Lisbon Is Objectively Perfect.
Too Bad About the Airport.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 2020 -- Objectively speaking, Lisbon is perfect.

The Portuguese capital has felicitous weather. The economy is roaring again, especially in the tech sector. The food is great, the wine amazing. There are charming parks and beaches, leafy boulevards and compelling museums. There's excellent public transit and less chaotic car traffic than in other European capitals. While Portuguese is a tricky language, everyone seems to speak English. And, oh yeah, it's the least-expensive major city in Western Europe.

Therein lies Lisbon's problem: It's so perfect that it's becoming a drag to get there. Thanks mostly to the remarkable revival and breakneck expansion of TAP Air Portugal during the last five years, Humberto Delgado Airport is collapsing under the weight of the city's newfound popularity. Not only will your flight almost surely arrive at a bus gate, you will also have to wait for a "hard stand" even on most transatlantic flights. Customs and immigration is swamped at all times and waits of an hour on arrival are the rule, not the exception. Departure formalities are minimal, but you'll find yourself shipped to a bus gate for many intra-Europe flights. Flying into and out of Lisbon now is so dispiriting that it might lead you to skip the city altogether, especially if you can connect elsewhere.

That would be too bad because Lisbon is a jewel. It is, in fact, everything the glossy travel magazines and starry-eyed travel bloggers have been raving about in recent years. And it's not for nothing that more Americans are looking at Lisbon and Portugal as a potential relocation or retirement option.

JoeSentMe member David Moriah, who's been spending January in Portugal, is quick with a bullet list of benefits. The people? "Wonderful." Food, wine and weather? "Great." And let's not forget "the short trip back to the USA" compared to other European options. The "modern infrastructure" and the low cost of living are almost impossible to duplicate.

Or as the Live and Invest Overseas Web site says, "Portugal checks all the boxes. The cost of living is 30 percent lower ... the health care is free for residents ... and the stunningly beautiful country is one of the safest places on Earth right now."

Like I said, objectively perfect Too bad about the airport ...

Including resumption of flights to Montreal in May, TAP Air Portugal in 2020 will fly 82 times a week between North America and Lisbon, Porto and the Azores. When JetBlue founder David Neeleman and a group of investors rescued the airline in 2015, TAP had shrunk to 16 weekly flights from only Newark and Miami. Now it also operates nonstop from Boston; Washington/National; New York/Kennedy; Toronto; Chicago; and San Francisco. Track TAP's turnaround from our coverage. ... A Star Alliance carrier, TAP flies many of the latest-generation Airbus planes across the Atlantic: single-aisle A321LRs and the widebody Airbus A330-900neo. There's no traditional premium economy, but there is an extra-legroom coach section. Business class on the widebody A330-900s deploys the Recaro CL6710 lie-flat pod configured 1-2-1 for all-aisle access. The problem: The -900neo pods are placed with just 42 inches of pitch making them confining and feeling claustrophobic. ... TAP has a perfectly nice lounge in Lisbon, but relies on too many mediocre contract lounges at North American gateways. Passengers on its JFK service have no lounge privileges at all because flights depart from the JetBlue terminal.

Good news: Humberto Delgado Airport is remarkably close (eight kilometers) to Lisbon's city center. Cabs are cheap, clean and comfortable or use Uber. Aerobus 1 stops at all the city's major destinations. ... Bad news: TAP's expansion has left Lisbon a troubled hub. Intra-Europe and Africa connections are excellent, but endless and annoying buses to hard stands and the brutal customs and immigration waits limit Delgado's effectiveness as a hub. ... By the way, no one calls it Humberto Delgado. A few locals call it Portela, but mostly it's just Lisbon Airport.

If you're brand agnostic, try the Luzeiros Suites across from the Campo Pequeno, a bullring converted to a shopping mall and event venue. A newly converted apartment building, the Luzeiros' inexpensive "superior suites" are gigantic and offer huge balconies overlooking Campo Pequeno and Avenida da República, one of the city's main drags. ... If you are a Marriott player, options include the Sheraton Lisboa--the third-tallest building in Lisbon with smashing views from the rooftop bar/restaurant and tired rooms. It's got a very 1980s vibe. ... Via Hyatt's Small Luxury Hotels partnership, you can book the elegant little Pousada de Lisboa tucked away in a corner of centrally located Praça do Comécio. ... InterContinental has properties scattered around town, including the sleek former Le Meridien near Marques de Pombal Square. But JoeSentMe member Andy Abramson recommends the oceanfront InterContinental in Estoril, about 25 minutes by car from downtown. ... The lone Hilton property in Lisbon is the aggressively average DoubleTree. ... The Porto Bay Liberdade is the kind of place where the Euroset rushes in late in the afternoon to order Champagne and cake. Rooms in the meticulously restored classic building are smallish, but stylish. The staff dresses in black. It has a rooftop bar, swish lobby bistro, indoor pool and spa because of course it does.

Lisbon has something I've not seen elsewhere: "Indian-Italian" restaurants. I'm too much a purist for that combo, but attention must be paid to Nepal-born Chef Tanka Sapkota. He operates Lisbon's best-known Italian restaurants, but I was riveted by his Casa Nepalesa. It serves up remarkable Indian cuisine and wonderful Nepalese specialties like momo (dumplings) in a cozy, casual dining room. ... O Nobre is a classy yet comfortable Portuguese restaurant from Justa Nobre, the country's most famous chef, food personality and author. O Nobre's knowledgeable and engaging servers present elegant fare and top-flight Portuguese wine in adult surroundings. You're expected to try the sherry-laced spider crab soup served in a bowl shaped like a spider crab. It is very good. ... If you care about Portuguese wine--and you really should--head for Wines by Heart, a polished wine bar that will educate you along the way. And if you know little or nothing about Portuguese wine, this is a cosseting and accessible place to start.

Campo Pequeno (above) no longer hosts bullfights, but it's an arresting piece of architecture cleverly repurposed as a mall, dining venue, movie theater and concert hall. There's a museum on premises, too, and a nice branch of Pingo Doce, Portugal's ubiquitous hypermarket chain. ... Locals are obsessed with three things: breads, pastries and bacalhau, salted cod. You'll find them on every restaurant menu and in Lisbon's pastelaria, combination coffee shop/bakery/bar/diners. Every neighborhood has at least one and they bustle from morning until evening ladling out breakfast, snacks and lunches. ... Portuguese as the Portuguese speak it is more formal and sounds more daunting than the way Brazilians speak it, but English is mandatory in schools and even small shopkeepers and clerks speak better English than you do. .. It takes a lot to enrage a Lisbon resident (Lisboeta), but thinking they are Spanish will do it. ... If you are new to Lisbon, which sprawls along the ocean and the Tagus River and up and down seven hills, you could do worse than grabbing one or more Hop On, Hop Off buses, trams or boat rides. There are many competitors, but they all muster around the Marques de Pombal Square at the edge of Parque Eduardo VII. Rides are a pleasant way to situate yourself and get an overview of Lisbon's diverse neighborhoods.

For more information, consult our BizTraveLife Lisbon page.