We spent the month of August in Lisbon. For me, it was a return to a city that I had visited 25 years ago. Lisbon is a very popular place these days, attracting tourists with its beautiful architecture, tiled streets, sunny days (it is known as the sunshine capital), historic sites, and cuisine. This Photo Essay will give you an idea of what you’ll see strolling around the Portuguese capital. I’ll also cover the highlights of Lisbon as well as the most scenic viewpoints (something else Lisbon is known for).
I’ll be honest. We didn’t enjoy our time in Lisbon. Part of that was Lisbon itself, but most of it resulted from other factors. I’ll cover that as well. But that’s not to say that Lisbon isn’t a beautiful city – because it is.
Warning: This is a long post. I had initially wanted to do several posts on Lisbon. I’ve decided to wrap it all up on one post.
Highlights in Lisbon
1. Jerónimos Monastery
A UNESCO site, this monastery was built in 1502 to commemorate Vasco de Gama’s journey to India. The cloisters have incredible detail, each column differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs. It symbolizes a time of world exploration at sea. Within the monastery is the church of Santa Maria, a spacious church with high, intricate columns and a beautiful vaulted ceiling. De Gama’s Tomb lies within the church.
The Jerónimos Monastery is just incredible. It was our sightseeing highlight in Lisbon and is an absolute “must-see”.
2. National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo)
The National Tile Museum is housed in the 16th century Convent of Madre de Deus. The tiles (many dating back to the 15th century) are great – but the highlight for us was the site itself. The convent holds the Madre de Deus church which is small but spectacular with its tile work, baroque architecture, and a beautifully panelled ceiling.
3. Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa)
This elevator connects the lower Baixa (downtown) to the Carmo Church in the upper Bairro Alto. It’s a really cool structure, designed by a French architect who worked with Gustave Eiffel in the construction of the Eiffel tower. The upper level of the elevator has some of the most impressive views in the city, including of the Carmo church.
4. Carmo Church (Igreja do Carmo)
This church, finished in 1423, was once the city’s most important church. On November the 1st 1755 a massive earthquake hit Lisbon. The church’s roof collapsed, killing hundreds who were gathered there for worship. The church was never rebuilt. Today it houses an archaeological museum.
5. São Domingos church (Igreja de São Domingos)
Famous for all it’s been through: an earthquake in 1531, another in 1755 (the one that destroyed most of downtown Lisbon), and a major fire in 1959. This church looks really old and beaten up, unlike many restored churches you see these days.
6. Igreja de São Roque
The Church of Sao Roque is known for having the most impressive church interior of any church in Lisbon. Located in the Bairro Alto.
7. Praça do Comércio and the Arco da Rua Augusta
Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s largest square situated next to the river. People will crucify me for saying this – but it’s not very interesting. But you’ll eventually find your way here when walking around downtown. The highlight is the Rua Augusta Arch which was built to mark the reconstruction of the city after the 1755 earthquake (you can take the elevator up to the top of the arch for views of downtown. I cover that further below). The Rua Augusta leads from the square through the Baixa (downtown) to Rossio square.
8. São Jorge Castle
The most popular tourist site in Lisbon is São Jorge Castle. Built by the Moors in the 10th century, it was conquered by Christians in 1147 and would become the fortified residence of the governor when Lisbon became capital of the Kingdom in 1255. The castle sits on a hill overlooking central Lisbon and has great views in all directions.
Related: Castles and Fortresses that you may have never heard of
Other sites of Interest
Lisbon Cathedral (Sé de Lisboa).
Rossio train station
Other sites of Interest: Lisboa Story Center at the tourist information on Praça do Comércio (for a good 1 hour walk through the history of Lisbon), Discoveries Monument (in Belem – was under renovations when we went), Caloust Gulbenkian Museum (collection of Eastern and European art. Known as one of the best art museums in Europe), Lisbon Oceanarium (known as one of Europe’s best aquariums). We were recommended the Ajuda National Palace by a local.
Best Miradouros (Viewpoints) in Lisbon
Lisbon is famous for it’s many Miradouros where you can enjoy differing views over the city. Almost all have a little café where you can sit down, usually shaded by trees, and order a beer. Visiting the various viewpoints is one of the favorite activities of tourists.
My intention was to do a whole post on the best Miradouros in Lisbon. We didn’t see all of them but saw most – and after doing that I decided just to do this summary.
1. Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
This Miradouro, about 5 minutes from where we stayed on the Bairro Alto, was overall our favorite. It is a large and pretty viewpoint with a fountain, café under trees, and most importantly, great views over the city.
2. Miradouro do Castelo de São Jorge
I’ve mentioned the castle under the highlights of Lisbon. The single best reason to see it are for the views. It lies almost perfectly across from the above mentioned Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara.
3. Santa Justa Lift (Elevador de Santa Justa)
I covered the Santa Justa Lift in the highlights section. It is not technically a miradouro but it has some of our favorite views in Lisbon. Make sure to pay to go up to the top deck (I think it was 1.50 Euro)
4. Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
I thought that the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte had nice views over the center of town looking towards the river.
5. Miradouro de Santa Luzia
One of the most famous, iconic viewpoints in Lisbon. I came here 25 years ago and sat down on a bench alone. It epitomized Lisbon for me. Today there are tons of tourists, Senegalese touts and “singers” trying to make a buck.
6. Miradouro das Portas do Sol
A few minutes walk from the above mentioned Santa Luzia miradouro, this lookout lacks in atmosphere but actually has better views.
7. Miradouro Jardim do Torel
Getting up here is best done taking the Lavra elevator (above). A 5 minute ride will take you up the hill from where it is a 3 minute walk to the Jardim do Torel (which is a pretty little park). I won’t tell you that the views are great – but it is one of the quietest of the Miradouros and you’ll see locals reading in the park. I enjoyed it for the views of incoming planes. There’s also a snack bar where you can get a beer to cool down.
This page locates most of the Miradouros for you. I found it useful. A few disappointments: Miradouro de Santa Caterina which everyone says is the place to see sunsets. Jam packed with young people and dealers trying to sell you drugs. Dirty and the views are nothing special. We went up the Arco da Rua Augusta (mentioned in the highlights further up) and the views were surprisingly disappointing considering its location.The Miradouro da Graça was undergoing construction when we went and again was filled with young people and drug pushers (I don’t think we’ve EVER been offered drugs as much as we have in Lisbon). Nice views but similar to those at the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte which I covered above.
Our feelings on Lisbon
As stated at the top, we didn’t enjoy our time in Lisbon. Part of that was Lisbon itself, but most of it resulted from other factors
I’ll say right off the top that if you are staying in Lisbon 7 days or less none of the below will probably apply to you. You’ll walk around, enjoying the sights on your short stay, and will most likely come away with the opinion that Lisbon is a beautiful place (which it is!). For us however, as full-time travellers who stay somewhere for a month (or more), there were aspects of Lisbon that left us with a bad taste in our mouths.
Our accommodation. We stayed on Rua da Alegria in the Bairro Alto. What looked initially like a comfortable apartment ended up being our worst ever Airbnb experience. We have never stayed in a place where you can actually hear people talking through the ceiling. Never mind when they walked around with high heels, dragged furniture around, dropped stuff on the floor or came home at 2am to start fighting (there was one night where we thought we would have to call the police). We found out that most of the building (including the apartment upstairs) was rented out by their owners as Airbnb apartments. Neighboring buildings also seemed to be full of Airbnb apartments. A few readers have mentioned to us the “Airbnb-nization” of neighborhoods. This was our first experience with it. The problem when you stay in an “Airbnb neighborhood” is two-fold: tourists who act like loud monkeys with little concern for neighbors, Airbnb hosts who just don’t care about their property or providing quality accommodation.
It may have been fine for a few days but the constant noise and bad sleep wore on us.
Tourists and the local experience: The amount of tourists in Lisbon was astounding. Walking through the Baixa was like walking through a traffic jam of tourists. Walk the Alfama, or go to any tourist site, and there were lines and crowds everywhere. Take the famous 28 tram at 8:30 in the morning and it will still be crowded, standing room only. We were more likely to hear French or Spanish walking around than Portuguese. With the tourists came the riff raff: the touts selling cheap trinkets and the dealers offering drugs on street corners. As mentioned above, we were never propositioned for drugs as much as we were in Lisbon. We met friendly locals when we joined a local gym…but those local experiences were rare during our month in Lisbon.
What I remember from my previous visit to Lisbon 25 years ago was how charming it was. Lisbon was all about charm. It may have been rough around the edges at the time, but it all felt authentic. There was no authentic experience this time around.
Practicality of having Lisbon as a base. Lisbon was the most impractical bases we’ve ever had in our last 2 years of full-time travel. The closest grocery store to us (a Minipreço) was a 10 minute walk away, up a hill and down another, and was always jam-packed (again, mostly with tourists). It was small and had little selection. We thought that our host was mistaken. There had to be a bigger grocery store right? We went to 2 tourist information centers (on Praça do Comércio and Praça dos Restauradores) and were told at both that there was nothing larger in central Lisbon. That we should go to the Centro Colombo in the newer part of Lisbon. Where to buy bathroom products like face creams, deodorants, nail polish, baby powder? (ie ordinary drugstore stuff). Well, there are tons of pharmacies in central Lisbon selling overpriced Vichy creams (29 Euros for a small jar) and expensive cosmetics. But it was ridiculously priced. Again, at the tourist information center: “go to Colombo”. So we took the metro to Centro Colombo, 8 metro stops away. And yes, we found everything we needed at half the price (there’s a huge store there called Continente). But I’ve never seen a major city where we had to go so far out of our way to find basic essentials.
In fact most of the downtown area is filled with restaurants, gift shops, bakeries and cafés. All catering to tourists. But there were very little of the practical kinds of stores necessary for travellers like us. We ended up doing most of our grocery shopping at the mini grocery stores on our street, all owned by friendly Bangladeshis.
The “Wow” factor. I know I’ll get people angry with this. But the fact is that of the tourist sights in Lisbon few produced much of a “wow” factor for us. The Jerónimos Monastery is incredible, the Tile Museum and Madre de Deus Church are impressive, and the Santa Justa lift is interesting. But other than these I can’t say we were really blown away by any specific sites. What we actually loved the most in Lisbon were the pretty squares and parks, most with fountains and shaded with lots of trees, surrounded by beautiful buildings and colorful tiles. We would often sit in a café in one of those squares and just enjoy seeing the locals living life with their dogs and kids. I think it was this we enjoyed most – it wasn’t visiting “the highlights” or trudging up hills with the tourist hordes. I think the beauty of Lisbon lies in the total ensemble and not the individual sights themselves.
The above is our opinion. Maybe our miserable accommodation and lack of sleep shaped how we feel about Lisbon and made us biased. But that was our experience*.
* We have a few fellow bloggers who felt the same way about Lisbon in the summer but who liked the city much more when revisiting during low tourist season. I would really recommend that you avoid June – September. Maybe we would have had a totally different experience.
Ps. Tip: We usually enjoy Hop On, Hop Off Buses. But don’t get mixed up between City Sightseeing (good!) and Grey Line (lousy!). Grey Line intentionally painted their buses almost exactly like the City Sightseeing Buses. You can’t tell the difference unless you really look hard. Don’t make the same mistake we made. Take City Sightseeing, not Grey Line.
ADDENDUM: We’ve had many helpful comments below. The overwhelming sentiment is that tourism has increased a lot over the last few years and that summer is not the time to come. Another thing is we found helpful: the guidebooks will tell you to stay in the Baixa, Chiada, Alfama or Bairro Alto districts. That’s fine if you are staying for a few days – but as many commenters have stated (which supports our experience) these areas are not the most practical if staying longer as we did. You might want to stay outside the center somewhere close to a metro stop (some have mentioned the Marquês de Pombal, Areeiro, Saldanha, Santos, Lapa, Campo de Ourique and Estrela areas). Many people have also mentioned that tourism and Airbnb apartments are ruining the city.
Thanks for the many helpful comments.
Related (our next stop): What is Seville (Spain) like?
Related: Is it safe to Travel? The weird and scary from 6 years of full-time travel
Related: Our Best and Worst “Slow Travel” Bases over 5 years of Full-time Travel
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Michael Thaddeus Doyle
God, I feel this post so hard, five years after you wrote it. My last experience in Lisbon was also a little more than 20 years ago. I spent around 8 weeks on and off over the course of two years in and around Lisbon. (I knew a family there, so much of that time was spent with them.) Like you, my strongest memories and impression of my time there was how charming, serene, and authentic/unsullied the place was. Back then it was a point of pride that American tourists (like me) hadn’t “ruined” the place, and that most tourists were Spaniards who were respectful of Iberian cities and vibes.
What you describe here–which I’ve read many other places, too–is the nightmare that Lisboetas hoped would never happen back in the late 90s and early 2000s. But then the economy tanked, half a million Portuguese left the country for work, austerity policies were put in place, tax receipts nose-dived… The result is Lisbon with broken sidewalks, a municipal policy to support graffiti on decaying buildings to hide the decay, falling apart commuter rail trains (they used to be spotless when I spent all that time with the family I knew in Parede on the Costa do Estoril shuttling back and forth to Cais Do Sodre), and a city hall giving its city over–completely over–to tourism to try and survive economically.
So the Lisbon you experienced is “Desperate Lisbon”, trying to recover economically without destroying quality of life and livability in the center–and clearly on the latter part, failing. I have so often wanted to go back, and was thinking of taking my partner (and me!!!) there for his 50th birthday next spring. I’ve been on the fence for months about it. I just wanted to know if the vibe fro 20 years ago really is dead and gone. Your travelogue here made it very clear, the vibe I remember is long gone. That’s a terrible shame.
I am Portuguese and live in Lisbon. It hurts to read some of the comments, but I do agree with most of them. Lisbon is turning into a theme park overcrowded with crappy airbnbs that are overpriced. There are more and more restaurant tourist traps passing themselves as authentic Portuguese food, but they are overpriced and are not authentic at all. The part of not-so-nice locals I do not understand, what locals? The center has no more locals, I live in a 8 apt building and only myself and another neighbor are Portuguese, the rest is all overpriced airbnbs and expats. I love my city, but I hate what it is turning into, what we thought would help save it is actually destroying it for us, and for the travelers that want to experience the authentic Lisbon vibe, but get caught up in this overprices, bad-quality theme park. Just so you know, Portugal is much more than just Lisbon and Porto, don’t judge a whole country by the main cities alone.
Thank you for the comment Vitor as well as all the points you made. Hmm, I don’t think I said anything about not-so-nice locals, I mentioned that we met friendly locals when we joined the gym but that otherwise we just saw a lot of foreigners everywhere. Maybe you misunderstand something I wrote?
And you’re right about Portugal being much more than Lisbon or Porto. We’re living in Spain now and expect to visit much of Portugal in the coming years.
Hey Frank, the part of my comment regarding locals was not about what you wrote, but was an answer to some comments I read.
I’m glad I read your post, it’s my first time in Lisbon and I’m feeling the same way. I’m an experienced traveller and I went to much bigger cities like Paris, London, Shanghai and Tokyo and I have to agree with everything you’ve said. It’s November and I can say it’s not much better.
I also visited the Portuguese countryside like Fatima, Ourem and Tomar and had a much better experience.
One thing of note that both tourists and locals will agree is that the airbnbzation of the city is ruining it. Airbnbs are overpriced and bad quality, while also ruining the locals by driving property and rent prices way up. This is also common where I live (Canada) and if something is not done this will cause a major housing crisis (like in Canada).
Great point Ary, the Airbnb-ization of Lisbon is a well known fact. Locals have been complaining about it for a very long time. It’s up the local officials to do something about it the same way other cities have.
Sorry to hear about your experience. I really would have thought November would have eased off tourist-wise…
Don’t get too excited by the São Jorge Castle . It is fake. The foundations maybe from the 10th century but the castle you see today was built in the 1940’s. There is video of the site in the 30’s before it was built. Also, if you want to avoid the noise and have supermarkets etc near by, stay in Graca. It is only a 20 min walk from down town with beautiful views on the way and is serviced by the 28 tram
No tourist do not ruin cities, enough of this moaning. Tourists bring money, hard earned money that keep tje economy afloat. I have stayed in Lisbon for one week and I did not hate it but I’ll stay well clear from Portugal in the future.
1) Business owners are permanently grumpy and that’s ok, I’ll spend money elsewhere, good riddance.
2) The best part of Lisbon is probably Belem, but only the river side.
3) The “street art” is 80% cr** graffiti. Go to Berlin, Northern Ireland or Orgosolo if you want to see street art at its finest.
4) The roads and pavements are dirty. The vast majority of buildings are ugly. The “viewpoints” are the stuff of nightmares, I swear a view of Duisburg is less sad.
5) Most cafes and restaurants look like the hygiene rating is under zero.
6) The “atmosphere” is noisy and suffocating, everybody is yelling here.
7) Public transport is good and cheap but they desperately need new trains.
8) Food is bland, there is no passion. Few young people are trying to create better more modern places, but it’s a drop in an ocean of overall squallor.
I wanted to like it, I really did, but it looks like southern Italy in the 90s (and probably a lot of southern Italy now too). Portugal can stay in its own little world made of empire, racism and stubbornness for the next 3000 years too.
Your statement that there was no authentic experience this time around in Lisbon is spot on. I am an American of Portuguese parents. I was in Lisbon for my 5th time in June 2022. I was so sad at what the city has become. I don’t know that I would go back if I didn’t have cousins who live there. I was shocked at how over run with tourists it has become, and how the local culture and people have been almost entirely been displaced by tourists. There are simply too many tourists for the size of the city and its population.
Thank you for taking the time to comment Cristina 🙂
Hello, first of all thank you for your take on visiting Lisbon, I do think that one of the problems is the incessant rave about how wonderful it is that’s attracting the tourist masses, and it’s important to hear the other side of the argument. For context I’m Portuguese, have lived in Lisbon (and outside it) for over 35 years. I read through the article and most of the comments and I’d like to add/summarise the following points:
1- you had bad luck with the accommodation, and even the best place in the world would seem bleak and hostile under sleep deprivation and discomfort.
I hate Airbnb. I think it is a risky proposition at best. And the economic climate in Portugal, with a lot of middle-lower class people struggling to make ends meet, has pushed for a lot of shady airbnbs of questionable quality. I’m not saying Airbnb should be abolished, there’s definitely a place in the market for them, but it’s a gamble… and it could ruin your holiday.
2- there’s just too many tourists. My biggest takeaway from your article is, you’re comparing the Lisbon you saw now, with the Lisbon of 25 years ago. I too have the memory of that time, and I can reason out what you mean accurately. The unhurried melancholy and charm and etc, that’s all gone. You still have the light, and that’s about it.
Simple fact is, the infrastructure was already becoming deficient to accommodate the inhabitants; with the increase in tourists over the last 15 years it’s bursting at the seams. The bloody tuktuks should be banned, not sure how, but they are gnawing away at the old towns identity.
I can reason why some Portuguese might seem unfriendly in the older parts of town. Imagine your day to day life whenever you stepped outside was to be swept by wave after wave of foreigners chatting loudly and taking pictures of everything, yourself included. That’d wear me down for sure, however nice I started out to be.
3- you are right. It’s dirty. It’s covered in grafitti that’s not even art but rather vandalism. It’s smelly at times. It’s got it’s more than fair share of homeless and beggars. Frankly I can’t say how it differs from other major cities in all those points. There’s less money in Lisbon compared to other European/international capitals; maybe that’s what’s skewing expectations.
4- it’s gotten more expensive, much more. Cost of living is soaring, with rents and utility bills going through the roof. Everyone is concerned, except the government of course.
I still love Lisbon. It used to be beautiful, in its sad-seductive way, as a whole. Nowadays you have to dig and explore a bit to find that beauty again in the spaces between the globalized touristy facade
What an excellent comment and summary of the situation! I completely agree the authentic Lisbon of 25 years ago that tourists come looking for is long gone (in some ways it is a good thing because Lisbon was so old fashioned and behind times). It is still possible to find it, but one has to dig deeper and venture outside downtown, which most tourists don’t do. Furthermore, one has to engage with the community and talk and make friendship with locals, and that’s hard or almost impossible without mastering Portuguese. I also don’t see much concern from the city countil in addressing the problem as tourism is a big cash cow.
Great comment. Thank you for sharing all this, very much appreciated.
Are you for real? Without the little tourism you have you’d have the economy size of Zambia, but in the EU context. Good luck with that.
I’m writing this as a EU Permanent Resident of Lisbon who also lived in the USA most of my life. I’ve been here on and off since July of 2021, full time starting Jan of 2022. Let’s say this:
I live in a nice area that I found in Feb of 2022. We move and it went to hell pretty quick.
The bar across the street blasts music non stop, the mural near by is rotting quickly and no one is keeping it up.
The flat I rent has continuous movement of loud AirBnB users who at all night blast music, talk loud, move furniture to suit their needs for the next 3 days at 4 AM, and the smell of cigarettes and weed.
So, my life is now loud music from the bar, the people below and above me. Not to mention the loitering of people in front of my door, staying all afternoon and sleeping in some cases.
I can think of one quiet day we had. Every other day is loud guitar players playing crap music or blasting garbage jazz from a loud speaker when the bar is closed.
Ok, so that is my life in my flat. The pros? I have my own front door and don’t have to have a heart attack climbing up 5 flights of steps in an old, unmaintained building in Baixa. It is nice to be able to have the space and call a place “Home” but when you have hobos loitering and crappy guitar players all day, it certain makes it hard.
Lisbon in general has VERY VERY nice areas. I’ve been to a lot of areas that are quiet and local. However if you are in the historic areas of Baixa, Chiado, Barrio Alto, Alfma, Graca, Mouraria, etc you will see graffiti on historic structures, rubbish, hobo camps, and over flowing trash cans. Not to mention the crowds of tourists, drug dealers selling kitchen herbs and spices which are the same ingredients in KFC “6 herbs and spices”, and scam artists trying to take your pride and money. No, I don’t need another set of sun glasses and hashish, I mean oregano. If you want to visit a church, beware of the fat guy in front of St. Nicholas on his cell phone waiving a cup in your face for money, mumbling “bom dia”; sure buddy, you’re “poor”.
It took 3 months to get a NIF. The site says that you can get this tax number at any day during opening hours at any counter. I get there and I get the same “you have to get in line at 3 AM and get a number”. That sums it up, you have to have a ticket number for ANYTHING you need including post office, pharmacy, giving birth, etc.
The city is nice, just depends where you are at. It is over crowded, dirty, and full of graffiti, but I blame the police and city council for letting anarchy run amok here when they have the full power to reign in control of this beautiful city. The residences here don’t like it either, they were protesting in Graca with brooms to clean up the area. But how much more can people take? A bar in Mouraria opened up blasting music. The old man across the street complained and it ended up with him getting slapped in the face by one of the bar workers.
It doesn’t help that tourists come here to pee in public, buy fake drugs in the form of kitchen herbs, and drink all day and blasting music. Rather then seeing a visigoth wall or an ancient church, these people rather make it hell for locals and vandalize ancient monuments and party all hours of the night with COMPLETE disregard for people who live here. AND I BLAME THE POLICE AND CITY COUNCIL. Like I said, this could be all solved with enforcement of street vendor permits and reigning in the lunacy of the bars.
If I had to do it over again, I’d pick a quiet area outside of old Lisbon or Tomar, or Spain.
Very interesting comment, great to get a (new) local’s perspective. Sounds like hell.
Portugal has whored itself out to money laundering (have you seen the prices of real estate ?) and rampant tourism – without quality. Lisbon has turned itself into a girnomous AirnB catering to tourists while locals must find places to live far away and tolerate uncomfortable commutes. Lisbon has lost its soul. The downtown area? Come on! Decrepit with many, many shops closed and boarded up. Overall, tourists come looking for bargains, believing the marketing of Portugal – it is NOT cheap, it is NOT clean. Portugal is more of a failed state in Europe – backwards, primitive and filthy.
Ouch, that’s a tough critique. This post was written a few years back. I’d be almost curious to go back and see what it’s like now, post-pandemic. But you’ve touched on many of the points I mentioned…
Agreed – and seriously, I have never been as bored on a holiday. Also found the food dull and the famed pastries over-rated. I’m sticking with Italy in future
I’m disappointed (but not surprised) with some of these comments…
> “Too many tourists,”
Yeah… You’re going to one of the most popular destinations in Europe. It’s like going to Venice, Rome, or Paris and complaining about tourists. There are many great areas of Lisboa that are less touristy, like Avenida, Marvila, Arroios, Parque Eduardo VII. Y’all are also tourists yourselves! If you don’t like tourists, why are you going to a popular destination? Go to Thessaloniki, or Marseilles, or Palermo, or Valencia, or Naples… There’s less tourists.
> “Lack of amenities in the city center”
Staying in Bairro Alto or Alfama and being annoyed with the activity shows a lack of research on y’alls part… They’re literally the busiest and least livable areas of Lisbon. Few locals live there. It’s a downtown.
> “We found it to be dirty, have too much grafitti, etc.”
Portugal is not as wealthy of a country as many of y’all are used to. It isn’t France, or Italy, or even Spain. It’s comparable to Poland or Czech. The “dirtiness” is in many ways part of the charm of Portugal and Lisboa. If you want sanitized and orderly cities, this is not your country… Again, this should have been sussed out before coming. I’m not sure what y’all were expecting.
Anyways, if you didn’t like Lisboa for these reasons, I totally understand! It’s just… I would have expected a little less ignorance about the city, because literally all these points are quite well advertised when looking up travelling to Lisboa. I love this place, it gets me up in the morning and fills me with energy. Portuguese language is amazing, and I think local people are lovely. It isn’t for everybody.
So you’re not really disagreeing with anything I say, you just think I should have known these things, that “all these points are quite well advertised”.
Well, that’s not really true and if people like me don’t write about it then other people won’t know either will they?
And what you’re saying about other popular destinations having too many tourists, lack of amenities, or being dirty isn’t true either. Some popular destinations are very liveable and actually have locals living in the downtown core: Prague, Budapest, Madrid are a few examples.
Look, I can understand loving Lisbon if you’re a local. It’s a pretty city. I just think it’s not a good place to be a tourist.
Really liked your article. sorry to disappoint you, but I am going to say what you probably suspect: Locals don’t like it anymore.
Sorry, not sure what you are referring to Joao??
I totally agree with you. I find day by day Lisbon different for much worse than before, let’s say some 20 years ago. Lisbon has lost its charm, the human landscape is not pleasant at one’s eyes. I rarely go to downtown as over there I feel like a stranger in my own country… Poor Lisbon… a great pity!
Thanks for the honest opinion. We have considered moving to Lisbon as it’s one of the easiest places to move in Europe to, but you have to stay there 5 years before you get citizenship… Figured there is some “catch.”
I guess one of the things I’d most be worried about would be access/boredom/and isolation from the rest of Europe. I feel that way where I currently am…so don’t want to make the same “mistake” again. I need a place with a lot of day to day energy. I’m definitely not looking for a “sleepy” vibe.
I’m coming from having lived in Chicago and NYC, so I’m used to having basically everything at my finger tips and a busy and bustling city atmosphere. I know London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, etc. are like this also (been to all those), but kind of skeptical about Lisbon. I know it’s a “capital” city but not sure if that means much. Some of the videos I’ve seen make it appear kind of empty/sleepy outside of tourist queues.
Basically I’m scared I’d get bored after a few months despite the beauty/history there… once you’ve been to the places to see, how is the day to day life?
Lisbon is a pretty city, I just think that it’s too touristy and that the city center has sold out to that. Everything in the center is geared to the tourist to the detriment of ‘real’ businesses catering to ordinary people. Really, that’s our biggest issue with Lisbon. Even in Prague, a city we’ve lived in, you’ll find grocery stores, DM, and other everyday stores right in the center. It’s a touristy city but also for locals. Lisbon was one of the few cities we’ve encountered where we couldn’t find what we needed and it just left us scratching our heads. As I say, tourist information told us to take the metro 4 stops to go to a proper supermarket! That’s crazy. Having said that I’m sure if you’re outside the center that won’t be the case…
When you mention “citizenship”; I’m assuming you mean “Permanent Residency”. We’re in Spain where it takes 5 years to get Permanent residency, 10 years to get citizenship (if that means anything to you. It doesn’t to us). I would assume it’s the same in Portugal. One of the advantages to Portugal is that the level of English is pretty good (better than Spain) and I’m told that taxation lower than Spain. But we chose Spain: we both speak Spanish and there’s lots to see in Spain and we’re that much closer to the rest of Europe. All depends on your criteria though.
I lived in Portugal some years back. Not a fan. It is absolutely a beautiful country, but the people can be very closed. I know people who have lived there for years and don’t Portuguese friends.
The Portuguese are so and almost obsessed and proud of their imperialist past. I really did not find them very friendly. My impression is that they have a distain for Black people because I had to deal with all kinds of verbal racial abuse. I was even prevented from renting a hotel room once because, according to the hotel employee, she had orders from the owner not to rent to black people, Of course she didn’t tell me directly- the police got involved and that’s what she told him. I would often get people shouting “volta para tua terra” by random people- just minding my business. I guess their history with Africa became my problem because I’m black. I would have enjoyed my stay in Portugal if it were not for the racism.
Portuguese like to deny that many of them are racist, but they are. Good luck to anyone who is following Youtubers who are painting Portugal as some kind of paradise on earth – its far from it.
I am in Lisbon now and can’t wait to leave. Unfortunately, I have two weeks booked here. I tried to cancel my AirBnB after the 4th day here but the host has refused to refund me, so, I’m stuck here. My rental suite is cramped and noisy. I can hear ever single word my neighbours say and every pin that drops on the floor above me. I’ve found the city to be dirty, full of litter, and graffiti mars every surface. Not street art, but ugly graffiti. The local shop owners are not friendly and I don’t feel welcome. The major sites are pretty underwhelming compared to other European cities. It seems that there is little pride amounts to the locals and that the street vandals have won creating an ugly city. I’m traveling Europe for 5 months and am really looking forward to getting out of here. One day in Lisbon would be enough for any tourist. See it, and get out!
So sorry to hear. Sounds exactly like what we went though. Unfortunately when you don’t sleep well it affects your enjoyment of everything else.
Haven’t been to Lisbon post-pandemic: are there lots of tourists?
Absolutely Daryl! Lisbon is filthy – like the rest of Portugal – degraded and lives off fake marketing of Portugal. Portugal is only interesting to anyone who is money laundering; properties are WAY over priced, loads of huge, ugly villas which are empty most of the time (in the Algarve). Portugal is very backwards, the people are NOT “nice” – but of course, expats gush about how “friendly” the locals are because their only contact with locals, are the waiters who bring them food at the restaurants. The Portuguese are lazy, backwards, ignorant and jealous of everyone with no will to work nor make their country a real European country. There is NO comparison with Lisbon and any other major European city because Lisbon has become one ginormous, soulless tourist trap .
Bario Alto is like the French Quarter in New Orleans. If you’re not a party person don’t stay there. There are so many places outside of the party zone.
El Cortez Ingles has a HUGE supermarket and is a 3 metro stop ride or a €3-4 Uber. There also is grocery delivery too.
It’s a shame you didn’t move to a better Airbnb. There are lots of good ones but if want cheap, that usually goes with the loud and crappy places. Read the reviews 🙂
I was really looking for an article like this and perhaps reassure that what I feel and Im not the only one! I moved to Lisbon 2 years ago, for a while I thought I was hit by the Pandemic. Then I realised that not only that, is a city which is becoming expensive and the housing prices and quality are insane. Still not sure this is my place. I have been living in another european cities and I dont feel here as welcome. Queues everywhere, traffic, packed beaches. Do not see the quality of live. Happy to see Im not the only one.
Thanks for the comment Carmen. I’m not sure what it’s like being in Lisbon so long (we were only a month) but it’s interesting to hear what people have to say. Best of luck!
I found this randomly (not sure) but I will say that you might want to try the old European favorites again (soon). The pandemic has changed tourism. I was just in Lisbon to do paperwork (I live in portugal) and it was very quiet and pleasant. We stayed in a hotel (we try not to support airbnb). Airbnb has eaten away at many parts of the old cities and it means that whole neighbourhoods are now ghostly with travel restrictions. I have traveled a lot during the pandemic and it is wild. Paris was calm. Rome was quiet. You might opt to get out and visit lisbon again and it might be back to what you remember.
You are 100% correct. We have a bunch of European cities on our list for the next little while. I think over-tourism makes all the difference in the world. I also read about Lisbon imposing new regulations on Airbnbs which is a good thing.
Just came back from 3 weeks in Mexico where barely saw any foreigners. Covid changing everything and I dare say there’s a silver lining for travellers.
Thanks for your comment!
Friends of mine did Lisbon, Madrid, Seville and Barcelona in Sept. after Labor Day. They said every city was empty. I personally love Europe in the fall. The international tourists are usually gone.
Yes, totally agree John. The only thing is that in the past there were very few low seasons in the more popular cities in Europe because of the high levels of tourism. The last time we went to Prague in 2019 we saw more people during a week in January than during the previous summer. That shocked us.
We’re hoping to do a couple of big trips in 2022 (as soon as January) and look forward to less tourists – we’re only worried of lockdowns and getting stuck somewhere…
In Lisbon now and found your post googling to see if I was the only one disappointed in Lisbon. Stayed one week in the central area in an Airbnb. It does have the vibe of tourists and businesses extracting as much from each other as quickly as possible. I also found the central area really dirty (trash, poop), dirtier than most EU cities and equal to many American ones.
But will still try another week in outer area — but I can already see problems with that. Worse public transportation, far amenities (grocery, gyms, etc), poor bikeability, limited parks.
I had far higher hopes because it is so easy for Americans to immigrate there.
You’re describing everything we felt. I just didn’t want to pile too much on (about dirtiness etc) after my other negative comments…
We’ve immigrated to Spain. It’s pretty easy as well and (at least for us) the language is easier.
Totally agree with you!
As a Lisbonite myself, I feel that some of these “professional travel” bloggers are anything but…
Hey, but that’s just my opinion, right?
Pretty much what a lot of other readers have said. Your less than ideal experience was mostly due to timing and location. Before the pandemic, tourism in Lisbon had been going from small scale to massive but still seasonal to practically year round. The peak summer season is the worst for crowding and prices, while the rest of the year is lively with plenty of tourists but not to the point of seemingly outnumbering locals. I enjoyed my visit there in the fall a few years back. The weather was mostly pleasant, places were lively without being too crowded, the few lines we ran into were bearable and there was some beautiful fall foliage here and there. It’s true there are not that many sights with that wow factor but that’s more due to Lisbon being modest compared to other European capitals. It’s a smaller, cozy but lively town that’s best enjoyed by wandering more or less aimlessly and taking in the views afforded by its hilly terrain along the Tagus river. It has many of the perks associated with much larger cities but at lower prices for now which is what attracts so many people.
As for location, central Lisbon is not just the Alfama, Baixa-Chiado and Bairro Alto areas. Saldanha, Arroios, Avenidas Novas and others are fairly central without being touristy. This is where many locals live and work. They have smaller Pingo Doce and Continente Bom Dia shops that are well stocked so you don’t have to go to the larger Hypermarket branches further away. They are well connected by bus and metro to the airport and the tourist and nightlife hotspots. Some attractions like the excellent Gulbenkian Museum are in these areas.
If you were to give it another chance, I concur with what others have said and recommend avoiding the summer peak. April, May and October are warm without the excessive crowds. November is sometimes chilly but mostly pleasant. The winter months can be rainy and blustery but the city is as lively as always.
Thank you for the comment Philip!
I’m somewhat mystified that anyone bothers to travel if all they complain about is the locals at their destination and other tourists! I’ve lived in big cities all my life, Chicago, San Francisco and Melbourne & grew up just outside NYC. I’ve traveled to all continents with the exception of Antarctica. While some locals in different parts of the world can be perceived as “rude”, from my experience, the worst of the worst are ugly Americans! I can get away with saying that, because I am true Blue American born and bred, descended from Dutch settlers in the 1600s and Irish great grandparents who came to the US in the late 1800s. Having said all that, Lisbon has always been, and always will be one of my favorite European capitals. Instead of trying to cram in 18 European cities in 10 days, why not spend 2 full weeks in Lisbon, and learn some Portuguese prior to your trip. It will open your eyes and expand your horizons, when you get to know the local culture and the friendliest people one could ever hope to meet!
This is a travel blog, people come here for opinions, not for the glossed-over travel literature that you find in travel magazines. That’s why I’m honest with my opinions.
We’re not Americans and we’re full-time travellers who stayed in Lisbon a month, the furthest thing from trying to cram 18 cities into 10 days. I don’t think you bothered reading at all. And who cares if you came over on the Mayflower, it doesn’t make you any better than any other American.
Bravo! I really wonder if he did read your article. I think all travelers have a right to describe an experience, good or bad, and not gloss over it. I appreciated your honest opinion.
Dear bbqboy and spanky. You are entitled to your own opinions of your travels, however it is quite telling how racists you are. Only negativity displayed toward “African people”. I too have been to Lisbon and many other countries and cities . When you’re a tourist stop pretending that you’re a local and understand the changes that city and it’s people are and need to go through. Your view is less important than those who live there. Tourism is important to most countries growth. Even you benefit from it so stop being negative about others trying to make a buck. The world is one big migrant town so stop pretending as if only African people are now entering Europe and ‘polluting’ the cities. Europeans did that to Africa, South America, North America, Australia, Asia etc. Migration contributes to the development of language, culture, tradition and growth. The world belongs to all not just the wealthy or those who like you can keep traveling while writing your sad opinions for bland people similar to you. I agree with Niles. Well done Niles. You are a much better writer and observer.
Racist? That’s special because I’m usually accused of being a leftist Canadian liberal because of my open views about multiculturalism.
But there is a difference between multiculturalism and illegal migrants or foreigners “trying to make a buck” off illegal activities. Ask any local in southern Italy or Greece about how they feel about migrants selling drugs, begging or pickpocketing. I don’t think they’ll agree with you that any of it contributes to a positive “development” of their cities.
Southern Italian here, I can confirm what you’ve said. Italy gives refugees and non-EU immigrants the possibility to stay, a roof under their heads and a daily pay (I know it comes from the EU) but at the cost that, since the Italian justice system is so bad, lots of new comers commit crime as they know they’ll get away with it. This creates fear, anger, racism and all sorts. It’s really sad and bad.
Thank you for the comment Marina. A couple of years ago we spent a month in Lecce. Wonderful place and the people really are fabulous. But there were so many black immigrants in the whole region that you didn’t feel that you were in Italy at all.
It’s a sensitive topic because some people will accuse you of being racist. But if the place that I’m living in is suddenly inundated by foreigners – and not just foreigners but people with no money and or job possibilities – I wouldn’t be happy. The Italian we met and spoke to were publicly tolerant but I’m sure that behind closed doors they have strong opinions about what’s happening.
Exactly! The author of this post stays in an airbnb in the Lisbon equivalent of being in Times Square on New Years Eve and has the cheek to complain about the noise, and then by default the whole of Lisbon. And somehow they are surprised that Lisbon is busy with all those *other* tourists, without the self awareness to see that they themselves are part of the tourists crowding the city during the absolute peak season. What were they expecting – for Lisbon to be totally empty, just to cater for them? And feeling entitled to cheap pharmacies on their doorstep, just because they “expect” it? Entitlement at it’s finest. I’ve been to Lisbon twice, and will be planning to visit many more times as it is one of the finest, most vibrant and beautiful cities in the whole world and the locals there are so friendly and welcoming. I can’t believe the author said the city lacked any “wow” factor, as Lisbon is breathtakingly beautiful and delivers plenty of “wow” moments.
People who grew up “outside of NYC” love to say they have lived their whole lives “in a big city”
Yeah, you get that not only in Lisbon, but in the smaller, more quaint second city of Porto. It’s a city that prides itself on its small(er)-town vibe and being much friendlier than the capital city to the south, but, just like Lisbon, it’s a raving madhouse, streets ravelling with tourists, especially in the summer. And the supposed charm? Well, that’s diminishing too: for instance, there’s now a garish, ridiculous sky lift which obtrsuively spans the airspace above the city’s main attraction, the old world wine cellars which scenically tumble down the hill to the river. (Yes, not in Porto, technically.)
That’s a long way to get to my point: but this is the deal the Portuguese have made with the devil. So, while this country putting so many of its eggs in the tourism basket surely sucks for most of its inhabitants, they need to consider the alternative. Portugal, a tiny country of around ten million inhabitants, finds itself, almost inexplicably, owing 85 billion to the International Monetary Fund. (Well, it is explicable: corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and–at least in the sectors in which such a thing really hurts–an absolutely deplorable, shameful lack of work ethic*). By comparison, much larger countries–i.e., Argentina, a country with nearly six times that poplulation–needed bailouts for less than half that amount.
Tourism, for all the incalculable cultural losses that come with the monetary gains, is what’s saving this country, like it or not.
*You’re a hardworking Portuguese? Sorry–but then, as you can imagine, I’m not talking about you, and probably not your sector. But you DO know exactly what I’m talking about. You don’t need to imagine that at all.
Thanks for the comment Theo. Haven’t been to Porto but I’ve heard many travellers either raving about it or feeling just as you do. And you’re right – we see what it’s like to have all one’s eggs in one basket in times like this don’t we…
Being Portuguese and having lived in Lisbon for ten years now, I, unfortunately, agree with your article. Lisbon is a great city, but terribly overpriced and overcrowded these days, especially with tourists. I actually often joke about playing a game called “Where is the Portuguese?”, sort of like “Where’s Waldo?”. And there’s little to no authenticity left in most places within the city, (I, for example, absolutely DESPISE that godawful sardine cans shop in Rossio and hope it closes someday) and it’s very hard just to make ends meet with an average salary. Not minimum wage (that’s downright impossible), average. Housing prices have soared just in the last 5/6 years and let me tell you, most houses aren’t that great. And honestly, it’s not worth it, considering what the city actually has to offer. I am unable to understand what exactly draws so many people here. It’s nice, but it’s no Paris. It’s no London. I think people come here expecting something more authentic yet affordable, but that hardly is the reality nowadays, and it’s bound to get worse with time. To be honest, and this may sound awful, this fad is driving authenticity away from Lisbon, including its people. No wonder many are tired and sick of it, I myself am. And it’s not because of xenophobia or anything like that, it’s because it ends up having a negative impact in our lives.
Thank you for having taken the time to comment Joao!
Wow. “So many African immigrants it didn’t feel like Italy at all.” Sometimes “liberals” are the worst bigots of all. Maybe you should go back to where you came from and stay there.
I assume you’ve opened your door to immigrants and have them living with you?
There’s a difference between having a welcoming immigrant policy (which I support) and having foreigners inundating your country.
If planning to go to Lisbon avoid the summer months, 1st June to 15 September is crowded.
Never choose Bairro Alto, Chiado, Príncipe Real, unless you want to spend a ridiculous amount of money in a high end accomodation. Graça, Anjos, Arroios are also in the centre and have more stores (auchan, continente, pingo doce, local utility shops and more people live there)
I also miss Lisbon from 25 years ago, it’s really painful to live there atm.
Stumbled across your blog when trying to decide what our next destination should be, went down a rabbit hole of posts because I just couldn’t stop and finally landed here to find that our experience in Lisbon was very similar! We were there only for 4 nights in the first week of May four years ago but still didn’t find the city very compelling apart from the marvelous tiles everywhere.
Even in early May the crowds were too much and we had to wait for trams, elevators, entrance to sights, etc. We couldn’t find good, authentic food that was NOT a simple piece of fish with potatoes/rice and salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber without having to pay an unreasonable amount. We found most of the the sights rather expensive for what they were. We had just been to Andalusia, Spain and the sights there blew our minds! We did go to Sintra for a day trip. It was beautiful, but the queues to get entrance tickets and onto buses ate into our sightseeing time. We were in the Algarve right before Lisbon and that was a nicer experience for us. I would say that the coast there is spectacular.
Our Lisbon AirBnb, while not terrible, was what I rank joint bottom along with our London apartment. At least London is an expensive city if staying in a convenient location so I knew I was compromising when I booked it. Our Lisbon host didn’t meet us but sent a friend who made us wait to check in, didn’t provide enough clean linen for our daughter, didn’t think it was important to fix the washing machine quickly, etc.
Walking about in the city was the best thing to do but even that got tiring with so many uphill parts and we were at the end of a 16 day trip. The only shopping we did was for tiled souvenirs so I can’t comment on other goods.
Thanks for your comment Claudine. I think we felt the same way…both about Lisbon and Andalusia (which we absolutely loved as well).
I have Portuguese roots and visited Portugal from 2000 and eventually moved to Lisbon in 2018. I agree with most of your points and can summarize your blog for you – portugal has lost it’s Portugueseness!
Thanks for the comment. We’ll visit Portugal again one day, we’ll just make sure to do it in off season. Maybe it’ll change our view.
Tourists tend to like Lisbon, but try to live there for a a couple of years and you’ll realise how stressful, polluted and chaotic this city is. There has been a lot of marketing about Lisbon quality of life saying beaches are near (yeah, overpacked beaches where you cannot put a towel) and airport is central (and that represents a lot of air and noise pollution). If the quality of life were so good, many Lisboetas wouln’t just leave the city on weekends. The only good thing about Lisbon is really the weather but for that you don’t need to stay at an expensive city like Lisbon and you can go to any other place in Portugal… just my 2 cents on this.
Thank you for your feedback Pedro! We’ll be back in Portugal one day, but will explore the smaller towns and cities and will definitely not go in the summer!
I’m in Lisbon right now–mid-September for a week–and it seems like people are sick of tourists. Sometimes it’s overt, like with the graffiti telling tourists to go home, or the grumpy outbursts from a taxi driver…but I think there’s a general vibe. It’s the tail end of the high season and maybe people are a little bit punch drunk from the long summer season. I feel bad for the people in Lisbon. I can go home. But they are caught in an economic position where they need to invite tourists but also must deal with the stress of dealing with the invasion.
Lisbon used to be a nice place to visit but it changed completely over the past 5 years. Now it’s just an artificial and stressful city packed with tourists everywhere. It became the perfect place to have coffee at Starbucks, have fast-food at international food chains or expensive dinners at the latest Butanese restaurant, cross thousands of useless souvenir shops full of made in China products, queue for anything slightly interesting while pickpockets do their job, squeeze and bump into other tourists in overcrowded side walks and not being able to meet and talk to a single Portuguese resident with a non-tourist job. It also became a very expensive city with dinner costing 40 euros/person and hotels averaging 100 euros/night. If you want to experience the Portuguese culture and gastronomy for 1/3 of those prices then run away from Lisbon as fast as you can. I hate to say this but overtourism killed Lisbon and its authenticity. I’d recommend other places in Portugal that are still not that popular such as Braga/Guimaraes/Geres/Coimbra/Aveiro in the North, Sintra/Guincho/Cascais/Evora/Sesimbra/Arrabida/Comporta close to Lisbon or Costa Vicentina/Algarve (Lagos, Tavira, Vilamoura) in the South.
Thank you for the comments Pedro. You’ve confirmed what I felt…which is a shame. With less tourists, less tourist-oriented stores, and less hustlers, Lisbon would be a great place.
If you plan to build a house or order any goods or materials while living in Portugal. Don’t. You will break down before the construction or delivery begins. Same applies to Azores. Absolutely selfish people with total lack of respect for themselves and for your time. And yes, superficially they act “friendly”, but will screw you on every occasion.
American here. I’ve been in Lisbon for a month and wholeheartedly agree about the pharmacies. What an absolute racket. Not only will you pay triple for products, but you will likely have an embarrassing conversation with the pharmacist about how to use said products. If I want to purchase lubricant, hemorrhoid cream, vaginal cleanser, et cetera – I do *not* want to have a discussion about it. Good lord. Give me a Walgreens with a self checkout over this nightmare any day!
Also, they think Melatonin requires a prescription? Pretty sure I could swallow half a bottle and still run a half marathon, but okay. European pharmacies are straight up infantilizing and a complete ripoff.
Ha! that’s funny.
I’m in Lisbon now and we despise it. We’ve never felt so unwelcome, the people are incredibly unfriendly. Coming from places like USA, Roma, London, Paris, we found Lisbon to be sad and rude. We smile at the locals only to be stared back. We say hello (Ola, Bonjour, etc) only to be answered in silence. Everything is dirty and falling apart, our “4-Star hotel” was littered with mold and dirty towels. The streets are filled with cranes or construction workers. The sights are not pretty and the activities are boring. In every city we visit, we roam and lose ourselves in the day. In Lisbon, we couldn’t have been more bored. We found ourselves staying in our hotel room most mornings and early afternoons and returning back early evening because there was just nothing to do. We had a hard time finding a grocery store too. We did go to Sintra and had a much better time there (friendly people, stunning views, great attractions, way better food). I’ll never recommend Lisbon to anyone.
I’m sorry to hear that Emy. I didn’t address the locals in my post, I didn’t want even more hate thrown my way 🙂 We didn’t find them unfriendly – but we didn’t find them friendly either. To us, there is something cold and detached about the Portuguese character. They’ll be fine if you approach them individually and ask them a question. They’re polite. But see them on the street and you’re right, they don’t come across as the friendliest.
We were there in mid summer. We didn’t dare go to Sintra (I had gone over 25 years ago and it was spectacular). Glad you had no issues, I hear it gets very busy.
Anyway, I’m sorry to hear about your experience.
I still cant get how unfavourably my city is represented…and described…
To be fair Jorge, many of the negatives had to do with practicality of being there a month, the number of tourists, and the apartment. Lisbon itself was attractive and under better circumstances (in a better neighborhood and a less busy time of year) we might have come away with a much different opinion.
Heads up. Do not stay at the hyatt Lisboa. Rated 5 star. Terrible. Had a very hard time getting a cup of coffee at breakfast. Concierge recommended we walk 3 miles to a restaurant for lunch that was closed. Seriously bad service all around
Slightly different perspective here. We’re Dutch (albeit from Portuguese extraction), and this summer we spent what I think is the fourth summer in the last decade in the city, in August. We have a few Portuguese friends and we mostly house-sit for them while they’re away on holiday. Take that literally: we sit around, reading, relaxing and talking, go out in the late afternoon for a walk, ending up in a good restaurant or a local quiosque. We both have busy jobs, so what might seem like the height of boredom to some is supremely relaxing to us. This and last year we stayed in São Bento, not far from the Parliament building, on the fringe of the outright tourist district. It’s in a quiet little street with only one well-advertised restaurant around the corner, which luckily is closed during most of August. Our Portuguese isn’t great, but it’s good enough for daily life and we really appreciate it if people don’t switch to English immediately; conversely, we notice that most but the most blasé people appreciate us making the effort.
Still, I would consider myself a tourist: we’re passing by, we have no permanent position in this society, just observing it. I don’t think being there for a few days or a month makes that much difference in the end: it’s a presence without any commitment either way. But personally I would have a problem if I were part of something that uprooted permanent residents, which is why I don’t use AirBNB. For us, this is a great compromise.
We have really seen the city transform in the past decade, and not only for the worse. Yes, the crowds have sometimes become unbearable and we tend to avoid anything around Baixa-Chiado and other tourist spots for that reason. The tuktuks are a pest, you can’t really use the older trams as a mode of transport any more and the amount of clichéd tourist tat is appalling. On the other hand, there are far fewer buildings with no roof and a tree growing out of them these days; the Jardim do Principe Real is almost unrecognizable from what it was even five years ago. That is not to say that overtourism isn’t a big problem, but all I’m saying is that there are fringe benefits apart from the influx of money.
I find Lisbon still has a lot going for it, also for longer stays. The geography means that each hill away from the center the tourist problems lessen. Get to Campo de Ourique, Calhariz, Campolide, or Monsanto, and you’ll hardly notice a tourist at all. As with tourism in general, if you move three streets away from the hotspots there’s an entirely different world waiting for you. Ignore Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet, just get walking from A to B. When we were in Sintra, of course we didn’t take the bus; we walked up to the castle from Portela de Sintra. Slightly different route, and admittedly a bit of a climb, but you’re virtually alone for long stretches and have all the time in the world to take in a breathtaking landscape.
Also, and this point is one of comparison, Lisbonese tourism is of a comparatively benevolent kind. I work in Amsterdam, quite near the red light district. Believe me, that is a whole lot worse. Partly because Amsterdam’s inner city is even smaller than Lisbon’s and more easily walkable, but mostly because of its – let’s say unique – reputation, which attracts a specific kind of tourist: penniless Australian backpackers just out for cheap weed, British stag parties boozing up in the hope of mustering up the courage to end up sleeping with a prostitute (I’m no fan of Brexit but I sometimes see the benefits in making it slightly more difficult for that lot to get into the country), or German teenagers jumping into the canals after a dose of mushrooms convinced them it was a hot tub. During our last month in Lisbon, we didn’t encounter a single stag party, and while there can be a healthy dose of brainless teenagers crossing the street, outside of a small area that problem appears to be limited. There’s still overcrowding and excess of course, but it can’t compare to what I’ve seen in Amsterdam.
In summary: Lisbon is a great city, but stay away from everything recommended in the guide books, at least during the summer. And give it a bit of time.
Thanks for the great comment Bom. Good points.
Certain cities can cope better with crowds than others. One of our favorite cities is Prague where we’ve spent a lot of time since travelling full time. People complain about the tourists – but 90% walk in the same “tourist corridor” from the Powder Gate to the Castle. There’s tons otherwise to see in the city.
We just spent a month in Krakow. Again tourists all seeing the same things. But in Krakow there’s not that much to see outside the old town, which becomes very touristy in the summer.
In general travel in Europe in the summer can be a real tourist-fest.
Also totally agree with the type of tourist a place attracts. Last year we took a year off from travel and had a 1 year Temporary Residency in Split (Croatia). One of the most beautiful places anywhere. And 9 months of the year gets very little tourism – until summer when the discount airlines start flying in the trashy tourists who go there to get drunk. Lots of Brits (I agree about them unfortunately).
You can never totally avoid tourists, as I’ve said to a few people, you’re in Lisbon so of course you’re going to go see the highlights that it’s known for. Knowing what I know now, we never would have gone to Lisbon in the summer (didn’t know how much the city had changed and how many tourists it receives in the summer). So a lesson was learned.
But what I’ve never forget and still don’t understand is where people shop for everyday items in the neighborhood we were in. That I’ve never seen in any other neighborhood in any other city we’ve stayed in. Lots of tourists stores, “Pharmacies” (selling overpriced cosmetics), and places selling Pasteis de Nata. And lots of restaurants, clubs and cafes…
For tourism I still stand by the points I made in this post. For what you describe – well, it sounds wonderful! 🙂
This summer we’ve spent time in the Ukraine. Lviv especially is wonderful. Less tourists – but especially less trashy tourists. Just hope those discount airlines never start flying here…
Of course, it does help being able to ask the locals (most cases, our host) where they do their shopping. Near our place, we had a minidepresso at spitting distance and two Pingo Doces just a bit further away. And for immediate necessities there are small corner shops which will often do the job.
Another point that you raise is what to me is the one of the greatest cultural threats related to tourism: the “canonization” of culture. Mass tourism appears bent on reducing a nation/city’s experience to five or six key elements – everything else is irrelevant no matter how interesting it could be. For Lisbon: Terreiro do Paço/Baixa, Alfama, a Fado restaurant, Pasteis de nata, a tram ride and the Torre de Belém. For Amsterdam: Red light district, Central Station, Bike ride, canal walk, Rijksmuseum (and perhaps Van Gogh). That greatly exacerbates the already considerable pressure on these places (and leaves us in peace in Almada). Also there seems to be a competition for “the best” of something. One thing that always bugs me is how you are told Pasteis do Belém has “the best” pasteis de nata in Lisbon (although strictly it isn’t even in Lisbon). That is just crazy: there are tens if not hundreds of places in the city that will serve you perfect pasteis; some supermarkets even. But again, this supposed “greatness” leads to a sort of canonical fundamentalism where people feel they need to do this one thing regardless.
Very true Bom. A lot of that is due to Trip Advisor and all the other rating websites. People are lazy and instead of reading up they’ll simply go to these kind of websites and tick off the items on the list.
It’s like a list of best cafes. Honestly, how variable is a coffee experience going to be? Instead you have everyone flocking to the same coffeeshop in the same neighborhood.
I remember the old days before the internet when we’d just show up somewhere and book a room at the tourist office at the train station. Was a pain in the butt, but it brought a bit of adventure to travel. Today everything has to be listed and checked, like a grocery list…
We are going for 5 days in Early October. I always check the reviews for AirBnB…did you find yours accurate?
Is there any one area on the outskirts that you would recommend?
We didn’t find ours accurate at all…but that happens. Sometimes people too nice on Airbnb reviews which really doesn’t help anyone.
The Marquês de Pombal area was recommended by a few commenters. I don’t have any specific apartment recommendations. As long as it’s close to the metro line it’s easy to get downtown.
The AirBnB in which I stayed was excellent — very modernized, air conditioning (very important sometimes!), good shower, bathroom, and kitchen, nice little balcony, good neighborhood… although it looks like price has gone up. (I paid about 60 euro per night, although that did include a discount for being a long-term rental): https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3051898
That’s actually quite pricey for an Airbnb, especially with a longer term deal. But it sounds nice which is probably why.
I agree with your assessment. In fact, I found it by Googling to see if anybody else noticed the same things we did. We just stayed in Portugal for 6 weeks — well, we did a one week driving tour of Algarve and Andalusia, then settled in to our long-term AirBnB base in Lisbon (though we did do overnight excursions from there — a week in Porto & Coimbra, and 5 days in Madeira… which, btw, would make a great base for you to try at some point if you haven’t yet!)
I had wanted to visit Portugal for a long time — ever since I lived and worked in Milan in 2001. But Portugal was very different back then, and some of its reputation (poverty, rough around the edges, crime, and a lack of speaking English — though I was able to learn Portuguese to an extent, based on my knowledge of Spanish and Italian) deterred me, though I found the coastal location and cost of living very alluring…
Well, I finally got a chance to show my wife what “living abroad” feels like this summer, and we chose Portugal.
There are things I will miss — I absolutely loved the weather, for example. (Where I live — Napa Valley, California — is beautiful and a nice place to live, but it can be over 40 degrees frequently in the summer!) And the good, cheap meals of bifanas and wine… once I could find them!
I was shocked by how crowded, touristy, and actually expensive the city is. I didn’t expect so many tuktuks — in fact, I didn’t expect tuktuks at all! (we never took one, not even once. All they did was get in the way of my photos, just like all of the construction cranes and scaffolding. You know that pic you took of the Lisbon Cathedral above? I couldn’t take that pic, because the building in the left of the shot is completely covered in ugly scaffolding, and tuktuks are lining the entire street.) I also didn’t expect dishes at restaurants to cost 19-20 euro. that’s like the prices we pay here in glamorous, expensive California! We simply avoided those restaurants altogether, except for a special splurge on a Michelin-level one in Porto. A lot of our meals consisted of nice cheese and bread, 2 euro pizzas, and 3 euro bottles of wine from the grocery store. We eventually managed to find great “locals spots” like O Trevo, which we loved (both the prices and the people), and that was what we went to Lisbon for, but sadly that seems to be the rare exception now, not the norm.
This city — the whole country, really — seems like it has been thrust so suddenly into the spotlight that, as much as they love and crave the income, they don’t know how to handle it. There are so many people walking down the sidewalks — which were NOT designed for these crowds — that people have to sidestep into traffic. There’s no avoiding it.
There are the train lines at Cais do Sodre (and then crowds on the train) that nobody was expecting — locals nor tourists. The tourists have downtrodden looks on their faces like they “didn’t sign up for this” when they decided to come here — they expected sleepy hamlets or a backwater European town, not the bustling wannabe-Paris that it has become. Local teenagers from the suburbs would hop on with beach gear in hand, only to look utterly shocked and confused at the fact that there are no more seats available to sit in. Clearly, that concept is very new to them.
Oh, and that’s not accounting for the crowds at the grocery stores (which, as you mentioned, aren’t even big enough in the first place! I was shocked that the one near the train station in Coimbra, or in the sleepy town of Sao Bras do Alportel down in the Algarve, were so much better than any we could easily access in Lisbon — which were all Pingo Doce)… we would make the trek down to the closest one to our apartment, near Rossio, which was still a good 12 minute trek each way (downhill to the Avenida, but then up 2 blocks of the steepest hills I’ve ever climbed outside of San Francisco on the way back!)… whether it was this one or the even MORE bustling ones at Santa Apolonia or Cais do Sodre stations, I got anxiety every time I had to shop for groceries… (a) the selection was bad, and (b) the crowds were unbearable. The store spaces just weren’t build for it… no space to get past people in the aisles, and then no room to stand when the queue snakes around the bend, blocking aisles even further.
And let’s not even start on Sintra and Pena Palace, which has worse crowds than anywhere I have been in the world except Lello bookstore in Porto and, maybe, Disneyland (which is a bit what it feels like.)
There are things I will miss about Lisbon: the good wines at low price, for example! (I live in wine country, and they are good here, but they are too expensive!) And the weather (however, Portugal needs to stop touting their beaches the way they do. They act like it is Hawaii or a tropical paradise but, while the beaches are sunny and warm in the summer, and pretty attractive… the water is COLD, and I do enjoy swimming. But not in Portugal. Water temp was a couple degrees warmer in Madeira, and it made a huge difference!)
I am very glad we did the trip, I just wish I could have done it a few years earlier, but I’m glad we got in before things (prices and crowds and killed-off culture/identity/authenticity) get even worse. I’m glad we stayed a while so I could get my fill, and I don’t feel any need to return to Portugal (I would maybe return to Madeira, which also has growing pains from tourism, but being more remote they are not nearly as bad. I’ve heard the Azores is an even better place in that regard…)
BTW, I think we must have stayed very close to where you stayed… I immediately recognized those tiled steps, which were right outside of our AirBnB apartment building (going down a hill from us would lead to the Avenida, but if we wanted to go up to Principe Real, those were the steps outside our door), and the whole apartment complex in which we stayed seemed to be an “AirBnB neighborhood” as you described… The difference is that our apartment was actually VERY nice — more updated and modern than my own house, actually. It was small, but had a good kitchen, great bed, fantastic bathroom and shower (probably one of the top 3 showers we have ever used in the world), and air conditioning… Modern conveniences which make a huge, huge difference! (Plus a little balcony with a view across the rooftops to the castle. We love our balcony sits in good weather in Europe!)
Matthew, your comment is music to my ears. It is so rare to meet people who travel as we do – ie slow travellers – who actually settle and try get to know a place. We love the way we travel but when you get it wrong as was the case in Lisbon, it can feel like a month from hell (especially when the apartment isn’t very nice).
You described what I was trying to convey better than I did. You say “anxiety” – that’s the word that sticks out for me because that’s how I felt having to get anything done in that neighborhood. Stores were tiny with canned goods and very little if any fresh produce. No fresh meat/fish, just unrecognizable stuff stuffed in freezers. And yes, you must have been in the same neighborhood because you’re describing my shopping adventures. After a while I gave up and went to those little Bangladeshi corner stores.
And the apartment was hell as I mention. I know that really influenced how we felt about Lisbon. When you’re not sleeping well and just getting basics done is complicated you don’t come away very happy.
Our stay was 2 years ago in the height of summer. I look at the photos now and I can see that Lisbon is beautiful. But it was SO impractical as a one-month base, and SO crowded with tourists (most it seemed French) that we just ended disliking the city. So different than I remembered it many years ago. You must be an old guy like me 🙂
Madeira and the Azores both places I want to go to. We have a bunch of American friends who travel as we do who stayed in Madeira and like you loved it. They talked about the nature and hiking. We thought of going there but 2 years ago was the year of some very sever fires on Madeira. But thank you for confirming what they said. We will get there one day.
Again, nice seeing people who travel as we do. While we were in Lisbon we met a couple of blogger friends who were spending 4 days there: staying right in the center, eating all their meals in restaurants. They loved it. Of course they would. I always say places are like people: some you like for a couple of days, others take time to get to love, others you don’t like at all from the get go.
Greetings from Krakow where we’re finishing a month’s stay. Another very popular place with tourists these days.
Thanks for the comments Matthew, stay in touch!
Actually, we’re not quite to retirement yet (sometimes I wish!) — just “medium-aged” (40 years old)… we happened to have this opportunity because my wife lost her job, and then started an online grad school program (through a university in London), whereas I am a teacher and so have the entire summers off.
Due to her job, we had never had the opportunity to do a long-term stay somewhere. I had already had the experience, twice, when I worked overseas on website projects in Milan for 2 months, and then again in London for 2 months, and was trying to convey to her how different it is when you “live” somewhere in that manner… doing grocery shopping, getting a feel for the land and the people and the culture and the language…
So, we had to take the opportunity while we could. She graduates next summer, so we may go to London (and then swing another week somewhere in Europe?) for that, but then it’s back to life, back to reality… and the reality is that most American jobs are HORRIBLE when it comes to vacation/holiday time (in her last job, she technically got 3 weeks per year… but even getting them to allow her to have 2 weeks consecutively was difficult.)
BTW… here’s my “photoblog” I decided to keep of our trip in Portugal (+ Andalusia, Gibraltar, and Madeira): https://www.instagram.com/karmakollector/ (in the past, I would have done a regular blog like this, but I find the image-focused nature and the character-limit constraints to help me ensure I do some editing… otherwise I would probably post even more pictures and blabber on with even more words, and waste even more time doing all of that!)
It’s a great experiment trying to live somewhere else for a while as you say. You mentioned your Lisbon experience – I hope it wasn’t all bad and if it makes you feel better we started travelling this way 4 years ago and Lisbon was our worst experience (just because it was so impractical). But have been so many other places where it was very easy. We are right now in Lviv, Ukraine.
I’m now following your instagram account. Nice job, I see you put a lot of effort in it.
Azores, specially Sao Miguel and Pico islands, are amazing. You should go there. In my opinion way better than Madeira not to mention overhyped Lisbon
Thanks very much for this post. It is very sad to read how another wonderful city is being destroyed by tourism. I live in Brazil and would like to visit Portugal, but by the sound of things Lisbon sounds much less attractive than it would have been only a few years ago.
(Ironically, it is one of the bad things about Brazil that helps protect it from the worst excesses of tourism: its terrible reputation for safety. The country is jam-packed with beautiful places to visit and there are hardly ever any tourists anywhere, even in sleepy baroque colonial towns in the interior which in Europe would long since have been desecrated by selfie-stick-wielding hordes, so I guess there is something to be said for appalling urban violence.)
Ha! Yes, that’s ironic.
My favorite place – South Africa – “gains” from the same reputation as well 🙂
I don’t feel that tourism is the whole problem. Immigrants were lurching on every corner, watching every move you make. Others were very pushy, almost aggressive trying to get people to pay inflated prices. There were drug dealers everywhere as were the police but they appeared to be turning a blind eye to this unwanted practice.
Putting all that aside, I could have coped with this, we weren’t staying for long but what really really blew it was when I heard shouting and carrying on whilst shopping, as I drew closer there was a beggar shouting at an elderly couple, the lady was using a walking frame and clearly was trying to get away from him. A crowd had gathered and there was a police car parked opposite on the same road but no one had intervened. I stopped and asked the elderly couple if they were ok and could I help. The lady looked close to tears and kept shaking her head whilst looking at the beggar cautiously. I asked the beggar to leave them alone and the elder gentleman went across the road to speak with the policeman who was still seated in his car! I held the ladies arm and walked up the street slowly trying to get her away from him. At this the beggar started shouting obscenities at me, I firmly told him to go away to which he shouted “how dare you tell me to leave, this is my country” I advised that I couldn’t care less and that he was a coward and a bully for abusing the elderly. At this he followed me for at least 10 minutes shouting and swearing . The police were not interested and nor were the bystanders.
Sadly whilst I will be stopping off in Lisbon as part of a cruise next year, there’s no way I’ll step off the ship other than for duty free at the port.
Overall I found the city dirty, full of graffiti, unwelcoming and at times, intimidating. Dreadful place!
Thanks for this comment Lou and sorry for the negative experience. Very kind of you for helping out the elderly couple.
I’m Portuguese and I’m not angry at all with your article.
In fact, it’s a great idea to talk how things really are in Lisbon.
To tell you the truth, I haven’t been there for years and I confess I’m afraid of going there after seing your pcitures.
Have a nice day.
Thank you for the feedback Carmaria. It always makes me happy when someone Portuguese tells me they’re not upset at me for this post 🙂
I always say that our perceptions are shaped by our experiences – if we went back tomorrow (and maybe stayed in another area) we might have had a totally different experience and come away loving Lisbon.
The world is changing and tourism is reaching every aspect of the globe. Is the answer to halt tourism all together so that a select few people can enjoy the city?! It sounds to me that you had a bad experience because other people (just like yourself) want to see the world.
I will be visiting Lisbon and Obidos in a few weeks and look forward to everything there is too see. As a traveller, I am aware that there are many cities around the world that attract tons of tourist. You just have to enjoy what you can in the midst of lots of people
Enjoy Stephanie! If you like, let me know how you find it.
Bring some tourist repellent! 🙂
Haha will do 🙂
Charlène Jiho Travel Blog
I went in Lisbon in december and I love this city !
Good for you. I’m sure December a better time to go.
Lisbon is so beautiful! We’re considering this place on our visit because of your great photos 🙂
It’s pretty and a nice place to go for a few days. We just didn’t enjoy as a base.
I was in Lisbon a couple years ago and didn’t really rate it. It was February and still full of tourists, but then I’m not a tourist type. Porto in 2016 wasn’t much better. The locals in both were great but that’s about all.
Do you mean you didn’t “like” it Ted?
I think we were surprised by just how incredibly full of tourists it was. Prague gets filled up, Budapest gets filled up…but it just seemed Lisbon was just busting at the seams with tourists. So February was busy as well? Wow.
Sorry to hear about Porto, have heard good things.
The main thing was trying to negotiate the hills on extremely slippery Lisbon sidewalks. I suppose being battered around by a hurricane which sideswiped it didn’t help either 😉 Porto is kinda sad in a way (see from link), but very low cost and not as steep a hills.
Very true about those Lisbon sidewalks!
Not sure if you got a chance to go up to Porto yet, but it was EXTREMELY touristy… maybe even more than Lisbon (in a “percentage of tourists to locals” ratio kind of way), which kind of shocked me.
I enjoyed it there, because there are nice towns to visit on the outskirts (and the Douro Valley vineyard region), which give some space and room to breathe, even if there are tourists (this is true of Porto, too… the only “cramped” spot was right around the train station.)
But the city of Porto felt like an artificial version of itself… felt like all authenticity had been lost. That part made me sad. When tourism turns a town into a weird, shiny facsimile of itself, like the Las Vegas or Epcot Center interpretation of Porto.
Thanks for the comment Matt.
Porto holds no interest for me. I’ve seen so many people writing and posting photos about it – but reading and looking at those photos hasn’t given me any inspiration to go. And you’ve confirmed the suspicion I had, ie that it is extremely touristy. Seems to be the flavour of the day.
More and more I appreciate places that attract less tourists and feel more authentic, even if less beautiful. We’ve enjoyed places like Skopje, Sarajevo and Belgrade even if they’re nowhere close to as beautiful as Lisbon. And there are some incredible places that don’t get many tourists (we were in Olomouc a few weeks ago and it surprised our pants off). But popular tourist places – no thanks 🙂 I think Lisbon really opened our eyes.
Thanks for the tip!
We lived there for three weeks and thoroughly enjoyed it BUT we were there during WINTER and so the tourists were few and far between. Most of Europe we enjoyed during winter which was mild compared with the US weather wise, but much more manageable as far as tourists go. Having a bad accommodation experience just colors everything When we get a bad one, we cut our losses and leave. Otherwise it taints the experience of a place which is a shame.
You are very right Peta. But the other thing that we really didn’t like was that it was so hard to find a decent grocery store with fresh produce. It still gets me upset – here we were in central Lisbon and the closest “grocery store” was over 10 minutes away and even that had no selection. It was basically a glorified corner store with no fresh meat or fish. We’ve used many places as “slow bases” the last few years including such little known places as Skopje, Belgrade and Split and in each there are grocery stores, vegetable markets, sometimes a fish market…but in Lisbon we just had nothing nearby and we were central, in a densely populated area. I still don’t understand it.
Great for a tourist but we found it unlivable for a slow traveller. Very disappointing because we really had high hopes for Lisbon.
That is disappointing. Did you consider Lagos? Or Faro? Smaller places…
Don’t know if you read Anita and Richards posts, but if not, you might find them interesting helpful. They are based in Lagos.
” No Particular Place to go.”
They’re blogger friends actually and we had plans to meet them in Sevilla but our dates didn’t let that happen.
We thought we’d love Lisbon – instead we became big fans of Sevilla and it works better for us than Portugal (we both speak Spanish).
What a lazy tourist you are. Do not blame the others for that. It’s kind of insulting really and I bet the objective is that one, to insult. I would be ashamed to say the things you are saying in this blog, just because it shows you are not prepared. Stay home instead or save money for a 5 star safe haven if you are not prepared to explore a city. All of this just shows you do not know how to plan a trip, just that.
Blame others for what exactly? I’m sorry you feel insulted, but it was our reality and Lisbon made no sense to us. As I say, fine for a tourist who’s there for a few days and goes to restaurants, but inconvenient for a slow traveller who “lives” in the center. In don’t think you understand how we travel – we are not short term tourists or 5 star travellers. We’ve been travelling full-time for 3 years, renting apartments and trying to explore a city and live like locals as much as possible. Whether Prague, Budapest, Cape Town, Brasov, Kyoto or many other places, we’ve always found everyday stores like grocery stores, pharmacies, etc in the city center. It’s never been an issue in any other city, these are “basic” things people need. No need to “be prepared”. So it’s a bit confusing coming to major city like Lisbon and not being able to find a decent grocery store or pharmacy in the city center. Lisbon (or Central Lisbon) seemed to be full of crappy stores and restaurants though catering to tourists.
We left Lisbon and went to Sevilla which we loved. Everything was easy to find, as it should be.
So again, sorry you feel insulted but we write our experiences as they were. 95% of our experiences during our travels have been great. That wasn’t the case for Lisbon.
Lagos is a beautiful city. My favourite in Portugal is actually Aveiro where i would love to live but unfortunately i am stuck with job in lisbon. Maybe bloggers need to turn their attention to other cities. Lisbon and Porto were take so time to for another one. I am going to give you another tip: Costa Vicentina. Rule of thumb: get away as fast as you can from big airports 🙂
The downtown areas are catering only for tourists as hardly anyone local lives there. If you leave the downtown core, stores and supermarkets are great and not crowded. I was born and bred in Lisbon and I seldom go downtown these days because it is so unpleasant. It’s nice to go for coffee and then leave. It’s not Lisbon, but a circus for tourists.
You would have had a completely different experience had you been based outside the downtown core. The city was authentic 20 years ago, few tourists but also no cosmopolitanism, i was jealous when visitantes other capital cities with food from all over the world. Now Lisbon is more cosmopolitas, i can get things like bagels or very nice ethnic foods which were unthinkable years ago, só not all is bad. But our politicians led us to this state, by making the city entirely reliant on tourism. Overall Lisbon is a nicer city than the backwater it was 20 years ago but it will never be a world class City. We just don’t have the proper infraestruture and governance and vision.
Thank you for your comment Tiago.
Lisbon should get rid of airbnb’s, hostels and all that scum visitors who spend nearly nothing and just leave trash. 4 and 5 star luxury hotels touristists is what Portugal needs and wants. And has plenty high quality Services and places to offer to interesting visitors unlike you.
Thank you, yes. As Mr. Trump proves, class and money have nothing to do with each other. Or you can be like other people and have no money and no class either 😉
I have also been in Lisbon for a little while – arrived in the summer, but within 5 or so days I found a larger super market in the centre, and some cheap resturants and pubs. I found a place to stay that’s really reasonable and within walking distance of town, but not crazy busy.
I did a lot a prep before arriving here though. As a serial traveller, do you research a lot before going or try and pick up any of the language?
In every big town there are tourists, though I haven’t found it worse than Madrid or Barcelona. Especially for August, Europe is pretty hard going everywhere because it’s so hot and the locals take their holidays. I thought everyone knew that sorry 🙂
Of course I know Europe is busy in the summer, but the effect is very different depending on the city. Prague and Budapest, for example, both see a lot of tourists in the summer (and we’ve spent July and August in each) but never had any issues. As busy as Prague gets, the center is actually very liveable (we stayed there 3 months and it’s one of our favorite cities). But numbers don’t mean everything, it’s how a city is spread out, as well as the infrastructure in different places (which is also determined with where locals live). Locals live everywhere in Prague, not just outside the city center, so you’ll find anything you need, almost anywhere and at local prices.
It was quite interesting to read your trip report on Lisbon and the comments that others made. I’ve just realised that I am not alone in my thoughts.
I’ve moved back to Portugal in 2010 after 20 years abroad, and settled in Lisbon. I’ve bought an apartment just off Praça de Espanha, so I am not right in the city centre but relatively close to it. Having lived in large cities like London and Chicago, I valued living close to the city centre and not having to depend on a daily commute by car or long/complicated trips by public transport.
6 years on, I am fairly disappointed with Lisbon. It isn’t the city that I once knew.
There are fewer local residents than ever before, most of the current residents are either well-off and live in the noble areas of the city, or are from the lower income classes and live in social housing or rent protected housing. Facilities like small supermarkets and shops disappeared from most neighbourhoods. The construction of large shopping malls and hypermarkets on the outskirts of Lisbon, killed off the traditional or small scale shops that existed on most streets.
As for the city centre, this is a “dead” area of the city, with almost no permanent residents. Entire streets are occupied by hotels and dodgy apartments, catering for transient visitors. Tourism is important to the city, everyone agrees, but in Lisbon, unregulated tourism is exploding to a degree that is damaging the city and its already deficient transport infrastructure.
Although the city authorities (Câmara Municipal) sees no problem with the currents levels of tourism, as a resident, I find afflicting the state of the city – there is rubbish everywhere, the streets are stained with stale beer, vomit and urine, rubbish bins filled to the brim, uncollected for days on end. There are beggars everywhere, parading every kind of disability for a few coins. Bands of young people (mostly non-Portuguese) “collecting” donations for non-existent charities (a new scam!). Even blind people lost all self respect and scour the underground trains begging for change. The nice Portuguese restaurants that used to exist in the city centre, with authentic and tasty food, disappeared or moved on to international trash cuisine, disguised as “Typical Portuguese” food for tourists.
Overall, tourism as it is right now, might be good for some property developes, hoteliers and the tax authorities, but for Lisbon residents, this is hell. I’ve recently visited Porto and it seems that they have done a brilliant job managing the growth of tourism and yet maintaining the city clean, well cared for, and free from the nuisance of beggars everywhere. There is a thing or two that Lisbon could learn from Porto!
Praça de Espanha – yes, we were there, just next to the Gulbenkian museum. And yes, you’ve pointed out a few other aspects I didn’t mention because I already knew I’d get in trouble with this post. I didn’t necessarily want to bash on Lisbon as some people have mentioned. The rubbish situation is bad and garbage cans everywhere are overflowing…that’s very noticeable. Beggars/scams…we see that almost everywhere and with the economic situation (almost everywhere) it is understandable to some degree but its always worse when there are lots of tourists.
Thanks for the comment, always good to hear from someone from the outside who chose to live there and has seen the changes. Good to know about Porto!
Interesting to hear your point of view. I have just come from Lisbon and did not have a great experience. What you describe is happening everywhere. I’m from Los Angeles, and developers are evicting entire apartment buildings of people from charming 1920’s style buildings, tearing them down and replacing with a concrete box of “luxury” Airbnb rentals. It’s horrible. It’s also happening out of control in San Francisco.
I travel a lot, and I travel a lot in Europe in particular, and Lisbon just seems to be in a really bad state, and it’s very sad. I’m here in October and the amount of tourists was overwhelming but more than that, it just seemed like every single person was a tourist and every shop was a chain store or a crappy souvenir shop, the cafes were bad, the service bad. Of course I see it in many cities but in Lisbon it just seemed like it had been taking to the extreme. In America, when something has gone to the extreme and has become ridiculous, we say it’s “jumped the shark”. It felt like Lisbon had jumped the shark. I’m sad I didn’t visit 20 years ago, I bet it was a great place then. It’s time for cities to regulate Airbnb. It’s ruining our communities.
Also, I’m in Porto now, and it’s no better. It feels like Disneyland.
Thank you for your comment MP. Of course I totally agree with you 🙂 You confirm everything I’ve said in this post and it’s nice knowing that we’re not crazy. It was a couple of years ago and sometimes I wonder “hmmm, could I have gotten it wrong?”. Then your comment and I remember all the things I didn’t like.
And as I say – it’s not Lisbon itself, it’s what has become of Lisbon. And that’s up to government to regulate which (like many places) they don’t.
Also good to know about Porto. I’ve had some people tell me Porto isn’t as touristy…but you confirm what some other people have said.
Thanks again for taking time to comment.
I’m a local, born right in the centre of Lisbon 36 years ago.
The explanation for the lack or even absence of amenities in downtown Lisbon is very easy to explain: the fact that (portuguese) people just don’t live there anymore.
To live in the city proper you either have to be very rich, poor or lucky enough to have inherited a house from their parents/grandparents.
The middle class has been systematically barred from living in the city because of housing prices always and forever beyond their grasp. The city went from 800000 people in 1961 to 550000 in 2011 and it’s still declining. Only 20% of people from the Lisbon Metropolitan Area actually live in the city.
But the last nail in the coffin came with this extremely recent, virtual invasion of hordes of tourists. With them came a huge wave of gentrification which ensured that the last, most of them old people living in the centre got booted out to make way for guest houses, hostels and hotels. That is also the reason these days Lisbon is full of cranes, amidst this frenzy of renovation. Perhaps when the dust settles the basic/amenities will finally arrive, but I don’t see that coming, as they exist where people actually live, not where people come for a 7-15 day stay.
I know now to avoid August travelwise because of the obvious neverending queues of tourists everywhere. Having been to most countries in Europe, including their capitals, I can safely say Lisbon is better than most in that respect. Coupled with the fact that the Portuguese choose that same month to go on holiday. you have the reason why in August Lisbon is pretty much a non-Portuguese speaking city.
Santos, Lapa, Campo de Ourique and Estrela areas are without metro stops (the only public transport that still isn’t utter shite) and therefore lousy places to get around.
Lisbon is fast becoming a theme park geared towards tourists and it makes me very sad/angry.
Vasco de Gama -> Vasco da Gama
Sao Roque -> São Roque
Caloust Gulbenkian -> Calouste Gulbenkian
Miradouro Jardim do Torel -> Miradouro do Jardim do Torel or simply Miradouro do Torel
Santa Caterina -> Santa Catarina
Belem -> Belém
Chiada -> Chiado
Very interesting comment. Someone else mentioned that locals didn’t live in the center but you put some numbers to it which is helpful.
Thanks for the corrections, I’ll have a look above and fix.I’m not quite sure how to find some of those accents on my keyboard though…
If you’d like to learn more…
The accents are already in your post. It’s a simple matter of copy/paste.
I’m also a local, though I still live right in the center. However, there’s a small difference (15 minute walk) between downtown and the places where people actually live.
I have to agree with you when it comes to the lack of supermarkets and similar stores downtown, but I do have to add that the concept of a drugstore is something completely outdated around here. People buy their hygiene or beauty products either at the supermarket or at specialized stores if you want better brands. I believe Lisbon is a very practical city but it’s not perfect: for example, the transportation system is terrible if you’re coming from the suburbs and this leads to an insane amount of traffic, there are around 3 million people living and commuting around Lisbon’s Greater Metropolitan Area and there’s no viable alternative to driving your own car when it comes to traveling to and from the city – however, having a car when you live in the city center is close to useless.
There’s something I’ve noticed about your post, you say you enjoy off-the-beaten-path places and that you didn’t have an authentic experience this time, but you appear to have stuck to touristic locations during your stay. You got an AirBnB in the most chaotic area of the city, you went to all the sightseeing spots and main monuments. Why not a tour around the beautiful and diverse gardens? Why not stay in pleasant neighbourhoods where locals actually live? It’s true that in a lot of places you’ll hear your neighbours walk around in their homes or hear their voices when they speak louder, but in a lot of places you’ll also hear birds singing in backyards or locals having a good time with friends and neighbours.
I think you missed out on a lot of the Lisbon experience, and I feel sad that my hometown didn’t welcome you properly. I would like you to know that we, the locals, are everywhere in this city: we work downtown, we take the 28 tram to go back home, we go shopping in Chiado, we go out at night in Bairro Alto and walk past monuments on our way to school. It’s not a once-in-a-month experience, we go to these places every single day and the amount of tourists also annoys us, but when the day is over we’re happy to be able to live in such an amazing place where there’s always something going on. I really hope you come back and this time, try to actually go around as a local. Try forums, Facebook, Reddit, whatever puts you in contact with people that can tell you where to start.
By the way, I hosted a foreign friend during August and tried to show her around the city and it was a terrible experience, mostly because of the reasons the previous commenter stated (local people are on vacation elsewhere, a lot of places are closed or catering for tourists only, huge queues everywhere). Also, sometimes you need a local to show you little secrets that tourists don’t know (e.g., quiet, beautiful places in Sintra, how to get cheaper tickets for the tram or how to get Pastéis de Belém faster 😉 ).
Hope to see you soon!
Sounds like your sightseeing experience with your friend was similar to ours!
Thanks Carolina for the tips and insights on commuting as a local.
Actually we did lots of walking in different parts of the city. The photos don’t reflect that because I’m also trying to capture places that tourists will want to see (most people reading this will be tourists/visitors). And although I know you can’t just visit just the tourist spots, you can’t come to Lisbon without seeing these same things (it’s a bit like going to Prague and avoiding the Charles Bridge). As for the Bairro Alto it wasn’t so much the neighborhood – I know the area everyone is picturing when they think Bairro Alto but we were about 10 minutes walk away from that on Rua Alegria, on the hill below Principe Real. The immediate area was actually very pretty and would have been fine wasn’t for the apartment itself and some of the impracticality of finding necessities in the area.
But as I say, the Portuguese were always helpful. I myself would be fed up if my city was trampled upon by hordes of tourists (we have that in Montreal but only in select areas).
Some of the comments in this article are fair (excessive tourism) but other just show your general mood/or lack of sensibility on that specific day. Lisbon is not perfect (no city is) but I think this was a dead on bashing.
To clarify, obviously your opinion as a traveller counts but here are some things that you probably dont know, even after staying for some months:
Lisbon is the safest Capital city in Europe ( and all American cities for that matter).
Lisbon is the cheapest of all Western European Capitals (and all American cities for that matter).
Lisbon is also (after Athens) the oldest capital city…its monuments may not be grand and with the “wow” factor but they played a much important
role in the history of mankind than all the “new world” cities put together, in fact Globalisation started here. A little bit more of historic sensibility wont harm…
No other Capital city in Europe boasts as many beaches, and all year around good weather.
Big Chain stores did not take completely over (just go to other Capital cities here or “across the pond” and all streets look like carbon copy of each other – same Starbucks, Pret-a-Porter-McDonalds…in a procession of samey/seen it before…just try Oxford Street in London….
More people speak English in here (they really shouldn’t, no one speaks my language when I travel abroad) than most European cities. Try Paris or Madrid for that matter…
Obviously, people , when travelling tend to criticise and compare the things they experience with their own way of thinking and perspective but travelling should educate you on that…things are not there to cater to you. Things are there because they are, take it or leave it. I found some comments really annoying like the lack of a cafe in a View point…That is exactly why Lisbon is losing its soul…trying to cater for people that dont live here, dont understand the fabric of the city, dont understand the soul of the city…and it s ironic that you (and rightly so) point to the fact that the city is overcrowded with tourism when you also complain about the lack of “this and that”…
Thanks for the comment Jorge.
All very good points (although I never mentioned anything about safety nor am I American). I didn’t think it was bashing and many of the people here didn’t take it that way. And I did say that it wasn’t all about Lisbon itself, which I said is beautiful. But I can understand how people can be sensitive to criticism of their cities. And it was more of a joke about that cafe at the View Point (it was mid 30’s and I had promised that we’d have a beer at the top…and it was the one viewpoint that didn’t have a cafe).
Some good facts and I appreciate that you took the time to comment.
Brussels, Madrid and Athens are probably cheaper than Lisbon at the moment. Lisbon just became incredibly expensive…
Hi. I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy your stay in Lisbon. It’s my town and I pretty much fall in love with it everyday, in the last 35 years, since I’m used to walk all the streets and climb all the hills since ever.
I’m sorry to disagree with the general impression that you give about Lisbon on this post. And a negative opinion tends to attract other negative opinions, it’s the typical mass behaviour (if you search elsewhere, you’ll see that the main opinions are quite different from those that appear here – and this doesn’t mean that your impression or my impression have less value, but it just gives us other valid points of view). Of course Lisbon has flaws, maybe a lot of flaws, as all the places have. But the way your post is written, it seems that Lisbon is a place to avoid, the negative points are given much more importance, that’s the general impression that is taken, and the truth is that Lisbon has a lot to offer if you are ready to focus your attention on the good unique points. I also travel, I also have bad experiences with particular things, accomodations, whatever, but I always look at what I lived and brought of positive. Mumbai in India is a very dirty place, but is that what I have to retain in memory when I go there?
You had a long stay in Lisbon, but did you really get to know Lisbon? To begin with, a month in Lisbon should have allowed you to also explore the outskirts, the palaces of Sintra (such as Palácio da Pena or the Quinta da Regaleira), the riverside and seaside from Belém to Cascais, the natural beaches on the west shore (such as the almost desert Praia da ursa, or Magoito, São Julião, Ribeira d’ Ilhas, Portinho da Arrábida, Ribeira do Cavalo,…), small villages like Ericeira, Azenhas do Mar, Sesimbra, Óbidos. Then, in Lisbon itself, a month should have given you the chance not only to visit the main attractions and spots, but also look for the local cultural vibe, which is intense, students and young people from all over the world, music, urban art.
I’m sorry, it’s just my opinion, who is shared by lots of friends and new friends that I meet here in Lisbon. Even this week I showed Lisbon to two brazilian friends that were here and they loved it, everyday morning they wanted to go out and asked me to take them to more places in the old town. Anyone who reads your page stays with an impression that is far from reality, even considering some bad points in Lisbon that you mentioned and that are true. But look at the scale and see where did you put much more weight. Even in basic aspects: there are minimarkets everywhere in Lisbon, you only go to the Colombo or to the Vasco da Gama or other shopping centers if you are a shopping addict or if you only buy branded goods; I live in Lisbon and I can pass years without going to a major shopping center if I want, there are minimarkets and shops, even from global benchmarks, everywhere, if not in my street, in the next street, in the next district, 5 minutes walking, 10, 15 minutes walking, three bus or Metro stations, whatever.
The main question is: as a traveller, when you go abroad, are you ready to abdicate from some things (such as impeccable facilities or comfort) in order to have others that will enrich you much more as a human and cultural and social being? Maybe Lisbon is not the destination for your kind of tourist, and I’m not saying that you are the problem, I’m just saying that we all have different tastes, necessities and expectations, and Lisbon is a place to be visited not only by those wishing to visit the major monuments, but also and mainly by those who can strip the tourist coat and be prepared to get lost in the alleys, hills, yards, in the local culture and way of living.
Negative points? Of course Lisbon has them. London has them. Madrid has them. Roma has them. I was robbed in Florence and in Compostela. Florence is beautiful, is it that what I have to retain from being there? And the system transportation in Florence compared to Lisbon? And the tons of tourists in Florence, the queues to visit everything? And the food? Is it that the most important in the whole experience, especially for someone that really enjoys travelling and meeting different natural, historical and cultural landscapes?
I think that on this post you centered too much on the negative points, that was the main subject, and you didn’t give yourself the chance to really look at the better and most unique side of Lisbon. And it has many, or it wouldn’t be attractive to tourists, foreign students and workers, people that come and make this their town. You were so centered on disliking Lisbon that somewhere it was even mentioned the heat in Lisbon… in August… in the south of Europe. Maybe if I go to the Fiordes in january I’ll be angry with the cold and I won’t enjoy the beautiful landscapes. I went to Florence in August and I had to wet my sandals in the fountains. A traveller must have an open mind, must be prepared to leave some things behind in order to take full advantage of all the experiences that he lives and that are the most important thing to keep and preserve for life.
Thank you for the comment Hugo. Many of your points have been covered in past comments so I’ll just briefly touch on them.
– I state in the post that anyone staying in Lisbon 7 days or less would probably love it, that it’s a beautiful place. This post was written from the perspective of “slow Travellers” – and as slow travellers we didn’t find that Lisbon made for a very convenient base. I also state that the time of year had much to do with our feelings, that Lisbon is best seen at another time of year. Many comments from locals indicate that tourism has exploded in past years.
– You call them “negative” points, I call them helpful and informative. I read a lot about Lisbon before our trip, everybody goes on and on about the beauty and the viewpoints and the fado and cuisine…without ever mentioning the crowds or, in our case, what Lisbon is like for the “slow traveller”. Guidebooks and magazines just want to sell a destination. This post won’t suit everyone (as I say, most visitors stay 3-5 days and will probably leave loving the city) but I wrote it from our experience as longer-term travellers.”A place to avoid”? No, not at all.
– I’ve mentioned Sintra in the comments, a place I went 25 years ago. Didn’t go this year precisely because of all the tourists (some blogger friends went while we were there and it was a disaster – if you think Lisbon was busy it seems Sintra was way worse). Besides, this post was on Lisbon itself.
Again, the major problem with Lisbon in August were the sheer number of locals that made a “local experience” close to impossible. I think reading this might help others consider visiting a different time of year.
Everything spot on. Just some notes for anyone coming here:
The portuguese are open and friendly and they’ll show you around but we’re mostly a ‘keep to ourselves’ culture – we won’t make first contact and “bother” you with a conversation – it’s part of our culture, we’re a different kind of latinos. Keep in mind that a lot of us speak two languages (at least) but the older generation will probably speak french (many fled the country during the Estado Novo – the longest dictatorship in Europe) while the younger generations will know proper English.
Lisbon has become a terrible example of Portugal. In the historic/oldest neighborhoods people are being evicted from their homes to give way to Airbnb and cheap hostels. So again, stay away from the city centre if you can. The south side of the Tagus river in Almada/Cacilhas is also a good option (a 10 minute boat ride from the city centre), with more of a proper neighborhood vibe, for now at least.
Portuguese love their cars. You’ll notice that between weekdays and weekends in Lisbon – the amount of cars in the streets is drastically reduced. My neighborhood is almost a ghost town on the weekends. That’s why you won’t see that many natives getting around on public transports and that’s why they sent you to Colombo – that’s a very typical (and dumb) mindset of our culture – if you want/need something you get in your car. If you visit smaller cities in Portugal you’ll notice that they have very little to none public transports – be very aware of this if you plan to visit other areas of the country. In Lisboa most groceries and local shops vanished because of that (and the bangladeshi and pakistani moved in). Even so, you still have municipal markets in most of the city neighborhood centre where you can buy cheap and fresh groceries. But if you need more specific stuff like creams or diapers… yeah.. good luck.
Lisbon is beautiful as a whole experience. I recommend skipping the tourist attractions and just hike around the town, you’ll have a lot more fun and maybe discover stuff you’ll love that isn’t still plagued with other tourists. And talk with the locals, we’ll help you and maybe show you around.
PS: You mentioned visiting Madeira – if I may – if you get to choose between Madeira and Azores pick Azores, you won’t regret it. It’s one of the most beautiful places on this planet and with very few tourist around (yet). Madeira is pretty and all but is like an Ibiza for families, it lives for tourism. The Azores isles are terrific and a great place to hike, ride a bicycle (offroad) or whale watching (but bring your drivers license – again very few public transports outside Lisbon and Porto). And if you plan to visit more than one island (which I recommend doing) book your ferry boat/flights before, they’ll be a lot cheaper.
Fantastic comment, you’ve covered a few things not mentioned before.
Spot on in your description of the Portuguese. Maybe not outwardly the most friendly, but talk to them and they’ll go out of their way to help you out. On the first day there I struggled finding a grocery store and ran into a policeman. For 10 minutes we went over a map together and he pointed me in the right direction. Very helpful people, good English language skills (unlike Spain and France). Very different kind of Latinos as you say and you put our impressions into words.
Cars. Very true. Traffic dies on the weekends in many parts of Central Lisbon. And another reason, as some have pointed out, that no large grocery stores are in central Lisbon – locals get in their cars, drive to a shopping center, and stock up.
Totally agree about the beauty overall, the city itself as a whole is beautiful but I don’t personally think many of the individual sites are mind-blowing (except for a few that I’ve mentioned above).
Thanks for the Azores tip.
Thank you Jorge for the comment.
Tag Along Deb
Very interesting post. I visited Lisbon about 12 years ago and it looks like there’s been increased tourism even since then. Mind you, we visited in May, I think. The Airbnb conundrum is a tricky one. We’ve had a number of great month-long stays and a few less-than-great week-long stays. If those had been for a month, it would have been excruciating. I still far prefer Aribnb to a hotel.
We’re generally big fans of Airbnb and as full-time travellers we stay in Airbnb apartments probably 3/4 of the year. We usually do our research and do quite well, have had very few bad experiences…the one in Lisbon was our worst. But it is also worrying when entire neighborhoods get filled with short term apartments and as some people have said, it ruins neighborhoods and raises prices across the bar for locals. It’s not a good thing and I personally think municipalities have to regulate so that you don’t get property bubbles created by outside factors like foreign speculators or renting to tourists.
May I ask you how old are you and how much you have travelled so far?
Hi Vera. More about us here https://bbqboy.net/about-us/
Afterhours reading this post I would swear you where a boy in your 30’s. Very childish and superficial. Lisbon does not need you, stay away all year long. Thank you.
Typical Portuguese ignorant answer for everything they don’t agrre with “go home…don’t come back..blah blah blah”
A country of lazy arrogant rude ignorants that don’t even respect the tourism that brought you put of the 2 bankrupcy of a country that is stuck in the mid 70s but pretends to be a luxury destination!
You are pathetic and you will be definitely going into s third recession soon…and this time you deserve it!
Hi Frank, as a portuguese, thank you so much for sharing your opinion about Lisbon, I confess that I didn’t read all the feedback and your answers so I’m sorry if I repeat something that has been said many times before. I’m very sorry you didn’t have the experience you were hoping for. I felt really bad when I read you didn’t like the food in Lisboa, because food is one of the things we are most proud of our country, it’s a shame Lisboa can’t serve amazing food like in the rest of the country. Everything else you said, I totally agree with you and it’s very good to know tourists feel the same. Like you’ve stated, you came in the worse time to Portugal, I live in very south and if I could, I would go somewhere else during the summer because I really, really hate it, but I’ve seen that you’ll be back so I look forward to read your experience in that time because you really know what you’re talking about. For me Lisboa is also not such an amazing city to visit concerning the views (I so agree with you about Praça do Comércio), but I love Lisboa because of it’s history, it really amazes me, I guess that if you know the history behind, everything becomes more “magical”. But most of all you are right, tourism is killing Lisboa (a “cheap” room in Lisboa now costs more than half of minimum salary, it’s insane).
I didn’t see photos of Gulbenkian’s garden so if you didn’t go there, you must, trust me. And also Sintra, have you been there? Keep up the good work
Hi Margarida. I think there is a misunderstanding because we DID like the food and wine in Portugal! 🙂
And yes, we did go to the Gunbenkian museum and it was very impressive seeing all the old Asian and European art and artifacts. Sintra no – I was there 25 years ago (it was incredible) but there were too many tourists this time so we did not go.
Thank you for your comment!
If you visit Lisbon you have to go the the other side of the river and visit Cristo Rei statue in Almada.
There are a few good restaurants in Cacilhas, Almada.
You can also visit Costa de Caparica if you like surfing.
If you want to visit Lisbon and not find tourist, visit Alentejo 🙂
Thank you Flor! Good tips.
Hi! I’m portuguese and I live in the north of the country (near Porto).
I visited Lisbon with my boyfriend earlier this month because until that point we only visited Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Zoo (school fieldtrips), and we felt like we needed to visit the capital of our country at least once in our lives.
Although we loved visiting Lisbon, I agree with a lot of what you wrote in this post. In only two nights, we had five drug dealers trying to sell us drugs, and they even showed us stuff that we’ve never seen before (without us asking to). We were always on high alert because of that, and scared because there wasn’t a single police officer near us at any moment. We were at a very busy area (Rossio Square, Rua Augusta, Praça do Comércio).
There were times we couldn’t enjoy the view because there was so many people in the way. Lisbon felt like a foreign city to us. It was more common to listen people speaking english, french, spanish and other languages, than to listen portuguese. While visiting monuments and such, here were more times we were actually greeted in english rather than portuguese…
Something that also bothered us was the smell in the majority of the streets. There is a portuguese song that says “It smells good… It smells like Lisbon”, so we got really confused when we actually got to smell Lisbon. Because it didn’t smell good at all.
I don’t know if you ever got to visit Porto, I highly recomend you to. Porto is the city I fall in love everytime I visit… And I study there, so I actually go there every week, which is nice 🙂
It must have been the stench of tourists overpowering the smells of Lisbon 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment Catarina
Sand In My Suitcase
Sounds like you had rotten luck with your Airbnb in Lisbon! If you’d had a better apartment (and got more sleep), and stayed outside of summer in high season, you might have felt better about Lisbon… Too bad your stay was a little disappointing… Your photos, however, are beautiful, as always, and (except for the ones with crowds, etc.) show the city in a really nice light :-).
Thank you Janice 🙂
Of course everybody is free to tell about their own experience and report whatever they felt. But choosing to visit Lisbon in the high season at its peak is like visiting most important capital cities at the same time: be it Paris, London, Prague, Rome, Vienna, Barcelona or any other, August is jammed, overcrowded and sometimes a ‘happy’ mess all over. Try to visit the Louvre in August….lol. So, as experienced travellers you might have wanted to choose some other period (maybe May?!). Before choosing an acommodation I always look for the best places and quarters: choosing Bairro Alto, one of the most crowded and busiest nightlife spots in the city, consisting mostly of old brick houses who let all sounds pierce through, was not one of the brightest ideas….As far as old neighbourhoods are concerned you might have wanted to look for Castelo or Mouraria, or some other quieter and more modern parts of town, these latter ones with quick access to the center by underground. Complaining about tram 28 being crowded is really silly, I’m afraid. Did you really think the 28 would be free for you alone in august? Maybe you don’t know the 28 is not to start with a tourist attraction: it is a public transportation tram, which became a tourist attraction because of it’s route, which criss-crosses the city and some of its most important sightseeing points. In a beautiful and charming city like Lisbon, you either have tourists with some inconvenience, or you won’t travel to a tourist destination at all. Pretending to have, in Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood consisting mostly of old narrow streets a big supermarket is senseless. As to the alleged drug dealers, yes, they are a nuisance, as most pickpockets in the world’s major cities (and it is far worse in Prague or Paris, for example!), but they don’t even sell drugs, but a mixture of tea leaves with Knorr broths (that is why the police have given up arresting them), so you just simply should ignore them, until we can manage to deal with them the right way. As far as criminality rates go, Lisbon is one of the safest cities in Europe! As to the wow caused by Lisbon’s sightseeing points I don’t know if you really expected the likes of the Grand Canyon or the Iguaçu waterfalls. Maybe if you didn’t, you should have tried the Monument of the Discoveries from the top, or climbing the Christ on the bank opposite do Lisbon. The charm of Lisbon resides in its hills and old neighbourhoods, the beautiful estuary of the Tagus, the bridges, the close relationship with the river, its hospitable and mostly smiling people, its great food and wine, its bright blue sky, its unique lighting, the seaside resorts and beautiful beaches in the vicinity, and the surroundings (like Sintra and other beautiful places). Maybe some other time you should try to plan ahead where to stay and do, or try an isolated, lonely, tourist-free city in order to have a less annoying experience. It isn’t Lisbon’s fault, It is one of the most ravishingly beautiful, extraordinary, peaceful and welcoming cities in the world!
Many of your points have been addressed before:
– We were not in the nightlife area of the Bairro Alto, it was actually a nice spot just below Principe Real – lots of locals live there and they have quite upscale apartments.
– “Did you really think the 28 would be free for you alone in august?” Well no, but 8:30 on a Sunday morning and it was packed tighter than one of your sardine cans. My point was the amount of tourists descending on Lisbon’s attractions.
– Many old cities still manage to have decent supermarkets in the center because locals live there. As many locals themselves have stated in these comments, that is seriously lacking in central Lisbon. That was my point.
– On safety I agree with you and never said Lisbon was unsafe. Yes, very safe.
I’ve said that Lisbon is beautiful but also said that we didn’t have many “wow” moments, that Lisbon is more beautiful as a whole than for it’s individual sights. That’s of course subjective, what might blow your socks off might not do the same for me. Sevilla, where we are now, impresses me much more than Lisbon. But again, that’s personal and we can all have our own opinions. As far as great food, wine, and hospitable people I agree with you 😉
I’m a native, i live outside lisbon, yet everyday i come here to work at Baixa-Chiado. I understand your point of view, and guess what? I agree. It’s unbeliveble the amount of tourists in this area. Sometimes, to manage to pass by a crowd, I have to say “escuse me” in english… in my portuguese country, in my sweet portuguese lisbon. Nevertheless, i feel sorry for several stuff: 1. you came in the worst month. Every portuguese are in vacation in august, so, you cannot met locals. 2. Waaayyyy to hot to be in a city. The best thing for me, is that days are big, so I can drink a beer with my friends after work. Or even go to the beach, because it’s so close. 3. I would love! To live in lisbon… but its too expansive and everything is going to arbnb 🙁 with this, i think lisbon is loosing its essence. 4. Don’t go to Sintra… at least, at those places everyone goes. There are, in Sintra, so much to see and, in my opinion, so much beatifull places (and chepear!). you must go to Arrabida as well, that is overwelming!
I love travel and already lived in spain, but, after all, i don’t see me living and working any elsewhere… you have to belive me: lisbon is magical!
Thank you Daniela! I think we feel the same way 🙂
Lisbon is a magical… mess 🙂 unfortunately the best jobs are located here and the locals have to bear this shit
I’ll start by stating that I’m Portuguese. I live in the suburbs of Lisbon and often do the whole “tourist in my own city” thing. I realise that tourism has indeed increased a lot in recent years and there is a real danger of ruining the whole experience. But the good thing about people sharing their experiences is that other people planning to visit can benefit from it and plan their trip to have the best time possible. I’ve travelled pretty much all around Europe (just recently got back from Budapest actually) and I do just that.
So I too would say that it’s best to avoid staying in Bairro Alto and coming in August – it’s actually the month of holidays for the locals so the city will seem to be taken by tourists and no portuguese people in sight. The weather is nice almost all year, and that way you can also avoid the prices during high season and the establishments that are closed or understaffed because of the summer holidays. As for buying groceries, I’ve felt exactly that in other cities but Lisbon takes it to an extreme – one time I was on foot and really needed a pharmacy and couldn’t find any nearby. The reason for this, I would guess, is that there’s not many people living downtown, people who live in Lisbon instead of the suburbs live a little further way.
I must say that I’m a bit surprised that your trip didn’t include the train ride to Cascais or a day spent in Sintra, considering a month long stay. Both are so beautiful and exquisite, it would most certainly have made a difference on your opinion. Then again, there’s always somethings we have to leave out so that we have an excuse to come back!
Thanks for the feedback Ana, hope you enjoyed Budapest (one of our favorite cities!).
We didn’t go to Sintra – a place that I loved 25 years ago – because another blogging couple we know went there during the same time and told us it was a nightmare. Too many people. So we decided to save our money and go to a nice restaurant instead. Next time!
i’m portuguese, but dont actually live in lisbon. I agree with the comments talking about august being a bad choice, but not just because it is when other tourists are visiting.. August is the holiday month for us too, which means all the “locals” of Lisbon are being tourists somewhere else! So its normal that you only saw tourists because all the locals were gone. Also not a lot of people actually live in the bairro alto downtown area, i think mostly the old people who have lived there all their lives, so mostly people live in surrounding areas or even suburbs, which adds to the tourist factor.
Plus, a lot of those old charming buildings are built in a paper thin walls kind of way, portuguese people typically complain about their noisy neighbours, and often we look forward to living in a house so we dont have to worry about that. I grew up with my parents complaining about noisy neighbours. But when i lived in London it was pretty similar, I could hear their loud noises too.. So i think it was more like a bad airbnb and poor timing. I think you would love it the next time you visit seen as you would have this experience to guide you away from the bad spots. Regardless though, you will not likely have the same exact experience you had 25 years ago because the city has changed and evolved and grown. Like all cities do i guess. Soo it would always be different even if you visited regularly! 🙂
I hope as a portuguese person, that you come back and love it. We like people liking our country! 🙂
Thank you Olga for the kind comment. I’ve found it really surprising to hear about all these old buildings with paper-thin walls…in most places the old buildings are always the ones that are best insulated. Maybe this one was especially bad, it was almost like someone else was walking around in our bedroom.
Portuguese people are very kind, we hope to come back one day 🙂
I just stayed in the barrio alto for 1 night (booked for 3 but left after 1). I’ve stayed in apartments all over Europe and never had this much of an issue with the noise and paper thin walls. And the paper thin walls has continued at a couple hotels. Usually those old buildings have stone walls and you can’t hear anything thru them. I don’t get it.
Because we don’t get it either.
I agree that if you are staying more than a week, it is better to stay just outside the city center near a metro.
I am sad that you did not have a good experience, but considering you stayed a month I would have that you visit surrounding areas by train – ex SIntra and Mafra.
Also a weekend trip to Porto or Coimbra would have been nice.
miguel vale de almeida
As a Lisboner, I live uptown and seldom go downtown. I am always surprised to see that most visitors stick to the latter. Only. To “live” a city is to let yourself mingle with the locals and their everyday life. You seem to have had a bit of that experience when you mention going to the gym. You should have done more of that 😉 – and NOT have stayed in Bairro Alto (that sounds like OMG to a Lisboner, sorry). (When I visit a foreign city I always try to stay in a “normal” part of town – better even at friends’ – and I prefer to walk around, take buses, go the grocery store, follow the habits of my local friends as much as possible. I usually shrug my shoulders at “sites”…. Well, better luck next time, I guess (but do avoid the tourist invaded areas).
We try to balance out the locals vs tourist thing when choosing a location because you want to not be too far from sights while also having all the commodities you need living as a local. It’s why we avoided Baixa and Alfama, but obviously we found out that the Bairro Alto wasn’t the greatest either for people staying as long as we did. Thanks for taking the time to comment Miguel 🙂
Hi Frank you mentioned that you’re from Montreal. I would like to make an analogy: think of Downtown Lisbon (Baixa) as Old Montreal. It’s touristy and charming, but not a reflection of real local life in Montreal, not to mention expensive. Anyway, just thought I would throw that out there. Hopefully, over time Lisbon will be able to adapt and not become a victim of its own success. Cheers!
Yes, perfect analogy about Old Montreal = Baixa John. I never had doubts about that and it’s the reason we didn’t stay in that area. It’s also why we didn’t stay in Alfama. Where we stayed in the Bairra Alto was fine and would have been great if not for the lack of supermarkets But I find it curious when people start listing all the different neighborhoods in Central Lisbon and start saying “you should have known not to stay here, and here, and here…” I’m a bit surprised there’s not more in day-to-day type stores when there are so many locals living in some of these areas. I’m wondering where people living next to Principe Real go to get their groceries for example (maybe, like so many places these days, they get in their cars and stock up at the closest shopping mall on weekends).
But yes, your example is perfect, not much of the way of “local infrastructure” in Old Montreal.
I’m not a Lisboner (I live in Cascais close by), but I would suspect they do get in their cars and go to Continente on a regular basis, heck that’s what I do 🙂 I suppose they go to the mid-sized supermarkets in the city sometimes or the few remaining mom and pop fruit stands, but I’d be willing to bet Jumbo in the burbs and Continente in Colombo is where they go, although, like I said, I’m not a Lisboner, so I’m not an expert on their shopping habits. I guess what people mean by “you shouldn’t stay in Central Lisbon” is you should avoid the hullabaloo created by the recent wave of tourists and go to less central neighbourhoods that are still “normal.” Take care
Portugal is more than Lisbon, we have beautiful citys in the north of Portugal. In one month you can visit Guimarães, Braga and Porto, the most beautiful cities in Portugal.
Hi! I agree with you on most issues about Lisbon.
As a local, I’m glad you stayed here for a month, that’s a good way of getting to know the city. I’m sorry you were told to buy your stuff in Colombo shopping – both Armazéns do Chiado and Amoreiras shopping centres would have been better choices, because they are closer to the city centre. However, I suggest you go to other city areas when you return to Lisbon, like Arco do Cego garden, Quinta das Conchas park, Campo Grande garden, Jardim da Estrela, Campo de Ourique and Parque das Nações, the area that welcomed World Exposition in 1998 – a little bit crowded but not like downtown area. These areas are full of locals 🙂
Unfortunalety it is true: we (locals) try to avoid the downtown area during daytime, it’s crowded and you just can’t move. Nonetheless, nightlife at Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré districts is also full of portuguese people too. Many of us used to work in downtown area some years ago, but most of banks and public services buildings are now occupied by hotels and souvenir shops. Most of us now work in Saldanha and Entrecampos, or even Lumiar.
I live in Amoreiras district, near Marquês de Pombal and Largo do Rato, and many people who lived here chose to move to Lisbon suburbs (Oeiras, Cascais, Amadora, Loures, Odivelas, Vila Franca de Xira and so on) because they were looking for a better house for children, in a place with schools, hospital and lots of parking. In my district, there are no schools for 1st grade children, the nearest hospital with emergency service is São José, located near Martim Moniz, which is an overcrowded, old building (dates back to the 16th century). Parking the car is just impossible. The apartments are old. Just to say that before the “tourist invasion” there were already many people leaving the city centre and moving to the suburbs. Even my parents moved to the suburbs because they want a quiet place to live. But for me there’s nothing like the city centre and I chose to stay here because I don’t have to park the car and stuff. And it’s not very noisy. I’m one of the few youngers who live here – many inhabitants are old and unable to go outside (most buildings don’t have elevator / lift); all my friends live in other areas or even in the suburbs. It’s better for me than having to lose 2 hours or something travelling in slow buses or trains to the suburbs – these are places without authenticity, where houses are equal and cars dominate the scene. At least in the city centre we have public transportation, not so good but acceptable.
But you are right: tourism is ruining our beloved city. Here and in Alvalade, Areeiro, Campo Grande or Lumiar tourism pressure is not so visible like in downtown area and Bairro Alto (in my neighbourhood, up to today, there’s only one hostel and no Airbnb buildings), but the rents are getting higher because owners are pressured by the council (that bunch of corrupt guys who don’t care about the city’s authenticity and just want to earn the money from taxes to ensure they can do the works – they say – “to turn the city into a better place”) into selling their apartments and buildings in order to build hotels and things like these. The tuk tuk plague is also unbearable – they are very noisy and they have nothing to do with the city.
The corrupt politicians got what they wanted: a city centre without locals living there and made for tourists, and now even tourists don’t like it. Many people have predicted this would happen and it’s very sad what they are doing to our city.
But I hope you can still enjoy our beautiful Lisbon, like I do, despite all this mess 🙂
Thank you so much for this comment Pedro, very insightful and it’s really good to hear the version of locals.
Thank you for the honest article and the great photos!
As a lisboeta, I can tell you that massive tourism is as disagreeable for you as it is for us. We can’t walk around without the hordes of tourists and living in typical neighborhoods is out of the question. The price has gone up just about as much as the noise (imagine you lived in that house, surrounded with airbnb…).
I am very sorry that people told the nearest store was in Colombo! That’s on the other side of town!
When visiting Portugal (anywhere in Portugal) look up online for big stores like Pingo Doce, Continente and Auchan. They all have those big stores in shopping malls (like Colombo) and smaller ones around the neighborhoods. Of course you have the traditional mini stores in every street and for drugstore stuff you can ask in your local store for a “drogaria” (drugstore). There aren’t as many as mini stores, but you’ll find one in almost every neighborhood. It’s not as cheap as in the big stores, but also not as expensive as the pharmacy products.
Now, people, I have a big favor to ask of you, tourists: please send those very honest texts directly to the tourist offices. The mayor should know that mass tourism is really getting to the tourists themselves and we are not just making this up. People will eventually get fed up of all the problems and spread word around. Tourism is a big part of our economy and we like showing our lovely city around, but it has to stay a nice place, for you as much as for us.
Do try to come back in another time of the year. There is still a lot to say and see about this city and all around.
Thank you so much Helena for the great comment. Tourism is great up to a certain point…but too much of it and it smells like sardines left out in the hot sun for a few days. I’ll share this post with Visit Lisboa. Don’t expect anything though 🙂
I stumbled across this blog post through your Facebook advertisement, and I have to say, I found it really bizarre.
On the one hand I completely agree with your observation that a few spots throughout the city are completely overrun by tourists in the Summer. We call those “tourists spots”, and we mostly avoid them when we’re not in the mood for big crowds.
I just find it weird that full time travelers would go to a city capital for a month and make their base in the middle of “tourist central”? Shouldn’t you have done some homework before? Especially since there’s so much to see (talk about WOW factor) if you just step a little bit outside the comfort of the same 10 places your tourist guidebook recommends. This is the information age, you can find pretty much everything online, if you look for it. Not that I need to tell you that… you’re bloggers!!
I don’t think your main problem was coming in August, since one whole month in more than enough to get the tourist stuff out of the way and still explore the many wonderful things the city has to offer. I honestly feel like you were just a little bit complacent and didn’t care to open up to the possibility of getting to know the city as a local, and not just a tourist.
The fact that you don’t mention Cascais, Sintra, Parque das Nações, or even Entre Campos, is very strange for someone who stayed here for a whole month. My travels abroad are usually no more than a week or two, and still my regret is always not having more time to explore deeper into the places I’m visiting. Sure, I didn’t get to stay in line to go inside Casa Batlló yet (there’s time for that soon), but I bet I know one or two spots in Barcelona that not even every local’s been to.
So, just to clarify, I’m not offended or saddened that you didn’t enjoy my city, I’m just confused by your inertia, given your apparent experience as travelers. And I can’t help but wonder how this sort of thing doesn’t happen to you more often.
“Tourist posts” are also Lisbon’s historical highlights and nobody is going to come here and not see them. We saw many other things while here, not all covered by the photos obviously because otherwise it would never have ended…As far as Cascais, Sintra as well as the Algarve (all of which I visited in a prior visit) we didn’t visit for the reasons I’ve already mentioned in passing in these comments. And honestly, the modern highlights of Parque das Nações held no interest to us, good fun if you have kids, but we’ve seen our share of Oceanariums and fancy modern monunuments.
We work as we travel (normal 9-5 hrs, or in our case 7-3), so obviously we aren’t walking around all day visiting sites. We try to fit in a place and live much as locals do…obviously some places are easier than others. And as mentioned in these comments, we were not in the heart of the Bairro Alto where all the bars are, we were on the hill between Praca da Alegria and Principe Real. A nice area in fact where many locals live.
Could we have pushed ourselves to do more? Yes, but honestly we weren’t that motivated. We instead chose to visit some of the quiet parks in the city and read a book which is probably what most locals would do in +35C weather and no shade. If/when we come back it would obviously be at another time of year based on this experience 😉
What a pity, i think Lisbon is lovely, probably you just had bad luck, sometime it happens. Yes it’s crowded of tourist, but i suppose it is exactly because of that: it’s lovely, as Barcelona is crowded, Paris, Amsterdam… Speaking of Amsterdam, i was literally attacked by guys trying to sell me drugs!! Sorry, for your bad experience, but i don’t see another place where you would be more happy, than my Lisbon. Portuguese kiss.
HA! 🙂 Thank you for the lovely comment Paula. People like you are why we’ll be back one day but during another time of year.
I hope so, you just let me know, i’ll show you an interesting city, far away from touristic places, and annoying foreigners!
I am sorry to hear you had so many problems with your stay in Lisbon!
Maybe next time you should visit Porto… It is a beautiful city that will make you fall in love.
The city also attracks many toutist, but overall it is easier to walk around and get to see everything it has to offer.
I have also read a suggestion for you to visit Gerês. It is a great place for hiking, very quiet and beautiful. You won’t see many tourists around and you’ll find it very nice.
I have also been to Madeira and I can promise you will love it!! The views are breathtaking… You’ll see many tourist, but you’ll be able to visit everything you want. I went there in April and I didn’t find the city full of tourists. I was able to walk around freely and talk to many locals.
It is amazing to have hot weather down by the ocean and snow at the top of the mountains.
I think there is nothing to dislike about Madeira. The people are nice, the food is fantastic, the hikes amazing … You’ll fall in love! 🙂
Thank you Maria for your suggestions. I know I would love Madeira, have seen some posts on it and it is a great place to hike, the geography seems fantastic. We were in Lisbon when the fires were burning out of control on the island – I hope it recovers quickly. It really is a place that is high on my list to visit.
I couldn’t say better, when you mentioned the fact of being overcrowded. I think as a natural from Lisbon, that it is not that good to the city in a medium/long therm. I agree that for long stays downtown is not the place. The main core for social life for Lisbon people goes up north, that’s why you have a lot of shopping places and big one. With time we did not gave any attention to local grosseries and place everything in those places, also people got out of downtown and started to live in the north part or surroundings of Lisbon, that messed up everything.
Well i definitely think Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and with a lot to offer… but March to May are the best times, as well as October-November. This year June-August i which i could go away, horrible time to be here… i totally understand your rewiew. It’s the Truth! By the way i do not understand those big waitings to go in the Belem Tower… it has nothing! The best is to look at it! I hope we learn on what is wrong and fix it… but Lisbon is Lisbon, Magical! But not in the summer… 😀 See you soon!
I’m glad you said that about the Belem tower because I was really wondering if it was worth it…it’s a UNESCO world heritage site so tourists always think “wow, it must be worth visiting”. I think sometimes we are all sheep.
Thanks for your comments Nuno, always happy when someone agrees with me 🙂
I’m a portuguese from the Azores and I’m amused by all your comments. As a matter of fact, there is a little detail you might have forgotten in your “report”: Portugal is a country with people inside; real people who, for almost 900 years, have shapped their towns and cities according to their particular needs, their own sense of aesthetics and their love for them. Lisbon (or any other place in my country) was not built and do not exist to satisfy (or not) your expectations. Our monuments and our Miradouros were not built for you, or any other thirsty turists, to seat there and complain about the amount of other turists who decided, just like you, to visit Portugal. The irony and the ridicule of your complaints is that YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM you so strongly point out.
Thanks for your comment Brites. So, as a tourist (and a blogger) am I not allowed to mention my opinion on a place? If I had read a post like mine prior to considering Lisbon in August I would have reconsidered the time of year I would have visited. And that’s why I write posts such as this. I see that you have your own blog and that you voice your own opinions on places so…
Of course people haven’t built a city for tourists, that’s true of almost anywhere. But there are tons of shiny, glossy articles on Lisbon (Turkish Airlines had their own feature which we were reading on our flight to Lisbon) which write about how beautiful the city is without any mention of tourists, weather, or any travel tips on when to visit. Judging by the comments on this post, people also like to see real travel experiences, because not all travel experiences come straight out of a travel magazine.
I think some people actually only read the title… As i said come in the Fall or Spring, the idea will be diferent.
I think to travel should be to get an idea on how it is a country or city by itself, not for tourist… well Lisbon is changing and being all for tourist and not for itself…that is why is getting less interesting.
I went several times to Kathmandu and the get the city and nepalese i stayed in Boudhanath in the middel of the Buddhist Heart… if not and go to a five star hotel and do organized visits… well it’s like going to the zoo.. same here or anywhere…
Thanks for your input Nuno. I agree, we’re not 5 star travellers either and we’ll usually do the same stuff local people do: work (because we work as we travel), do our shopping, laundry and cooking, go to the gym, walk around and have a drink and try to experience a place…some places we fit in and feel comfortable, in others we feel like part of the circus (or zoo) as you say. We’ve even done it in Prague and you can live like a local even in August. It wasn’t the case for us in Lisbon for many of the reasons we’ve cited and which you’ve confirmed. People say “well duh, didn’t you do your homework?”. Things change quickly and no guide will even tell you (unless maybe writing about Venice or Rome) how a place is swarming with tourists. Sometimes you just have to see/experience it for yourself.
Thank you, we will come back one day and experience it in a very different time of year 🙂
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
I spent a week in Lisbon and loved it!:) it was our honeymoon!:)
That’s probably why you enjoyed it so much Tanja! 😉 🙂
I really appreciated reading your report. You highlight some very valid points that Lisbon has to face as it transitions from a “quaint and obscure” destination to a “mass-tourism” destination. One thing you really, really should try sometime soon is to come back in the Autumn or Spring. I myself feel Lisbon is a “lost cause” during late July and August, but off-peak season, the city is still highly enjoyable. And, as with Rome, Paris or Venice, you will find most tourists tend to stick to a handful of streets and monuments, leaving all the rest of the city to explore at will!
Thank you Pedro, much appreciate!
First off, I live in Lisbon, so I’m obviously partial to the discussion.
But I have traveled to over 50 countries and this is what I make of it:
If you stay in the center of a big city in the peak of summer you will be swarming with tourists. Any guidebook will tell you so. August in Lisbon is particularly bad as a huge amount of Portuguese are on holidays, they flock to the beaches, etc.
Lisbon, in comparison with the majority of European capitals is dirt cheap. This has attracted many more tourists and has pushed locals to suburbs. I know of many cases where people decide to put their houses on airbnb and moved somewhere else.
Your accommodation choice was indeed unfortunate, and I believe that probably made a huge difference. Bairro Alto is sort of a party all night long neighborhood. Next time try Estrela or Campo de Ourique.
This is reflected in the difficulty regarding shopping. Being in the center, which has been taken over by tourists, there aren’t in fact that many shops, even though they do exist (there’s a supermarket with pretty much anything you may need just bellow the castle – Pingo Doce; and another one next to the Parliament, near Santos – not that far from Bairro Alto – Minipreço).
The food and restaurant comments are where I would have to disagree most. You can eat spectacularly well in Lisbon for a fraction of the price of most European cities. Maybe with the tourist surge, not so good places have sprawled up. But if you do a little homework you’ll be greatly rewarded. And Lisbon has been recently been hailed internationally as THE PLACE in Europe for foodies. There are so many fantastic places…! It’s a shame you didn’t get to see that.
Drop me a line before coming again…
Thank you Philip – but I never (I believe) made any comments about food and restaurants. We in fact had some very good experiences in a few neighborhood restaurants (our favorite was Toscardosa right off Principe Real). Enjoyed Portuguese food and wine in restaurants but as I say the grocery store story was something else which is something that has been discussed at length in these comments…but that was something else. No, we enjoyed Portuguese food and wine and I’m sorry if I somehow gave impressions to the contrary.
I’ve also mentioned that we didn’t stay in the party part of the Bairro Alto, we were actually in a nice area (just below Principe Real). Unfortunately the apartment was falling apart and was an Airbnb guetto which we realized after a few days.
Appreciate you comment Philip.
I can only say… wow, and oh.
I’ve heard a lot about Lisbon and this is actually the first complete post I read about it. As I read about the highlights and viewspoints I thought “wow, I want to visit it! Even if there are a lot of stair, I love great views from above!”.
Then… the last part. “Oh”. I think someone mentioned that Airbnb was really taking over the city (which means many tourists) but I didn’t imagine it could be that bad. As other commenters said, maybe it was the high season… I would still like to visit it, but in the low season!
Thanks for all the information!
Thank you Laia, hope the post helped!
I live in Lisbon, I’m Portuguese. I live in Bica, wich is a very well known small neighbourhood with an elevator – right below to Bairro Alto, in the river’s direction. I’ve had 2 or 3 of the 6 apartments in my building with Airbnb renting. Now there’s none. For a year and a half at least I have constant construction noise during the day. Several buildings are being renewed and the big building you have on your left when you arrive to Miradouro de Sta. Catarina is being reconstructed to become a 6star hotel (that’s what I heard – by the way, everyone here hated the new Adamastor – the other name for the miradouro – but it’s always been a place where young people go to smoke joints and drink beer from 1L bottles, play guitar and hand drum jams, and always with the hashish dealers). The renewal and reconstruction works become afordable when the revenues of the tourism business are at sight. I have a very small flat. My bedroom is the livingroom, as the interior bedroom of the house is for my daughter. The street is narrow and most of the apartments with view to my living/bedroom are “tourist apartments”. When I climb the elevator’s street, wich is my street, my neighbourhood, as I’m getting to the top of the street, I always have to look the ground because I don’t want my face on anyone’s vacation’s photos. When I have my daughter by my hand it’s more uncomfortable.
Lisbon isn’t ours anymore – as well as the entire country. It’s been and being sold.
I moved here 14 years ago. Back then, there were tourists, but there were no tuk-tuks (one thing you didn’t mention on your post, but that is probably one of the most visible signs of “the change” – in, I don’t know, 4 or 5 years, they are a plague).
To talk about how Lisbon has become awful is one of the moment’s subjects of conversation. It’s like talking about the weather.
But then I think about when I went to Venice for the first time. And about other european capitals. Lisbon has become an european capital – that’s what I say in those conversations. That’s about it.
After I surpassed that sensation of usurpation – wich is cruel – I think that, in the same way, the Lisboa of the time of Fernando Pessoa or of Eça de Queiroz isn’t coming back. This is Lisboa now. And somehow I like it. I have to live here. So, I might as well like it. Somehow, the city is alive, and well alive.
The real sad thing about this is that Portugal is losing sovereignty as it loses its economical autonomy. Thus the uncontrolled rise of tourism in Lisbon and in other places. We’re one of Europe’s beaches – and one of Europe’s bitches.
Very well written and sad. For tourists it doesn’t matter – and that’s the problem, nothing really matters. The majority come, they have a good time in the bars and restaurants, they walk up and down the hills taking photos and then they go home “knowing Lisbon”. That’s the new world today. We, Spanky and I, may stay longer and get more of a feel for a city but we’ll never know what it is like for a resident who’s city now belongs to tourism, where they have a hard time finding apartments or have to deal with increased rental costs because of tourism, or where all their local hangouts are no longer theirs because of the influx of tourists. Thank you for your comment David.
It grieves me that you had a bad experience in Lisbon, I was born and raised in the suburbs, more specifically in Oeiras. Which, in my opinion, is the most untouched area of Lisbon affected by Tourism. I have grown to appreciate my city’s history, despite it being a “dirty” city and not as clean as others, it still has its own magic and personality.
Firstly, Lisbon has and is increasingly trying to grow for tourists (with not only poor constructions btw), and the real lisboetas have increasingly grown tired of the massive tourism that has been swarming in.
Of course, the city centre has much more interest as a tourist, however, all cities do have tourist traps, and in our highest tourist season, it gets even worse. All Portuguese flee out of the city centre during the summer, we are on vacation during this period, and usually go to Algarve (also a tourist trap most of the year, but with great beaches) or other fantastic places like: Arrábida, Sesimbra, and so forth.
Secondly, according to your accommodation, it would have been the best option to not choose that area, since you were staying for a month, and most Portuguese know Bairro Alto as one of the oldest and degraded neighborhoods of the city. So definitely you caught one of the not so pleasant areas if you had high expectations. In my opinion, Bairro Alto must be one of the worst places to live in, too much noise from the street and neighbors (yet again lousy construction), drunkards during the night, since it is a high trend spot for going out at night.
It seems to me as a traveler in Lisbon, I would rather have stayed in a hotel in the outskirts of the city (like Alcântara, Algés or even Restelo) – you wouldn’t obviously be in the centre but you would be at half an hour distance with the train ride (which is actually quite beautiful). You would have experienced more of the beautiful river sightings and could have possibly met with more locals than tourists. Plus, you would have encountered even more places to visit.
But hell if you live in the city centre, how you experienced in Bairro Alto, in order to get around you have these options, like all locals do:
– walk, which is quite pleasant during late afternoons or evening, but during the summer with 30 degrees, not so much;
– catch cabs (which are not as expensive as some other cities, but you can easily get ripped off) the city is not prepared for people with low mobility (it is called the city of the seven hills for some reason) or to carry large bags and such;
– you can catch public transportation, which are OK, not the best. And especially now with the rise of tourism it gets even more insuperable and impossible;
– or go by car, because we do need cars to get to supermarkets and shopping centres, we are not as central and do not have everything around us, especially where I live. Considering you were on the city centre, you would think it wouldn’t be as bad, and in my opinion it is not as bad.
Also, it is unlikely that you can argue that this city is dangerous, we do have the usual pickpockets and drug sellers (but most of them aren’t even portuguese). However, during this summer, what I saw most was tourists with new born babies and toddlers (so, it proves that it is in fact a safe city).
Locals have seen a constant destruction of tradition and old beautiful buildings due to our current government’s attempts on creating Lisbon into a high standard place for tourism, and we are not prepared for that. The funny thing is, they are investing all of the money into tourism, and instead of building something towards the greater good, they are just building poorly on top of the previous one (must not forget we are still in a financial crisis).
My opinion is that you had some poor advices regarding the visitations itself, the gastronomy (how could you not like our wine, our cod/bacalhau?) you obviously had bad timing, bad choice of accommodation, and caught all of the tourist traps, I can see it might be difficult for you to evaluate considering so, however you cannot base it all on this.
I disagree with you when you say Lisbon is not impressive, i didn’t see any pictures of the beach or the castles in Sintra or any other spots. Especially when this city is well known for our spectacular nearby beaches and castles. What I also think is that tourists come here with the sense that they are visiting Paris, or London, which have been tourists spots for many years. But Lisbon isn’t, and that is for sure.
And i cannot get carried away with this, but i feel most Portuguese feel the same way i do: we pride ourselves in the fact that we do like to learn different languages and be intercultural, we try to help the next as much as we do ourselves. Lisbon can be a tricky city to roam if you don’t know the best spots, even for us as locals. But most of us are helpful, and you can approach us easily unlike other countries, we will try to speak other languages even if we fail, most tourists come here with the assumption that we should speak french, Italian, Spanish or even English.
We could be jerks, like other countries, but mostly aren’t, so yeah, if you think Lisbon is not so impressive, I am sorry for that.
Thank you Marta for your comment.
Actually, as I’ve mentioned, we were in a nice part of the Bairra Alto, not where all the bars are. But I agree with you about terrible construction – usually old buildings are solid and well insulated. I have never seen in my life a building where you can hear so much noise. Our host said that this is normal in this neigborhood – but I still have a hard time believing it can be as bad as this building was. It was if the walls and ceiling were made out of cardboard…
Oh yes, I would never say that Lisbon is unsafe. Very safe as you say, we never had worries. And loved the wine, bacalhau, and the natas that made us fat 🙂 I could not cover all the points in this post but there were many good things as well.
I’ve mentioned Lisbon, beaches and Sintra above. This post is only on Lisbon, I know how beautiful Sintra and other areas of Portugal are (I came here many years ago and was very impressed by the beauty). But this post was not about that.
I’m sorry to make you sad with this post Marta, as I say, many of the causes were not about Lisbon itself: it was about the apartment itself, the huge number of tourists, and the impracticalities of the neighborhood. Portuguese people were kind and we were very impressed by their ability to speak different languages and their helpfulness. I hope this post helps other people planning a holiday in Lisbon and hopefully we come back in the future and see more of Portugal at another time of year 🙂
Este é provavelmente a pior review que já li em qualquer local de turismo sobre Lisboa.
A sério!??!!? Dizer que não se gosta de Lisboa porque o apartamento não era o que se pensava ser… porque existem muitos turistas… porque tem de subir e descer ruas… a sério???
Que tal antes de fazer férias informarem-se sobre o local para onde vão?
Quem escolheu o apartamento onde ficaram, foi alguém de Lisboa?
A única responsabilidade de terem tido uma má experiência é vossa e de mais ninguém.
O barato sai caro… têm esse ditado na vossa língua.
E ficaram na zona mais antiga de Lisboa e devem ter pago quase nada, queriam o quê? Acomodações de cinco estrelas?
É incrível como “sites” destes apenas servem para denegrir a imagem de uma cidade… mas como vocês dizem e bem, é a vossa opinião!
E esta foi a única coisa acertada que disseram.
You are quite liberal in your interpretation of what I have written.
I’m sorry you didn’t like reading about our experience or opinion but I think that between what I’ve written and the many useful comments (most by Portuguese) that this is helpful for people coming to Lisbon. This is the purpose. There are plenty of glossy magazines writing only nice things about Lisbon so if that’s what you want you can find plenty of those 😉
Dear bbqboy, thank you for this post regarding my beautiful city.
I appreciated very much the angles of your good looking photos, which allow everybody to see how pretty and balanced is this historic town.
I agree that the hype of tourism is harming the image of Lisbon, but our daily life is not affected by that. The overcrowded places are the touristic ones only. Nobody lives downtown or in Bairro Alto, for Christ sakes, Next time, try an accomodation out of city centre, just ten minutes from there, and I’m sure your experience will be totally diferente and much more relaxed.
If you think that Centro Colombo lies at the “newer part of Lisbon” you shouldn’t have well studied the city’s history, because that neighborhood (where I actually live) is more than 75 years old.
Thanks for your report and come again. Cheers.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Joao.
Didnt you read up about tourists before? Locals in Venice are protesting due to high tourist numbers. Bloody sheep.
Yes, we went on the “Visit Lisboa” website where it was written “don’t come, we already have too many tourists” and decided to ignore it.
Sorry, I’m just joking 🙂 But that’s why I write about it – guides and travel magazines will never tell you how busy a place it, they’re all about promotion. And sometimes places change within the space of a year or two so you don’t always know in advance unless someone you know tells you.
Venice. Yes, that is well documented as an uber-touristy spot so no surprises if someone shows up in August and it’s super crowded. We were there in April and there were still a lot of people. But still one of those places someone HAS to see once in their lives I think.
Closer to Bairro Alto, not Baixa, sorry! But also, Bairro Alto is really a loud going out at night neighborhood. It must have been a nightmare at night if you were trying to sleep. No wonder you had a bad experience. I’m so sorry.
Actually the part of the Bairro Alto we were wasn’t bad and was far from that whole bar area it is known for. We were on Rua Alegria, on the hill about halfway between Praca da Alegria and Principe Real. It had more to do with the apartment than anything.
Thank you Holly 🙂
I wasn’t in Portugal this summer, but I did hear it was ungodly hot and the tourist hordes were overwhelming. I’m sorry you had a bad experience. I hope you will come back in a more refreshing time of year. August is just not a good time to be in any city, and in southern Europe it’s the time when most locals will flee to the beach or countryside if they can. Overall, your experience warns that it’s probably better not to stay the whole time in the city center in high summer. Re groceries and supplies, I’m surprised they sent you to Colombo. There’s a Pão d’Açucar in Amoreiras; I’d think that would be the closest to Baixa. Not sure which supermarket anchors Vasco de Gama, but that would also have been a more fun part of the city to visit than where Colombo is, and has a metro connection. I’m a little more worried about your dispirited comment about no (or little) wow factor. There’s no doubt that heat, hills, lines and lack of sleep can really kill fun, so maybe that just really had you down, but could you give an example of what has triggered that wow for you in other cities? I’m trying to think for myself, and can’t come up with much beyond the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona; I’m more wowed by natural sites. There are some things in and around Lisbon that I’m a little surprised you didn’t mention.
Thanks Holly, appreciate your comments.
“Wow factor” is either there or isn’t and can’t always be explained. Tons of wow for us in Budapest, Prague. Rome and all over Croatia. “Wow” depends on your personal likes and interests and what you find really amazing may not be what I find amazing and vice-versa. I personally find a lot of “wow” in magnificent architecture but even more so in geography (I find South Africa and Croatia a couple of the most amazingly beautiful places I’ve been).
Admittedly we didn’t go out of Lisbon on this trip. Sintra was a place I wanted to go and which I visited 25 years ago. It definitely has tons of “wow” (was actually one of the most impressive places I had ever been) and I remember also being incredibly impressed by the Algarve which I found the perfect combination of sea and cliffs (like Croatia and SA). We didn’t go this time around because of all the tourists and the very high prices. You might have seen above my comment on Sintra and what a couple of bloggers I know went through.
I know there’s incredible beauty in Portugal Holly and maybe one day we’ll revisit during another time of year 😉
I live in Lisbon and I agree with your post. The reality is that Lisbon is great for short visits but not so much for long visits or even living here.
Right now Lisbon is losing its charm because it’s trying too hard to please tourists. There are several new hotels being built… and if there’s one thing Lisbon does NOT lack is hotels. We have hundreds of hotels, let alone hostels and AirBnB.
Some beautiful and historical buildings are being demolished or transformed to cater to tourists. Becoming expensive restaurants or hostels.
With the abundance of tourists also comes the abundance of pickpockets and street sellers — 90% of them not Portuguese. It’s a nuisance for actual Portuguese people living in Lisbon.
But what’s most annoying in real estate. Nowadays many people are buying extra houses in Lisbon specifically to rent as AirBnB. And many foreigners are buying “vacation” houses. The Chinese, in particular, buy expensive ones to get the Golden Visa. All that made the price of houses/apartments skyrocket. Even the filthiest and tiniest hole on the wall is grossly overpriced. That means that an average income family living in Lisbon has no chance of buying an apartment, even an old one. I am experiencing that after months of house-hunting.
Just my opinion as a local.
Thank you Joana for the great comment. Yes, that’s the larger issue about tourism and how it affects places.
If you came to Lisbon and lived around Baixa, Restauradores etc, you really lived the tourist experience. To be honest, this is the worst way to see Lisbon. Every one of the negative things you say is so true about the area – and yet so wrong about Lisbon. I stayed there and it was the same. When I moved slightly out, there are Miniprecos/Continentes/Pingo Doces on every corner. It is a well known fact that Baixa area is not a residential area, more of a nightlife place. I would never advise anyone to stay there.
Agree Jude, that’s not the area we lived in but and would never recommend it unless you’re a tourist staying for a few days.
It wasn’t too much better on the Bairro Alto either. As a few people have said, central Lisbon isn’t very well equipped when it comes to grocery stores.
I´m really glad you didnt like Lisboa.
I´m natural from Lisboa and i´m really, really sick of all this tourists everywhere.
Tourists are ruining the city. Airbnb speculation is making it impossible for a resident
to find an apartment not overlyexpensive.
Please spread this post widely so the tourists stop coming here.
This is not Disneyland and the “locals” are not here to amuse you.
Thank you Miguel.
Didn’t care for Lisbon either. In our case, other than the general run-down feeling, the number of dogs barking all night was astonishing. The same thing up in the Douro Valley. (The valley itself is gorgeous, but not enough to cover up for sleepless nights.)
I’m from Lisbon. Born and raised in the birthplace of Fado.
I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t fully enjoy your experience…Lisbon is so much more than that!
There are more supermarkets in Lisbon and some of them are people closer to Rua da Alegria!
To be fair, you are right. Lisbon is fully packed with tourists…that’s something really good for our economy but really annoying when you have to spend your summer at home. Luckily, most of us, are still able to travel south during the high season. It’s not funny when you’re trying to enjoy a little bit your city and its seems like you are invaded by the countries you have avoided for centuries.
About your accommodation: most of the houses in that part of the town are like that. In fact, that as a lot tod do with their type of construction. The earthquake/tsunami that was the cause of Carmo’s roof collapse, destroyed everything in that part of the city. The city was then, reconstructed following the orders of Marquês de Pombal (the leader of the country, basically. The King loved him) and the construction in “gaiola” (“bird cage”) was an anti-seism solution. Every roof is really thin. We are used to the noise of people walking above our heads.
Hope you come visit us again…in a shoulder season.
Thank you very much Maria for your kind message and background info on those buildings. Usually older buildings anywhere you go are the best insulated from sound. In this case it was like having cardboard walls.
I second what Chris said and the places he mentioned! There’s something you might be missing about Lisbon’s geography. Downtown Lisbon is more a historic downtown than something else nowadays. It is there every guide book will point tourists or travellers to and as tourism grew like hell in the last few years, combined with the choice of the month you made and everything else people had already pointed you could not have a good time. It’s the most beautiful part of the city, no doubt, but there are still authentic neighborhoods in Lisbon with locals and places to have a authentic experience and with transportation like metro and buses that can take you everywhere you want and this is not the suburbs. Alvalade, Campo de Ourique, Roma, Areeiro etc are some of them, and you will have groceries stores there and easy access to anywhere, the city is not that big and the metro can put you in the other edge of the line you are travelling in in less that 30 min. As of around Lisbon, as said, there’s a lot to see and explore and within access by train as Setúbal and Sintra and even Évora in Alentejo (it’s an 1h away by train) which you can make in a single day, there is plenty to visit without renting a car if you want to avoid that. If you rent a car you have a lot more to chose from but still near just not well covered public transportation wise or slightly more complicated for a traveller to get there by that mean I hope this helped you somehow and really avoid the Summer months because those are the worst and te heat may be awful too (it is for me).
Thank you very much Rita. I fell behind a bit with the comments I’ve had on this post but have just replied to Chris who I agree made some good points.
Sintra I’ve mentioned before in the comments – “You mention other places like Sintra (which I saw 25 years ago and was fantastic). It was on our itinerary – but if you think Lisbon is bad in August Sintra is even worse. We had some blogger friends in town and they told us their story: They got to the train station in Sintra, took the bus to the ticket office (90 minutes for the 1 1/2 km ride), waited an hour in line…and then there were problems with the credit card machines. They gave up and came back to Lisbon. Their biggest piece of advice was to skip Sintra in August, that it was absolutely not worth the trouble and that it was expensive”. I visited Sintra 25 years ago and it was incredible and maybe one day we’ll get the chance to go back – but based on what I’ve heard I’m glad we didn’t visit in August.
And I totally agree with your final line – besides the crowds, there’s the heat. And unlike where we are now (Sevilla) Lisbon doesn’t have much shade. Makes those hour-long lines at the castle or Belem tower uncomfortable.
You visited Lisbon in August, the worst month to travel there and you’re surprised that you were happy to leave?
Give me a break and do some home-work before you travel and write about a destination.
Pedro – have a look at what I replied to Chris above.
No amount of reading guides would have helped with Lisbon. Nobody tells you “don’t go to Lisbon in August” or tells you that centrally located neighborhoods may not be convenient for longer-stay travellers. And that is precisely why I write about it.
And you could say the same for any European city in August and you might or might not be right. The last 2 summers we’ve spent in Budapest and Prague which both get tourists but which have the infrastructure to deal with it. Lisbon doesn’t. And that has more to do with Lisbon (and how it’s changed over the last few years) then where we go as travellers in August.
I enjoyed reading your blog post. I also read all the comments here. Just to give you my two cents:
– I moved to Lisbon from the States in mid 2010. It was very different, even back then, and I still have strong memories of how things were. I remember how beautiful the Sé church was without the Tuk Tuks parked in front of it, or when Terreiro de Paço didn’t have all those superfluous museums/restaurants/ice cream shops. By the way, Terreiro de Paço was a place where people parked their cars for a long time. At other times it had trees. I don’t remember when, but at one point it had calçada instead of the pavement you see now.
Since I’m very familiar with the city (and country now), I’d say that a month in Lisbon for someone is probably a bit much. But if you had more time to visit, I’d have gone to Campo Martíres da Pátria (the Borel miradouro is just minutes from it), which in turn isn’t far from Estefânia, both residential areas around Marquês de Pombal (where I live), Areeiro (where I work), and Saldanha. I don’t love Saldanha much, but all of them are very nice and none of them very touristic at all. Lots of green avenues where locals live with the calçada and places to drink. Santos, Lapa, Campo de Ourique and Estrela are beautiful neighborhoods, and they’re all next to each other in a big conglomeration. Santos is popular with teenagers at night to drink, but a bit further up are great restaurants, beautiful streets, and the French embassy is gorgeous – look for the view to the river from the top of Rua das Trinas. Lapa has a famous, long street with many important embassies in big, grandiose buildings (in my opinion more interesting than many of the main sights), and Campo de Ourique has a gorgeous cemetery. Estrela has the basilica, Parliament, park, English language theater. Many locals live in all of these areas, albeit they’re a bit more well off than the usual.
I’d just say that your Senhora do Monte experience was interesting for me to read. Most people I know like that one because nothing is sold there. It’s quiet there. And yes, the Borel miradouro is nice because people actually sit and read.
Anyway, I live very close to Marquês, but I got this flat with a friend in 2014. We pay 300 for our rooms and expenses aren’t much. 300 for a room, with Portuguese wages, is very high, but everyone in our building is Portuguese. That said, even at the end of the metro lines you can find not drastically cheaper nowadays. I love where I live – nice apartment albeit with its flaws, and super central. Mini Depresso as my flatmate calls it is closest, but 10 minutes away is Pingo Doce and I get everything I really need there.
I didn’t stay in Lisbon this summer. I was in Rome instead. But I was glad to avoid the high tourist season at home. I don’t go to the center much. I have a few low key restaurants I know, even some near Rossio, which are cheap and have excellent food, and I eat there. I know where to get coffee and quick lunch on foot. I get my haircut in Santos, at a typical, old school barber shop, which is cheaper than any other place I’ve been to in Lisbon. If I want to go out, I’ll go to the docks at night, not Santos or Bairro Alto, although both areas have nice places. In Principe Real, there’s a nice bar called Foxtrot.
I know all of this after six years, but it is possible to not get bored of Lisbon in a month, especially not if you’re working. You were here at the very worst time of the year, and construction work/scaffolding has been crazy here for much of the past year. Beautiful areas like Campo das Cebolas and recently revitalized Cais do Sodré have been completely uprooted, and they’ll continue on for at least another year. But I’m optimistic that the changes will be mostly positive. Just a drag they’re happening now.
Sorry for the long post. Thanks for yours.
Thanks for the great comment Chris.
The way we travel it seems we somehow fall through the cracks in Lisbon. Read any guide (Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, etc) , they’ll tell you that you should make Baixa, Chiado, Alfama or Bairra Alto your base in Lisbon. And usually, in any city we visit, anywhere centrally located has been very good for us. In this case (Lisbon) we’ve found it inconvenient*.
*just as a sidebar, people have mentioned our stay on the Bairra Alto. The part of the Bairra Alto we stayed in was far from the bars and should have been a great location. The major problem was the apartment itself. There are very nice places around Principe Real where locals live and that don’t fit in the Bairro Alto description that some commenters have mentioned.
Anyway, just picking up on the previous thought, those centrally located places may be fine for tourists (ie short term visitors) but as longer term travellers you’re right that it wasn’t ideal for us. And that’s exactly why I write this post – because more and more people travel like us.
I had to laugh; you left Lisbon for the summer and went to Rome which is renowed for being horrible in the summer. According to many people the worst place you can go in summer with its heat, tourist hordes, and the tight streets in the center. So are we now comparing Lisbon to Rome?? Is that how much Lisbon has changed in recent years?
Thanks again Chris.
Hi there! I was born and raised in Lisbon. What can I say? I am happy I don’t live and/or work in Lisbon as it is total madness. Still, compared to other towns, come on!!! I have arrived yesterday from New York and it is hell all over!!! Traffic jams all around NYC – Queens, Brooklyn, etc – and specially Manhattan. Tourism has this effect. Lisbon is no exception. Try to eat or drink whatever in Manhattan, Paris, London, São Paulo, you name it! But I think you made a big mistake. Tourists are now going to places we never wanted to live or work at. I am sorry but that’s the way I see it. I rather live in Linha de Cascais, for instance, and work in the area of Oeiras than having to live and travel to Lisbon on a daily basis. I am a beach bumb so if I wanted to stay for 1 month in a capital I would try to get areas where locals actually live a normal life… For instance, going to Istanbul, you can always live on the european side but locals have a more authentic life on the other side of the Bosphorus. Still, as I read above, there would be so many other places you could buy whatever you needed not far away from downtown. Although I would never live in Lisbon again – downtown I mean – I just love my city. Beautiful, great for whatever you want to do but just to hang out there for a night out with friends, go out for dinner, shopping, cultural stuff and all or if you just want to sit down having an expresso and enjoying a pastel de nata while you relax watching tourists from around the world. It also is interesting watching all the fuss, like once in a year… As far as I am concerned, I am available to help foreigners – as a good portuguese – but sometimes people are like fearful?! We see that person is totally lost and still feel afraid of a helping hand lol! There would be so much to write in here. It depends on each and everyone strategy when travelling. Personally, I don’t like or fancy very much going to where everybody else goes. It is painful. The worst experience I have ever had was while visiting the Cape of Good Hope, in South Africa. For us portuguese, it means something. You simply cannot imagine how long I had to wait until dozens of buses packed with chinese tourists would stop arriving and them standing in front of the spot for the picture. Holly cow! I do like to mix with locals. Not the so called “popular” neighbourhoods… And August should have been a good month for you guys! Most of people from Lisbon leave for summer holidays elsewhere! 😉
Now, a last comment, separate from the above: drugs. That has come a surprise! I hope you are not talking about those guys in Rossio approaching you while walking they open their hand and show you something to make you believe it is cannabis?! Drugs aren’t for sale just like that in Lisbon. It is not a town where people approach you and provide you a menu with whatever drug you want. Furthermore, tourist areas have plenty police officers in civilian clothing.
Come again. But why settle in downtown or old areas around the castle? It is a surprise to me. Just a quick one. The other day a friend of mine came over to Lisbon and we went to Alfama for dinner. We went to a local spot for some sardines. The restaurant was full of foreigners and maybe we were the only portuguese there. We won’t return to the place. Sardines were shitty. Still, Lisbon, known as “Greater Lisbon” (Lisbon, Oeiras, Cascais, Costa da Caparica, Sintra, etc) is a great place to be (including based)! You have it all and much cheaper than elsewhere in the world (except certain countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America)!!!
That was my dime. I understand your complaining but you were also misinformed, misguided and didn’t plan that well, I believe, Sorry, that’s is only my point of view as a traveller having also visited around 50 countries world wide and lived abroad in a few countries. Enjoy your trips!
PS-People here like foreigners and to talk to foreigners. However, although we are open, many people simply won’t take the first move if they don’t feel either confortable or foreigners to be open to “contact” 😉
Hello Rui – I think we would have liked meeting someone like you who is open and has good advice for travellers. We usually do meet a lot of people on our travels especially since we are there a while. Tonight for example we are going out for tapas with people we met here in Sevilla. It is the best experience to meet locals…but I understand what you are talking about, many tourists get nervous when travelling and when people are too friendly they think they will be scammed.
“misinformed, misguided and didn’t plan that well” – I’ve had a few people mention that we shouldn’t have stayed centrally located, that we shouldn’t have visited all the tourist sites. So travellers should not to be anywhere central or not visit places that Lisbon is famous for? I think that’s the first time I’ve heard this advice anywhere. We’ve stayed in central Prague and Budapest and never had issues. Maybe the issue is more that Lisbon just has too many tourists and doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle it. But travellers want to see the historic parts of town and want to see the highlights and not be stuck somewhere in the suburbs having to take a metro ride to get anywhere. It’s only in Lisbon that I’m getting people condemning us for staying anywhere centrally located..
Drugs> lots of similar comments on our facebook post about all the drug dealers. No, not people showing us their hand 🙂 We’d get offers of “hash, cocaine” and it happened in the Baixa, Bairro Alto and Alfama. And some friends in town mentioned the same.
I can relate to your story about the Cape of Good Hope where we were earlier this year. We stood on that same spot but lucky for us no tour buses pulled up with tourists. We actually had the spot all to ourselves. Love South Africa!
Anyway, thank you for the long comment. Hopefully readers planning a trip to Lisbon will see this and realize that locals are friendly (despite the criticisms of Lisbon in this post Portuguese commenters have been very gracious and helpful. Thank you).
Hi Frank. Don’t get me wrong. For me if you decided to stay not in central Lisbon but in one of the oldest parts of town it is your decision and it is up to you. That you should have visited all touristic places? Sure. That’s one of the reasons why you came. I don’t know what issues you didn’t have in Prague (a place where I have also visited)?
When you mention “infrastructure” what are you talking about? I don’t get it! Lisbon isn’t Disneyworld, it is a capital of a country where people work and live. On top of it, it has became one of the most desired places to visit by foreigners either from Europe or the USA. More, on a survey conducted last year, over 99.3% of tourists said they would likely return. You are part of the 0.7%. That’s life, you cannot please everybody even if their lousy experience was essentially their fault. I cannot blame others if I didn’t find the greatest places to be or visit. I cannot blame others for not blending with locals if I couldn’t make it.
Drugs> I am sorry. I didn’t like your referral and again I don’t like your comment. You are describing a city as if it was a supermarket of drugs. Far from it. I can tell you I used to be offered drugs when I was a teenager crossing Rossio to get my underground. And later I found it wasn’t even drugs. Most of the guys are gypsy and they have scams. End of story. And I would like to know at what places you were people offered you drugs unsolicited. This is because, I hang around Bairro Alto, Alfama, Castelo, downtown or up to 24 de Julho and neighbouring areas or Santa Apolónia and I have never been offered drugs. Man, maybe because it is of my looks! They fear me! lol
Yeap Western Cape is one of the best places I have ever been worldwide.
Criticisms about Lisbon? The world where you can walk freely is becoming pretty much the same. Which is why I don’t agree with you. You go to Paris, London, NYC, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Rome, etc etc etc etc and it sucks! Fully crowded. Tourists all over. Traffic jams like hell! You can’t move. Queues all over. I have arrived from NYC a couple of days ago. It is worse than ever!!! Times Square isn’t what it used to be anymore, Manhattan has become unlivable on all sides you can think of yet I love it. Should I also claim that Manhattan lacks the infrastructure?! Because I cannot park anywhere? Because wherever I go its full of people? Because if I want to visit any “touristic” area it is fully packed and long lines to go there? Or should I talk about the real theft it is eating or drinking anything there? Or pumping gas into your car? Not to mention huge traffic jams all around NYC.
I don’t agree August isn’t the best month to visit. Of course it is. We are most of us on vacations and everybody is out of town meaning that you can move more easily as locals aren’t here! And again, for a month in Lisbon, I would have never stayed in Bairro Alto or Alfama or whatever touristic areas you can think of. I would have stayed in Linha de Cascais! Why? Fresh air, beaches all over and 15-30 minutes away from downtown. Just take a train and get off at Cais do Sodré where you have walking access to Bairro Alto, Rossio, Praça do Comércio etc. Furthermore, theses places by the seaside in Lisbon aren’t (yet) heavy touristic areas and is where most of people go for jogging, take a drink, go to the beach, have more quality of life, etc.
I think you misunderstand me Rui.
Yes 99% of tourists would want to return. Our problems were that we stayed much longer than the average tourist and that the facilities on the Bairro Alto were lacking for a longer term traveller. That is what I am referring to as “infrastructure” in that area (as many people have mentioned – as you do – there are better places for a longer term traveller to stay).
Drugs. I don’t call it a supermarket I just acknowledged that it existed. You mentioned that this was a surprise to you. So I am telling you that we were offered in various parts of the city and that we weren’t the only ones offered.
Spanky knows NYC well, that’s where she’s from and it’s always been that way and just gets worse every year. But again, I think we misunderstand each other about my reference to infrastructure. Central Lisbon might be fine for the average tourist with all it’s restaurants, bars and hotels, but we found it inconvenient in terms of a longer-term base.
If you are a seasoned traveler and you didn’t do your homework before coming to Portugal, don’t blame Lisbon. August is problematic for vacations anywhere in Europe because everyone, including service sector employees, is on holiday. My mother in law has had to come stay with us every year for five years because her help is on holiday and her neighborhood restaurants are closed, we plan our lives around understanding the reduced infrastructure of August. In Paris the newspapers print where one can buy bread as bakeries are closed. Deciding to stay outside of regulated accommodation was your choice, you got what you paid for, it takes some hubris to blame the city. Should you decide to come back to Portugal again maybe you should read about it first and then decide where to stay to suit your needs.
I love when people say that 1) we didn’t do our homework, and then 2) get upset when we write what we “should have known”. The reason I’m writing this post is for others to know exactly what Lisbon is like in mid-summer for longer-term tourists. So what should I have read to inform myself properly? The usual guides and magazines? Most are geared to the 3-5 day tourist who will never really have to deal with anything but restaurants and highlights. They don’t have to deal with the day to day aspects we had to deal with.
We’ve done lots of travelling throughout Europe in July and August and Lisbon was our worst experience in this time of year for many of the reasons I explained. None of it had to do with service sector employees or neighborhood restaurants that are closed…maybe in the suburbs but anywhere in the city center that’s when they make they’re money with the tourism.
Airbnb not regulated in Lisbon? See here. Not only regulated, but as others have said, it’s taking over the city…
as a local ( i live 20 minutes from Lisbon, but i´m working in Lisbon) i had the same feeling this year. This city is not ready for so many tourists. The increase of visitors was incredible.
Did you visited Parque das Nações in the oriental side of the city? 🙂
Next time go to Sintra or Cascais, 30 minutes from the capital and two amazing places to visit.
Hope you return, safe travels.
Thank you for your comment Luis 🙂
I came across your article on Facebook and I must say that whilst I see where you were coming from, just some questions that came to my mind:
-Why did you stay in Bairro Alto? I mean I live in Lisbon and people go to Barrio Alto to get drunk; they do not live there for the reasons you alluded to.
-The issue with supermarkets is understandable but there is no need to go to Colombo – you have lots of supermarkets in Saldanha, Martim Moniz etc..I cant remember the last time I went to Colombo. Did you ask locals about supermarkets in the area? Because its weird that you went to Colombo.
-In August many locals leave Lisbon, they say, “Em Augusto Portugal para” – its holiday time so many people go to the south, the north etc. But you could still have some local experience. So why did you come in August?
-From what I see you spent most of the time in the mega tourist areas – if you went just a bit further north, you would have seen lots of locals, who were still here. Did you go to places like Saldanha, São Sebastião, Alameda (which are like 3\4 metro stops from Baixa)
-Did you go to the other side of the river? (Not so many tourists)
A friend came to visit me in August and when she wasnt with me she went to places like Belém, but I told her that there would be tons of tourists so there were no surprises there. However, when she was with me I took her to places where there were no queues, no army of tourists. In Lisbon there are lots of things to see, things that dont make it on to “10 things to see in Lisbon”, but are still lovely.
It sounds like you didnt do much research or ask locals about stuff? For sure, one month in Lisbon is a loooot – I would have recommended half of the time outside Lisbon haha
But going back to the tourist thing, yeah Lisbon is defo becoming this huge tourist attraction. Having said that, you can still find stuff if you dont spend all your time in tourist areas.
I don’t think you really read about the way we travel or the many comments on supermarkets/grocery stores which have covered it all ad nauseum.
We were not in the bar section of the Bairro Alto (although I know exactly where you are talking about – that’s about 10 minutes from where we were on Rua Alegria). It would have been fine were it not for lack of insulation between floors. Lots of locals live on the Bairro Alto and the area around Principe Real is actually a beautiful neighborhood. There was nothing wrong with the actual location of where we stayed.
We’re full time travellers and having been to Lisbon many years ago I thought it would be a nice place to revisit. Obviously we didn’t know just how busy Lisbon has gotten over the last few years (like many European cities as some have pointed out and which we know having spent previous summers in Europe. But Lisbon does not handle the tourist traffic as well).
No, we did not spend all our time in the mega tourist areas but photos do concentrate on the “highlights” because that’s what people who don’t know about Lisbon want to see. The other side of the coin is that you can’t visit Lisbon without seeing some of the sights it is known for.
As I say, we are full-time travellers that work/travel at the same time. Not all our time is spent walking around touring, we in fact “live” in different places rather than visit as tourists. Obviously some places are easier to live in than others (we are presently in Sevilla which is a much better base for travellers like us than Lisbon).
When you stay in a place for a month you start valuing practical things like nearby grocery stores and other amenities. I would imagine not getting enough sleep is enough to make you sour about anywhere you may be. It must be said that for a long time Lisbon was a place where a lot of people worked, but not a lot of people actually lived, so not surprisingly, things like large supermarkets were mostly located in the suburbs. I can honestly say I have never seen so many tourists in Lisbon as I have in the past couple of years. Lisbon was often overlooked by the average traveller who usually chose to go to Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, etc. Lisbon? Portugal? Where is that? Isn’t that part of Spain? Do they speak Spanish? What moments do they have? Jeronimos, Belem Tower, never heard of them let’s just go to Prague or Barcelona. This, in my opinion, has been greatly unfair as I believe Lisbon has a lot to offer. However, if you stay for more than a couple of days and you don’t have a car and don’t like the beach, then your enjoyment of Lisbon will be diminished As one other person commented you need to take in the surrounding sights like Sintra. As for the hordes of tourists, tourism has always been a double-edged sword. I was in Barcelona and Rome in July last year and I didn’t even bother to stand in line in the sweltering heat to see most of the major momuments. The Lisbon locals are really trying to capitalize on Lisbon’s recent popularity and that is both good and bad. The best thing is probably to come in October or May when the weather is quite pleasant and there are fewer tourists. As they say in Portuguese: “Não se pode agradar a gregos e a troianos” (You can’t please both Greeks and Trojans) ( You can’t please everybody). Take care.
Thank you John for taking the time to comment. Agreed. See though my comment on Sintra which I think was a wise decision to skip this time around – we’ll see it (again) at some other time in the year.
I’ve lived in Lisbon all my life and am currently working downtown, with tourists, I completely agree with most of the things you said.
Shopping downtown is nearly impossible, you have the mentioned minipreço which is terrible. It’s a grocery store chain but it’s like really bad anywhere you go. We go there if we’re desperate, nothing is that good or fresh and the prices used to be mini but not anymore, service is usually rude (underpaid for all the things they put up with, I’d be rude as well) and as people say “You’ll end up working at mcdonalds if you don’t study.” we say that about minipreço.
Other than that you’d have 2 Pingo Doce supermarkets downtown, I can’t recomend either as you’ll take way too long to get your stuff and it’s stressfull as hell.
There are way too many tourists who don’t know the products, the currency, or even how things work, any of these causes a delay and it piles up.
You have options much closer than colombo, around Marquês de Pombal:
-Pingo Doce next to Rato metro station;
-Continente next to Saldanha metro Station;
-El Corte Inglés just above S. Sebastião Metro Station;
Any of these has about everything you might need/want, they cater for the online shops so they have a complete inventory, and they are usually tourist free as tourists are unaware of them and they are “too far” though I could go from the Minipreço to any of them and be back in 30min, which you can easily wait on their lines.
Tourist accomodation is killing any possibility for Portuguese to live downtown, apartments are super expensive to rent and nearly impossible to buy and most of the new housing being built is meant for tourists who don’t really care about being good neghbours as they’ll be out in a few days.
Anyone who can afford to live downtown probably doesn’t want to.
And then there’s the thing about too many tourists, they drive the natives away.
I can remember the last time I went for a Pastel de Belém, it was 5 or 6 years ago, too much time waiting for a table, a group of tourists was given priority as they were six and we were only 2, we gave up and went for the take away, too many people bumping against us and talking loud, it’s just uninviting.
And most businesses go this way for us and we have to find alternatives.
We try to keep them hidden from tourists as we know if that one blogger finds that place you’ll have fifty people in a bright colored raincoat and mountain boots talking loudly and speaking their idea of spanish as if it was Portuguese at the place where you just wanted to have a cup of coffee and read a book in peace.
About pricing, yes, Lisbon is getting expensive.
We joke that there is a tourist tax as we know that if a place is “famous” it’ll be stupid expensive.
For an example you have coffee downtown, we drink a lot of coffee, espresso is a part of our daily routines.
Most tourists will go to Brasileira, not notice that there are next to no portuguese there, and pay 1.3€ for a terrible coffee and think it was an amazing experience, when they could have gone to any other cafe and payed less than half that for a “normal” espresso (there’s a great one for 0.5€ but I’ll keep it a secret as it has too many Portuguese costumers already :p )
Eating out is all about the knowledge, portuguese people eat portuguese food at home, so if a restaurant has “typicall Portuguese food” downtown, it probably doesn’t and is a tourist trap, though there are a few exceptions, one of the is Casa do Alentejo, a bit more expensive but really good.
We have fast food like bifana and pregos which are inexpensive for a meal, but any othe item on the menu will probably be marked up as mostly tourists go for those options.
Other than that you have chinese and indian food and sushi buffet restaurants, not the best by far but cheap for a meal (stay away from th shrimp it’s probably older than you)
You make an excelent point in that Lisbon is different, it’s become a pandering machine for short stay tourists..
If you’re ever here again (I hope you will as it’s terrible that you left with such a bad opinion, though more than justified) please try to get away from the center and the main attractions, and come here in early march/late february, it’s not that cold and the city is much nicer and more relaxed.
And you shoul definitely visit more of the country than Lisbon, the north is wondrous and Porto is a great city for a long weeknd away.
I was in Porto in January, tourist mode, checking all main attractions and walking around and it was fantastic.
Wow, thanks for this very detailed comment.
You nailed it about the minipreço in the Bairro Alto – fine if you want some frozen fish or canned sardines but you won’t find any fresh meat or fish. I barely called it a grocery store, it’s like a corner store with a few extras. And thank’s for the rundown of the other stores which might be helpful for others. But the fact that you have to take a metro, whether it be 2 stops or 8, is very inconvenient. And that’s what my point is: we’ve stayed in Prague, Budapest, Cape Town, Split, Padova, Rovinj, Brasov and a whole lot of other cities and small towns and have never had an issue with shopping, ever. So Central Lisbon was just strange to us. But I think you and some other commenters have really brought some context to that and it makes sense now.
And you are very right about the hordes of tourists walking the streets, dominating the restaurants and driving up the prices. We would go to a very nice, small Portuguese restaurant in our neighborhood called Toscardosa which was recommended by our host. Very good. But gets packed quite quickly in the summer with tourists. We had an excellent Indian restaurant a block away, best Indian food we’ve had in a long time (we’re addicted to Indian food but hard to find in many places). But we found many other places in the center expensive and bad value. Those “snack bars” on Avn. Liberdade are ridiculously priced (cocktails at 6.50 Euro) and sitting on a square anywhere a beer would be 4-5 Euros. Even by Canadian standards that’s expensive. But again, that’s catering to tourists as you say…yes, keep your secrets to yourself 🙂
Thanks for your comments and tips Francisco.
The thing with supermarkets is that they’re unbearable downtown. The Pingo Doce in Chão do loureiro (on the way to the castle) has everything you need but you’ll easily wait in line 15+ minutes, even with all the lanes open.
Other than that the problem is lack of area and rent.
It’s a chore to open any kind of business downtown, when you need a large area (for costumers, storage and shipping) you end up trying to join several buildings with different owners. Then you have to make sure the buildings all hold together and actually hold everything you need without crumbling down.
Then you have to pay the absurd rent that will surely come with that.
And then you’ll have tremendous business during the summer and little to none in the winter as the people who stay in Lisbon keep going to the same supermarkets they go in the summer. On the long run, it’s more profitable to keep the supermarkets just outside of the city center.
Both Minipreço and the Rossio Pingo Doce have been there for ages, way before this boom.
The other Pingo Doce is in a building built with a supermarket on the ground floor.
Tascardoso is amazing! I go there every now and then (winter time), their peixinhos da horta are great.
Indian restaurants are almost always good, when my favourite one closed down I went out trying new ones and they didn’t disappoint.
I usually advise tourists on a one on one basis, I’ve even gone out and shown the “secret” spots to a few of them.
It’s easier to manage than by spreading the news on timeout.
The kiosks on Avenida da Liberdade are expensive for the quality, they’re just on a fancy location with not much else around.
Bairro Alto has a few outlying bars (to avoid the crowds) that are nice and you’ll find most cocktails there around 5€ but much better served.
Beer is the same kind wherever you go (superbock or sagres), you pay for the place, you can easily find a 33cl one for 1€ and depending on the bar they can go to 2.50€, anything more and it’s too much.
I had cousins from Holland here one summer and we went to the beach, there was a guy selling cans of beer for 3€.
My cousin was perfectly fine with that but I told her not to.
We went to the supermarket, got the same cans from a freezer for 0.44€
It’s all about knowing where to look.
And most small groceries ran by middle easterns have freezers with drinks inside, you can just get them there and go somewhere, we don’t have a law against that (as long as you clean it up afterwards) and you pay much less.
Other than rent, you can live a very cheap life in Lisbon, you just have to look around and not follow trends.
Thanks again Francisco 🙂
That’s some scary wiring! We’ve visited several places through the years (a recent visit to Marrakesh comes to mind) where the negative experiences seem to color our whole view of a place. I’m thinking that the best thing to do during high season is to either hunker down at home (now that we have base) and wait for the tourists to fade away or head to smaller, out of the way places that get far less crowds. Most of our travel last year was done in the off-season and included a trip to Lisbon for several days in April where we stayed in a terrific AirBnB apartment and didn’t have the throngs of tourists to deal with. We’ll have to compare our plans for next year!
Thanks Anita. I’m actually surprised by all the locals who seem in agreement with the state of tourism in Lisbon.
We had the same thing in Split (Croatia) in July, a place we usually visit other times of the year. Locals we know basically do just as you say “hunker down”. Honestly, who walks around midday in 40C temps but tourists? We’ve been there enough times that we just do like them and if we do go out in the afternoon, it is to find a nice shady spot to have a drink. We’re also very lucky to have the perfect apartment there – as someone else mentioned, it really makes all the difference.
It depends, some cities absorb the tourist numbers better than others. Budapest is one, Prague (surprisingly) is another if you know where to go.
just one short note. They were lazy sending you to colombo (a huge shopping center) you had “normal” supermarkets in Lisbon (I’m not mention thoses litle groceries shops): El corte ingles, Pingo Doce, minipreço, etc (instead of 8 maybe you had just 1 or 2 tube stops)
As many tourists you stayed near the center but as someone said some years ago Lisbon center was a desert (in a weekday at night it looked a ghost town)
Yes, I’m surprised it was like this. I can’t imagine it could ever have been a ghost town when you see all the tourists walking around now.
I just hope it is benefiting the economy all around and not just lining the pockets of a few while making life harder on the majority.
Hi Frank We’re considering Lisbon but in Jan/Feb and wondering if you have any insight as to what
it is like at this time of year. The tourist sitution is a huge part of why we chose to travel btwn
Jan — mar/april. We’ll also be going to Spain – Valencia, Madrid & San Sebastian ( where we spent
jan & feb 3 yrs ago. Hopefully we can include Portugal this trip.
Jan & Joe from U.S. — Nashville Tennessee
I think that’s a great time of year and wish we had visited at the same time. We live not so far away in Southern Spain and the weather usually great in this part of Europe at that time of year.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy 🙂
I was born in Lisbon live in the suburs and work in Lisbon (as most of people living in the inner city area).
A couple of years I remember that Rossio only had 1 person actually living there.
I agree with most of what was written. Even If I like Lisbon I’m also a traveller and I always say (annoying my friends) that this is a town that you see in 2 days… it has nothing to do with cities as Budapest or Rome.
Being said this If you stayed for a month It’s hard for me to understand Why you did not go to places very near Lisboa and which are in fact “Wow!” places… At least in your post you did not mention SINTRA (just half an hour from Lisbon and you have direct train from Rossio). In one month you should went there at least a couple of times to see places as castelo dos mouros or quinta da regaleira
I could mention otherplaces as the beaches but in August forget about it or at least must go a bit far to places as Troia to find space for your towel. The arrabida park is also just 20 minutes from Lisbon (maybe not to easy to go if you don’t have a car).
Finally concerning the neighbours noise be aware that most apartments in the center of Lisbon are very old so also very noisy (and I must recognize that the % of portuguese who doesn’t respect neighbours is still a bit high when compared with other cities).
1 month in Lisbon is too much fo a tourist (if you have local friends makes it easier as they can tell you were to stay help in picking restaurants that only the locals go, etc) you should got away from the city (rent a car is the best) and will take a look at places as Gerês, Monsanto village, Piodão (just 1 night here), sortelha, Evora, Monsaraz, etc, etc (in 1 month you can see most of the country and I’m sure you would had find your stay much better)
Agree with you, unlike places like Budapest, Prague or Rome you can see Lisbon in a couple of days. What makes the crush of tourists more acute is that most of the attractions are concentrated and getting around one tends to follow the same routes.
You mention other places like Sintra (which I saw 25 years ago and was fantastic). It was on our itinerary – but if you think Lisbon is bad in August Sintra is even worse. We had some blogger friends in town and they told us their story: They got to the train station in Sintra, took the bus to the ticket office (90 minutes for the 1 1/2 km ride), waited an hour in line…and then there were problems with the credit card machines. They gave up and came back to Lisbon. Their biggest piece of advice was to skip Sintra in August, that it was absolutely not worth the trouble and that it was expensive.
Yet I remember 25 years ago, seeing the Pena Palace, then climbing the walls of Castelo dos Mouros. Was one of the most fabulous experiences I had. Now I’m told that you have to get 2 separate tickets to see both, which wasn’t the case then. SO..spend hours on trains, buses and waiting in line (in the sun), pay 44 Euros in tickets. Forget it. We had a nice relaxing day instead and spent our money at a good traditional Portuguese restaurant instead. Sometimes doing the tourist things is summer is just the worst thing to do.
Thanks for the tips. If we come back it will for certain be in a quieter time of year and we will rent a car and do some trips in the area.
As a portugues born and raised in Lisbon this was very interesting and sad article to read.
I agree with you, Lisbon has too much tourists nowadays and the worst thing is that is not at all prepared for it. I have lived abroad for the last 10 years and each summer I return, I go less and less to the town center because it is so packed with tourist it’s annoying… this summer, I sadly found out that most of my favourite restaurants and bars were now on top trip advisor. You couldn’t get a table, had to wait a long time and ended up feeling like an out of place foreinger in places you had been going to for years.
Most of my friends that rented apartments in the center were also driven out, mostly because the landlords rather have airbnb than tenents, or just because it is anoying to live among tourist all year, with all the problems ou pointed out. Small groceries and supermarkets are closing because ourists ust stay for a couple of days and dont nead them…. it’s better to open a souvenir shop or a gourmet restaurant!
I fell really sad that this uncontroled tourism is ruining the soul of Lisbon and noone does anything to stop it! 🙁
Wow, you’ve basically agreed with everything I felt and wrote!
I’m sorry you’ve seen this happen to your city.
Thank you very much for taking the time to comment.
Lisbon you met 25 years ago doesn’t exist anymore. Since then, the politicians, architects and urban planers did everything they could to kick average people away from the city centre. Five years ago, Lisbon centre’s neighbourhoods were full of empty houses, empty stores and empty offices. Almost all major public services were moved to outer places. Businesses had to move away because their customers and employees couldn’t bring in their cars and public transportation became worst than it already was.
These days you can’t find ordinary people living in the city centre, only a few very poor people, a few very rich families and a few very odd people (no children, no 9 to 5 jobs, no meat, no car, no need to save on everyday purchases, no sports (gym workout is not a sport)).
Lisbon 25 years ago was a perfect city to live, now it is just a theme park.
Mass tourism didn’t cause this; this caused mass tourism.
Very interesting comment. I didn’t know all this. Thank you Antonio.
I’m Portuguese, I work in Lisbon but live in the suburbs. I absolutely LOVE Lisbon but it has become savage in the last few years with regards to tourism and tourist traps. I could not agree more with your evaluation on how Lisbon had a more authentic feel 25 years ago. And it’s not really the excess of tourists (I am often a tourist and I like it that we are visited by so many people), it’s more that so much is now fabricated here to cater to what people think Lisbon is: trinkets about Fado, tile-shaped memorabilia, custard cakes and cod cakes that are mass produced… and don’t get me started about the tuk tuks!
The typical “bairros” like Alfama have become a nightmare to live in, much like your experience in Bairro Alto. And, of course, as a suburban local I never thought of the lack of supermarkets near the center of the city. That alone would have driven me insane.
This being said, and I understand this helps you NOTHING (sorry!), Lisbon is amazing around other times of year. It’s incredibly charming in the fall and around may is also nice and already warm and spring-y. Also, you would have been very well advised to – as you said – stay only one week in Lisbon and then travel a bit around Portugal. Porto is one of the most beautiful cities you’ll ever see and the Douro region is gorgeous, the food is abundant and amazing, the people are very welcoming and the wine is superb.
I’m sorry you didn’t get to experience Lisbon the way you remembered it. Hope you come back and take some of our suggestions. Btw, your pics look great! Much love.
Thank you very much Clara, good to know what locals think.
We found the Baixa horribly touristy, too many restaurants (all catering to tourists) and gift shops. The Bairra Alto (we were right below Principe Real) was actually a very nice neighborhood and the parks were pretty. It was just all the tourists acting like animals in the evening that was offputting.
The thing is that because we work as we travel (and have been travelling full-time now for over 2 years) we usually stay somewhere for at least a month as a base. We then usually explore other places on day trips. If we were on vacation however you are exactly right, we wouldn’t have stayed more than a week in Lisbon.
Thank you very much for your comments 🙂
As a portuguese I do agree with your opinion of Lisbon and I do think it gets overcrouded with turists that time of the year. However… I find it the same as every major european capital. A 2 hour line to enter the Sagrada Familia, the London Eye or the Eiffel Tower, etc… sadly is common and Europe continues to overflood with turists.
Now on the other hand, I have to say that if you want to see the real beauty in Portugal you should try and get out of the cities. I would advise exploring the imense forests and river systems, especially the “Parque Nacional da Peneda Gerês”. Been there a couple times and can assure you will not find anything like it.
Best of luck in future journeys and I hope the next time you’re in Portugal the hospitality is different! We truly are a friendly country 🙂
Thank you for the tips Vasco, appreciate the tips.
One of the places I’d really like to go is Madeira for the hiking. Unfortunately they were having those fires when we were there. One day we’ll see more of POrtugal and it will be in the autumn or winter.
Madeira is beautiful no doubt, but expect heavy tourism as well.. The island is practically a tourist playground.
See, I wouldn’t have known that if you hadn’t told me. I know it’s popular, but that doesn’t give a sense of the numbers and posts I’ve read from other bloggers write about what a paradise it is for hiking….without mentioning other tourists. How bad is it? Are you talking Lisbon-type bad in August?
Nah, it´s a different kind of bad.. I´m sure there´s people but the scale is very different. It´s just formatted to be your “tropical european island” thing.. The nature is bewildering, no doubt, and hiking is heaven there, yes, but don´t expect a wild, untamed nature hideaway, it´s all been pretty much formatted by now. And this year the fires that raged there this summer, which even got to the capital Funchal, were pretty damaging. Criminal arson. Ah, humanity… You gotta love it. But by all means, it is worth a visit, it is quite beautiful.
Thanks Joao for clarifying. One day, but also off season.
As somebody said, specially in August many locals are on vacations abroad or in Algarve (south of Portugal), most locals you’ll be able to find are those working on tours, restaurants,hostels, but even there you can already see a lot of workaways and volunteers from other countries. I’m pretty sure it must be like this in other big cities in europe.
Working in the turism industry here, you can get good income and get to know some interesting people and share your culture, but i personally at the same time feel guilty to be contributing to this kind of cultural exploitation..
Thank you for sharing your oppinion 🙂
Thank you Cristina, couldn’t agree more 🙂
Travels and Tipples
We spent a long weekend in Lisbon a few years ago in February, so we had nowhere near the crowds you did. I liked the city well enough but Mr. Tipples absolutely loved it. Sorry you had a bad month.
Good to hear Patricia. I think we: a) went at the wrong time of year (never thought Lisbon had gotten so popular) and b) stayed too long. I think it’s one thing to stay a week, another to stay a month.
Actually i just had a polish friend stay at my house for precisely a month and she was just in love with it.. Sorry to contradict haha 🙂 just depends on what you do, and what you know, who you get your inside info from 😉
Exactly, really depends you one’s own experience and it especially helps if they’re getting shown around by a local.
I’m sorry to hear that you had a bad expirience in Lisbon, but I have to give my opinion and perspective as someone who was born and grew up in Lisbon,
In August Lisbon is taken over by tourists, just like any other city. Also because, you might have noticed that the city is made for tourists, you guys have the money, the government invests on you, well as long as we have the juice getting into the governments’ pocket I’m all fine. Only a little problem… The other day I spent 30 minutes near ‘Praça do Comércio’ waiting for a ‘regular’ Lisbon people bus, and because we are lesser than tourists in HERE, in that time, 6 tourist buses passed by. Well. It was bad, mainly because I was late, but tourist sure had their buses on time, and I saw only happy faces and noone complaining. But now, by reading your post, I just realized something: city is full of tourism, and clearly Lisbon trys to do something about it, but still fails, it fails HARD. It’s a small city I get it, it is but we can’t go trough the river can we? The solution is: Don’t come here in August, we have such pretty places in the country 🙂
There is something else going on Lisbon: It’s going nuts with constructions EVERYWHERE. Traffic got mad at some point. Why did they decide to start constructions in August? Nobody knows, and everyone is affected with this because people actually have to live in this city. I’m sorry for that, you paid your things and came to a crazy traffic and crowded Lisbon, I feel your stress because I went trought it too, and worst, I was working and you should know that work here for younger people is not easy in the first place, just imagine when the city is going mad with big machines opening holes in every road they can find… So, I spent August working around Lisbon, and by working I mean, I had to spend time Driving and walking my feet on Alfama and other places in the city and it was a living HELL, so I get your point. But this takes me to another subject… Alfama. It made me really sad to see tourists all over Alfama. I mean, don’t get me wrong I feel good when other people like my country, but I just felt like I was in a Zoo. There were guides with groups EVERYWHERE. I never saw Alfama like this, it was scary… And then, all those little cute restaurants? They would talk to me in english and some of them sold only fancy food, Alfama is not even fancy, it was clearly there only for tourists. And the prices? All for the tourist eye.
But no fear, even tho’ Lisbon wasn’t made for Portuguese people (like me, born and raised in Lisbon) I can only agree with you: A small city with too many foreign people on it that doesn’t know how to do things. But I believe this is happening in other cities too.
Oh and, I kinda see myself in one more of your points. Unfortunately I had the bad luck of having to go on a tram trip while I was working in the sunny August, and yes you just DON’T hear Portuguese, it’s annoying actually, it just says alot about what the city became.On the other hand, Portuguese people go on holidays on August so there is less portuguese people.
Again, my advice would be: Just don’t come near Lisbon in the summer, it gets really crazy. Oh and the ‘Colombo’ problem… Lisbon is an old town, there is no space for anything else, there is no space to park the cars of the people that actually live down town you know? Can you imagine that?? I’m just glad they didn’t remember to make a shopping mall down town, just don’t give them ideas, please! 🙂 Besides, I don’t think Colombo even that far…but I really think those people that informed you didn’t give you the right information, Colombo is a mall, I mean we obviously don’t have malls in the historic city center (thank you!!), but there are decent sized ‘Pingo doce’ that would probably meet your taste, where people who actually live in the center go shopping (I mean don’t forget there is people actually living in the center you know, you don’t expect them buying daily needs from little grocery tourist-aimed stores right?).
I am the one who should be sad for not liking Lisbon that much, since I was the one who had to work in Lisbon during August with all tourists hanging around. You gave your opinion and I just had to share my feelings, your complaints are kind of not very nice to us, I’d understand why you would not find the city fascinating, and I agree I like Lisbon as a ‘whole’, but you just started making unnecessary points, just because you don’t know any local perspective.
I just love my city but hate what it has become, all this tourism-drive, and you are right in so many points. You are a tourist who didn’t like a city, and I’m just sorry you didn’t, but believe me, this city was made for you. They sacrificed the city to the tourism and only tourism matters and tourists are not even happy with the city anymore, and it’s really sad, mostly because we Lisboners, have to deal with everything. Hope you can come someday and leave with a different idea. Don’t take this personal and thank you for reading.
Thank you Mariana for the comments and I totally understand the frustration of your first few paragraphs. I come from Montreal where ALL construction happens in August. Traffic is crazy, nothing moves, people get angry. And yes, we have lots of tourists as well.
And you are right, everything is made for the tourist which is my point. We are not tourists, we’re travellers who stayed here a month. We don’t go to the restaurant for every meal, we don’t stay in a hotel – we rent apartments, do shopping, do our laundry etc like locals (we’ve been travelling full-time now for over 2 years). During weekdays we work, just as you do but when we finish our work we explore the city. So we are not the typical tourist. But you are right, Lisbon caters to the tourist and this is frustrating for everyone else.
And just to clarify: Lisbon is beautiful and I’m sorry if it sounds like we didn’t like your city. I think it was just a frustrating city to visit for travellers like us.
Thank you for all your points and detail Mariana 🙂
Im still visiting Lisbon after 9 months and I fall in love every day. Yes, there’s many tourists. yes, its getting expensive. Yes, its loosing the culture. But all of that is because they are selling it. Lisbon is much more about the touristic places.
And well, please for people that dont know Lisbon yet… come! because we were considered one of the 5 countries IN THE WORLD that knows how to receive people. We LOVE people. And we will love to have all of you here.Our food is amazing. And people, no matter how many touristics we have, the locals will always receive you well.
The only thing I really cannot understand/agree is about supermarkets. You can find your basics in the Minipreços. Im living for 9 months buying stuffs in Minipreço and im clean. Deodorants and face creams for sure you can buy there. About creams in the farmacy, Portugal doesnt have cosmetic industry. We have to import everything and things are expensive almost everywhere. BUT i can promise you that you can find deodorants in the downtown.
Once again, give Lisbon a shot. We ARE really nice people.
Thank you for the kind words Flora, they’re welcoming for any potential visitor.
We were very confused by the shopping situation in central Lisbon. You’re right you can find deodorants and basic creams. My wife likes to buy face creams like Oil of Olay, stuff that’s usually imported. We couldn’t find it anywhere. And when you ask, they send you to one of those “pharmacies” in the Baixa where all the tourists go where the prices are double. No way were we going to pay 29 Euros for a Vichy day cream. We overall found shopping for “more than the basics” frustrating. Yes, I could buy frozen bacalao or canned sardines at the Minipreço. But they didn’t have anything fresh. Everything was canned or frozen. I didn’t see a fish or meat grocer close to where we were. I understand that people want to support little mom-and-pop establishments but when you can’t find anything you need…Where do locals do their shopping? Do they take their cars on the weekends and drive to one of the large shopping malls to stock up? I don’t understand 🙁
Anyway, thank you Flora for all the nice comments. Yes, Portuguese are nice people, no issue with that 🙂
Hey! It’s weird that no one told you about Continente, LIDL, Pingo Doce or any other different place to do your shopping’s. Inside Continente you have something like a pharmacy but only to sell cosmetics and face creams, etc. I live near Graça and near me I have at least 2 Pingo Doce, 1 LIDL and 2 Mini Preço… And in a few distance walking I find a big Continente.
Thanks Joana. Yes, exactly – the pharmacy inside Continente is where we found our face creams and other things for my wife. I had googled for grocery stores in our area when we arrived but nothing large came up, no Lidl. The only thing we had was a Minipreço but it was small and the selection limited. We were unfortunately quite far from the Graça neighborhood.
If there is one thing I recommend to Airbnb hosts: write up a list of places in the neighborhood where locals do their shopping, it is very useful for people staying longer in places. Most hosts will only tell you what to see or what bars and restaurants to go to…that’s fine if staying a few days but some practical information always good for those staying longer.
Thank you for your feedback Joana.
I live in Lisbon for two years and after the first six month I was tired of Lisbon.
At the time all of my friends were foreigners to the city and I had their perspective of the city (a touristic one). It was only after I met people born and raised in Lisbon that I adore Lisbon.
It’s not about the places, but the whole.
It’s odd sending people to Colombo to basic thinks, but the sad truth is that Lisbon is getting expensive. Five years ago it was affordable, but know everything is building around tourism and threatens the quality of life of is inhabitants. Housing is a problem, the rents are getting crazy high and sometimes you have luxury houses at the same price of a bad house close to falling in your head.
Since you already saw the main attractions come again and live Lisbon. It’s amazing once you have a more casual routine.
Just don’t ask for directions to anyone that is from Lisbon. They can be welcoming but they are just bad at giving directions. The city is full of services in every corner. Going from downtown to Colombo it’s just crazy when you have so many options around the corner.
Thanks Andre. Like anywhere, meeting locals is the key. They’ll show you the way around, tell you where to find things…And we’re usually good at meeting locals.But it didn’t happen in Lisbon.
About prices: Everyone talks about how inexpensive Portugal is. Having spent a lot of time in Prague, Budapest, as well as Croatia we didn’t find it inexpensive at all. Maybe it’s cheaper to live here (ie rents, food, utilities) but as a traveller I didn’t find it inexpensive at all. Is it a myth or have prices gone up?
I’m glad to hear that you’ve come to love the city Andre.
Gail at Large
Portugal is inexpensive for Western Europe. But you visited the most expensive city in all of Portugal, the capital. Compare that to any capital in any country and it’s the same sort of difference. Leave the capital and the cost of living goes down, and so do the prices.
I’ve been living in Porto for nearly three years. As a Canadian tourist in 2011, my first city in Portugal was Lisbon and since migrating in 2013 I’ve visited every district on the mainland and São Miguel in the Azores. I can tell you with certainty that the prices in Lisbon are inflated compared to the rest of the country (with some Algarve exceptions), and the locals are more jaded towards tourists.
However, I was also in Lisbon last month on assignment to write about the tourism there, visiting both touristy spots and non-touristy spots, and I can also say it is still actually very easy to avoid tourists if you just go 1-2 streets off the main guidebook track (Belém, Santa Justa Elevator, São Jorge Castle). I was walking around with my husband’s cousin who was saying the same thing about the influx of tourists and I demonstrated my theory for her in person. When blogs or guidebooks point out “highlights” then those places will naturally fill up, and you won’t see locals there in high season, just like New Yorkers avoid the Empire State Building unless they’re taking visitors around. When I lived in Edinburgh, all of the locals I worked with completely avoided Princes Street. Not just in high season, but all year round.
August is the month when the Portuguese take their vacation — many people take the whole month off, just like in Spanish cities. It changes the human landscape of the city, and you will see disproportionately more tourists than locals.
Thank you Gail for the comment.
I could almost say the thing about Prague, one of our favorite cities. LOTS of tourists, but the city is spread out and the tourists really stick to one route like a trail of ants.
I appreciate the comment. Some people think I’m bashing on Lisbon but it’s really more about lessons learned when travelling in the summer to what has become a very popular place. When I last visited 25 years ago Lisbon seemed to be the forgotten European capital…
PS Madeira a place I’d love to go to for the hiking. So chances are we’ll see Lisbon again – but for sure next time it will be off season.
So interesting to hear a tourist’s impression! We moved to Lisbon a couple of years ago from the UK. As a permanent place to live it is great – a huge cultural scene, good food, lovely people and inexpensive. But yes, there are hundreds of tourists! Because nice places attract tourists! Although it can be irritating to battle your way along the street through throngs of tourists I keep reminding myself they are ‘people’ just like you and me!
Thank you for taking the time to comment Barbara 🙂
Great Article! (And great ad marketing skills to get it to appear in my Facebook feed this morning!)
I came to Lisbon for September to get a feel for the city and to see if it might work as a place to come and live/work in the future. The article was an interesting read because it sums up a lot of things I’ve been thinking and feeling about the city. It *is* charming and the architecture and beauty of the place cannot be denied.
But this will only see you through the first few days.
Going beyond that you need start meeting people, going to the places locals go etc. I’ve found that challenging here. It is very interesting to compare with Berlin where I’ve been for the last three months where this felt easier.
Would be particularly keen to meet others working in the tech scene in Lisbon – if anyone happens to have any leads for meetups and or other groups – do let me know!
I should say that I’m staying in a really nice place with a fantastic host, and my local hood of Graça is resisting totally turning into a tourist place (for now).
Thanks so much for your opinion and perspective. As I mention, the average tourist who spends a few days won’t experience Lisbon as we did – so I appreciate feedback from people who visit for longer periods of time and with ideas of maybe settling here in the future. I know a lot of Expats make (or think of making) Lisbon their base. In our case we are full-time travellers but we always keep an eye out for places that could fit the bill for a base in the future. Lisbon, while beautiful, doesn’t meet our checklist of places that fit that.
I’ve heard that there is quite an expat community (maybe you can tap into that?) and the good thing is that people do speak English. We’re in Spain now where the majority don’t (lucky for us we both get by with our Spanish).
How long are you staying in Lisbon? Good luck and feel free to add more thoughts as you spend more time.
Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂
I’m here until September 28th – so a bit more time to get a feel for the place.
I’m in a similar boat. I’m essentially based out of London at the moment – which is becoming more and more unsustainable as cost of living is so high. On my list are: good weather, a culturally vibrant place that has an open international outlook, good transport links, a somewhat active music and tech scene, good food and a decent airport. Berlin is a high scoring place – although the brutally cold winters are putting me off moving full time at the moment!
Interested to know what’s on your list and if there’s anywhere that has ticked a lot more of the boxes for you. . .
We have a few favorites that we’ve been to several times: Prague, Budapest, Split (Croatia). We could honestly live in any of these cities. We’ve come to love Eastern Europe 🙂
There is a lot going on in tech in Lisbon, I would advise you to start with a meetup like “BREAK”. You’ll need to push yourself a bit there because most people already know each other but they love meeting new people with new backgrounds, just go there and say hi!
I live in Portugal and try to avoid Lisbon in summer. This year I couldn´t and went to Lisbon twice with friends. I was suprised by the amount of tourists and not to mention Tuk-tuks! It isn´t like that in winter.
I think there are way more tourists coming to Portugal lately because of the terrorists attacks elsewhere, But maybe that´s just my impression.
Anyway I never like capitals. They never represent the country truly because of the tourist industry and immigtants (don´t get me wrong, nothing against immigrants but they do change the original scenary and atmosphere). That´s the same wherever you go.
Yes, thanks for that – I didn’t mention the touristy “Tuk-tuks” which I’m told will charge 20 Euros from Baixa to Portas do Sol (this from a local who was complaining how expensive they were). That’s another drawback of too many tourists – tourist prices.
Maybe you have a good point about Portugal being safe.
Thank you for taking the time to comment Simone 🙂
Yh if you are the kind of tourist/traveler that enjoy watching local activity instead of tourist hordes you shouldnt had come to Portugal in the summer.
As a local myself i think most of your complains are spot on… Regards acomodation if you want to stay in Baixa youll have tourist all over you, its starting to be a problem because even for locals is hard to rent as most places are for tourists, now about groceries. If you go to tourist information of course theyll send you straight away to big shoping centers like Colombo, and what used to be the local neighbourhood groceries shops are now almost always owned by indians, bangladeshians you name it, im not saying is all that bad but its reality in all of Lisbon, local comerce is either focused on tourists or it was asfixiated by our crisis.
Don’t forget you visited 25 years ago, at that time we werent this turned to tourism, thats a problem that is starting to form in the last few years, due to cheap products cheap booze cheap everything. We are turning to mass tourism and most people dont like but its what brings profitt.
Try to get out of the main tourist parts, explore further inland youll discover places far beautifull than Lisbon and with the feel you’re after.
Thanks Daniel. Yes, we would’t be back in Portugal in the summer.
Mass tourism is a plague and it ends up transforming cities into places that even locals wouldn’t want to live in or afford. We’ve seen the effects of mass tourism in many places and in the end it benefits a few (usually the people who already have money) but makes life more difficult for the average resident. As you say, it inflates the domestic rental market. This is happening in so many places and it just creates an economic bubble created entirely by tourism or foreign investments. It results in real estate prices that locals can’t afford. It affects other aspects of every day life as well – we walked around downtown and there are hundreds of restaurants, all with English menus and as you say, Indians or Bangladeshis inviting you inside. This is not the Lisbon I visited 25 years ago. And I wonder what locals think of all this…I’m sure as you say they don’t like it but money is always king.
It reminds me of Dubrovnik in Croatia. In the end, the city becomes a city of tourists where prices are hugely inflated and everything caters to the short term tourist while the locals have moved out to the suburbs. And in the end both lose.
As a native portuguese, this was very interesting to read.
I’m currently working as a receptionist in a resort in the downtown area of Lisbon and I’ve heard a bunch of our clients saying the same things you did.
Tourists everywhere! The elevator, the tram 28, the Belém Tower…well, you know. Even in the metro, Spanish, German, French, Italian…the portuguese people seem to have gone to the south of the country, where I come from.
I’m not the biggest fan of Lisbon as well. We don’t go often to those touristic places. I had a friend from Ukraine with me for a week and we went to the castle, aquarium, the elevator (I don’t know if you discovered that, but there’s a way to go around the elevator and you don’t have to pay, except for that 1 euro and something you mentioned). I had never been there and I can guarantee you that this happens with most people in Lisbon.
Belém? Sure, it’s beautiful, but it’s also very hot in the Summer. Also, you can’t reach it with the metro, so most of us who live here don’t even bother to go there.
I haven’t seen so many tourists in Lisbon as during this month of August, so you also had a bit of bad luck.
If you ever come back, I hope you enjoy it 🙂
Thank you for the comment Tatiana. I feel bad being negative when I get nice comments from locals who feel sympathetic.
But it is very true about the number of tourists. I never expected so many and I often felt that this was not Portugal – I think we saw more French tourists in a month than we saw Portuguese locals! It sounds crazy…but there were so many tourists. And I remember coming here 25 years ago and there were very few tourists.
And you are right about it being so hot. Maybe you saw the comment above from Sarah – I think coming here in the off season, even January, we would have enjoyed Lisbon. It’s a beautiful city – but it is the tourism and everything else that comes with tourism that ruined it.
Ps. Yes, we didn’t pay for the elevator based on advice from some locals. Just went to the top for the views. Walked down to Baixa after which is very easy to do…
Thank you again for the comment Tatiana.
First of all, and as a local: Thank you for your analysis and honesty!
I hope this text gets to the people who manage this city, the trasnportations, the monuments and the commerce.
Tourism is now killing Lisbon! Mostly because of the histeria of the Airb’nb. The house you rented is a typical AirbnB apartment in Lisbon. Plus: there are entire neighborhoods now taken by that.
No one here is really thinking about a sustainable touristic model. Every is just trying to gain something, quickly. It doesn’t matter that there are more and more people sharing your oppinion.
I hope this gets better, and then you guys come back and enjoy this city properly.
Ps: Carefull also in the low season – there’s still a lot of tourists around.
Thanks for this!
Thanks very much Luis for this feedback. It’s always reassuring to know that some locals feel the same way.
Oh, we do feel the same way ,trust me.
Lisbon was not made for mass-scale tourism, and it´s beauty and charm lie mostly in the almost artistic decadence of it´s streets, corners, hidden places, viewpoints.. The huge “public works programme” underway is destroying the personality Lisbon has, and formatting everything to become your average well-developed 1st world European capital. Well, in my humble opinion, we were fine without that. I used to go to Senhora do Monte viewpoint some 10 years back, went with my girlfriend and a couple of friends, and we had it all to ourselves, no one even knew it existed, because Graça was so popular and only a few streets down. I went there a few weeks back, and was just astonished, and a bit heartbroken, by what i found. I had no sitting space on the grass, or the walls, there were your typical “love promise chain locks” in the railings, and just scores of people, you could barely focus on what was ahead of you.. I stopped going there and just traded it for my parent´s building rooftop. No tourists allowed there hehe 😉 This massive explosion of tourism in Lisbon, and other Portuguese cities, has caught the eye of the ever-greedy Portuguese Government, whose dire need of funds makes tourism look like a polished, free-of-charge diamond. Well, the reality is quite different. I have lived in Lisbon all my 31 years of age, and life has just gotten more and more complicated for us. Work is worse, transports are ridiculously full, because of the tourist influx, and people can barely get to work in satisfactory conditions. Any city monument is now un-visitable almost, due to hour-long waits, and the sense of intimacy and privacy is just, well, gone. I know a few secret spots, thank god, and i won´t share those, lest they become assimilated by the money-making machine as well. I actually have friends who post pictures of spots online, and refuse to give up the location, and somehow i agree with them to some extent. I used to love tourists, engaged in conversation with them as much as i could, made them feel at home, was an active city guide for free, did it with pleasure. But after all this? Can barely drive around the city anymore, traffic is hell, prices are soaring.. I actually have friends who were evicted from their houses, shamelessly, so that the building could be sold to some foreign jackass to make a good buck out of renting flats to temprary residents a.k.a. tourist or foreign exchange students. Evicted! We are being pushed out of our own city center. I know i haven´t been there since i don´t know when, and it saddens me. The city i grew up in, the city that has been my home since i was born. With what right? Lisboners, as many of us say now, have become a nuisance in Lisbon. We are unwanted. We don´t bring money to the table, we sometimes don´t pay the bills on time because we lack the proper economic security, we don´t buy gifts at the giftshop, we know where to get our things at good fair prices, we don´t dine at touristic fado-restaurants, we are Lisbon-savvy, so to speak, and it takes some years to get that. We manage to survive, but do we live? Are we happy? Some of us, maybe, but not most of us. I would only ask for foreign visitors to realize this to some extent, and to do responsible tourism here.. Not take our homes from us, or come here, mess the place up, throw some cash over it and leave to your more evolved home country. We have many things to solve, yes, but right now, you are doing more damage than good. I´m not talking about you specifically, i don´t know you, i mean the tourist population in general. I´m sorry for the long and negativist comment, but this is what i see on the street everyday. I used to live next to Bairro Alto, for 4 years, now i live next to Belém. It is not easy. Best regards.
Thanks so much Joao. Very interesting comment and when I wrote this post I never thought I opened a can of worms. I wrote it from a traveller’s point of view and never realized Lisboans had many of their own issues with tourism.
Thanks for writing all this out.
As you know, we really liked Lisbon :-). Of course we were only there for four days and we loved the little Airbnb rental. I do think that made a difference. We also loved the fact that we heard English all around us, which was kind of welcome. I think if we had some of the challenges you had, we probably wouldn’t have liked it as much. It totally reminded me of why we like to travel off season :-). Lovely photos. Next time we will explore more of Lisbon and hopefully Porto.
I think Lisbon is well suited too a short stay and where you guys were situated (in the Baixa) was perfect for that.
Yes, off-season is the time to go and I’m becoming of the opinion that ALL of Europe is like that. Even Split (Croatia), a place we love, is hard to take June – Aug.
It’s funny about language. A great thing about Lisbon is that locals do speak English, which surprised us. Here in Sevilla (as you know) people don’t speak English, if they do it’s only in the tourist areas. We’re fortunate we speak the language – but I can imagine that the average traveller would be lost here if they only spoke English. In fact many countries in Western Europe are unilingual (Spain, France, UK). Unlike Eastern Europe where people are generally proficient in several languages. Add Portugal to that list 🙂
We haven’t been to Lisbon, but we did spend 5 days in Porto which I think gave us a good flavor for Portugal. Since I am have Portuguese, it was a great introduction to my cultural background as I knew nothing of Portugal growing up. I think it’s getting more and more difficult to travel to any popular destination in the summer months. If it is at all possible, we try to travel in the shoulder and off seasons, but I suppose sometimes one just has to go when the opportunity arises. I am uber particular about where we stay because if I don’t sleep well, I’m worthless (and cranky). We’d die in any accommodations that didn’t have a/c and that is always my biggest concern when we pay up front for a place to stay such as on AirBnB. I appreciate your honest review of Lisbon, we can’t all love every place.
I loved so many of your photos, especially the shot of the stairway with the blue tiles, OMG,I want to see that so badly. When we were in Porto I couldn’t get enough of the colored tiles, brilliant!
Thank you so much Patti! That photos was about 20 feet from our apartment and I was lucky to get that photo of it when I did – because a few days later somebody had painted graffiti on it.
Totally agree with you about visiting Europe in shoulder and off seasons. We decided after this summer in Europe that we would never travel here this time of year again.
Hi there , I know its been afew years but I am really trying to find these stairs I would love to try and clean them up and take some pictures with some friends , we are working a comunity project and are volunteers. by any chance do you know the name of the road or where you airbnb was , It would be so useful , we have ben 3 hours looking for it , but its covered by trees so we are not sure where its at ? could you help us ?
Hi Sebastien. I’m assuming you mean the blue mural stairs that were close to our apartment. I looked it up and made a little map for you. Right here. Our apartment was on Rua de Alegria and the stairs are just next to it (a shortcut to take instead of taking Alegria). Please let me know if you find them.
Sarah (JetSetting Fools)
“I think the beauty of Lisbon lies in the total ensemble and not the individual sights themselves” Spot. On.
Our first trip to Lisbon was at the end of September. We had spent a few fabulous days in Porto and were excited to see the ‘big city.’ When we arrived, it was hotter than we anticipated, there was construction everywhere and our first three hotel choices (this was long before airbnb!) were fully booked. Frustrated, we bailed on staying in the center and booked an extravagant hotel in Belem. Even then, we couldn’t figure out the trams and ended up taking 3 different modes of transport to get from Lisbon to Belem (absurd!). The next day, we got locked in a train station. Seriously. Our ticket was checked on the train and determined valid, but when we used those tickets to exit, the doors would not open. We had to yell to an employee to come help us get out. When we did a walking tour of Alfama, we hiked the hills in the heat wondering what exactly it was we were supposed to be looking at – graffiti? laundry? Again, we bailed on the walk and found a cafe with a view to grab a beer. For the longest time, Lisbon ranked as the only city we had visited that we didn’t like.
All that being said – when we returned a few years later in December, we had a completely different experience! The cooler weather, the fewer crowds and the Christmas spirit were amazing. We stayed for two weeks in the Alfama district in a warm and inviting airbnb (one of our all-time favorites!). We met locals, we found places void of tourists, we took our own adult beverages and tapas to lookout points and enjoyed the view and space. We visited churches – and had them to ourselves. It felt like a completely different place. We walked and walked and walked – and we literally fell in love with Lisbon on our second trip. We moved slower; we weren’t looking for the sights (because we had already seen them). We also found it to be incredibly affordable (minus eating out, which we didn’t do much of). We shopped at the grocery store at the train station – but surprisingly found it full of locals. We did notice more people selling trinkets on the street (but we have seen this as a growing issue, even in small towns in Italy) and we, too, were openly offered an astounding number of drugs – even while walking busy streets. But, Lisbon stole our hearts. It is not a place we would every visit in the summer, but we would go back in the winter in a heartbeat!
Great comment Sarah and nice to know you loved it the 2nd time around.
We had many similarities with your 1st trip: hot every day (and very little shade in Lisbon) and construction everywhere (which made photos from the viewpoints a lot less attractive). We had a terrible Hop on/Hop off tour with Gray Line – we always take City Sightseeing but their buses were right next to each other and there was confusion in buying the tickets. DON’T TAKE GREY LINE TOURS. We were fine with the metro but there is very little human help and we were surprised that we needed our tickets to get out of the metro. And like you the walking around Alfama was kind of blah…
As you know, little things like good accommodation and lack of the tourist hordes make all the difference when travelling. You see things with happier eyes when you actually sleep and less tourists transform a place from Disneyworld to an authentic experience…and locals are always friendlier when there are less tourists around.
Great comment and we’ll keep the season in mind the next time. How things have changed in travel the last 25 years – even then, high season didn’t mean an inundation of tourists. Now it often shapes a place.
Thank you, thank you. We’ve been researching a trip to Lisbon and then doing a homestay in the country…. now we think we’ll wait and go in November or December and we’ll definitely avoid AirBnB unless we find the one that Sarah had, hee hee. Great info on the metro and crowds and groceries. I appreciate your help.
Good luck Cheryl. I think it’s just because we spent so much time there. I think most people who spent a week or so there would love it – but as far as a “base” for a month it is still our worst experience after 3 years of full-time travel. Just couldn’t believe how impractical central Lisbon was.
Would love to hear your feedback when you return!