The Sunshine of Lisbon

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When I arrived in Lisbon, two things struck me immediately: how beautiful the city was, and how insanely hilly the city was.  Like as hilly as San Francisco, only with cobblestones.

The more I got to know Lisbon, the more comparisons I drew between Lisbon and San Francisco.  It was hilly, of course, but it was also more temperate than the surrounding region, and had a burgeoning, hip underground scene.  Hipster city.

One big difference: while San Francisco is foggy and cool, Lisbon is pure sunshine.

That night, I met a guy at the hostel from San Francisco who now lives in Lisbon.  I told him my observations and asked him what he thought.

He brought forth the most creative analogy I’ve heard in a long time:

“Lisbon and San Francisco are two twin brothers separated at birth and sent to different orphanages.  San Francisco is adopted immediately, does well in school, stays out of trouble, goes to an Ivy League college, and becomes a huge success.

“Lisbon is a problem child, and ages out of the orphanage at 18, turning to crime.  But eventually he decides it’s enough and gets to the point of owning, like, a tortilla stand.  Which is great for him, considering how far he’s come, but still, it’s just a tortilla stand.”

Lisbon: the former criminal turned tortilla stand owner.

From the moment I left the airport parking lot, I noticed that there was graffiti all over the city.  But while the graffiti was subversive, it wasn’t malicious.  The graffiti, for the most part, adds to the city’s beauty.

It’s even on the famous trams.

The neighborhoods are distinctive and diverse.  Most famous is the Alfama, the old quarter, where people live in tiny, winding streets.

The views from the top are pretty impressive, too:

After much deliberation, I chose Principe Real to be my neighborhood when I return to Lisbon for a week on Wednesday.  Principe Real is the new hip neighborhood, with lots of cool boutiques and cafes, and while it’s close to the crazy nightlife of Bairro Alto, it’s quiet and there are lots of parks.

And speaking of that Bairro Alto nightlife — I checked it out, and it is INSANE.  Even more insane than I thought it would be.

Picture hundreds if not thousands of people standing in the streets with their drinks — open container laws be damned.  There are dozens of bars and a glass of sangria costs ONE EURO.  A giant Solo cup full of sangria costs only two Euros.

It was like Vegas — but unlike Vegas, you could actually take your drink into a new bar!

And the next morning?

It was as if no one had ever been there.

I’m so excited to be spending a full week in Lisbon.  This city is as fascinating as it is beautiful, and I can’t wait to show you more of it!

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32 thoughts on “The Sunshine of Lisbon”

  1. Your photos contrasting the nightlife scene before and after remind me of Bourbon street…another place that is absolutely still and silent the morning after.

  2. So happy to hear you’re enjoying Lisbon just as much as we did! And isn’t it crazy how similar Lisbon and San Francisco are?? We actually wrote about it when we were there last year ( and especially the bridge got us every time we drove by there. Make sure to take a day trip out to Cascais, it must be a sleepy little village at this time of year – it’s the last stop on the commuter train, a beautiful ride along the coast.

  3. Like Christine, I never gave Portugal much thought, but now I think I have to add it to the list!

    Your pictures of Lisbon remind me a lot of Valparaiso, Chile, where I live now. I think your friend’s analogy could extend to Valparaiso, as well – with Lisbon & Valpo being the 2 problem children in a set of triplets. What a great analogy, I never would have thought of it that way! I’ve always thought of Valpo as having the bones of San Francisco but the personality & spirit of New Orleans…I wonder if something similar could be said of Lisbon?

  4. Graffiti is all over Spain as well, especially because of the economic crisis. Especially in the regions that are more separatists (Galicia, Basque Country, Cataluña), it’s definitely of a subversive nature, and not so much for the sake of “art”.

  5. Kate, you make me want to go to Lisbon/everywhere!! I LOVED that analogy of Lisbon and San Fransisco, and found it personally timely because I am going to San Fran for the first time in April, looking forward to meeting this ivy league sister city to Lisbon! Great post : )

  6. I’m speechless–another example of the ugly American in Europe. A problem child twin of San Francisco? A tortilla stand? You do realize you’re talking about a city that’s about 17 centuries older than San Francisco? What’s next–a comparison between Madrid and Dubuque?

  7. Yes, Lisbon has “San Francisco’s” bridge and trams but I see it more as a mix of Istanbul, Naples and actually Venice with the fading/decaying mansions. Actually, Lisbon is one of the most authentic cities on Earth, with its tiled houses, its cobbled designs, its diverse and contrasting neighborhoods (Alfama and Parque das Nações are like two different cities).
    Don’t miss a daytrip to Sintra! Absolutely fantastic place, like stepping into a fairytale!

  8. I’ve heard the Lisbon-SF comparison many times, but I’ve never heard it put quite so creatively. I’ve been there, but since I was 2 years old on my last visit, I think I should probably return to compare the two for myself.

  9. I love your blog.

    I’m living in Lisbon at the moment. I’m from London. My next stop is New York.

    I’m Jealous of your travelling, in particular vang vieng, a few of my friends leave there and i really expected to see them in your pictures. Adam Axford and Daryl Coles.

    Anyway. hope your well


  10. Oh you rememberd me Bairro Alto! i feel like crying! I just love Lisbon!
    It’s my favorite city (still now) and I don’t think that there is something alike in the world! So peacefull, colorfull, shiny, modest, nostalgic but still full of fun!!!!
    Alice, Romania

  11. Lisbon is not 17 centuries older than San Francisco but at least 26 if not more… there is evidence of human permanent residences in Lisbon since the Iron Age. You can visit archeological sites in the city.

    “Lisbon: the former criminal turned tortilla stand owner.”

    Lisbon doesn’t look like a tortilla but more like a shell.

    The comparison between the two cities is laughable, and if you visit Lisbon to “discover San Francisco” then you will not understand Lisbon at all.

  12. I was searching other articles about Lisbon and definitely will share this one, mainly because of the comparison between Lisbon and San Francisco. That’s one way of putting it 🙂 I’ve lived here since College and have seen the city go through so many changes. I kind of like where it is now, even knowing that a lot needs to be done still. Someone told me once that Lisbon (and Portugal in general) was underrated as a travel destination and for the past couple of months I have done nothing more than writing about the city and the country and trying to put it out there, showing a city most people didn’t know about it. Is it because we’re “stuck” in a corner of Europe? People reach Spain and turn around?

  13. Love your comparison of Lisbon and San Francisco! My partner and I are heading to Lisbon on Friday for 3 nights – I cannot wait!! Do you have any suggestions for must see sights/areas/things to try?

    We’ll be doing a walking a tour but would love to know if you have any off the beaten track ideas for us!

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