For a city break that tops the trends, I can think of no two better cities than Lisbon and San Francisco. Lisbon and San Francisco are both seriously cool coastal cities with intoxicating characters, fabulous food scenes, and beautiful scenery. With so much to see and do in each destination, let’s see how they compare:
Scenery / Activities
Lisbon has been dubbed the San Francisco of Europe, and whilst Lisbon is an older city, there are some uncanny similarities between these two destinations.
San Francisco sits on the breezy West Coast of the United States, whilst Lisbon is perched on the balmy shores of Europe’s West Coast. Incredibly, both cities are built on seven main hills, with steep inclines and winding roads.
A Lisbon scene!
Though, whilst Lisbon is known for its white buildings and orange terracotta roofs, San Fran is known for its Victorian Era mansions, also known as Painted Ladies.
They are also both important leaders in movements such as the Hippie Movement and campaign leaders for LGBTQ+ rights.
In Lisbon, explore the beautiful Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a Gothic Manueline style Monastery and the nearby Torre de Belém. Here visitors can try the best pastel de natas in Lisbon at The Pastéis de Belém Bakery before visiting the Berardo Museum.
Walk the colourful cobbled streets of Barrio Alto, Lisbon’s old town and LGBTQ+ hub, and enjoy the sound of Fado Music echoing through the streets.
Escape the midday heat at one of Lisbon’s many beautiful beaches. A small way out of the city, Meco Beach in the Serra da Arrabida National Park is a quiet and beautiful oasis enclosed by the large cliffs and waterfalls.
Hop on the 28 tram line from Baixa to the old neighbourhood of Alfama and enjoy incredible views over the city from the top of St George’s Castle. The surrounding area of Alfama is a perfect place to shop for Portuguese crafts and souvenirs.
Marvel at the impressive 25 Abril Bridge, Lisbon’s version of San Francisco’s Golden Gate, connecting the city to the municipality of Almada.
The nearby Golden Gate Park is the perfect place to while away in the morning, and it’s 20% larger than New York’s Central Park!
Here you can explore some of the city’s monuments such as Shakespeare’s Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the Young Fine Arts Museum.
The Painted Ladies!
Take the Hyde Street Cable Car to the top of Lombard Street and enjoy the views as you zig-zag your way down this iconic road. Shop through China Town or visit the picturesque Palace of Fine Arts.
Nature lovers can enjoy plenty of hiking trails around the city or go to sea on a whale-watching tour.
Though they have plenty of similarities, Lisbon is a stunning historic city with quirky, laidback charm whilst San Francisco is bustling and busy. Lisbon is cleaner and safer than San Francisco, so it wins this round with 9/10 and San Francisco 8/10.
Food and Restaurants
Both San Francisco and Lisbon are foodie cities with fabulous dining scenes. Both cities serve up everything from tasty street treats to Michelin-starred dining. With locally farmed ingredients and international flavours influenced by each city’s diverse populations, both cities have a flair and flavour that leave you wanting more.
In Lisbon, the Time Out Market Lisboa is an impressive food market featuring over 40 vendors serving the best of Portuguese produce. Taste your way through the stalls and restaurants and wash it all down with a crisp glass of Portuguese wine at one of the market bars.
A perfect pastry!
San Francisco’s Mission District is where you’ll find Mexican burritos that will blow your mind. Order the Mission Burrito from places like La Taqueria and El Farolito for the ultimate experience.
Enjoy eclectic dishes served dim-sum style at State Bird Provisions, a food-lovers favourite. For a fantastic atmosphere, communal-style tables and an open kitchen, book a table at Nopa.
Both cities are also fabulously located near vineyards and sprawling wine country, perfect for a day trip of tasting or to spend a few nights out of the city.
Both cities are havens for food lovers. They come out equal in this round with 9.5/10.
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San Francisco and Lisbon boast bustling neighbourhoods with vibrant nightlives offering everything from swish wine bars to cool clubs. Both cities are also LGBTQ+ hubs with fabulous bars, shows and events to experience.
In Lisbon, the Bairro Alto district and Cais do Sodré are some of the most popular areas to party. Enjoy sunset cocktails, DJs and beautiful views at Portas del Sol in Castelo de São Jorge or Park in Barrio Alto. Settle into the speakeasy vibes at Foxtrot or sip the best of Portuguese produce at By the Wine. Trumps is the largest and longest-standing gay bar in Lisbon and host to some of the best drag queens in Portugal.
In San Francisco, night prowlers can enjoy everything from streetside bar hopping to luxurious and exclusive clubs. Hop your way through Valencia Street in the Mission District where you’ll find plenty of pubs, sports bars, and dive bars.
The bridge to paradise!
Dance into the small hours at DNA Lounge boasting two stages, seven bars, and four dance floors, with everything from burlesque shows to DJs and live music.
Oasis, once a gay bathhouse, is an iconic club and cabaret theatre featuring a host of drag legends.
Both have so much to explore after hours, but San Francisco has a livelier nightlife scene. San Francisco scores 9/10 in this round and Lisbon 8/10 for its beautiful bars.
Both cities have an array of accommodations to suit every budget, from boutique boltholes to luxurious hotels. Whether you want a sea view or a prime central location, there is plenty to choose from in either city.
Lisbon is a tram-endous city!
Book a stay at The Lumieres in Barrio Alto for beautiful views, sleek design, and an excellent spa.
Santiago de Alfama is a beautiful boutique hotel with romantic views over the city towards the river, boasting cosy luxury and Portuguese charm.
In San Francisco, the Taj Campton Place is a glamourous hotel with spacious suites just a block away from Union Square. The San Francisco Proper is the city’s hippest new haunt, with vibrant design and a happening rooftop bar. For something seamlessly elegant and fabulously fresh, book a room at Hotel Nikko.
Lisbon’s hotels are quirkier with slightly more style, so Lisbon wins this round with 8.5/10 and San Francisco 8/10.
So how do these two hot spots compare? When it comes to the numbers Lisbon wins with a final score of 8.8/10, and San Francisco comes close behind with a final score of 8.6/10. Lisbon is this year’s hottest European city break, whilst there’s nowhere quite like San Francisco in the States. Wherever you chose to go, you’ll fall for the soul of each place.