On Finding the Perfect City

citroen lisbon
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who could live anywhere. I like to try on different lives and see things from different perspectives. As I get older though, I guess I become less adaptable. After a year on the road, I’ve been ready to settle some place for a while. Before I left on my farming adventure, oddly enough, I was actually in search of the perfect city. I love the city and the country equally but feel like the city is the right thing for me at this time of my life (as long as I can get enough time away). I’d always wanted to be based in Europe and thought Stockholm was my dream location and tried to move several times but it never worked out. I came to Portugal on a whim, and as it turned out Lisbon had many of the things I was looking for and I hope to make it my home for as long as possible. I guess it comes down to thinking about what’s really important to you in the same vein of what I talked about here.
What does your perfect city look like? I ended up finding my dream city in Lisbon! Of course no place is perfect and you sometimes you really do have to make the best of where you are and I do know you can find beauty and great things everywhere. That said, it’s great to live someplace that makes you feel good and is in line with what you value. Here’s what I look for in a city:

As a freelancer, it’s really important to me to live someplace I can afford. It’s why I lived in Portland, OR for so long. I don’t see the point of living someplace cool if I can only afford an apartment with rats and I have to work all the time. That said, I think a lot about priorities and perhaps you spend more on housing but you go without a car. You have too look at it from different angles.

Art + Culture:

I love going to the ballet and spending rainy afternoons in museums. This is something I missed in Portland. While there are a fair amount of cultural events and a great symphony and if you look you will find things, Portland has more of a crafting culture than an art culture, though perhaps that is changing a bit now. This is something I really love about Europe. I’ve found amazing theater in small English towns and incredible museums in off the way farming communities in Germany.

Close to the Sea

Growing up in New England and Washington state, being near the sea is a necessity for me. Lisbon is located right on the River Tagus which feeds into the Atlantic so watery views abound and the sea is just a hop, skip, and a jump away!

Small Cities

While I love the thrill of a big city, I feel more at home in the small or mid-size ones like Portland, Stockholm, Lisbon! It feels more digestible to me. I don’t need a million options for everything. There’s a beautiful simplicity about doing with what you have and making the most of where you live.


Maybe that’s why I like small cities, it’s perhaps easier to find your community. I loved the people in Lisbon from the very start. It was the biggest selling point for me. Most I met were super real, down to earth, and warm. I felt I’d be able to make friends here.


I hate driving! Public transportation is great but I prefer to move my legs everyday! Lisbon is one of the most walkable cities I’ve been in. I love scheduling in a little more time for walking to appointments. It’s a great way to engage in slow living. Instead of scheduling in time at the gym, I prefer movement to be a part of my day.
project 226
Not too Hip

I love that Lisbon has an old world feel. There’s a fantastic mix of offbeat, young artists and old mom and pop stores that have been around forever! Everything feels rather West Coast USA to me, slow, laid back.. not too pretentious!

Access to Gardens

I fell in love with the gardens of Lisbon! I have a post about them coming up soon! If I can have green spaces to wander and at least a balcony garden, I am a happy farmer in the city!

Now of course, I will have to deal with the challenge of learning Portuguese, being away from my family and my urban family, and will continue to go through paperwork challenges with visas, being away from my Northern “soul landcapes” (but in turn I get sunshine!). Everything is a trade off but it’s a good one for now!

P.S. Here’s an interesting article about the wave of artists moving to Lisbon right now.

What does your perfect home city or town look like? Where is your dream place to live? What do you value in a city?
Photos from my Instagram. Backpack shown is from a favorite Lisbon studio, Project 226.


  1. I really appreciate your practicality, for in it, you actually find the things you need and that excite you! You are awesome!

  2. I’m so happy for you, Chelsea! I fell in love with Lisbon, too. But that was 10 years ago and I haven’t been back. But now I want to go more than ever, thanks to you! I remember loving the people and the food, and how it felt like a mix of Spain/Italy and North Africa with the mosaic tiles. And Christmastime there is so, so charming!! Keep the photos and the stories coming! <3

  3. Love that Lisbon found you! Love that Campo de Ourique is the place you found to settle. Love the constant reminders of my roots in your Instagram feed. If I could press a button and show up with my family in Rua Ferreira Borges right now I would. Hope next time I visit, you are still around and we can go to Tentadora grab a coffee and a pastel de nata.

  4. Lovely post…and you got me dreaming….about a city I’d love to live in for a while or forever, perhaps….

    I’m with you, I need water. Having grown up on Long Island surrounded by the stuff, water is a must. Diversity. Safety. Friendly people who value work but also value enjoying life…..Amsterdam comes to mind. Yes, Amsterdam it is.

    I’ve never been to Lisbon. Perhaps some day….befoe it becomes hip ;o).


  5. I’ve loved all of your honest, thoughtful, beautifully written posts. For me, the most poignant part of your discovery of self on this journey was your ability to “stay the course”, during your most lonely, doubting moments. Maturity (growing older with introspection) has a way of leveling and changing the field. Your need to feel bonded to a place, wherever that place may be is vital to one’s well being. I traveled as much as possible, considering some of life’s constraints, and though I enjoyed the cultures of Spain, England and Italy, I never felt that personal connection as I did in France. I fell in love with the people and the country, and though it is not in my future, I know I could happily make a home there. Portugal has always been on my “bucket list” and when that finally happens, I will be seeing it through your eyes. My best wishes to you, dear Chelsea, for a fulfilling, happy and peaceful life wherever your heart takes you.

  6. Hi Chelsea. As a native Stockholmer I think you choose wisely. Not to critique my city (she’s a beauty), but it can be a struggle to meet new people here. There’s an air of noli me tangere in general. Swedes love to travel to southern parts of Europe on holidays and always return with stories about how warm and friendly the people are compared to here : ) I find the dreaded gloomy winter months, that never seem to end, the hardest. Vitamin D is my best friend. I must visit Lisbon!

  7. Hi Chelsea,
    I loved reading this. I made the same choice years ago leaving Paris for Lisbonne. As you say, it is a small Capital-village, affordable with nice people!
    I am so happy that I was able to meet you here and I hope that we can join forces in doing beautiful projects.

  8. Hi Chelsea! Thank you for your latest insightful posts, I enjoyed them. I went to Lisbon this summer and I so loved it! The beauty, warmth, simplicity… Maybe when I’m older I’ll move there, who knows?! Another city that competes with Lisbon in my heart is Vienna. I was lucky enough to study a semester there, and it’s near perfect! (except for the weather in winter :)). Reasonable size, lots and lots of museums and galleries, affordable, friendly people (at least at the university…), and a strong organic farming movement! Have you been there already?

  9. Hello!
    I loved this post; I followed your recent adventures across Europe and am so thrilled that you have made the move to Portugal/ Lisbon. I lived most my life in Portugal and worked in Lisbon before life brought me back to the States as an adult, and for the past 3 + years, Portland. We were back recently and have some ideas brewing ever since… All this to say, that if I were there, I would love to meet and chat it up in Portuguese 😉 Maybe soon 😀 Best wishes! Lisbon is amazing.

  10. I really enjoyed reading this Chelsea. My husband and I definitely hope to live abroad someday and a lot of what you brought up I really connect with. I’ll definitely be storing this information…

  11. Love this post Chelsea. I’m heading out for a digital nomad lifestyle in late November. Copenhagen is deifnitely my perfect city; I love the small feel of it. Heading there first. Hoping to make my way to Lisbon! Will you be doing a post on the visa process you’ve been going through? Hugs to you!

  12. I guess my real question is how can a amarican live beyond the 3 months allowed in the Shengen zone? If you are a freelancer what visa are you allowed or is offered? I lived in Europe before the Shengen thing but now it’s almost impossible without whatever visa is allowed.

  13. Hi Mimi! You are correct, you need a visa to stay beyond the three months and each country has different requirements. You need to apply for a visa. You need to contact the consulate of the country you want to live in and apply for a visa, depending on your type of business or if you are working a job in the country, that will determine what type of visa you get, and each country has different sorts of visas. I got a visa through the Portuguese consulate in SF. Hope that helps!

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