Are you an expat looking for an apartment in Lisbon? You’ve come to the right place because here at Expat in Lisbon we are going to continue providing insider information to those thinking about expatriating to the sunny capital of Portugal. Naturally, one of the most pressing concerns that most expats face when moving here is choosing an apartment. Like all cities, Lisbon has many diverse areas, each with its own unique feel. Each area has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Each area is suitable for certain personalities and totally not suitable for other personalities. So, how to choose? Where can I find this information? Frommer’s? Perhaps. Expat in Lisbon? Certainly!
In this series of posts we will be detailing the pros and cons of major parts of Lisbon and submitting (in our humble opinions) our ideas for who would most feel comfortable and thrive in each part of this diverse and magical city. In this particular post we will cover perhaps the two most popular and more likely places where expats will find their first apartment: Bairro Alto and the Av. Almirante Reis area. Let’s get started!
In a nutshell: boutiques and drying laundry by day, wild partying in the streets by night. When I came to Lisbon I went to Bairro Alto for the first time I noticed that people were drinking OUTSIDE of bars, with alcohol in their hands, in open containers. I was like, “these people can’t do that! Can they? CAN THEY!?” My friend (a Portuguese) smiled and nodded. “Yes they can, it’s legal here, to drink outside. What it’s not like that in America?”
Pois Não, bro.
There are basically only two types of people who choose to live in Bairro Alto: super old people who have lived there since (and before) the Salazar era, or Erasmus students. Bairro Alto is the nightlife center of the city. Here you can find a perpendicular grid full of watering holes, Fado houses, expensive seafood restaurants, tattoo parlors, 750ml caipirinha dealers (for 7 euros!), live music places, and the coolest bar of them all, Associação Loucos & Sonhadores (Association for Crazies and Dreamers, the only bar I’ve found that gives out free popcorn! Yuss!!!!).
A friend of mine once visited Lisbon and booked a room on Airbnb on Rua da Atalaia in Bairro Alto, or in other words, the busiest party street in all of Lisbon! She had no idea what she was getting into. Suffice it to say that she didn’t get a single good night’s sleep during her entire stay. The apartment was fairly modern with new double windows, the kind that are supposed to keep the noise out. We closed them and we still could hear a dull roar from the revelers just 15 feet away. It was like being inside an airplane taking off.
Having said that, Bairro Alto is pretty much right smack dab in the center of all the action in Lisbon and you are within walking distance from most of the points of interest in the downtown, and you are next to one of the best Miradouros in the whole city, Miradouro de São Pedro da Alcantara. Here’s a breakdown of the cost, pros, and cons for living in Bairro Alto:
Rental Price Range: For a single room, 250 to 400 Euros per month including utilities depending on how well the place is renovated. You might even be able to get an entire apartment to yourself for around 400 Euros per month here.
Party central, walking distance to the downtown, many restaurants and boutiques, real “typical” Lisbon atmosphere, lots of young people, travelers, Erasmus students, and foreigners, being in the beating heart of the nightlife, always meeting new people, something interesting always going on, seeing crazy and unbelievable things everyday, during the day you have art galeries and boutiques to keep you busy, cheap drinks and fast company by night.
Noise, noise, NOISE! Imagine coming home from a long day at work and having to wade through the sea of humanity in the photo above. Constant smell of urine from drunk revelers pissing on your front door step, trash everywhere at night, no major grocery stores in close proximity, its at the top of a hill so going home involves walking uphill, potentially with two bags of groceries, you’ll probably need to sleep with earplugs every night, the buildings are old and probably have insect and rodent infestation problems, unless you find a place that is renovated, and probably the worst thing is the sense that you are throwing your life away on meaningless partying and drinking every night because you live INSIDE party central. But again, if you are an Erasmus student then you probably only came to Lisbon for the sunshine and partying anyway so go ahead and live on Rua da Atalaia.
A bit of psychology:
Based on my research and the experiences that I’ve had and things that I’ve seen, I’ve found that extroverted types would likely thrive in Bairro Alto. Introverts will find it extremely difficult to manage with all the people constantly milling about. Sensing types will love all the stimulation for all five senses 24/7. Intuitives and Thinkers, people who need some peace and quiet, need not apply. Therefore, the Jungian psychological types that would most likely thrive living in Bairro Alto are ESFJ and ESFP people. If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about I suggest you take this test to determine your Myers-Briggs Personality Type.
In a nutshell, If you’re not a super old person who is mostly deaf at this point or an Erasmus student, or an ESFJ or an ESFP then you probably want to live elsewhere, perhaps, the Av. Almirante Reis area?
Av. Almirante Reis
This area is multicultural with heavy Asian and North African influences. Very Bohemian with vintage clothing stores, world markets selling imported spices and lychees, very gritty with a bit of prostitution and drug dealing on the corner, very convenient with grocery stores in walking distance and the Metro (green line), and far enough away from the center to be quiet at night so you can get a good night’s sleep when you want it. A taxi ride to and from the nightlife areas will be less than 5 euros. If you live closer to Martim Moniz you can walk. If you live closer to Alameda you probably want to take a cab.
This area that I will cover consists of 5 metro stops on the green line: Martim Moniz, Intendente, Anjos, Arroios, and Alameda. Martim Moniz is the closest to the center and Alameda is the farthest. Martim Moniz and Intendente are the sketchiest places to live with the most drug dealing/crime/prostitution going on, Anjos is a little bit better, and by the time you get to Arroios and Alameda you’re pretty clean.
Martim Moniz is the de facto China Town of Lisbon. Intendente is pretty much North Morocco. Anjos is an interesting mix of yuppies, university students, and old people who let their dogs crap on the street. Arroios is wannabe yuppie with convenience and Alameda is renovated rich college kids spending their parents cash. Alameda and Arroios have the added advantage of being close to Saldanha on the yellow line where all the cinemas and language schools are.
Rental Price Range: For a single room plus utilities you can expect to pay 250 Euros on the low end to 350 Euros at the high end per month. Entire apartments could cost between of 500-700 Euros.
Pros: A very diverse area with lots of convenience in the form of normal grocery stores and smaller mom & pop style grocers, liquor stores, and ethnic stores. Very well serviced by public transport and you have the Metro right there (green line) and the Tram 28 has stops near Anjos, Intendente, and Martim Moniz. The buildings are in better shape than average here in Lisbon but you can still expect to find bugs in your kitchen in most places here. You can find a lot of rooms here in this area that cater to Erasmus students and young people.
This area is also very easy to get to if you have a car and or a lot of stuff to move. Personally, I think that moving to a new apartment is one of the hardest things in life. To make it easier I usually get a friend with a huge car to help me, but if you are new to the city you might need another option.
Cons: A high rate of crime including thefts, drug dealing, and prostitution, particularly closer to Intendente and Martim Moniz. Lack of parking. Due to its proximity to a major avenue in Lisbon air pollution is a problem and the street can be quite noisy even at night. Dog poop is everywhere on the streets. It kind of reminds me of when I was trying to find an Istanbul property in the lower end price range.
A bit of psychology: The Almirante Reis area is an interesting blend of extroverts and introverts due to the fact that it’s close enough to the downtown for the extroverts to feel at the pulse of it all but far enough away so the introverts can have some peace and quiet and read a book. However if I had to say which type this place favors I would still say the extroverts will feel more comfortable here than introverts. This is especially true if you choose to stay in an apartment where the landlord rents out rooms for Erasmus students or if you live in a building with a landlord that rents out rooms to Erasmus students. Due to the ethnic diversity of the area I feel that all psychological types would be able to be relatively comfortable here in this area, with the extroverts closer to the city center and the introverts farther away.
So, which area will you choose? Are you interested in reading about another area in Lisbon to live? Perhaps, Principe Real, Alfama, or Cais do Sodré? Put your request in the comments and stay tuned for the next installment of this series.
And as always,
Lisboa Espera Por Ti.