Lisbon: Even Better the Second Time

lisbon portugal shopping street with archesThere are some places you never leave. You may not be there physically, but a piece of you stays behind forever to be with the place that stole so much of your heart. It lives there, reliving those initial memories and waiting for new ones to be made.

Last year, I visited Lisbon for the first time, and though the visit was short, thoughts of it never left me. I fell madly in love, and the city claimed a hold on me I could never shake.

Last week, I returned to the city, and it was as though I’d never left. Lisbon and I just fit. I walked new streets feeling I’d been there before. I navigated the subway with ease. I felt at home in unknown restaurants. I sat around sharing jokes with Portuguese shop owners, though neither understood each other’s native tongue.

Mostly, I wandered the city dumbstruck as I marveled at just how beautiful the city is—filled with beautifully tiled houses with red roofs and winding cobblestone streets that snake between multi-story homes draped with Portuguese flags and hanging laundry.

At every turn, I remarked to my friend, “Damn, how beautiful and amazing is Lisbon?”

lisbon portugal shopping street with arches

I worry a lot about going back to cities I fall in love with the first time around. What if I’m just chasing ghosts? What if it’s not the same? What if I go back and hate it? Will I just compare the present to the past?

So I touched down in Lisbon with a mix of excitement and trepidation, but as I stepped out onto the streets, I knew in my bones that we’re soul mates. And when you’re just meant to be with someone, all the change in the world doesn’t matter.

lisbon portugal shopping street with arches

On this visit, I relaxed at the nearby beach in the town of Cascais, where my ghost-like appearance became a bit more human after some time in the sun. I dined on fabulous fish at Santa Rita, a delicious and cheap (21 euros for fish, a liter of wine, bread, and seafood rice) restaurant located downtown. I ticked off touristy sites like the city history museum and the castle. I stayed out so late in the Barrio Alto (an area known for wild nightlife) that I slept most of the next day away. (I still mostly blame the jetlag.)

lisbon portugal shopping street with arches

There are moments traveling when the stars seem to align. Sipping wine from a cafe while watching neighborhood kids play soccer in the street and grandmothers hang laundry from windows, I knew how lucky I was to watch this destination reveal itself to me in all its glory. Life can’t get better at moments like that.

Lisbon is filled with wonderful architecture, history, charisma, nightlife, people, and such incredible budget value that I can’t help but daydream of renting a quiet little apartment on one of those cobblestoned streets.

Some places wow you.

Some places take your breath away.

And then there are places like Lisbon that capture your soul, and you’re never the same again.

  1. Lisbon really is great. I was only there for 24 hours last December, but I’d love to go back…especially in the late summer/autumn!

  2. Wow, for a second visit it’s left quite the impression on you Matt!

    Would love to hear more about the budget value Lisbon has to offer. Glad you made the chasing ghosts reference too as that was my first thought after reading the opening paragraph.

    When’s the moving date? :)

  3. Greg & Molly

    We’ll be there for a month or so toward the end of the year, after the Camino. Really looking forward to it.

  4. I know exactly what you mean, the first time I went to London I wanted to see everything I could but didn’t over plan to much. I had some hectic days and days not as hectic but had a great time. The second time I went to London was more laid back maybe because I didn’t have as many things to see I had more time to see and look at things along my journey from place to place so I found some neat things I wouldn’t have seen if I had over planned and didn’t have time to stop and look

  5. Lisbon is sweeeet. But I feel ya, going back for round two you risk losing that feeling and the memory might shed some of its luster. Or maybe you just appreciate different things with more experience as you age. Shit, I sound old.

    You been down to Sintra?

  6. Byron

    I visited Lisbon in the summer of 2008 and absolutely loved it. I did the whole “backpack through Europe thing” after graduating from Arizona State University and when people ask what my favorite city was I always tell them Lisbon (along with Paris, obviously). It’s off the beaten path so it isn’t overflowing with tourists, has a unique African influence that most of Europe lacks, the friendliest people, delicious food, sandy beaches, and it’s comparatively inexpensive. It’s perfect.

    Great write-up, Matt. I can’t wait until I return to Lisbon. Hopefully it’s sooner than later. Cheers.

  7. Aaron Douglas

    Whenever I go to a place I’m always excited to return a few years later and see if it’s as amazing as I remember it, it pretty much always is

  8. Glad you enjoyed Lisbon, Matt. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited it but each time, I find something new and fall a little deeper in love with it. There’s plenty more for you to discover so keep returning!

  9. Elio

    I can’t figure out how Lisbon is one of the most underrated capitals in Europe.
    But probably this helped to preserve her unique charme. It’s a real gem.

  10. There is always a place that grabs our hearts and captivates the soul! San Sebastian is one of those places for me … I will certainly be going back! Have fallen in love with all of Spain – I go back to Mallorca year after year, and am sure San Sebastian will become a part of that! I have heard so many great things about Lisbon – will have to find a way to pull myself away from Spain to experience Portugal!

  11. Lisbon is indeed an amazing place to travel and to live. I was born in this beautiful city – how lucky! :) but I do not live there since 1999. I miss it actually. I’m heading off to Lisbon to start my RTW trip, departing from Casablanca, being Lisbon my first Destination. Thanks for the article. Greetings from MOROCCO!

  12. I love this post! I have wanted to go to Lisbon for some time now but well…other trips, other priorities and now I am in Australia! (Would have been so much easier from where I am originally from…Paris!). Anyways, you just describe the city the way it is in my dreams…Perfect!
    I also love how you basically explain that falling for a place can be life transforming pretty much the same way that falling in love with a human being is. I tend to make this kind of comparison too…a lot! lol! I think you’re in my city now and I much as I love living overseas, I miss it, so please do enjoy beautiful Paris for me and if the weather is good enough, go have a picnic by the Seine with a bottle of Rosé! Cheers! 😉

  13. there is world unexplored. very soul touching article for travel lover. i have in Harare a year ago and that article refreshed my memories. i think every place has its some particular beauty and if one is real travel lover, he would definitely find it even in wilderness.

  14. I spent two nights there in 2008 and did many of the same things you did on this trip Matt. I just called the jetlag a hangover, though. It is a great city no doubt and it will always fall a bit under the radar due simply to geography. If it was in the middle of Europe it would be #1 on everyone’s list.

  15. Matt I really liked Lisbon.
    The city is really diverse and you can find a lot about the Portuguese culture.
    Eating some “pasteis de belem” with some black coffee is a must!

  16. It was once said that you need not travel to Lisbon if you have traveled to Goa. But gone are those day when Portueguese ruled the roost in Goa. Your travel experience and superb photos are compelling enough reson to travel to Lisbon. Portugal is definitely on my travel bucket list. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Kay

    I feel the same about Budapest. And we have gone back there 5 times! Loved Lisbon but after having my wallet stolen from backpack on our last day, I have a “sour” taste. That said, we do want to go back. So much we didn’t see!

  18. Lara

    I’m from Lisbon (living in England now for the last two years though) and I miss my country and my hometown! The food, the weather, the people, everything! You don’t know how good it is until you haven’t got it for granted it anymore.
    It is a beautiful city, with plenty to see, it gives you an amazing feeling as you walk down the cobbled and narrow streets late afternoon with the sun about to set, you stop just outside Terreiro do Paço to look at the river and you feel at ease. You go for a late dinner with amazing food and afterwards you set off to Bairro Alto and you’ll know you’re going to have a lot of fun! Then you wake up in the morning and it doesn’t matter if you’re hangover because some good beaches are a train ride away and you can just go to one and sleep it all off under the sun (make you you don’t get sunburnt thoug)!
    I could go and on and on but I think I’m just missing my hometown, the sun, food and the family and my dog. Can’t wait to get back for my summer holidays!!
    It’s really cool to know people like you love Lisbon – it makes me proud!!

  19. Matt

    I went to Lisbon in 2004 and, like you, it also captured my heart; and I don’t really know why. I did like everything you mentioned… the cobblestone streets, old-world charm, architecture, good (cheap) food, history, etc, etc… but then, LOTS of cities in Europe have those elements. I think it must be the soul of the local people as well. Portugal is home to Fatima, where the Virgin Mary appeared to 3 children… I think God sent His messenger to the people of Portugal because they DO have a good soul! This collective soul left its mark on me; and I don’t know if I will ever return (because there is much to see in the world) but I am very glad I visited in 2004.

  20. Hello Matt,
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so happy that you felt a strong connection and pull to Lisbon and that you enjoy it there. I am from Portugal and was born in Lisbon and have been living in London, England for the past 22 years. Like you every time I return to listen I always feel a deep sense of connection and whenever I return to Portugal I always make sure I go to Lisboa because there is always something that pulls me towards it’s energy and makes it all the while special and unforgettable. I love that places pulls us in and make us feel alive and that we are easily connected to most places than others.
    Best wishes

  21. I also visited Lisbon for just a few days last year and had an incredible time. I cannot wait to return – it’s really the kind of place where I could imagine myself settling down for a little while and enjoying those Bairro Alto bars and super cheap Caiparinhas :)

  22. Great description of how Lisbon makes you feel Matt. When I did my Europe trip we stayed there for 4 days and absolutely loved it. The winding cobble streets, the old tram, great seafood and cheap drinks and especially the warmth of people of portugal was amazing. I didnt get time to see the beach so i certainly have much to return to on my next visit :)

  23. I spended last month a few days in Lisbon and fell in love with the city instantly. It’s such a pretty place and there is so much to do :)

  24. ashree

    Ah here goes in my bucket list. One thing I notice when firstly arrived in one place is the houses’ rooftop view from the airplane while landing. Don’t know why but I always felt ecstatic at the time, always! And I saw that in one of your photos above. Good post!


  25. Ryan

    It is strange how that can happen even after years(in your case) of traveling you find your city, the one that you walk through and understand immediately and the city understands you. My city is Córdoba, Argentina. Have you ever found a country like that? If I had to guess your based on your blog it would be Thailand, but you know better than I. If you ever get a chance come down during the summer(January-February) to mine, Uruguay. I know it better than 95% of the locals, they have told me so,(18/19 departments, talked to people of all ages, classes, etc.) I can give you tips if you ever get a break and are down south. Otherwise keep on doing what you do, using word-of-mouth!

  26. Noemi


    If you enjoyed Lisboa, next time you should try to discover Porto, and the north. You have cheap flights to Porto from a lot of european capitals, so it’s easy to reach.
    I’m from Braga (north of Porto) and while I love Lisbon, I learned that tourists that experiment the North (rent a car and travel, staying in a couple of cities) are more tempted to come back :)
    The north is greener and, if you liked Lisboa hospitality, you will be in shock with the northern one (since it’s known even within the country). Please feel free to email me if you come :)

    And, by the way, thanks for the site! :) Found it while trying to plan a trip and has been very useful :)


  27. Paul

    I absolutely love Lisbon! The buildings and architecture, the food and the hostels are the best I’ve ever seen! Reading this post makes me want to go to Pasteis de Belem now!

  28. Lisbon is indeed a wonderful city to visit as is the rest of Portugal which you wrote about in your previous post. Too often Portugal is overshadowed by better known destinations. Your way of describing your visits is excellent and gives a great idea of the many things to see and experience here. I myself came here in 1998 and still am amazed by what a fantastic country this is to live and visit.

  29. Britt

    I absolutely loved Lisbon as well and hope to get back for my second visit. Guess what! Our birthday (June 12th!) is the city’s biggest open air party! 😀

  30. Inês

    Just reading this now (because I just discovered your website a few months ago) and it makes me really happy to know you love my city! It’s always good when someone else values what is ours. I was born and raised here, a true “alfacinha” as we call ourselves. However, I’ve always loved Lisbon more than most locals. I guess all the traveling made me realize how blessed I am to live in such a beautiful and unique city. It doesn’t mean I don’t love other places: Paris, Berlin, Paraty and Australia to name a few.
    Anyway, if you come back and need tips just ask!

  31. Joao

    Visitem Lisboa em qualquer altura do ano mas em especial no mês de junho nos dias 10 a 15 são as festas da Cidade de Lisboa Santo Antonio de dia 12 para 13 a cidade de Lisboa não dorme são festas pelo centro da cidade em todo o lado, mas Portugal é lindo, bom clima, boa gastronomia, muito sol, praias de areia fina, e com um povo muito simpático e acolhedor

  32. Glad you love Lisbon, Matt, it is a wonderful European capital. Not too big, not too small, easygoing, with lovely people, nice food, amazing monuments, cozy cafes, good weather and happy nightlife. Every time i visit Lisbon and know it better i like the city a bit more. Cheers, Filipe

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