This 52-year-old early retiree left the U.S. for Portugal—a look at his typical day: 'It's pretty affordable'

We bought an apartment in a 400-year-old building in Portugal for $534,000—here's a look inside
We bought an apartment in a 400-year-old building in Portugal for $534,000—here's a look inside

In 2011, at 41 years old, I retired early from my legal career. My wife Noki left her nursing job a few years later, and we enjoyed a peaceful retirement in Washington, D.C.

But in 2015, a family vacation to Lisbon, Portugal changed everything. We immediately fell in love with the city and decided to move there. So we rented out our D.C. home and bought a two-bedroom, 1,300 square-foot apartment in Lisbon for $534,000.

It has been seven years since we relocated, and we have no plans to leave any time soon. The best part is that it's pretty affordable to live here. The cost of living in Portugal is generally considered 46% cheaper than in the U.S.

Here's a look at how I spend my time as a retiree:

Always learning something new

My days typically begin with some investment research and writing projects, and end with immersing myself in Portuguese culture.

Lisbon offers many reasonably-priced learning opportunities. A 30-class program in intensive Portuguese, for example, costs 190 euros at the Portuguese Connection Language School, which is right up the street from us.

Lisbon offers many reasonably-priced online learning opportunities.
Photo: Alex Trias

When our 17-year-old daughter Evelyn isn't in school, she takes singing and bass lessons for 21.75 euros per class, and plays tennis for 27 euros per one-on-one session. Noki recently took a three-day ceramics class for 90 euros.

Hiking in the mountains of Sintra 

A 20-minute drive from Lisbon's bustling city center will bring you to the sparsely visited hiking trails in the mountains of Sintra, a town located high above Portugal's coastline.

"I hike for about two hours in the forests of Sintra. I also keep a respectful distance from the wild horses that roam freely."
Photo: Alex Trias

Parking is free at the Peninha Sanctuary, an abandoned chapel that looks out over the ocean and rolling countryside, so I park there and take the downhill trails toward the forest.

Lunch at the Mercado do Campo do Ourique

For fresh produce, fish and meat, it's hard to beat grocery shopping at the Mercado de Campo de Ourique food market.

I frequently stop by for an exceptional lunch at Noori, my favorite sushi kiosk, paired with a glass of Portuguese white wine from a wine bar called Garrafeira.

Lunch at Noori, one of Alex's favorite sushi spots, is only 14 euros.
Photo: Alex Trias

Coffee break at Bettina Corallo Café

Bettina Corallo specializes in two things: espresso made from store-roasted beans and artisanal chocolates.

Bettina Corallo is located in Lisbon's Principe Real neighborhood. Its pink walls match the lively, eclectic buildings that surround it.
Photo: Alex Trias

For 9.75 euros, we can buy 100 grams of 70% pure chocolate flavored with pepper and salt.

We also like to indulge in the cafe's 3 euro cappuccino and 1.2 euro espresso shot, prepared on a La Marzocco espresso machine.

Exploring Portugal's beaches

Along Portugal's extensive coastline on either side of Lisbon, you can find sandy beaches and rocky oceanside cliffs.

I love going to Guincho Beach, located roughly 30 minutes outside of downtown Lisbon. If I'm not swimming, you can find me hiking, picnicking or photographing wildlife. 

Guincho Beach is one of Alex's favorite places to visit, particularly on bright, windy days.
Photo: Alex Trias

Exploring Lisbon's historic center

Day or night, downtown Lisbon is an active city with plenty of ambiance to soak in.

My walk starts at the waterfront, then over the hills of Lisbon, and ends in the historic neighborhood of Principe Real — home to a hilltop park, botanical garden and some of the finest restaurants in the city.

Principe Real is Lisbon's most cosmopolitan neighborhood.
Photo: Alex Trias

We'll sometimes go to A Cevicharia, which serves Peruvian-influenced ceviche made from freshly caught fish. Or we'll eat at Tapisco, a classic Portuguese restaurant with dishes like Bacalhau à Brás, a traditional preparation of cod, potatoes and eggs.

Shopping at the farmers' market in Príncipe Real

Príncipe Real is an upscale area known for its lively bars and fashionable shops. There is also a farmers' market every Saturday, where'll you find organic vegetables, artisanal olive oil, local honey, cheeses, dried fruits and homemade pickles.

At the farmers' market in Príncipe Real, you'll find dried fruits and homemade pickles.
Photo: Alex Trias

Prices tend to be very reasonable. You can pick up a bag of fresh Algarve-grown lemons for 2 euros or a bottle of buttery olive oil for 8.50 euros.

Fresh bread at Marquise's in-house bakery

Marquise is a fantastic bakery located near the national assembly building. I try to go in the mornings at 9:00 a.m., when it opens and everything is warm and fresh.

A loaf of bread at Marquise's in-house bakery costs about 3 euros. But the true highlight is the magical focaccia for 2.5 euros.
Photo: Alex Trias

Breads are baked on-site every day with heirloom Portuguese flour. You can't visit without tasting the Portuguese Barbela classic loaf.

Drinks at Pavilhão Chinês in Bairro Alto

My favorite indulgence spot in Lisbon is Pavilhão Chinês, or The China Pavilion, a timeless speakeasy located behind an unassuming red door.

Doll collections, World War II propaganda posters, clay pipes and more memorabilia line the walls of this speakeasy.
Photo: Alex Trias

My go-to cocktail is a Manhattan, which costs 12 euros. And the decor is anything but traditional; eclectic objects adorn every inch of the space.

You'll often find me in the bar's billiards room.

Relaxing at home

Sometimes I'm just at home relaxing with family. Many nights, Noki and I will head to the communal garden in our apartment complex to share a glass of wine.

Alex and Noki spend their time in the communal gardens drinking wine, hanging with neighbors, and enjoying views of the Tejo river.
Photo: João Esteves for CNBC Make It

As we enjoy the cool breezes and watch the sun set, I am always reminded of how blessed and fortunate we are.

Alex Trias is a retired attorney. He and his wife and daughter have been living in Portugal since 2015. He is the author of the "Investment Pancake" series on and has published nearly 500 articles about tax planning, investing, early retirement, and where to find the best meals in Lisbon.

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