A Digital Nomad's Guide to Lisbon, Portugal
Welcome to Europe's San Francisco! No really... it's kind of strange how similar these two cities are. The trolleys, Golden Gate Bridge, hills, and tech scene really make Lisbon feel like SF de ja vu. It makes you wonder which came first, or if they mutually decided to copy each other. But there is much more to Lisbon than its American city look-a-like qualities. Here are some insights on what I have learned about the city, and how to have the best Digital Nomad experience here, enjoy!
To Start, the Best and the Worst
The best part about Lisbon: the views, hands down
The worst part of about Lisbon: the flies, these are the most aggressive flies I have ever experienced, they will straight up follow you down the street, and dive-bomb your eyeballs! Also the sidewalks are really slippery, so if you're not too graceful like me, you most likely will fall a few times.
The best food in Lisbon: this is a very hard choice between the Piri Piri chicken from Frangasqueira Nacional and the street food in Bairro Alto, the chorizo wrapped in fresh hot bread
Where to Stay in Lisbon for the Best Digital Nomad Experience
Lisbon is known as the city of the seven hills, and walking around is a work out. Needless to say, where you are living will greatly dictate where you spend a majority of your time, unless you like walking up and down hills multiple times a day in the Mediterranean heat, paying for Ubers constantly, or taking a lot of public transit.
I chose to rent an Air BNB in the Alfama area, which is known as the "old town" of Lisbon. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it turns out this area is on the east side hill of Lisbon which is very picturesque. Alfama has the small windy streets and old beautiful buildings that you see in classic photographs of Lisbon. It was an absolutely beautiful place to stay! We were right across the street from the Church of São Vicente de Fora and we could hear the church bells every day in this peaceful part of town. There are coffee shops, restaurants, and groceries stores all within walking distance. Not to mention the spectacular view points, and the adorable surroundings. We frequented a restaurant down the street called "Rendez Vous... more than wine" at least once a week. Their stuffed squid is divine! As well as a local chocolate shop called "Calçada do Cacau" which has the most amazing strawberry chocolate I've ever tasted in my life.
Originally I chose this location because it was the nicest looking Air BNB for the best price. We paid $1,200 USD per month for a large one bedroom with a patio in a beautifully renovated share house. Our host Victor was spectacular, and his place is now always booked out at least 3-4 months in advance (*prices fluctuate depending on season and occupancy) if you're interested I recommend jumping on this place! Use my Air BNB code to get a discount click here.
The downside to living in Alfama, is that we were quite far away from the Digital Nomad action. If you aren't already aware, Lisbon has one of the largest Digital Nomad communities in the world. The most active coordinator of these Digital Nomad networking events is a Meetup and Facebook group called Lisbon Digital Nomads. They put on weekly meet-ups as well as picnics, concert outings, impact events and more. Most of these events are located on the other side of town from Alfama in Bairro Alto area. So to participate I would have to take a 45-50 minute public transportation route, or call a $3-7 Uber (each way). That can get pricy after a while. I believe, but don't quote me on this, that most of the events are on that side of town, because that is also where most of the co-working and co-living spaces are located as well as the biggest nightlife scene. So if you are planning on being heavily involved in the Digital Nomad community, and working at a co-working space most days, I wouldn't recommend Alfama for you.
Bairro Alto & Largo de Camoes Areas
Bairro Alto is best known for its colorful history and its current label of "the best place to go out in Lisbon." This area is also very old and picturesque as far as buildings and architecture go. It is located on the western hill of Lisbon, and has excellent views of the city, especially from the famous Elevador de Santa Justa. There are also parts closer to the river, that are very modern, with tall office buildings, rod iron, and glass, very much a mix of old and new.
The plus side to living on this side of town would be your close proximity to all things Digital Nomad, the night life, the very trendy restaurant and bar scene in the area and also under the Ponte Salazar Bridge which is close by. The most popular co-working spaces are Selena and Outsite averaging about $180 a month for access, and those are close by as well. The downside to living on this side is that it is more crowded, and less quant than the Alfama area. But if I were going to live in Lisbon again, I would choose to stay in Bairro Alto. That is, if the prices were affordable. When I had previously looked, it was more expensive to stay in Bairro Alto, and for a lower quality space.
The Cost Effectiveness of Living in Lisbon vs. other European Countries
Part of the draw of living in Lisbon, is its reputation for being a beautiful European city without the typical European cost of living. Unfortunately, I am not sure how true that is anymore. Word on the street is that big tech companies like Google have been setting up shop here, creating campuses, and attracting the tech crowd which in tern has been bolstering the local economy but also driving up all the prices. To give you some examples here are some typical prices I have been paying over the month I have spent in Lisbon:
Americano - 1 euro
Latte - 4 euro
Breakfast (eggs & things) 10-12 euro
Dinner (local dishes) 10- 18 euro
Groceries - 40 euro a week
Wine - 2-4 euro a glass
Cocktails - 8- 12 euro
Public Transport - 2 euro per direction (4 euro round trip)
High Speed Wifi in Lisbon
I tried out the Selena co-working space, as well as working in cafes like the popular Copenhagen. Unfortunately the wifi was always too slow for me. Please note, that I work in marketing and graphic design, and have to upload and download large files and very large photos constantly, so the regular 'check my email and surf the web wifi' doesn't cut it for me.
To work around this issue, I went to Fnac and bought a hot spot device, and then to Nos, a local cell phone company, and bought their 30 days of unlimited data for 30 euros. This worked great for me! I was able to work efficiently, and from pretty much anywhere in the city. Because of this, I did not pay for a co-working space. I chose to work from my Air BNB or from cafes around the Alfama area.
Recommended Experiences for Digital Nomads in Lisbon
There are a few things I highly recommend you check out while you are nomading in Lisbon.
First off, this may sound super cheesy, but I seriously love Rick Steves' walking tours. If you aren't familiar with Rick Steves, he is a travel blogger/vlogger that your parents probably watched on BBC and the Travel Channel back in the day. Be that as it may, his stuff is GOOD! He has these walking tours for most of the big cities in Europe in the podcast app on your phone. You download the map and follow his route while you listen to him tell you about what you're seeing and experiencing. I love these because you can do them at your own pace, stop and have lunch or grab a beer, and then continue on. I also really like all the history, stories, and tips that he includes. His walking tour for Lisbon is awesome!
Second, I highly recommend renting one of Uber's bikes called "JUMP" from the Praça do Comércio (there are tons of them around, plus it's a beautiful place to begin your bike ride). Then riding along the bike path to the Tower of Belem. The bike ride is about 45 minutes, but the JUMP bikes have peddle assist, so the ride is super easy. You ride along the river, and go past all these cute restaurants, and under the Ponte Salazar Bridge. It is the perfect way to enjoy a beautiful sunny day in Lisbon. On the way back, we stopped and grabbed lunch right under the bridge with views of the river, sail boats, and picturesque shops.
Third, is taking a day trip to Sintra. Andres and I rented a car for a few days while staying in Lisbon and it was perfect for our trip to Sintra. If you're like me and love the outdoors, you are going to love how forresty and beautiful the hills of Sintra are. You can visit the Morrish Castle, the Palace Pena and the Quinta da Regaleira. The Quinta da Regaleira was my favorite. We went in mid-September and there were no lines, and no waits. But from what I have heard if you go from May - Sept there are usually crazy lines, so to go as early as you can. Before you go definitely check out Iz Harris' video on Sintra for great food recommendations.
Last but not least, I also highly recommend taking a guided tour of the Church of São Vicente of Fora. This beautiful church and monastery has a TON of really cool history, and the woman who gives the guided tour knows her shit! I feel like I learned more on this 2 hour tour than I did in the entire month I lived in Lisbon.
Details About My Stay:
Duration: 4 weeks
Season: Summer/Fall (Aug. 15 - Sept. 15, 2019
Monthly Cost of Living Est.: $1,800
Would I come back: Yes, but not for such a long time, I think a week is enough unless you are a serious city person and thrive in the urban environment.