONE could use some of that!

What is the one thing you miss about the States?

I miss the 24-hour diners. There’s something so wonderful about ending up in one whenever you want, having the waiter or waitress call you sweetie, darlin’, or sugar, ordering a roast beef sandwich and a milkshake, and staying there for hours. There’s nothing quite like that here in Lisbon, though I do love being called menina or filha when I go to a café here. It takes time and regular visits before you earn that badge of honor, but when it finally happens, it’s a magical thing because that’s how it will be going forward. It’s different in the U.S.—it’s instant. Maybe that makes it a little less sincere, but it’s part of the diner experience. Now I really want a milkshake, damn it. Okay, and a New York slice of pizza on a paper plate, but that’s another experience all its own.

Lisbon abandoned building

Lisbon Street

What made you start Atlas Lisboa?

We founded Atlas in 2015 after having been through several years of broken links, incomplete (or just plain inaccurate) information online, and very few that were in English. It was almost all google translate, which is NOT acceptable. It made us feel a little alienated, a part of the expat community who were grossly underserved online. We desperately wanted well-written articles in English while we were actively learning Portuguese (and still are!), and we also craved a unique voice, as well as accurate directions, explanations, timetables, unbiased descriptions, and curated events listings. Which is what we decided to do with Atlas. Our mission from day one has been to keep our readership entertained and educated, without fear or favor.

What is the article you are most proud of?

I’m proud of all the articles I write, but the hardest one for me was the Santiago de Compostela Portuguese Way piece . Not only was it physically challenging (I have never walked 45 kilometers in one day before, let alone with a pack), but it was difficult to document the trip at the end of each day in my notebook. When you’re close to exhaustion and all you want to do is put your feet up and sleep, it’s hard to remember all the important details, but hey, I did it.

Sitting down to actually put it all together was not easy either. To keep the pace of the writing and match it to your walking pace, to make it both interesting and informative, and to study maps for accurate distances was no small task. While it was still a draft, I kept finding myself writing, “yadda yadda yadda…and we got there” when I got frustrated. It took me a few weeks to finally get it done right, and now that it’s finished (and I see on the site analytics that it continues to get a lot of positive attention) it makes me very proud.

Fundação Champalimaud

What article of Atlas Lisboa would you recommend for someone that has just arrived in the city?

Everyone has different interests and therefore comes to Lisbon for different reasons. If you’re into climbing, hiking, or biking, I’d point you to the outdoors section first. If you’re more into live music and parties, I’d point you to the events calendar so you can see what’s on around town. If you’re here for some R&R, I’d point you to the beach reviews and the museums page. Otherwise, I think learning about the country you’re in from a local’s perspective is the top priority. For that, I’d point you to the December 1st article, or the Carnation Revolution Article so you can get an idea of what the country’s past has to do with its present. After all, that’s what makes travel such an enriching experience. It’s not just about what you see and do, it’s about where you are and who’s around you.

We also encourage everyone to see our Survive section for Portuguese language basics. There’s nothing more annoying than people who are not willing to say “Thank you” in the local parlance, at the very least, you know?

Any other interesting facts worth mentioning?

Basically, Atlas is a project that has been built with love and a lot of dedication by me, my partner, and our team. We have a lot of different points of view that have been voiced on our site: from the expat, to the local, to the traveler, and we are always looking for more. If anyone has a story to tell or wants to take a closer look at something having to do with Lisbon or Portugal as a whole, we are listening. There are so many things that have already been written about the city in guide books or tourism sites, but the perspectives are more or less the same. We demand something different and personal, and that starts with us— the people! We were very fortunate to make close friends in this city early on, but we know that it’s rarely so easy. We want Atlas to be a place for people who come here, especially those who decide to stay, to feel connected and informed. For visitors, we hope tourists decide to go off the beaten track and don’t just follow best-of lists. That way there’ll be enough room on the Tram 28 again for all of us.

Lisbon Nightlife

Where can you follow Ellis’ adventures?

If you’ve reached this far you already know Ellis is a part of the Atlas Lisboa team, that’s where you’ll find some of her articles, as well as other fellow contributors, who knows maybe you’ll see one of mine there one day 🙂 Besides featuring thoughtful articles about Lisbon, you can also keep up with it was happening in the city by checking their Events Calendar or subscribing to their newsletter or even contribute with your own work – they’re always open to new points of view! For more insights you can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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3 thoughts on “LisbonInsideOut: Ellis, co-founder of Atlas Lisboa”

  1. Interesting interview! A breath of fresh air for those who want insider organic instead of pre-packaged tripe.

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