Down the mazelike cobbled streets of Lisbon’s Alfama district – a once impoverished neighbourhood that’s now the heart of its historic district – you might be surprised as fragments of conversation drift past. English, French, German – there’s even the rogue American drawl.
Alfama has attracted many different nationalities (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Because here, between the ancient houses that rise from the Tejo Estuary to the majestic Castele de Sao Jorge, you’ll find a community of young people from all around the world who’ve settled in the Portuguese capital and made it their home. The Alfama district is at the centre of Lisbon’s new cultural shift; but not everybody is happy about it.
Lisbon’s been the European city break par excellence for some time now; the new Barcelona, if you will. It’s easy to see why: it enjoys a subtropical climate (the average temperature in December is a sultry 14°C), the cost of living is cheap (you can rent a one-bedroom apartment in a central location for around €800 a month), it’s blessed with a vibrant bar and restaurant scene, and it provides easy access to the beaches of the Algarve.
But young, affluent millennials aren’t just holidaying in The City of Seven Hills. They’re moving here, and they’re doing it en masse. It’s all down to the way we work nowadays. Gone are the stable 9-5 jobs of yore; welcome to the gig economy.
According to one recent report, 60 per cent of 18 to 35-year-olds are actively looking to move abroad. Today’s workers are self-employed and geographically flexible; they’re freelancers who can work anywhere, provided the broadband is fast enough. So why live in a city like London – where rent is eye-wateringly expensive and the weather uniformly grey – when you could halve your living costs and wake up every morning to sunny skies?
“My girlfriend and I moved to Lisbon for a change of scene in 2013,” explains 31-year-old James Cave, who now lives in the up-and-coming Alcântara neighbourhood. “We had just started freelancing, and Lisbon seemed a great place to base ourselves. It was affordable and had great weather.”
Other newcomers to the city come once and love it so much they never leave. “I originally came here for a week for work, because I was producing music for Lisbon Fashion Week,” says Chris Savor, 31, who moved to Lisbon three months ago and lives in the Príncipe Real district in the city centre. “I loved the…