What they don’t tell you about living in Lisbon

What they don’t tell you about living in Lisbon

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

Lisbon hills

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

Lisbon city living

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

How to live in Lisbon

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.

Read more on Living in Europe – The cheapest cities to live in Italy | Europe Living Cost Comparison

Guest WriterAuthor Bio

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.

What they don’t tell you about living in Lisbon

2 thoughts on “What they don’t tell you about living in Lisbon

  1. I am afraid you’re not right on regards to buying online. Check outs on supermarkets are not in my opinion a sign of technology development. You can find them in big chains of supermarkets like Continent and Jumbo to name a few. And buying online in these supermarkets are around for quite a long time. Also you can easily buy from Amazon Spain very quickly as it covers all Iberic peninsula. Lisbon is one of the most attractive places for technology stand ups in Europe. Maybe you should check that out. As for the hills…see it like this; it makes you fitter. “Once in Rome ..be a Roman”

  2. Beging Portuguese I’llagree with something’s on the article but here are the things a local born and raised has to set straight (taking in account the writer of the article has only lived in Portugal fir 15 months…)

    Old buildings that are remodeled to look new will be colder in winter, specially in the city center, where buildings are old, my house in Portugal has 30+ years, flanel pijama and a robe and Im good for winter.

    A 20cl beer is called a mini, because, I guess the name is self explanatory, an Imperial is on the glass and is a medium with 32cl, also ou beers can go from 5 to 8/10% alcohol, far from dead or weak.

    Technology wise Pingo Doce is large in its spread but the supermarkets are small in size therefore low on self-service tills, if you go to continente or auchan or to Dolce Vita shoping center or Colombo, they have had self-service tills for the last decade at least. Still in technology we can use our atms do topup our transportation cards, pay any bill or fine etc etc, and that for a decade at least.

    On the rest I will agree, online isnt big but growing, and cash is still needed. When I went to school we learnt English and French at age 11(now english is first grade) then aome schools would also give Spanish and German as optional, all in public school, aome now offer mandarin.

    Sorry to say this to the writer of the article, but whether he is going to the wrong places, wrong guides, or needs more time in Portugal, but he should learn a bit more on the evolution of the country, also go to North, they are putting public benches near the beach and parks with wifi and chargers for phone and laptop 😉

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