A-Z of capital cities: Lisbon

We all have cities that we’ve dreamed of visiting, yet have never been to. For many, San Francisco is one of those cities. However the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, is the perfect European alternative, offering the same creative vibes and stunning architecture as its American cousin. 

The more you think about it, the more it becomes clear that Portugal is effectively Europe’s answer to California. Geographically, there are a number of similarities between both cities due to both of them being virtually surrounded by water. This means that for beach lovers, Lisbon is the perfect destination to combine both a city break and a beach holiday.

One of San Francisco’s most famous and photographed landmarks is without doubt the Golden Gate Bridge. Lisbon also happens to have its own suspension bridge too – the 25 de Abril Bridge. The similarities between the two are uncanny, with both offering stunning views of the city and incredible examples of human craftsmanship.


Both cities also happen to be built atop of seven steep hills. The views from these hills provide a fantastic perspective of the Portuguese capital, with a visit up the Castelo de São Jorge offering a particularly great view.

Of course there has to be a way of getting up these steep hills. A certain mode of transport is iconic in both cities – this is the cable car. It turns out, however, that this similarity continues as both cities have chosen to colour their little cars yellow. The influence of San Francisco on Lisbon can not be ignored, as shown from the cable cars previously being known as ‘americanos’. Travelling by tram is an easy, fast and unique way to explore the Portuguese capital and the red tourist tram offers a hop on, hop off system, perfect for sight-seeing.

These similarities with San Francisco do not mean that Lisbon isn’t a unique city in itself; it expresses itself in Lisbon’s architecture. Two styles can be found in the city; the nave of Jerónimos Monastry is an example of the Manueline style, yet the 1755 Lisbon earthquake destroyed much of the city meaning that much of central Lisbon is designed in the Pombaline style.

At the heart of the city is Rossio Square, famous for its wave-patterned mosaic pavements which have been recreated worldwide. Meanwhile, one of the city’s most iconic symbols is the Belém Tower: a watchtower and coincidently, where the famous Lisbon custard tarts are made – make sure you try some the next time you’re in the city!


One of the districts you cannot miss is Parque das Nações, which has some fascinating 21st century architecture made even more scenic with the city’s suspension bridge in the background. The district is also home to the second biggest aquarium in the world.

Lisbon, like its San Francisco cousin, is a charming, creative and beautiful city. There really is no better place to visit during the summer.

Michael Winnington

Images courtesy of Ulrika, Allan Watt and Joselu Bilbo via Flickr

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One Comment
  • Cohen Sommer de Andrade
    9 March 2015 at 15:44
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    This is a very distasteful article. Comparing San Francisco with Lisbon wich is the oldest capital in Western Europe, and the second oldest in the entires continent after Athens it’s nothing more than short sighted. What I can gather from this is that whom ever wrote this does not know Lisbon and Portugal, nor Califórnia and San Francisco. The architecture stance is a very good exemple. Although Manuelino and Pombalino are exclusive to Portugal (not to Lisbon), they are not the most representative of the city, being honor for another portuguese style called “Arquitectura Chã”. But lets not forget that Barroco is also a portuguese style, as well as the word itself, and Lisbon is full with that!

    And I’ve been in San Francisco and Califórnia. It is an unfair comparison for them as well. Not only they have a way better climate (their winter would ashame even Algarve in Portugal), but they offer a cultural life completly differen’t from that of Lisbon.

    PS: The trams in Lisbon were called “Americanos”, not because Lisbon was influenced by San Francisco but because Carris (the public transport company “Companhia de Carris de Ferro de Lisboa”), which was founded in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wanted to implement a system with trams pulled by horses like those used in many american cities.

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