Tourism injects money into local economies, creates new jobs and helps to improve a city’s infrastructure. But what happens when tourism is so successful a city struggles to support the influx of visitors?
Lisbon is one such city. Visitors are drawn by the cheap prices, warm climate and ancient neighbourhoods but a sharp increase in the cost of accommodation for locals and irresponsible behaviour from some tourists have impacted the way of life for many locals. So how do you visit a city like Lisbon while supporting the local community and leaving a positive impact? We asked local residents for their advice about how to enjoy the best things the city has to offer.
Support local and traditional businesses
“There used to be a specific time of year when the city was full of tourists, usually during the summer. Nowadays, it’s all year-round, and so it’s become hard to go into town to get day-to-day things done. It’s sad seeing long-term residents from traditional Lisbon neighbourhoods moving further out because of high rents. I think it would help if tourists tried to integrate themselves into the city more: seeking out authentic Portuguese experiences, contributing to the local economy and freeing up public transport on central routes.”
Lots of local businesses have interesting and quirky delights if you take the time to explore. Don’t be afraid to wander into small establishments to explore what they have on offer. Want to try a pastel de nata, the famous Portuguese custard tart? Lisbon is full of amazing little bakeries with extraordinary pastries. Eating at bakeries managed by local residents means you’ll be contributing to the local economy and encouraging small business growth in the community.
Some tips for finding local establishments are to look for signage in Portuguese rather than English, to check the prices (local establishments are priced for locals not tourists and are typically much cheaper. A pastry and coffee should be about 2.50 euros) and to look for small, independent, family run establishments. These buildings are usually much older without shiny, modern amenities.
Respect the locals
Ana Carolina, 34
“It’s essential for tourists visiting Lisbon to respect local customs, to respect the people, history and culture of the city, and to be open to new perspectives so they can understand them. They can find out about the culture of the country they’re going to, how things work, the way of life there. Don’t litter, opt for sustainable consumption, share experiences, and whenever you can, tip generously so you can stimulate local businesses.”
It might seem obvious, but a lot of tourists can forget to respect local residents when they’re travelling. As a rule of thumb, don’t do anything in another country that you wouldn’t do at home. Respect local customs, be polite to the people who live there and keep noise to a minimum in residential areas.
Have local experiences
“Lisbon is alive, beautiful, and has many different possible futures. We are all in this together – people who have been transplanted here, the locals, the guests. Lisbon is friendly, but struggling to protect her identity. But one good sign is that the dialogue is growing. The best news remains the fact that it is up to us to choose the future.”
Forget about what conventional guidebooks recommend you should do in Lisbon. Taking the time to explore beyond a top 10 list of attractions will give you a more authentic experience of the city and you’ll avoid getting lost in crowds of people. Look for vantage points that are a little further away from the centre for amazing peaceful views of the city.
“Miradouro” Nossa Senhora Do Monte 📷@nelson.sales
Discover the city on foot
For the founders of We Hate Tourism Tours, a company offering alternative tours of the city, responsible tourism can ensure the daily lives of residents aren’t disrupted. Many residents often feel disconnected from their home, particularly during peak season, unable to go about their regular routines. Bruno from We Hate Tourism Tours says, “We don’t do tours in the conventional sense, we actually open up dialogue between locals and tourists who come with us, exploring the city we grow, live and love in”.
For the most part, Lisbon is made up of narrow little streets. By using motorised transport, you can end up disturbing the locals, especially in traditional neighbourhoods such as Alfama. Instead, why not go for a stroll with your friends to discover the city? It’s one of the best ways to find special and unique places, often hidden around corners. Or try to explore residential neighbourhoods further out from the centre.
Stay in hostels
In Lisbon, short-term rentals are one of the biggest problems posed by mass tourism, especially in the traditional neighbourhood of Alfama.
Many of the hostels in Lisbon are managed by Portuguese people who are passionate about their city, and want to share this with you. You’ll have the chance to experience a bit of Portuguese culture throughout your stay and to meet other travellers who are just as excited about exploring the city as you are.
Lisbon Destination Hostel 📷@caiquenogueira
Take part in local cultural events
Lisbon has a vibrant local music, art and cultural scene. You’ll come across a huge range of gigs, theatre and artistic exhibitions hosted by the local community, usually for only a small fee. Not only will you be able to have an incredibly local experience that you won’t find in any guidebook, you’ll be helping the local art scene to flourish and providing an incentive to artists to continue their work. Facebook events are a great way to find out about the more “underground” events happening in the city.
Anjos 70 📷@homemdosaco
Some public transport routes in Lisbon, such as the number 28 tram, are popular with tourists. Often, the queues for them during the day are huge, meaning that residents find it difficult to use them. Why not catch the tram towards the end of the day? Not only will you get to see the city from a different perspective, but you’ll have more room to actually sit back and enjoy your tram ride.
Have you got any tips for travelling responsibly in Lisbon? Leave a comment below.