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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Lisbon

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Life in Lisbon

At a Glance:

  • Lisbon is a city steeped in history and tradition, such as the famous fado music.
  • Whether its culture you crave, shopping, or sport, there truly is something for everyone.
  • Lisbon’s excellent public transportation links will help you navigate the busy city.

The Largest City in Portugal

For a city of worldwide recognition, it might be somewhat of a surprise to learn that a mere 547,733 people were living in Lisbon proper at the time of the last census in 2011. This number also appears to be on the decline, as in 2016, the population was estimated at just 505,000. However, this number might be somewhat misleading: if you take the people living in the city’s metropolitan area into account, the actual number of residents peaks at almost three million. For a nation of just over ten million this is a huge population concentration. The only other city that can rival Lisbon and its surroundings in terms of population is Porto, Portugal’s “other” metropolis.

While there is an expat community in Lisbon, it is not as multicultural a place as many other expat hubs or state capitals. Still, Lisbon is home to various communities of Eastern European expats as well as a larger number of people with roots in former Portuguese colonies.

Lisbon’s Cultural Wealth and Heritage

Lisbon has a rich and fascinating history: Portugal’s capital is not only one of the oldest cities in Europe, but also one of the oldest in the world. Over the course of history, it has been occupied under many different rules and consequently, indelible marks have been left on the face of the city — marks which still influence Lisbon today. Roman, Germanic, and Arabic influences — some more, some less pronounced — combined with the predominant Roman Catholic culture have made the experience of living in Lisbon one of a kind.

Alfama, for instance, serves as a permanent reminder of this diverse history. To this day, it is the only neighborhood of Lisbon to survive the catastrophic earthquake of 1755 which turned most of the city to rubble. The influences of 400 years of Muslim rule are also most pronounced here — and not only in the name of the area, which is derived from the ancient Arabic word Al-hammah, meaning thermal baths. Still, it cannot be denied that the developments after the Reconquista, during which Christian forces reassumed control over the city, have had the most impact on the architecture and culture still present today. From the monumental architecture of the 16th century, including several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, to the city’s proud seafaring tradition, the centuries between the Reconquista and the earthquake were certainly notable for Lisbon.

One of the more contemporary cultural treasures is known as fado. Fado is the unmistakeable music of Portugal’s streets, which rose to international popularity during the second half of the 20th century. You will soon discover that it is an inescapable part of living in Lisbon.

There’s Something for Everybody

It is unlikely that you will ever experience a dull moment in Lisbon. The city center offers countless culturally enriching experiences and other forms of entertainment. The areas of Bairro Alto, Alcântara, and Chiado are notoriously lively and provide the perfect place to go out and spend some time with friends. However, if you are looking for something a little more relaxing, then be sure to check out the historic areas of Belém, Estrela, and the previously mentioned Alfama.

If your idea of relaxing and having fun is shopping for lots and lots of new clothes, give the Baixa a shot — the number one neighborhood for fashion aficionados in Lisbon. But of course, the recreational possibilities do not stop here. Whether it be nature, museums, or sport, Lisbon has it covered. Longing for some nature? You’ll have one of the largest parks in Europe right on your doorstep — Monsanto Forest Park.

Can’t get enough of museums? Lisbon covers that as well, and in exhausting variety. The Fado Museum and the National Museum of Ancient Art are just two of many internationally recognized museums. Sports fans also have the pleasure of being in a sport-crazed city: Lisbon is home to two of the most decorated and famous clubs in world football — SL Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.

Transportation and Healthcare in Lisbon

Chaotic Traffic in a Small City

In the past few decades, Lisbon has experienced rapid and widespread suburbanization, mostly due to record-high rents. Many people, particularly those just entering their business life and many of the middle class, may prefer a longer daily commute over extortionate rents.

This obviously poses a giant problem for the city and its surrounding municipalities: commuters driving to and from Lisbon every day cause a lot of traffic congestion. In order to cope with this overwhelming number of commuters, three circular highways were constructed to connect the city with the suburbs. Having said this, in the metropolitan area of Lisbon, traffic can still be heavy. Planning ahead will almost certainly aid you in your journey in or out of Lisbon.

The Better Alternative: Public Transportation

Taking advantage of the excellent and comprehensive public transportation systems is advisable and is almost certainly the best way to get around the city. Upon arrival in Lisbon, it is possible to apply for a Lisboa Vivacard at one of the points of sale, which offers advantages for commuters and discounted journeys on several public transportation operators including the Lisbon metro, Carris bus and tram routes, Comboios de Portugal urban trains, and the Transtejo ferry service.

This discount card is obtainable for just 7 EUR and will be delivered within ten working days. However, should you need the card more urgently, express delivery is available for 12 EUR and your card should arrive within one working day. The Lisboa Viva card will be valid from anytime between three and six years depending on the customer profile. In order to obtain the card, please bring with you the necessary documents:

  • filled-out requisition form
  • birth certificate
  • identity card (EU citizens) or passport
  • recent passport photo with a white background

The backbone of public transportation is the Lisbon Metro, which extends from the city center to the neighborhoods surrounding it. Additional bus and tram services stop almost everywhere in town. The city’s public transportation provider, Transportes de Lisboa (Carris), offers an overview of the network on their website. Another very useful feature of the page is the route planner, which finds the quickest and easiest way to travel from A to B.

Last but not least, Comboios de Portugal suburban trains allow for easy trips to and from the metro region. The four lines begin in Lisbon and end in Cascais, Sintra, Azambuja, and Sado, respectively.

You’re Well Taken Care Of

In terms of all things related to healthcare and physical well-being, expats in Lisbon have both the best and most numerous options available in all of Portugal. More than 20 hospitals, both public and private and covering various special areas of medicine, are located within Lisbon and its metropolitan area. Additionally, health centers and small clinics abound and can be found in every district — help should always be at hand. The US Embassy in Portugal offers an overview of recommended healthcare facilities and professionals within the city area.

Further information on the Portuguese healthcare system and health insurance options for expats can be found in our article on living in Portugal.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

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  • Gustavo De faz

    The quality of InterNations' members convinced me to join. And I've indeed received a very warm welcome from fellow Lisbon expats..

  • Melanie S. Hamann

    InterNations Events in Lisbon are great - I love the rightfully popular events organized by our friendly Ambassador team.

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