Lisbon: Not What I Expected

I look at visiting new cities as one may look at going on a blind date. Some cities you connect with and want to see again, while others leave little to be desired. Unfortunately for me, Lisbon, Portugal was the latter.

I usually never completely write off places and vow to never return, but honestly, I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to return to Lisbon. It wasn’t horrible, and there wasn’t one particular bad experience that left a sour taste in my mouth, it was more like a series of small disappointments.

I’m not going to go into details, but it was far too many encounters with terrible service and rude people (and one instance of excellent service I’ll tell you about later), underwhelming Portugese food, and a fairly dirty, run-down city.

But, I’m not going to dwell on the bad stuff.

Instead, I’m going to say what I liked about Lisbon, because I understand everyone experiences things different and I definitely don’t want to prevent you from visiting Lisbon just because it wasn’t my cup of tea.

The People

Just as much as my encounters with the locals made any chance for loving Lisbon impossible, there’s always just as many nice people to balance things out. From the sweet old couple who gave me directions in their patient Portuguese, while I replied in Spanish, to an awesome waiter who hand-picked my meal, the people I met both made my day, and pissed me off all in one fell swoop!

The (Small) Resemblance to San Francisco

From the trams zipping around the city, to the slightly-less-impressive Golden Gate lookalike, there were little reminders of San Francisco around Lisbon. I can dig that.

The Cupcakes?

The whole cupcake craze just hasn’t hit Spain as hard as in other places. The major cities may have a shop or two, but since I’m not in Barcelona or Madrid too terribly often, I turned to my friend Google to see if Lisbon had cupcakes, since I was visiting. I found this most adorable cupcake shop that reminds you of a continuous giant tea party. I may or may not have tried Red Velvet, Coconut AND Strawberry Cheesecake in one weekend. They were to die for!

The Neighborhoods

Thanks to the advice of fans over on my Facebook Page, I was able to narrow down the best neighborhoods to spend my time in Lisbon. Barrio Alto and Chiado was where I spent most of my time, dining at little hole-in-the-wall establishments, wandering through the parks and plazas and snapping away with my camera.

I’ve been to my fair share of European capital cities, and Lisbon, I’m sorry, but you’re just not my type.

12 comments on “Lisbon: Not What I Expected”

  1. Trevor Huxham Reply

    Thanks for sharing your honest experience about the Lisbon, Christine; I’d literally not heard a single bad thing about the city until I came across this post and I was beginning to wonder if it was too good to be true. I’ve still got high expectations for Lisbon and can. not. wait. to spend 3-4 days in and around the city, but I’m glad to have heard a not-so-good review of Lisbon.
    Trevor Huxham recently posted…6 Weird Things We Do in the United StatesMy Profile

    • Christine Reply

      I was so disappointed to not have fallen in love with it like everyone else seems to! It was just really underwhelming compared to other European capitals. I usually go to new places without expectations, but maybe had too high of expectations!

      • Nikolas Reply

        Good to hear that I am not the only one that was disappointed with Lisbon. I thought Lisbon was run down,filthy dirty,not very good food, and graffiti all over the place. The only other European city that I have felt equally disappointed with was Budapest, Hungary. So, thanks for sharing your views and I totally agree with you Christine. After, going to Lisbon it made me want to research any city I go to and find out it it’s clean or not. I was in Lisbon for 6 nights and all I smelled was sewer,urine and cigarettes totally gross.:(. I think the buildings are very beautiful but rundown.

        • Christine Reply

          We’re definitely in the minority here, but I really don’t understand what all of the hype is about! Usually I find something I like about everywhere I go, but Lisbon didn’t make it too easy on me.

  2. azahar Reply

    Wow, it’s like we visited two entirely different cities. Lisbon was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. I only wish I’d been able to stay longer and hope to go back again soon.
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  5. Alba Reply

    Thanks Christine for this post.

    I thought I was the only person in the world to think like this.

    First time in my life I ask a driver if the tram (bus,… whatever) goes to some place and doesn’t inform you when you get there = A tram full of tourists with “cara de gilipollas” returning to starting point.

  6. Ismael Reply

    Hi Christine,

    I was curious to find “what do people say about” Lisbon or Portugal and came across with your blog.

    Like you said; you are indeed in the minority here but still it is possible to have a bad experience in Lisbon if every single thing fails.
    Couple of things…comparing Lisbon (from XIII century) to San Francisco is strange (to say the least). The “elevators” or trams as many foreigners called them are unique Unesco patrimony) since they were the FIRST to be used in Europe and the world.
    “Looking for cupcakes” in Lisbon when Portugal has over 300 different kinds of pastry (most notable “pasteis de belem”) is another strange “thing”.
    Regarding Lisbon itself, yes it is rundown and thats why people visit it and thats part of the charm of a cool city that is not super duper renewed with idiotic buildings and facades.
    If this is still not enough, couple of questions: Did you visit Cascais? Caught a train in Cais do Sodre and went all way along the coast to Cascais (where the river merges with the ocean)? Did you go to Sintra? Did you go to the beach side in Costa da Caparica? So many things I feel you missed out…pitty indeed. But hey, like a friend of mine would say: “Tastes are not meant to be argued, they are yes to be lamented”.

    • Christine Reply

      Thanks for your input. I did not go to Cascais nor Sintra. I’m sure they’re lovely, but I’m just talking about Lisbon in this post, not its surroundings. I’m sure I missed out, as I’ve been to other beautiful areas of Portugal. Lisbon just wasn’t for me, but that’s okay…sounds like it has plenty of fans anyway!

  7. JD Reply

    We might be in the minority, but this is how I felt about Lisbon, too. I really wanted to love it, but just felt a bit disappointed by a city that was obviously once quite beautiful, but is now rather run down (not in all areas, but enough) and full of graffiti. Although I disagree about the food – what we ate was quite tasty (and cheap!) And the people we encountered were friendly. But I understand how bad experiences can make somewhere seem “less” than you’d like it to be (if that makes sense).
    We did take the train out to Sintra and it is an interesting and fairly beautiful place despite being CROWDED with tourists (Pena Palace is not to be missed!). And I’ve also heard that places along the coast are beautiful. But for me, Lisbon itself just wasn’t my cup of tea, either. I much prefer the more visually stimulating cities of Paris and Prague (and anywhere in Scotland).
    To each his or her own :)

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