My first Lisbon visit was back in 2016. The Portuguese capital was a latecomer to my list of “must visit” cities.
I loved Lisbon then. It was a place I could easily have lived in — if I had spoken Portuguese, that is. It is historic, stylish and had real character. But most important for me, it had largely escaped gentrification. Real people lived in the city, particularly in the old quarter, Alfama. See photo below.
Back in 2016, there were plenty of tourists in Lisbon but they had not swamped the city.
When we visited Lisbon again in 2018 we felt that it had changed. Tourist numbers appeared to have increased exponentially due to the number of cruise ships making day stops and new airline routes opening up. Lisbon Airport passengers had increased by nearly ten per
Lisbon had become a hot tourist destination and also, because of the relatively low property prices and the attractiveness of the city, a fashionable place to invest in and live. Even Madonna has purchased a “pad” — actually a minor palace — in Sintra, outside Lisbon.
This year’s visit, last month, was a shock. Lisbon is being swamped by tourists. There were three huge cruise ships visiting on the day of our stay. This probably meant a minimum of 12,000 passengers swamping the centre of the city.
The airport is also flat out around the clock. Early in the morning and in the evening you can see the aircraft landing lights as they line up, coming into land. The airport is bedlam.
Buses and trams are packed. The traffic is as bad as in Sydney. And new building, gentrification and refurbishment are everywhere. The old Lisbon is disappearing fast. My dream city has disappeared.
The wonderful trams are still there and are a valued means of transport for the residents as well as a major touris drawcard. I love Lisbon’s trams. But beware of pickpockets and hold on tight.
Many old shops and cafes are still there but others are being forced out and replaced by multinationals. How can the Portuguese, with their love of coffee, possible tolerate having Starbucks in their beautiful capital?
A favourite haunt for us in Lisbon is the Madeira Shop on Praça Dom Pedro IV. It is tiny but it is in a prime position and the proprietor and his wife — pictured below — have run it since 1959. Both over eighty and serve in the shop every day, although their daughter does “help out”.
The Madeira Shop sells beautiful hand-made products from the Portuguese island of Madeira. The shop is so modest from the outside that most passers-by would miss it and, as the owner explained to us, nowadays very few people appreciate hand-made products. They prefer to buy something cheap made in China or stitched together by child labour in a sweatshop in Bangladesh rather than an item lovingly crafted by hand.
We have bought at the Madeira Shop on every visit but, sadly, I fear that its days are numbered.
On our three visits to Lisbon, we have stayed at a wonderful little hotel near the National Museum of Antiquities. It is away from the centre, in a quiet neighbourhood, but very close to bus and tram routes. Nearby is a set of steps down to the waterfront.
As usual, I was up at the crack of dawn — in fact before dawn — when I came across this scene above with the old guy watching a glorious sunrise. He started talking to me and seemed to be completely unconcerned that I could not understand a word he was saying. I mouthed “Australiano” and pointed at myself. But on he jabbered. Perhaps he thought that we speak Portuguese D
- All images taken with the Leica Q