Is Lisbon a new European wellness destination?

Pauline Bellocq
Written by Pauline Bellocq

When one thinks about the Portuguese capital, the first things that come to mind are usually the vintage yellow tram, the iconic red bridge on the Tejo River, and the legendary creamy custard tarts, or pasteis de nata. Although all these lovely things are still very much a part of daily life here, it’s only the postcard side of it. If you spend long enough here, you might also start to think of Lisbon as a wellbeing Eldorado, for lesser known reasons.

I recently moved to Lisbon after a decade in the US, so I originally discovered the wellness world through an American lens. I lived in New York City in the 2010s, when Yoga to the People’s donation-based Vinyasa classes in the East Village were the busiest in town, when Yogaworks was one of the most influential teaching centers of the country, when the first vegan restaurants were shyly opening up, when the first Citi bike program was launched, when Soulcycle locations were sprouting up all over the city, when veggie-forward canteen Dimes opened its first tiny outpost on Canal street, when GT kombucha was the only brand sold at Whole Foods, and when Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee opened the doors of Yoga Shanti. At that time and for all of the above, NYC was probably the first epicenter of wellness in the world. And although New Yorkers are famously always hungry for something new, wellness proved to be more than a trend.

By the time I moved to LA in 2017, wellness had become a scene and a lucrative industry. A big player in the New Age movement, California has always been pioneering and then westernising many wellbeing and spiritual traditions. However, on today’s West coast, a lot of it has sadly evolved into a show rather than a truly integrated lifestyle. Those eating the healthy food and collagen supplements are also those getting the chemical injections under their skin. Wellness in California is elitist: it is expensive, superficial, and only accessible to the wealthy: being healthy and caring for oneself is a privilege more than a lifestyle.

It’s not until moving back to Europe that I realised how dynamic the wellness scene was here as well, and to my surprise, not a lot behind the US. Of course, the globalisation of culture makes any trend available anywhere now, but some countries seem to have a predisposition for wellbeing and can welcome these kinds of practices more easily.

In Europe generally, but in Portugal especially, living slowly and enjoying life’s most simple pleasures are core values of the local culture. Eating slowly, local, and healthy food, being in nature, exercising outside, engaging in a spiritual practice, is simply how people have been living for decades: holistically. It’s authentic and not just another manufactured trend. Portuguese quintas are the original farm to table restaurants, kombucha is popular thanks to a strong tea culture and vegetarian and vegan options are regular offers on menus; there’s even a chain of vegan pasteis de nata shops!

The recent influx of foreigners into the country (from the UK, the US, Germany, and France mostly), many of them wellness enthusiasts themselves, has further deepened the country’s appetite for wellbeing practices. Newcomers come to Portugal in search of a slower, more authentic, and meaningful life. And upon hearing the stories of people who’ve moved here in the past few years, the longing for self-care and transformational practices makes sense, as most tales include major career changes or total life resets. Lisbon acts as a pivotal destination for many.

In the past two years alone, the city has welcomed many new studios: reformer pilates (Prescription), indoor cycling (Studio Rise), yoga (Yoga Room, Shambhala), sound healing and reiki (Open Hearts), and beautiful event spaces host regular breathwork sessions, sound/gong baths or cacao ceremonies (Armazem Soul). And it’s only the beginning, as more healing centers and studios are scheduled to open after the summer, feeding an ever-growing crowd of educated and curious wellness enthusiasts.

So just as people from all backgrounds gather here to create and define new ways of living, Portugal’s fertile ground for holistic practices allow them to thrive and Lisbon is rapidly becoming a new hotspot for wellness.