European borders opened recently, allowing me to begin doing more than thinking about traveling beyond France.
Ireland is likely to be our first trip out of the country. It’s a short hop away and an easy country to navigate. Plus, my parents will already be there, so they can help out with childcare on our first getaway as a family of three.
But I’m also already thinking about the trips that will come after…
I had a great time in Portugal last year and would like to get back there soon. As I was debating destinations in the country, I thought back to our time in Lisbon and began comparing that city to my new adopted home, Paris.
Both West European riverfront capitals with lots of history, culture, and entertainment, they have many things in common. At the same time, they couldn’t be more different…
Lisbon lies on the River Tagus where it opens wide to flow into the Atlantic. When you’re in the city it feels more like you’re on the ocean than aside a river, and, after all, the sea is just next door. From some waterfront points, you can’t see land on the other side of the estuary, and the water is gray and choppy just like the Atlantic. A strong ocean breeze is a common companion here.
Paris, perhaps a more conventional riverfront city, lies inland, with the River Seine more or less bisecting it. In contrast to the wild feeling I remember from Lisbon’s coast, the Seine is calming, flowing gently through miles of civilized stone banks from which you can enjoy the scene. In Lisbon, you’ll see sand at some parts of the waterfront where the stone construction peters out into the water, but not in Paris.
These differences in the cities’ respective bodies of water seem reflected in their populations and attitudes, too…
Paris is a staid, predictable, highly genteel place. Parisians are subdued, polite, and respectful.
Alfacinhas (people from Lisbon), meantime, are a more raucous bunch, more unpredictable and with a Latin flair for revelry that shows in their love of music and dancing. While not common in Paris, live music is a much-appreciated form of entertainment in Lisbon’s nightlife scene. And, while you won’t catch Parisians standing up at an outdoor café to sway to music of any kind, Lisboners can be up on their feet in a moment in celebration.
There’s a spontaneity in Lisbon and its people that you don’t find in Paris.
There’s also a laid-back feeling in Lisbon that, for me, comes from the wide-open harbor that has you feeling like you’re in a beach town. (Although, I’ve never been to a beach town quite as sophisticated as Lisbon.) Not to say that Paris is stressed out or hectic, but there’s some distinction I find it hard to put my finger on. It’s something about that Mediterranean, Latin attitude… maybe it just comes down to the seascape.
Lisbon feels easygoing, which isn’t a word I’d use to describe Paris.
That said, the French live to enjoy life, they appreciate pleasure, and don’t like to rush. Pass the banks of the Seine or the Canal Saint Martin or stroll through a park on even an overcast day, and you’ll see plenty of Parisians laying back and relishing the moment.
Both cities boast incomparable museums, galleries, concerts, and theater. Both have thousands of years of history to draw on. Both serve up world-class cuisine. Both have gorgeous architecture that could have you tripping over yourself as you look ever skyward.
But when it comes to enjoying all these amenities, Lisbon is by far the cheaper of the two options. Although Paris can be more affordable than you might believe, it’s still an objectively expensive place to live.
Eating out is our family’s biggest regular splurge, and it take quite a bite out of our monthly budget. Eating out in Lisbon, on the other hand, is super affordable, and the food is always fresh and delicious. Because of the proximity to the ocean, seafood is a specialty in Lisbon, which isn’t the case in Paris.
Paris is a more walkable city than Lisbon. You could and we regularly do walk across its mostly flat topography easily and in a matter of hours. Lisbon isn’t as manageable size-wise and challenges the pedestrian with hills and steps. But both cities have excellent public transport systems, so you don’t need to walk much in either if you don’t want to.
Both cities are home to impressive populations of English-speaking expats, if that’s a priority for you. Lisbon is home to mostly Brits, while Brits, Canadians, Americans, Australians, Irish, and many more English-speakers besides live in Paris. As I’ve become more active in the expat community in Paris over the last year, I’ve met several of each of the nationalities above, but it seems to me that we all meld together as foreigners together, with little attention paid to our respective points of origin.
Practically speaking, France and Portugal are quite distinct, as well…
France is the land of bureaucracy, whereas Portugal takes a less strict stance on administration, meaning administrative tasks are more easily navigated than in France.
Portugal offers several attractive, turn-key options for residency and citizenship, as well as the incomparable NHR (Non-Habitual Resident) tax program once you’ve acquired residency. If you haven’t been resident in Portugal in the last five years, you can apply for the NHR program and enjoy reduced income taxes in Portugal for 10 years.
France also offers several routes to residency, but requires more of the applicant in terms of paperwork and physical presence in the country.
Health care in both countries is excellent. France’s is ranked as the best in the world according to WHO, and Portugal comes in 12th on the same list (the United States is 37). As a resident of either country, the fantastic care comes just about free of charge. Even if you’re not part of the social system, paying out of pocket is affordable—leagues cheaper than care in the States.