How to be a sustainable and considerate traveler in Lisbon
We see them all over the world. Marching in groups, camera in hand, dropping in and out of cities at lightning speed, spending a lot, learning very little. Entitled, oblivious, obnoxious. We like to think that we are different. Yet, as we sweat going up a narrow Lisbon street, we find yourselves thinking: “Are we like them?
Are we the baddies?
Being a sustainable traveler in the age of mass tourism is a complex thing. It’s not just about avoiding plastic bags and straws. It depends on the place you are visiting, and its environmental and socio-economic reality. So, to help you be a greener and more considerate traveler in Lisbon, we are giving our best local tips, so that your next trip to Portugal can bring more of the good stuff, and less of the nasty stuff to both the city and its people:
Part I: be greener
Instead of a takeaway cup of coffee (a rarity before the arrival of mass tourism in Lisbon), why not sit down at a terrace, drinking your coffee the portuguese way.
Don’t buy, refill
Lisbon has a myriad ways to provide you with clean, tasty tap water (yes, it’s absolutely safe to drink). You can fill up your bottle in a fountain at a park, in the bathroom of a museum, or you can simply go to a café or pastelaria and ask them to fill up your bottle. In Portugal it is rude to refuse water to people, even if they are not customers, so be confident and just ask. You’ll see that free water tastes sweeter than the bottled stuff.
Lisbon has its very own bike-sharing scheme, GIRA, to help both residents and tourists move around in a more environmentally friendly (and fun) way. And even though many parts of Lisbon are hilly, there’s plenty of places where you can comfortably ride your bike. In fact, you can cross the whole riverside from east to west almost without leaving the cycle lane routes. And if you prefer to rent a bicycle for the day, there are plenty of companies offering that service, too.
Be thoughtful about what souvenirs you buy
Do you really think your brother needs that cheap Lisbon t-shirt? Instead of buying cheap plastic souvenirs, think about a gift that could actually be useful. Maybe an artisanal soap by a traditional Portuguese brand like Ach. Britto, or a beautifully designed can of delicious sardines, or even sustainable products from Portuguese brands like Mind The Trash, Unii, or Musa Cosméticos, which you can find in shops like Maria Granel (for sustainable brands) or A Vida Portuguesa (for traditional Portuguese brands). And when in doubt, just follow the mantra: shop less, shop better.
Part II: be more responsible
Shop and eat local
Instead of going to a big chain supermarket, why not shop at a local mercearia? These traditional and local grocery stores are far more interesting than a bland supermarket, and you’ll likely be putting your money directly into the hands of the people of that neighborhood. And instead of eating at a tourist restaurant, be adventurous and try to follow Lisboners. How to tell if a place is legit? There will be no English menu, no pizza, no avocado toast, no takeaway cappuccinos. And remember, when it comes to eating, Lisbon is more than the city of tascas: visit a pastelaria in Avenida de Roma, where elegant violet haired old ladies hang out; explore the lunch menu in restaurants around the financial area of Saldanha; indulge into a hearty traditional restaurant in Carnide or visit a Bangladeshi restaurant in Rua do Benformoso. There are many ways to eat like a local in Lisbon. Take a chance and it will probably pay off!
Lisbon is not just Alfama
Excessive pressure on specific neighborhoods can drive prices up, and make it impossible for local people to live and shop there. So if you are choosing where to stay and where to go in Lisbon, consider other areas of the city. There are so many places to choose from; each one with its unique charm. From Alvalade to Campo de Ourique, from Alcântara to Oriente. Walking around less touristy areas, you might even forget you are a tourist and feel like a true alfacinha, that is, a Lisbon local.
Support native guides
Taking a tour with a guide might sound like a rather touristy thing to do at a first glance, but if you look around, you can find interesting off the beaten path tours led by native hosts that help you learn more about the city, and put money directly into the pockets of Lisboners. A great example is the African Lisbon Tour, which highlights the deep (and often, silenced) presence of Africa in Lisbon.
Choose your Airbnb wisely
This platform was created with the purpose of connecting ordinary people who had a spare room with people who needed a place to stay in a city, but wanted to experience a bit of the local flavor. Unfortunately, often, this is no longer the case. So, when choosing a place to stay, check if you are really giving your money to a local, or you are just giving money to a business managing several properties, and pushing Lisboners out of the center, in order to provide more accommodation for tourists.
Think before you click
Respect people’s privacy. That old lady might be very adorable, and those clothes drying outside her house might be very picturesque, but be mindful of people’s right to live in peace, even if they live in a photogenic neighborhood.
And finally… stand up!
If you take a ride on the popular tram 28, one of the most scenic tram lines in Europe, please offer your seat to the elderly. We know it’s amazing to have a window seat to one of Lisbon’s best spectacles, but that old lady does need that seat more than you.
The key to sustainable tourism is slowing down, branching out and keeping it local. Taste of Lisboa’s very own Food and Cultural Walks have, at their core, a desire to be sustainable. They are not only walking tours, (where the only fuel burnt is the yummy food that this city provides) but they are also focused on supporting small businesses and expanding people’s ideas of what Lisbon has to offer.
So, next time you come to Lisbon, try following our lead. Let’s make sure that you’ll have a great city to visit, again and again, for many years to come!
We’ll love to hear about your insights, questions, suggestions and wishes on your responsible and sustainable food & culture experiences in Lisbon, Portugal and worldwide. Please share with us via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and tag us @tasteoflisboa or #tasteoflisboa.
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