Lisbon is a great city. The weather is amazing, the food is good, and the prices are low. People that live there, or have visited recently, never fail to tell you about just how incredible the city is. However, there are some things that they don’t tell you. Some things that aren’t immediately obvious, but important to know before you pack your bags and move. Some things that you can only know by living in Lisbon for an extended period of time.
A guest post by Haydn Martin
10 things they don’t tell you about living in Lisbon
1. It’s hilly
Ever notice how a typical picture of a Lisbon street will usually involve a tram, a cobbled road, and a blue sky? What you probably don’t notice is that it’s usually also on a hill. Lisbon is very, how should I put this, steep. The only flat part really is by the river and the further inland you go, the more hilly it becomes. If you move to Lisbon you will quickly get used to walking up and down these steep streets.
2. You need cash
In many developed countries, and undeveloped ones, cash is no longer a thing. You can happily go about everyday life just using a bank card, or your iPhone, and may find yourself not handling cash for months on end. Not so in Lisbon. Cash can be required for paying bus drivers, street vendors, barmen, waiters, coffee shop owners, and others.
Having cash on you at all times will make your life a lot easier.
3. It gets cold indoors during winter
The buildings, and the city in general, are designed for warm temperatures, not the occasional cold you experience in winter. The buildings are not well-insulated and some don’t have central heating. This can leave you feeling rather chilly in winter if you don’t have appropriate clothing available. Bring a dressing gown and slippers or get used to wearing a coat indoors.
4. Drying clothes in the winter is a challenge
On the subject of the city being designed for summer, clothes are typically dried by hanging them outside of buildings. When it’s cold and humid and/or raining in winter this can be tricky business. Your clothes dry for a couple of days then it rains suddenly and they’re wet once again. It can take several days to dry a set of laundry so take this into account when you’re planning your washes!
5. The pavement is really slippy when wet
Contrary to popular belief, it does actually rain in Lisbon. December-February (and April) can be pretty damp at times. When it rains, the pavements (“calcada portuguesa”) become tricky to navigate without slipping. Especially if your shoes have little-to-no grip like apparently all of mine do…
6. There is dog, ahem, “business” on the streets
Please be careful when you’re wandering around the city. Not everyone picks up their dog doo-doo and my shoes have become acquainted with said doo-doo on multiple occasions. Be vigilant. Ensure your shoes stay clean.
(I don’t think we need a picture here…I think you get the idea)
7. Everyone drinks small beers
Portuguese people prefer to drink smaller, 20cl-sized, glasses of beer (called an “imperial”) rather than the larger sizes more common in other parts of Europe. They claim this is because it preserves the fizziness of the beer. The locals in Lisbon also enjoy a longer, less-drunkenly, night out than in many other parts of Europe and this smaller size helps to maintain sobriety.
As a Brit, I feel personally offended by this size but I guess I can live with it.
8. It’s a struggle to buy anything online
Portugal is roughly 5 years behind Northern/Western Europe/North America when it comes to technology. For instance, Pingo Doce – a large supermarket brand in Portugal – only just introduced self-checkout tills in branches in Lisbon.
One way this affects life in Lisbon is that it can be hard to get things delivered. Amazon doesn’t have a fulfilment centre in Portugal, so many products on Amazon are not available in Portugal. If you do find something that delivers to Lisbon, the delivery cost will be substantially higher. Also, if your item can’t be delivered for some reason, it gets stored at the airport and you must collect it from there.
Online shopping just isn’t really a thing yet in Portugal so if your go-to method of purchase is via online channels, this is something to consider.
9. The level of English is amazing
Southern Europe doesn’t have the best reputation for English ability (and, possibly, rightly so). So you may move to Lisbon with the fear of not being able to communicate with most people. It can be horrible when you move to a new country and feel lost with no ability to ask for help or to simply communicate with the locals.
You won’t get this feeling in Lisbon: the people here are more advanced in this regard than their Spanish and Italian compatriots.
Many people in Lisbon speak really good English, especially young people and those who work in the service industry. Even if someone you’re talking to doesn’t, someone close by will. This is not the case in many rural areas of Portugal but in Lisbon, you will be absolutely fine!
10. Learning Portuguese in Lisbon is hard
If you’re planning on living hear for a longer period of time you might consider trying to learn the language.
It’s just another romance language, right? Basically the same as Spanish? I should be able to pick it up within a few months!
Wrong. I know this is highly subjective but in my experience, and observing the experiences of others, I have found this not to be the case. Many people, particularly native English speakers, find it difficult for several reasons.
Firstly, there is the lack of necessity. Many people speak great English so there is less incentive to learn Portuguese. Even when you attempt to speak the native tongue, as soon as people hear your mangled attempt at Portuguese they will start speaking English and the conversation will move to English. People that are trying to learn Portuguese can find this frustrating.
The language itself can also be hard for some people to pronounce/decipher because of the “closed” style of speaking. Portuguese people tend to slightly mumble and mix words together, making it hard to determine the actual words that they are saying. As a result of this, spoken Portuguese sounds very different from how written Portuguese looks like it would sound, which can be confusing.
Haydn has been living in Lisbon for the past 15 months. He loves the city and would highly recommend visiting, even if you don’t end up moving there full-time.
This article was published in March 2020.