“How about moving to a sunnier country?” I asked my husband one gloomy day while watching the rain outside of the window. His eyes grew wide, and I thought I saw a smile in the corner of his lips, “Well, why not?”
We’ve been living in Lisbon for two-and-a-half years now and, in that time, changed apartments three times. Where we live now, in the hilly, cobblestone Alfama district, the sights and sounds of old Portugal are everywhere. In tiny local craft shops, artists paint or create pieces of jewelry. Artisans sell traditional ceramics while shouting to each other and laughing about small details of the day. Small bars serve the sweet cherry liqueur, ginjinha, and the soft buttery smell of the famous Portuguese dessert pastry, pastel de nata, wafts out of pastelerias. It took a lot of walking the city, and a lot of learning its ways, before we figured out what to look for in a Lisbon rental. To save you the trouble, I’ve listed some tips below.
What to Look For:
Instant Hot Water Systems
Like a lot of people, I’m used to having hot water 24/7 and taking long showers. But many apartments in Lisbon have systems that provide a fixed quantity of hot water. After consuming it, you need to wait a couple of hours until the next round of water heats up.
In our first apartments, my husband and I had to separate our showers by hours to be sure there was enough water for both of us. If you don’t want to become an expert in five-minute showers, ask your agent or the landlord about the hot water system of your apartment. Get one that heats the water as it’s needed.
In Lisbon, in winter, the temperature can drop to 40 F on occasion. It doesn’t sound like such a big deal. But living in 40 F with no place to get warm is not such a pleasant experience.
Look for an apartment that has already installed central heating. Typically, you find them in the Avenidas Novas neighborhood or outside of the city center, in new buildings. Almost everyone, expat or local, buys electric heaters once they move in. A little secret? Some apartments already have an electric heater installed in the bathroom. Check it out when you visit or pose this question to your agent.
You will be amazed by how tiny city-center bathrooms can be. In our first apartment, I was lucky enough to have the washing machine just outside the bathroom. It became an ad hoc storage unit—every time I needed something, I had to grab it from outside the bathroom door. And doing the laundry meant taking everything back off the machine and into the bathroom. Frustrating.
If you prefer to have comfort in your bathroom, check what the storage looks like. Think if and how your products will fit in that place.
I know that this might sound silly, but bear with me. In none of the three apartments we moved into did the wardrobes have shelves. Only a bar for hangers. I’m used to it now. My advice? Every time you visit an apartment, open the wardrobe to see it inside. Or ask your agent for some pictures. That’s how you’ll know if you need to buy some hanging closet organizers or if everything is OK as it is.
Balcony (or Laundry Services Close to Your Flat)
Until I reached Lisbon, I did not appreciate loggias. This changed the moment I had to hang my clothes to dry in the middle of my living room. Many apartments in Lisbon don’t have balconies or outdoor space (to be fair, that’s reflected in the rental prices).
Balconies are both practical and enjoyable. In case your dream home doesn’t have one, be sure to have nearby laundry services where you can take your clothes to dry. Condo buildings in Lisbon do not usually have a laundry room in the basement.
On top of that, Lisbon has such delightful weather most of the year, it would be sad not to enjoy a cold drink while lounging in the sun at home.
What to Avoid:
Although they’re often pretty, Lisbon’s picturesque whitewashed or tiled homes aren’t very practical. Humidity percentages in Lisbon can reach the 90s, and the walls of old buildings are lightly insulated (if at all). That means condensation, and sometimes mold. Before renting an apartment in Lisbon, check when the building was built. You can also ask if it was recently renovated, but be sure it wasn’t just painted. Verify the insulation of the walls and check with your landlord if they have ever had issues with it.
Garbage and Waste Containers
Lisbon’s recycling trucks collect during the night and make a tremendous noise. In the summer, you’ll probably sleep with your window open. Night, noise, open window? You can guess the rest. Communal recycling dumpsters are situated on every city block. You want to be close enough that they’re convenient, but far enough away from the noise that your sleep isn’t disturbed.