Lisbon is like the San Francisco of Europe, and while I don’t hate it nearly as much as I do San Francisco, it doesn’t really speak to me as a place to live. For starters, it doesn’t have enough of a unique charm, and it’s way too busy. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Lisbon is often described as bustling, vibrant, buzzing… all euphemisms for busy, overcrowded, and hectic. It’s beautiful in the way that anything can be beautiful when seen from above. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel so beautiful when you’re climbing uphill in blistering heat to see it from above. This is the kind of thing that makes me think it would be hellish to live there and bring a few groceries home. There is a nice mix of modern and traditional, but a lot of it lacks character. Even the artsy LX Factory, which is arguably one of the coolest areas of the city, feels a little put on, not like it organically grew as an artistic neighborhood but it was designed to have that aesthetic. There are lines for everything from good restaurants to shitty buses, and nothing in the city is really captivating or charming enough to justify all that hassle.
Lisbon scores some points in that it’s very easy to get around on the metro and the airport is extremely close and accessible to city center. This would make it a great jumping off point for other travel. But over the past couple of years, I’ve come to value the city where I live as a place where I want to spend time and not just a place that is easy to get the hell out of.
In Lisbon, this is just about where convenience ends. Though everything is well connected by public transportation, the bus and streetcar routes are painfully slow, overcrowded, and sweaty. Everything runs late so it’s impossible to accurately estimate how long it takes to get anywhere, which is a dealbreaker if you appreciate efficiency. The other option, which is walking everywhere up and down slippery tiles is downright dangerous in inclement weather.
As a person who prefers a little social and cultural distance, the Portuguese are a tad overly familiar and close for my comfort. It often feels like people don’t respect personal space and lack the consideration of simple gestures like moving out of your way to allow you to pass them on the sidewalk. Being such a big city, people are not as warm or hospitable as they are in smaller towns; they’re just all up in your face everywhere you go. And there are so many tourists that it’s actually hard to immediately discern what the local identity is.
Portuguese food is amazing, but it’s also amazing in more exciting and charming cities in Portugal like Porto. All the bifanas and natas and vinho verdes are just as good elsewhere, and probably even cheaper than in Lisbon (although Lisbon is already outrageously affordable). The wine culture is good but again, not really unique to Lisbon in any way. The one good thing about being in the capital is that you’ll find more decent international cuisine, but I’m not writing home about the tacos I had in Lisbon either.
Total livability score 2/10
Lisbon doesn’t do much for me. It doesn’t feel like a home. It doesn’t even feel like somewhere I would even necessarily want to return to on vacation. It simply has too many downsides… at the top of a grueling 15-minute climb.