Welcome apartment hunters and potential Expats to my second installment of Choosing an Apartment in Lisbon guide! This week we are going to cover two new areas: Principe Real and Alfama. These two places could not be more different and I think that is one of the great things about Lisbon. Even though it is a small city (compared to São Paulo) you still have lots of different areas and neighborhoods. If my last post in this series didn’t help you so much because you weren’t interested in the craziness of Bairro Alto or the multicultural feel of Almirante Reis, hopefully you can find something of value in this post about Principe Real and Alfama.
Let’s start with Principe Real.
This is one of the nicer parts of town. The buildings are more likely to be renovated and somewhat modern on the inside. You can see lots of buildings with Portuguese Azulejos on the outside and that gives the place a really nice aesthetic. Principe Real is the de facto gay district in Lisbon. It is right next to Bairro Alto so you can walk to and from the bars and clubs.
Price: For a single room between 350 to 450 euros all inclusive. For a T2 anywhere between 700-1000 euros per month depending on size and renovation and location.
Pros: Excellent location. Walking distance to the downtown and Bairro Alto. Lots of high end clothing boutiques and cafes. Well serviced with grocery stores and public transports in the area. The Jardim do Principe Real has one of the nicest outdoor restaurants and cafes in the city. There’s also a sense of “up-and-coming-ness” to Principe Real. You feel like the yuppies are just about to arrive with their yoga studios and health food store franchises. Principe Real sits on the top of one of the highest hills in Lisbon so you get lots of light, and if you can get an apartment that faces South you will get amazing sunlight all year long.
Yes, that does look like an epic hill to bomb on a skateboard, I admit. But what about walking and carrying two bags of groceries?
Cons: It’s expensive for what it is. If you want to live in a nice renovated place it will cost you towards the upper end of the price quotes above. A former roommate of mine moved into a tiny T1 apartment in a crumbling building in Principe Real that cost more than 500 Euros a month total with no Internet and no washing machine. Parking is moderately difficult. If you live on one of the side streets off of Rua Escola Politechnica you will face a steep climb everyday. In fact, the area is one of the hilliest in Lisbon. Expect to get a leg workout living here. If you live near the gay clubs and bars you will have noise during the night. Also many people throw house parties in Principe Real so if there’s one in your not-so-renovated-building you will have noise.
X Factor: There’s something in the air when you walk through Principe Real. You can feel it. It’s the smell of progress.
Now let’s talk about Alfama! What can I say about this old part of town, the only part of the downtown area that survived the epic earthquake in the mid 18th century? It’s quaint, it’s adorable, it’s a wreck, and it’s a community built on tightly wound streets and drying laundry hanging overhead. If you want to see Lisbon as it was two centuries ago, go to Alfama. This is quintessential Lisbon by night.
I interviewed a buddy of mine for this post and he agreed to give his advice on the pros and cons of living in Alfama. He lived there for over a year and without further ado enter Grant:
“My rent for a rather small T2, furnished, about 60 square meters, was like 565 Euros per month, not including utilities, so like around 600 Euros per month total, but my place was recently renovated and had a nice view of the river Tejo.”
“The advantages of living in Alfama have to be, no cars, no noise, but you do hear soft Fado Music floating through the air, but that’s not really a bad thing. You have a good community feel. It’s like living in a village in the middle of a big city. The location is good. Bairro Alto is like 15-20 minutes by walking, Graça is like 5-10 minutes. Public transports are fairly decent, you have Santa Appolonia (Blue Metro Line) about a 10 minute walk. The bars are really cheap here too.”
I agree with what Grant says here, especially the part about living in a village in the middle of the city. You definitely get the feeling that you have gone back in time when you wander through the streets of Alfama.
“The negatives about Alfama I would say are that it is such a tight knit community here so if you aren’t Portuguese or at least speak the language really well you do feel kind of alienated. You can’t have a car because the streets are too narrow. There’s dog poop everywhere. It’s oldest part of town so generally the buildings are in really bad shape. There’s lots of old folks around so you can’t have house parties or anything without angering your neighbors. If you rely on trams to get around you will always be late because the trams are always late. When I first moved here I thought I would be going to see a lot of Fado shows but mostly the Fado houses in Alfama cater to tourists and you need to pay for dinner first so it can get fairly expensive. Oh yeah, and the creeping mold in the houses everywhere.”
So Grant, what’s your best and worst experiences living in Alfama?
“Well the worst would have to be when I saw two pitbulls attacking an old lady and no one was doing anything about it, so I tried to help but everyone else was just standing there watching. There are a lot of stray dogs in Alfama. My best experience was during St. Antonio holiday where I was right in the center of all the celebration. But this can be bad too because I really didn’t get a good night’s sleep for that whole week.”
Any X-Factor for living in Alfama?
“If you get the right place with a view, it’s very picturesque, overlooking the Tejo. It’s like living in a fairy tale.”
Well that’s it for this installment. If you have any requests for other different parts of the city for me to do a guide on, put them in the comments below! Thanks again for visiting Expat in Lisbon, and as always,
Lisboa Espera Por Ti