Cafés 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 café—this is the place for you.

Color 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 neighborhoods in the city, outdoor cafés 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 calçadas 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 center.

Great cafés, 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 $15 to $20 per person. In Príncipe Real, book a table at the Michelin-recommended La Paparrucha for Argentina-style steak, views of the city, and cocktails in a cozy bar. A main course of grilled chouriço, mushrooms, and roasted peppers will set you back $30, 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 on average is $50, and a specialist will be about $70. 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 tests. I met with two doctors and it cost me just $100.

Other costs are similarly affordable. Utilities for a couple will run around $100 a month; groceries around $300; a maid (for three hours, twice a week) about $50; and $200 a month for entertainment.

With its Mediterranean climate, Lisbon enjoys the warmest winters of any large city in Europe. Average daytime temperatures range around 59 F and at night 46 F 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 86 F and lows of 67 F.

It’s also a city full of culture. Theaters 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 city. Feel a pang for the Great White Way? Head to nearby Estoril and its legendary casino for Broadway-style productions.

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