Portugal is growing rapidly as a go-to snowbird destination for Canadians, with historic Lisbon becoming a favorite base among snowbirds for extended stays.
This wonderful city is located close to Atlantic beaches and is home to historic sites dating back to the 10th Century. In fact, there is so much to explore and discover here, you will never be short of things to do.
Lisbon is considered one of the most affordable cities in Europe - and one of the safest - two excellent reasons why Canadian snowbirds are discovering this city for their winter getaways.
But it doesn’t stop there - Lisbon has a mild climate year-round with an early spring, and there are 20 excellent golf courses within an hour’s drive.
Lisbon also has great flight connections to Canada and is a very walkable city, although it also offers charming vintage trams and other public transport that provide a respite when you need a break, as the city is quite hilly.
Best of all, the winter months are the off-season in Lisbon and prices are much lower, especially for accommodations—this makes Lisbon one of the more affordable destinations anywhere for Canadian snowbirds.
What to see in Lisbon
Surprisingly, Lisbon is still lesser-known than many European capitals – despite being named one of the Top 10 cities in the world by Lonely Planet.Once you have been there you will understand why.
Lisbon is steeped in history alongside modern additions. The unique azulejo blue and white tiles are a distinctive feature found on buildings – and are also a must-have souvenir. The tiles were brought by the Moors who inhabited the Iberian peninsula in the 13th century and are prevalent throughout the region.
The locals are friendly towards visitors here, and the shopping is second to none, with everything from designer stores to local bargains.
There is so much for snowbirds spending the winter to take in in Lisbon, including a number of “must-see” sights:
- Alfama District and Castle of Sao Jorge – This centuries old district overlooks the city with breathtaking views. Take the iconic #28 Tram through the winding streets of Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood on the way to the castle. The moody Fado music was born here and you will hear it in some of the restaurants in the evening.
- Belem Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the 16th Century at the gateway to Lisbon’s port where Portugal’s famous explorers departed from. It is considered to be an important symbol of the Age of Discovery.
- Jeronimos Monastery is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the renowned Portuguese explorer. The unique church and exquisite cloisters are not to be missed.
- The Praça do Comércio and Arch of Rua Augusta is a beautiful arch and historical site located at the head of one of Lisbon’s busiest streets. It is a popular tourist attraction and affords terrific views.
One of Lisbon’s most emblematic squares is Praça do Comércio. As a symbol of the city, it provides access to various attractions that mustn’t be missed: Pátio da Galé; Cais das Colunas; and the innovative Lisbon Story Centre.
- The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is home to a one of the finest private art collections, including the works of Rembrandt, Rubens, Monet and Lalique.
- The Sao Roque Church was the earliest Jesuit church in the Portuguese world and one of the earliest anywhere. The chapel, commissioned in 1740, is said to be the most expensive in Europe.
- The Royal Treasure Museum is a new museum at the Ajuda National Palace featuring the Crown Jewels and other treasures.
Europe’s sunniest city
This coastal city basks in sunshine 300 days of the year, making it one of the sunniest of the European capitals and an ideal place for snowbirds.
The coldest months are December and January with highs around 15C and some rain. If you go then, make sure your accommodation is heated. By mid February, spring arrives and the weather is warmer through March, April and May.
The winter months are a great time to explore the sights, museums and galleries of Lisbon, as they are much less crowded than during the summer tourist season.
How to get there
Lisbon is the primary international air hub in Portugal and Snowbirds have many options to get there from Canada.
TAP Air Portugal, Air Canada and Air Transat all operate direct flights from Canada.
There are also many ways to get to Lisbon from Canada via European gateways on numerous airlines.
Azores Airlines also offers connections through Ponta Delgada on the island of San Miguel in the Azores.
Where to stay
There are many apartment hotels, apartments, pousadas (inns) and hotels to choose from in Lisbon - including everything from 5 star to budget locations, providing snowbirds with multiple long stay accommodation options
Lisbon has a great transit system that incorporates its iconic trams, a subway and buses – as well as trains to the outlying areas of the city. You will not need a car here, which is one of the many great reasons to stay in Lisbon, as it’s easy to get around and you won’t have to incur the cost of renting a car.
When you first arrive in Lisbon, it is always a good idea to take a city tour or sightseeing tour to get your bearings. You will find a number of different Lisbon city tour options here.
Sports & Fitness
Portugal is crazy about football and the country is always a contender in the World Cup. If you get the chance, you don’t want to miss seeing a football match. Sporting Clube de Portugal and Sport Lisboa e Benfica are both based in Lisbon.
Hiking & walking
Lisbon’s hilly terrain make it a great workout if you are seeing the city by foot. There are also some great hiking trails outside the city and in the surrounding area including Sintra.
There are a number of companies offering cycling tours in the Lisbon area. You can find a list of cycling tour companies here.
There are over 20 golf courses in the area surrounding Lisbon. Portugal is known for golf and has some of the most challenging courses anywhere.
For a list of local Lisbon golf courses, check here.
Food and Wine
Portugal is known for its wines and its wonderful seafood and gastronomy. It is definitely a city for foodies and for snowbirds who like to go out at night. There are plenty of nightclubs, some of which feature the distinctive fado music.
One tip about dining - although dinner isn’t served as late in Portugal as in its neighbour Spain, most Portuguese have dinner around 9pm. However, restaurants do open at 7 if you don’t want to eat that late.
One of the mainstays of Portuguese cuisine that you will find in Lisbon is Bacalhau – or cod – dried and salted, which is considered the national dish. But you will also find cod prepared many other ways as well.
Caldo Verde is a not-to-be-missed soup featuring pork sausage and greens or cabbage.
Arroz de Marisco is similar to paella and absolutely wonderful…prawns, fish and shellfish cooked in rice with veggies with herbs thrown in.
Sardinhas – sardines - will feature on most menus and are served fresh.
Bifana is a delicious street food that consists of thin slices of pork marinated in white wine and garlic and then fried and served on a bun. You can add mustard if you like but it doesn’t need it.
For dessert, or just a snack, the Pastel de Nata - a custard tart with heavenly pastry - is another staple.
Portugal has several wine regions, with the best known one being the Douro region, but there are many others. Portuguese wine is known worldwide and definitely has a following.
You will be able to sample the many varieties in restaurants throughout Lisbon and environs, as well as in local wine bars where you can learn about the wines and do tastings.
And a stay in Lisbon would not be complete without sampling two distinctive local favourites –Ginjinha, a famous Portuguese liqueur made from sour cherries, aguardente (alcohol), sugar and spices – and Moscatel de Setúbal a delicious fortified wine made from Muscat grapes from the Setubal peninsula south of Lisbon, normally served chilled as a disgestif or with dessert.
Information about the wine route around Lisbon can be found here.
Many snowbirds who travel for extended periods enjoy taking excursions as an activity to break up the time and explore the surrounding region. Lisbon is an excellent base for taking short excursions to explore more of Portugal. There are beaches and the Atlantic coast nearby, as well as many interesting places to discover, including:
- Cascais & the Estoril Coast
A short distance from Lisbon on the Atlantic coast, you’ll find Cascais and Estoril - former fishing villages transformed to modern seaside resorts with lovely beaches, resorts and a casino. Watch the surfers and the sailboats and enjoy watersports of all kinds.
Another fabulous daytrip from Lisbon is to Sintra – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once the summer home of the Portuguese nobility. Today, it delights visitors with its stunning setting, beautiful palaces and rugged scenery.
Arrábida Natural Park has incomparable natural beauty, where the Atlantic is framed by white chalk cliffs and a backdrop of the lush green mountain range.
To learn more about the animal and plant life, visit the Oceanographic Museum, installed in the Fort of Nossa Senhora da Arrábida, next to Portinho beach.
There is also a wine route in the area - the Setúbal wine route which leads to the friendly town of Azeitão where you can sample delicious cheeses and wines.
Just 30 kms to the north of Lisbon lies the city of Mafra where you will find the Mafra National Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a monastery and convent, an ornate basilica and a grand library that contains over 36,000 ancient books - and a colony of bats!
Not far from Mafra, Ericeira is a lovely fishing town and also a surfing mecca. High cliffs overlook beaches and plenty of surf. Ericeira has a relaxed vibe and is a great spot for lunch with grilled fish or lobster from the sea. This part of the coast has been named the 1st Surfing Reserve in Europe by the American organization Save the Waves Coalition.
The bottom line
Canadian snowbirds looking to explore beyond the southern U.S. or Mexico will find Lisbon an excellent choice. It offers a vibrant, historic and safe environment that is very affordable during the winter months.
There’s plenty to see and do in the city and its surrounding area and the Atlantic Ocean is right there.
For more detailed information about Lisbon as a snowbird destination, check out Snowbird Advisor's Lisbon Snowbird Destination Guide.