Cafes and Culture in Europe’s Best-Value Capital

It’s often said a place has something for everyone. That’s not always true. But in the case of Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, you can bet on it. Whether you’re looking for great food, a vibrant nightlife, historical and cultural sites or just the simple life—enjoying lush parks, refreshing fountains and the lure of fresh-roasted coffee and creamy pastries at a sidewalk cafe—this is the place for you.

Colour is everywhere in Lisbon, from the brilliant blue waters of the Tejo River and Atlantic Ocean to the sunny yellow cable cars, to grassy green parks. In the Rossio, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, outdoor cafes and restaurants beckon passers-by with the aroma of fresh-baked breads and pastries, grilled fish and cuisines from around the world. The pedestrian walkway is covered with calcadas portuguesas, a mosaic of black and white stones creating intricate, artistic designs. A string of lovely beaches stretches westward along the coast, lending a laidback spirit to a cosmopolitan centre.

Great cafes, bars and restaurants abound. For traditional Portuguese fare, stop in at Antigo de 1 Maio and try the clam and pork dish in olive oil, lemon and coriander. Your tab will run $18 to $25 per person. In Principe Real, book a table at the Michelin-recommended La Paparrucha for Argentina-style steak, views of the city and cocktails in a cosy bar. A main course of grilled chourico, mushrooms and roasted peppers will set you back $37, but of course you are paying for the ambience as well as the sumptuous fare.

In Lisbon, you’ll find great care at private hospitals like CUF, Hospital da Luz and the British Hospital. Residents can also take advantage of professional free or low-cost national healthcare. A visit to a private doctor averages $63 and a specialist will be about $90. A few months ago, I went to Hospital da Luz. I was admitted immediately and they spent hours testing me to try to diagnose the cause of severe lower back pain. I was given pain medication twice, they took an X-ray and did tests. I met with two doctors. All told, it cost me just $125.

Other costs are similarly affordable. Utilities for a couple will run around $125 a month; groceries around $380; a maid (for three hours, twice a week) about $60; and $250 a month should do you for entertainment.

With its Mediterranean climate, Lisbon enjoys the warmest winters of any large city in Europe. Average daytime temperatures range around 15 C and at night 7 C from December to February. The summer season lasts about six months, from May to October, with August the warmest month, when temperatures hit highs of around 30 C and lows of 19 C.

It’s also a city full of culture. Theatres across the city offer live performances to enjoy. Historic Estrela Hall, built in 1906, is of special note for expats. For almost 70 years, the Lisbon Players have delighted audiences by presenting plays and musicals in English. If you’re looking for something more authentically Portuguese, check out restaurants—especially in the Alfama district—featuring live fado, the melancholy folk music born in this magical city…

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