Does Lisbon Make Our List After A Five Week Stay?
As we have said many times on this blog, part of our LifeHopping activity is always to assess whether any place we visit could be a potential new home base for us. Our recent post about Valencia discussed how it had taken the top position on our list of places we might want to use as a base for future travels and mused on whether future stops, such as Lisbon, might challenge it.
After 5 weeks in the city we are in a much better position to decide if Lisbon stays on the list. Lisbon is a fascinating city with a rich and colorful history and, like everywhere, there were a number of pluses and minuses for us.
First the pros. Lisbon is truly beautiful with endless winding streets and areas to explore. It is clearly dynamic, young and cosmopolitan. There are new bars, restaurants, co-working spaces and hip cafes all over the city. You can feel the excitement brimming everywhere you go. It definitely feels like a capital. There are people from all over the world here, living, visiting and experiencing all that it has to offer.
There is lots to see and do. Portugal is a relatively small area and Lisbon is a great central position to explore all that the country has to offer. There are some wonderful architectural gems as well as natural beauty to experience. There's a beautiful river and the Atlantic beach towns are nearby. Our Instagram feed was very active here. There's no end of beautiful sights to see.
We enjoyed the food too. While the style wasn't always to our taste everything we ate was prepared with care, even in the more touristy locations. We ate well in Lisbon. And the wine... the wine is amazing. We asked several people why Portugal doesn't have the same reputation its European neighbors enjoy when it comes to wine-making. We got a combination of answers from unfamiliar grape-varieties, relatively small production and a focus on their ever-popular port wine. Whatever the reason you can sign me up as a new fan!
And now for the cons. Part of the charm of the city are the winding, cobbled streets, but that also makes it a difficult terrain to navigate. It's an exhausting city to wander around with hills, cobblestones and then more hills. It's still walk-able and you could no doubt save on gym membership if you lived here but the joy of a pleasant evening stroll is lost a little with all the effort.
Being a cosmopolitan city is great, but the sheer number of tourists here is staggering. We arrived during Easter and originally thought the tourist crowds were an anomaly, but we were wrong. It's not the number of people that really bothered us, it is more that a large part of the city is geared around tourists. With that comes selfie-stick vendors, laminated photo menus in six languages, pick-pockets (I was a victim while here) and elevated prices. We also saw more stag/bachelor and hen/bachelorette parties than we could count. Cheap European flights have definitely brought the boozy party scene to Lisbon.
We did find several less touristy charming neighborhoods that were much more to our taste. If we were to live here they would be our target and we would probably just avoid a lot of the tourist center of the city.
The final, and for us the biggest, downside of Lisbon was the cleanliness of the city. Lisbon is easily the dirtiest European city I have visited. Two main problems exist; The first is trash collection. In the neighborhood where we stayed (and many others we walked around) there is inadequate provision for household garbage due to a shortage of trash cans and infrequent collection. The result is tiny wheelie-bins spilling over with bags and bags of garbage. I cannot imagine what that is like in the summer when the heat hits. The city appears to be adding some new collection system but I have a hard time thinking that the scale of it will make that much difference.
The second issue is litter. This seems to be related to the trash collection, as there's a lack of places to put rubbish, and also to the partying vibe in the city. We took a walk along the river near the nightclubs on a Sunday afternoon and it was like we were strolling through an apocalyptic landscape littered with empty booze bottles and trash. Empty beer bottles are on numerous doorsteps and window sills around the city center - yuk!
So you can probably guess from the tone of this post, we are NOT considering Lisbon as a new home base. We did enjoy our time here and I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone, there's a lot to see. The city has so much wonderful potential but we didn't love it as much as the many people who seem to be enchanted by it. It was a great experience being here, but it didn't capture the heart of these two wanderers.
It's time to dust ourselves off and head back to Spain. Looking forward to a week in Madrid!