European borders are reopened, and I’m returning in earnest to the work of exploring the best places on the Continent to think about reinventing your life.
Hey, it’s a tough job, as they say, but, you know, somebody’s gotta’ do it…
Top of my list, of course, is Portugal… the destination we’ve named as the world’s best place to live or retire overseas for eight years running.
As I plan for my next visit to this beautiful, welcoming, sun-drenched, and affordable Euro-haven, I’m thinking back over the time I’ve already spent in Lisbon… and I can’t help but draw comparisons between that capital city and the one where I’m currently based.
That is, how do Lisbon and Paris stack up against each other?
Let’s take a look…
Lisbon and Paris have much in common. They are both West European riverfront capital cities with lots of history, culture, and entertainment.
At the same time, they couldn’t be more different.
The Tagus Versus The Seine
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 feel when on the 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.
Paris is a staid, predictable, highly genteel place. Parisians are subdued, polite, and respectful.
Alfacinhas Versus Parisians
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 flash for a moment of 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 have to say that I’ve never been to a beach town as sophisticated as Lisbon.)
Not to say that Paris is stressed out or hectic, but there’s a 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.
Which Is The Better Bargain?
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 takes 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.
Lots Of Expats For Company
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.
Residency And Health Care
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.
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 takes 37th place). 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.
Editor, In Focus: Europe