For a city of worldwide renown, it might be somewhat of a surprise to learn that a mere 552,000 people were living in Lisbon proper at the time of the last census in 2014. However, this number might be somewhat misleading after all: if you take the people living in the city’s metropolitan area into account, the number of residents skyrockets to almost three million. For a nation of around 11 million inhabitants, this is an immense population concentration. In fact, the only other city that can rival Lisbon and its surroundings in terms of population is Porto, Portugal’s “other” metropolis.
While there is a sizeable expat community in Lisbon, it is not as multicultural a place as many other expat hubs or state capitals. Still, there are communities of citizens of Eastern European countries as well as larger numbers of people with roots in former Portuguese colonies living in Lisbon today.
For anyone with even the slightest appreciation for history, living in Lisbon will be a real treat. Not only is Portugal’s capital one of the oldest cities in Europe and even the world, but it has been under different rules throughout the centuries, each leaving indelible marks on the face of the city — marks which still influence Lisbon today. Roman, Germanic, and Arabic influences — some more, some less pronounced — combined with the predominant Roman Catholic culture typical for Portugal have made the experience of living in Lisbon one of a kind in the nation and even Europe.
Take the Alfama, for instance: as the only neighborhood of Lisbon to survive the catastrophic earthquake of 1755 which laid most of the city to waste, the influences of 400 years of Muslim rule are most pronounced here — and not only in the name of the area. Still, it cannot be denied that the developments after the Reconquista, during which Christian forces reassumed control over the city, have had the most impact on the architecture and culture still present and tangible today. From the monumental architecture of the 16th century, including several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, to the city’s proud seafaring tradition, the centuries between the Reconquista and the earthquake probably were the most prosperous for Lisbon.
All this is not to say that the inhabitants of Lisbon have not come up with great cultural treasures in more recent times. The best-known of these is probably fado, the mournful music of Portugal’s streets, which rose to international popularity during the second half of the 20th century. You will soon find that fado is an inescapable part of living in Lisbon — no wonder, as it first originated in the bairros in Lisbon’s historic heart.
It will be a sad, but luckily also very rare occurrence to experience a dull moment while living in Lisbon. Particularly the historical city center is so full of possibilities to experience culture and entertainment that it is rather hard to pinpoint or recommend particularly noteworthy places to be. Chances are, however, that most of the nights out will take you to Bairro Alto, Alcântara, or Chiado. If partying is not up your alley, you can always stroll past the city’s wealth of historic sites in Belém, Estrela, or the Alfama.
If your idea of relaxing and having fun is trying on and buying lots and lots of new things, give the Baixa a shot — the number one neighborhood for fashion aficionados in Lisbon. But of course, the possibilities to have a fun time do not stop here. Longing for some nature? You’ll have one of Europe’s largest parks right in town — Monsanto Forest Park. Can’t get enough of museums? Lisbon covers that as well, and in exhausting variety. Sports buff? Football fans get to enjoy world-class matches regularly: the famous Benfica Lisbon have their home games here. There is a lot to discover for expats living in Lisbon, so dive right in!
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