Thinking of moving to Lisbon? I moved to Portugal three years ago.
Having decided to opt-out of my London rat race reality, I was charmed by Lisbon from the minute I stepped out of the plane and onto its sunbathed runway.
A European capital that feels more like a quaint town, Lisbon was all my internet research had promised it would be.
There were, however, some small details about life in Lisbon that caught me by surprise.
Since arriving I have compiled the following top tips for Lisbon newcomers to help you get the most out of this wonderful city…
Are you moving to Lisbon from the UK?
1. Hello from the other side: Lisbon’s South Side
The word is already out that housing in Lisbon is difficult to find and prices are on the rise. However, one good option for cheaper rents and property investment is to hop over the river to Almada.
At either a 7-minute public ferry ride that runs a service past 1am or a 15-minute Uber journey, you are close enough not to ever have to miss out on any of the city’s fun while saving more pennies to spend on Panachés.
For a more complete guide to Almada take a look at our article here.
2. Puxe or pull?
A little background information on this one: In Portuguese, X is pronounced “sh”. You can, therefore, imagine my bewilderment in the first weeks of living in Lisbon (and still only just learning the lingo) when every time I saw PUXE on a door, pushing did not have the desired effect.
No sooner did I learn that EMPURRE is push and PUXE is, in fact, pull. An easy mix up to make! and one that still catches me out on my dozier days.
3. No queue for you
The Portuguese are impartial to queueing. They do, however, love a ticketed system!
The idea is simple: you pick up a ticket from a machine with a number on it, this is now your senha. Next, you have to check the display for which number is currently being served.
It’s great when there are plenty of people ahead of you, as you might even be able to squeeze a coffee into the time that you’d otherwise have been spending queueing to be served!
So whether it be at the bank, fishmongers, coffee shop or medical centre, be sure not to forget to pick up your own senha and wait for your number to appear or be called, or else you may be waiting indefinitely!
4. Drink coffee like a local
Starbucks and other big coffee chains are relatively few and far between in Lisbon compared to other European cities. There is no shortage of the brew though, as the Portuguese drink heaps of it!
Inexpensive Al Fresco coffee kiosks are plentiful in Lisbon, and many boast stunning city views, peaceful green surroundings, or both. There is also a fairly extensive menu of coffee options and a very specific culture of Portuguese coffee drinking etiquette.
One personal tip to not stand out as a foreigner is to limit your lattes (galãos) to breakfast time only and proceed to drink espressos whilst standing at the coffee bar after that.
This is a biggie on our top tips for newcomers in Lisbon so for a full guide on how and where to order Portuguese coffee, see our full article here.
5. Bring an umbrella and blankets
Although blue skies and sunshine may be a big part of Lisbon’s appeal, believe it or not, it actually has a higher average of annual rainy days than London! Whilst in London you will experience 106 rainy days per year, in Lisbon you can expect 117.
Furthermore, central heating is not a given in older Lisbon properties, so while it may not get as cold, it certainly feels chillier indoors on a cold winters night.
For these reasons, I recommend packing an umbrella, warm coat and extra blankets if you plan to be in Lisbon between the months of October and February.
6. Affordable Adventures
While car rental prices go up over the touristy summer months, they are incredibly low throughout the rest of the year!
Rent a car and take some friends to visit the picturesque walled city of Óbidos or the biggest waves in the world at Nazaré. With so many great options for day trips and weekend getaways not far from Lisbon, Portugal will be your oyster!
Have a look at our full guide to car rental in Portugal here.
7. Funny Fruits
When in a foreign country, one of my favourite trips is always to a market or the local supermarket. I invariably find weird and wonderful fruits and vegetables previously unknown to me, which add to the sense of adventure! In Lisbon, it was no different.
Above all, I recommend the diospiro (UK persimmon)a sweet seasonal red or orange fruit available throughout the Autumn.
There are two varieties, one being firmer than the other, both are loaded with nutrients and the Portuguese also make a delicious ice cream from it which you can try at different ice cream shops all over Lisbon, my favourite is at Gelato Davvero.
Another fruit I have enjoyed getting to know is the baby kiwi (UK kiwi berries) which taste very much like normal kiwis except that they are smaller, juicier, sweeter and tangier.
Many fruits and vegetables here such as figs, melons and pumpkins are sold according to season so keep your eyes peeled throughout the year for the best dibs on fruit, both familiar and unfamiliar!
8. Scholarly Sundays
One top tip is to plan your museum trips for Sundays when many of them are free. The stunning Belém Tower is free entry on a Sunday from 10:00 to 14:00 and many other of Lisbon’s top museums have free entry too.
Click here for a full guide to the top 15 museums in Lisbon.
9. Don’t trust the green man
Whilst in London you will have learned to trust the green man as a good indication of when you can safely cross the road. In Lisbon, you should not take this as a rule of thumb.
Check for cars and check again, as they will not always stop when the green man is showing. Better to be safe than sorry!
10. Bring your own cosmetics
Whilst a good quality of life is easy to achieve here and cost of living is relatively low, there are some things which are far cheaper back in the U.K.
Among these are shampoo, conditioner, shaving gel, make-up, tampons and other commonly used items.
I always stock up on these while in the UK and bring enough supplies to last me until my next visit home. I suggest you do the same with your favourite cosmetic goodies if you enjoy being thrifty.
The one I pine for and stock up on the most is Sure Bright Bouquet deodorant which simply cannot be found in Portugal!
11. Ditch the high heels
There is plenty of opportunity for great nights out in Lisbon, which I wouldn’t suggest missing! Some of the best nights can be found in the cobbled district of Bairro Alto.
The problem with this, as with many popular areas of the city, is that cobbles can prove to be a treacherous terrain while wearing heels.
Combine this with Lisbon’s famous “7 hills”, steep streets and its high number of rainy days, and you’ll realize that high heels are best left at home.
No one wants to end up face first, injured and in a puddle after a few Sagres, rendering the night “acabada”. So, I say ditch the heels, don some flats and you’re bound to have an awesome night.
Welcome to Lisbon!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these top tips for Lisbon newcomers and that they will be useful to you while you embark on your own adventure in our beautiful Portuguese capital.
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Rachel is a writer and English teacher from Brighton, UK. She has lived in Lisbon since 2016. She loves dancing, samba, surfing and documentary film.