Why you should care
Because it will seduce you with beauty, music and taste – at a bargain rate.
Yes, Portugal seems so very far away from the rest of Western Europe, which manages to nuzzle itself into such a small space (look at Belgium… it borders everything). So what’s the point of going there? It’s a longer flight time for the same weather as in Barcelona. And you can see the Mediterranean from other countries — countries that also have Paris in them — and, hell, even Portugal’s best soccer players play for teams outside the country. Guffaw if you want, but the next time you’re taking one more walk down the Champs-Élysées, know that inside distant Portugal is Lisbon, a city you really, really should be visiting. A few reasons why:
It is dirt cheap
Many places are bargains, but try finding dirt cheap as the Euro continues to kick the dollar’s ass. In Lisbon, a dinner of the freshest, most delicious seafood, along with a bottle of wine and dessert can be yours (at a cute place you’d bring a date or even your mother) for 10 euros. That’s like $12.20. And the same thriftiness applies to hotels, clothing, bars and other ways cities like to take your cash.
It is beautiful, it is
Lisbon has seven hills. And depending which one you climb, everything looks different, from the trees to the colors to the people wandering around. Then there’s the Alfama, the city’s old, Moorish-style neighborhood situated between the Castle of Lisbon and the Tejo River and famous for its narrow, twisting streets. It’s also where some of the best fado music can be heard, sometimes in spontaneous, open-air performances.
Lisbon has seven hills. And depending which one you climb, everything looks different.
But there’s more to ooh and ahhh about than the Alfama. You can look down in Lisbon and be happy because so many sidewalks sparkle with jewel-like tiles in swirly and geometric designs. You can look up and enjoy the hills and castle in the distance. Or, because the city is a little show-offy, you can look straight ahead and be awed by the miradouras (translated as “viewpoints,” they are lookout points built into the prime vistas on each of the seven hills).
Note that all of this ties into the “dirt cheap” part, because looking is free.
A mix, a mélange, an admixture
There are people of many colors and backgrounds throughout Europe. But in lots of cities, they have just arrived, so their culture hasn’t become part of the fabric yet. Not true for Lisbon. The oldest city in Western Europe — predating London, Paris, and Rome by hundreds of years — Lisbon has long been the home to Brazilians, Eastern Europeans, and Africans, and especially people from Angola (like musician Melo D — above — one of the city’s most famous artists). So the city’s sounds, foods and culture have expanded to include and adapt to the sounds, foods and culture of Brazil and many places in Africa. It’s like how New York is not just a place where you see people from all over; it is a place whose culture is made up of all over. And a richer place makes for a richer visit.
Other people have already discovered Lisbon — and are making it better
Cheap rents, good weather (a cold day is 50 degrees Fahrenheit), urban beauty and nearby beaches have made the city attractive to people in their 20s and 30s who want to live well, be creative, and who can’t afford Milan, London, Paris or Brooklyn. You’ll find Portuguese artists, designers, architects (like Rute Brazão), filmmakers, graphic designers and chefs (like Frederico Guerreiro, who specializes in Mediterranean-Japanese fusion). But there are also people from all over, like painter Sara Louise Tucker, who spends half her year in her native New York and the rest in Lisbon. This means that inside some of the Western world’s oldest structures are some of Western culture’s most innovative thinkers, figuring out how the world should look, dress, eat and express themselves. So if you’re walking through Rossio Square and wonder why the Fashion Museum is covered in thousands of multicolored Post-its, the answer is because a young Lisbon artist thought it would be the perfect way to honor the old (the city’s resplendent mosaic tiles) with something modern (the humble Post-it).
Simple, genius and unforgettable… just like Lisbon.