Portugal is hot these days. Everyone seems to be moving here or buying property. My husband claims everyone has a bad case of fomo, but I am here to tell you that are some things you should know before you book your trip to this beautiful land of my ancestry. If you plan on moving here sight unseen (yes, people are actually moving here without visiting first, but that’s another blog post), then you should subscribe to my blog because I’ll be posting my honest observations.
- Leave your heels at home. Once upon a time, I was the master of running in heels on the cobblestone streets of Greene Street in NYC, but I dare not wear them here. Those beautiful tiles and hilly cobble stone streets that pave each road are extremely slippery when it rains. You will literally go hydroplaning if you don’t have comfortable, sturdy shoes on with good grip. Bring sneakers “trainers”, flats with rubber based soles, or boots.
- Get “Wise.” Formerly “Transferwise” now “Wise.” It’s the best way to get money from the ATM without an insane fee. Sadly, I did not have a “wise” account when we first moved here and suffered a $75 exchange fee from my bank when I made my first Euro withdrawal from a multibanco. I literally gasped in shock at the ATM. This didn’t happen to me at Deutsche bank in Spain when we traveled there because my bank had an affiliation with them. Portuguese banks have no deals with US banks. Most expats and international travelers use a “wise” account for all money transfers. I created my account in 15 minutes and the card arrived within a week here in Lisbon. Use this referral code to join if you’d like to set your account up: https://wise.com/invite/u/triciac42
PLEASE NOTE: Only use your Wise card in Multibanco ATMs, NOT the Euronet ones. Euronet will rip you off.
3. Learn Some Basic Portuguese. Many expats will argue that you don’t need to know Portuguese when you get here but that’s a farce unless you are staying in only tourist areas (Baixa) or expat-centric neighborhoods (Chiado). If you want to truly experience the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon, Alfama, you should learn at least a little Portuguese or basic phrases for a more authentic experience. Load your phone with helpful apps like deepL, drops, and Memrise for truly European Portuguese. In a pinch, I confess that I will break out my Google Translate “conversation” mode even though Google translate is Brazilian Portuguese. Some frown upon using the Brazilian version but it helps in a pinch.
4. AirBnB & Hotel Bookings. I could write an entire post about this but make sure you ask a few questions before booking your lodging here in Lisbon or any part of Portugal, especially if you have mobility limitations. Is it wheelchair accessible? Do you have air conditioning and or heating? Can your taxi/uber drive you to the front door of the establishment?
For example, many people want to stay in Alfama because it’s the oldest and one of the most historically rich areas of Lisbon. Alfama’s beautiful, winding maze of cobble stoned streets are also the hardest to navigate unless you are extremely fit and don’t mind dragging your luggage up flights of cobble stoned stairs.
If you are a tall or bigger person, say 6′ tall, ask if the doorways, bathrooms, and ceiling height of their establishment can handle someone of your size. This is especially important if you are planning to stay in an airbnb. Portuguese people are small and some doorways are tiny, I’m talking my height (which is 5’3″). The bathrooms are another matter; some showers were challenging for my 6’1″ husband and he’s on the thinner side.
5. December & January are wet and COLD. Before we moved here from Santa Monica, everyone told us that the weather in Lisbon was identical to southern California. That is a blatant lie. It’s wet and cold and many of the buildings don’t have adequate insulation to keep heat inside, even when you crank up the heaters. The buildings here were built to keep you cool in the hot summer months. Sometimes it’s actually warmer outside than it is inside! And it’s damp. Your bedding and most surfaces will be damp. Mold is a problem here, especially in AirBnB’s that are in the older parts of the city. Make sure your lodgings either provide a dehumidifier and adequate means of heat or wait until Spring to visit. Or visit Madeira. It’s always nice in Madeira.
If you have any questions or would like me to write more blogs on this topic, drop me a line. Thanks for reading and please subscribe!