Throughout the first year of my residency in the Portuguese capital, a few friends and acquaintances (both old and new) have all asked the question: Why did you choose to live in Lisbon? In fairness, I asked myself the exact same question when I was packing my stuff into my suitcase, ready to leave London town behind. Back then, it was an adventurous choice, driven by the desire to live somewhere entirely new, somewhere completely different from the country I lived for over ten years. But it was only really recently that the multifarious reasons became more defined in my state of mind.
Living in this city for a full year has lent some weight and clarity to the barely-experienced prospects that once defined my reasoning behind my southwest-bound move. At first, I was captivated by the allure of the Iberian-Mediterranean lifestyle and consequently bought into it. But to live in a foreign city requires some method of scrutiny beforehand, a degree of risk, and whole lot of certainty to make sure I don’t leave as quickly as I arrived.
I landed in Lisbon with rose-tinted glasses, the perspective of a bold and besotted adventurer ready to take all that landscape in. A year on, it’s safe to say I still wear the same rosy glasses, only this time it’s much clearer, with that 20-20 vision of first-hand experience.
So, I’ve decided to articulate the many reasons below, in a form of a series. You ask: how do I love Lisbon? Let me count thy ways…
The sea beckons.
As immortalised by revered 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões in his epic work Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), he described Portugal as that place “where the land ends and the sea begins“. This, alone, stirred the romantic yearning in me to live by the sea. I was born and brought up in the Philippines, spent most of my childhood along the tropical island coasts, which means that I was never more than half a mile away from the nearest beach, or spent a month without swimming in the sparkling sea. This completely changed when I moved to England as a budding teenager, caught up in the billows of smoke and whirlpools of capitalism that is the city of London, where trips to the seaside prove to be laborious and costly and rarely enjoyable and perhaps only achievable once, or twice a year in the summer months (if you count yourself lucky).
Hence, I craved the sea, and moving to Lisbon is my ontological response to this predicament. The whole city sits on an estuary, where the river greets the sea, and living along its banks mean you’re never more than 15 to 20 minutes away from the nearest beach. Hop on the coastal train departing from the main station of Cais do Sodre, and you’ll find praias dotted along the route, with Praia de Carcavelos being a popular spot with its golden sands and promises of good-for-surfing waves. Further on, there’s the Estoril shoreline and the Riviera-like beaches of Cascais. Cross the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, onto the Atlantic side of the peninsula and you’ll reach a local favourite, Costa de Caparica – about 15 miles of white coastline awash with the cool Atlantic waves and the blue beyond.
This turns out to be life-changing. At the day’s end when I finish work, I close my laptop, jump on the train and head to the nearest beach, requiring nothing more than the fresh sea breeze, salt on my hair, sand on my feet, and still a few hours of sunshine to enjoy, especially during the summer. Or often, I just kick back along the Lisbon waterfront, on an esplanade with a glass of rosé, watching sailboats glide along the perennially blue Rio Tejo set against a devastating sunset.
It’s one of the sunniest cities in Europe.
I’ve tolerated the predominantly grey, cold and wet London weather for more than a decade. Sure, London sometimes enjoy moments of sunny spells, but it’s rare and far too few in between rainshowers and miserable shades of grey. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love sweater weather, I very much prefer abundant sunshine. It’s part of my DNA, hence the longing to live somewhere sunnier and warmer.
Lisbon, meanwhile, shines like a pearl at this southwestern part of the Iberian peninsula. It’s the third sunniest city in Europe, to be exact. Just below Valetta, the Maltese capital, and Marseille of France. There’s an estimate of 2,799 hours of sunshine per year in Lisbon. That’s at least 300 days of sun all year round. Ever since moving here, I’ve rehabilitated myself from Vitamin D loss, packed all my jumpers, sweats and raincoats away, and can mostly be found sauntering around the capital in light linen shirts, bermuda shorts, with espadrilles or sandals on and good pair of sunglasses against the Iberian dazzle. Even at the height of the summer, due to Lisbon’s geolocation, it never really gets truly scorching hot as the Atlantic sea breeze sweeps across the city, giving it this perfect Mediterranean weather vibe.
It does get cold and slightly wet, but that’s concentrated between December to February months as the chilly air dampens the place. But hey ho, that’s a small sacrifice of mild-winter layering (it’s in Europe, after all), when you can thoroughly bask in the Lisbon sunshine for the rest of the calendar year. Imagine the amount of alfresco dinners with wine, rooftop sunset-watching with cocktails, esplanade sunbathing and beautiful waterfront strolls one could ever have whilst living here.
Living well in Lisbon doesn’t cost a fortune.
Back in London, despite having a rather decent profession with a well-earning paycheck, I was still making ends meet with with the city’s extremely high rental prices, living in a shared house in Bloomsbury-Clerkenwell area with a greedy landlord, and just barely keeping up with atrocious utility expenses, overpriced public transport, and a social lifestyle that involves going out once in a while, perennially anxious about ruinous dinner bills. And at every end of the month, I’m left with barely any savings.
This is one of the topmost reasons why I chose to leave London and establish myself in Lisbon. Living well here does not obliterate your wallets, I’ve learned. It turns out, there’s a wave of creative Londoners relocating into Lisbon for the same reason. Check out i-D Magazine’s feature on this. The price of my one-bedroom shared accommodation in London has afforded me a generous river-view apartment with a great lounge and office space in a residential neighbourhood in Lisbon. And what’s worth, my partner and I have the entire place to ourselves, as we didn’t have to share it with anybody else.
Which means my lifestyle choices have changed, too. I eat well, dine well, drink well, travel in comfort, without having to splash. For me, the price of coffee somehow determines the liveability of the city, and a shot of espresso in Lisbon (which they call bica) is usually €0.60 cents in many cafes, €1 in most local establishments, and €1.60 in upscale places. That says a lot. You’d have to shelve at least £2 for a shot of espresso back in London, which is plain ridiculous. When it comes to other beverages, you can get a bottle of beer for €1 and a good glass of wine for €3. Who says living well has to be excessive? And once, I dined in Palácio Chiado, a palace-turned-gastronomic-destination and was aghast when a three-course meal set me no more than €20. With wine, natch.
When it comes to food, I’m not entirely a high-maintenance sort of person, preferring a resourceful lifestyle over an extravagant one, which means I’m more inclined to shop at local markets than big supermarkets (OK, except for an occasional home delivery when I’m incredibly busy, or lazy). Once I emerged from a local frutaria (fruit and veg shop) with two bags of fresh produce and had only paid a measly €12. That’s my locally supplied crops for a week. Well, compared to my customary weekly Waitrose trips in London back then, not bad, indeed.
It’s a great city for digital entrepreneurs.
You’d be hard pressed not to notice that Lisbon’s been growing over the recent years, especially in the entrepreneurial field. I’ve learned, since I’ve been here in 2017, that this surge has been astronomical, with tech startups, creative enterprises and digital nomads all descending into the city to set up a base here. What could be the reason? After Portugal’s economic crisis, the government has intuited that one of the ways to alleviate such crisis is to open the country, especially Lisbon, to foreign investments, inviting people in by offering simplified tax regimes, non-habitual resident schemes and those who have practically have half-a-million to invest in either business, properties, or both. Basically the utter opposite of Brexit, if I may say so.
As a direct result, lots of new establishments have opened up. I can attest to see cool new co-working spaces and fabulous cafés and hip-and-happening brunch spots sprouting around the town; old, crumbling warehouses and factories being revived for entrepreneurial and digital hub purposes (see LXFactory and Hub Criativo Beato); there’s the annual popular Web Summit tech conference, which draws thousands of startups and tech companies from all over the world, and set to run in the city with a fresh contract until 2028. These are only a handful of the reasons that’s currently making Lisbon a thriving creative and entrepreneurial city, with lots of interesting people bringing cultural, economic and interpersonal enlightenment. I, for one, have been part of this exodus, setting up my base in the city, establishing my video and animation enterprise with international clients. It’s too good to resist the beguilement, especially that tax regimes are merciful and I can have the beach for an office. In some days, of course. Let’s not be too spoiled, shall we?
Some of the greatest wines available to humanity.
Having long coveted dreams of living in a wine-producing country, Portugal was an obvious choice. Being a wine drinker for most of my adult life so far, I thoroughly enjoy going to places (France, in particular) and drinking quaffable wine to no seeming end — and while life in London had given me access to so much wine from around the world, they don’t come cheap and you’d have give up a handful of pounds to get to the next tolerable bottle — so landing on Lisbon is the closest to wine jackpot one could possibly have. Not only wine is flowing in this country, but it’s also astonishingly affordable. You’d be pleased to know that a bottle of vinho tinto that costs €3.99 in a supermarket turns out to be absolutely wonderful. Don’t be too surprised as well if someone pours you wine in a restaurant, with a somewhat shady €2.50 per glass price tag, and it turns out to be divine. Whether they be from Douro or Alentejo, Dão or Península de Setúbal, most likely the quality of wine you’ll have around here are some of the best in the world. Once, I went to a Portuguese wine-tasting event, and let’s just say I emerged thoroughly convinced of this notion. Wine-drunk, of course.