Lisbon: Why we don’t want tourism


Lisbon was one of the invisible cities imagined by Italo Calvino: A white and oceanic city surrounded by and emerald estuary, a place for thoughts and poetry, a city in the same time lazy, peaceful and intoxicating where we wander through the time even more than space.

That was before the downsides of excessive commercial activities from mass tourism invited themselves, shattering the fragile equilibrium of the city, soiling its delicate charm, and penetrating in deeper and deeper. Activists in Lisbon tell tourists and local authorities what Lisbon doesn’t love.

Here is what the organization “Lisbon does not love” says about tourism they do not appreciate:

Hybrid vehicle cumulating everything wrong between a car and a scooter.

Nuisance for locals

Double sound pollution : propelled by a small moped engine, permanently at full thrust and has a robotic voice that will spit from time to time a few banalities about the city.
Very polluting since using that engine at full power.
Maybe one of the less inhibiting activities there is, you feel like your on a little train in Disneyland. The bigger the group, the more the yelling and stupid actions follow.
Tourist annoyance

As uncomfortable as it gets : if you hadn’t noticed most of the streets are paved with cobblestone…
Dangerous : both on a physical and health level. You are at the same height as car bumpers and the car tailpipes…
Limiting : You can’t get to the most interesting and charming parts of the city, they are only accessible on foot.

Lisbon must be discovered by foot, period.

Often marketed as an eco friendly solution and reducing the traffic in city centers, this object is not only useless in Lisbon but also perfectly ridiculous.

Nuisance for locals

Constraining for anybody on the sidewalk, forced to move out of their way. This is also applicable in the old city neighborhoods where no cars are allowed.
Dangerous for users and pedestrians. The former as they usually don’t control it like they should on all the different pavements, the latter as they are usually more interested by looking at the city than looking at what will hit them. A 10 minute driving lesson on the Praça do Comercio does not make you the Schumacher of Segways. Fun fact to keep in mind, the Segway owner died falling from a cliff on one of his babies.
Tourist annoyance

Uncomfortable : as you can’t get off of it easily, it’s also hard for the users to focus on the tour guide’s speech and their own balance.
Limiting : as futuristic as they may seem, they still can’t climb stairs, so they forbid you to access the most iconic places.
Among all the tourist hauling modes, it is probably the one that makes you look the most silly.

Don’t be lazy and walk.

Gasoline-powered Tuk-Tuk
Sawatika ! Wait is this Thailand ? No Lisbon… Unknown less than two years ago, these auto rickshaws have flooded the city to the point where the mayor office doesn’t know how many there are. Our estimation goes from 200 to 300 that constantly go around the seven hills trying to grab tourists.

Nuisance for locals

Very noisy and powerless, they do the same noise as alpha jets in steep hills, that is basically everywhere in Lisbon.
Polluting : as they have a tiny gas engine and are of poor manufacturing.
They obstruct most of the time the streets and viewpoints as they pack up behind each other where the potential clients are.
Uninhibited activity for a portion of tourists that yell and shout encouraged by certain drivers.
They are typical from South-east Asia not southwest Europe, don’t let them take the charm of Portugal away.
Tourist annoyance

Visit done sitting on a shaky, noisy and uncomfortable seat.
Pretty expensive 30€ for 30 minutes for a tour made by unqualified tour guides that describe each place so fast and superficially that it is appalling.
Limiting as all other vehicle transport modes described previously.

We will never stress enough the fact that Lisbon is a city to be discovered on foot so as to explore the unsuspected locations.
If you must use a powered vehicle, try to use an electric one, that will be much more enjoyable for its silence.
Try to judge your driver to select those that look calm and competent, certainly not those chasing you on the street.

Crowded tourism
All group above 20 participants (cruise ships, « free tours » …) is a real problem in the old neighborhoods of a city like Lisbon, its urbanistic design doesn’t encourage masses.

Nuisance for locals

Systematically obstructing the narrow streets of the old center by their number, standing still to listen to their guides, they do not realize that Lisbon is a city and people work and have to get around themselves. So these groups constrain the locals to be rude and push people just to be able to go through to their activities.
Group dynamics are what they are, the larger the group, the noisier it is, as well as their guide when it is necessary to yell out to people 20m away (free tours do not provide headset system).
Tourist annoyance

Mass tourism is probably the experience the less appreciated by people interested in a visit, an adventure. It doesn’t allow a personalized tour, it doesn’t allow any adaptation to the participant’s interest, it only leads to groups following the guide like a sheep herd.

Prefer an individual trip or small groups by asking before.
Prefer tour guides that are willing to adapt activities/visits to the will of the small group.

Cruise ships
Probably the climax of capitalism, thousands of pigeons have left their credit cards to the reception desk of this floating building. A building pouring its occupants for a few hours in several cities of several countries. Mass tourism in all its’ beauty, expensive for average services, all you can eat and all you can see. Similarly to the meal, you finish with a stomach ache.

Nuisance for locals

Floating buildings in front of the Alfama disrupt the nest of the city and are an insult to over 2000 years of maritime exploration and adventures.
Air pollution : Cruise ships generate at quay an incredible amount of pollution for the locals (mostly sulfured oxides, small particles and carbon dioxide).
Noise pollution : the roaring engines that keep on going while stationed, and sometimes the ship blares music to welcome its passengers on and off the ship.
Local tourism doesn’t beneficiate from these crowds, the cruise company already has all the services negotiated beforehand so they can also take in the commission.
It also creates the mass tourism described above that Lisbon doesn’t love.

Prefer small group excursions.
Prefer cruises on ships of a more human scale.

Mass media tips
The sudden popularity of Lisbon has seen many websites, blogs flourish on the internet and also paper guides written by people in the city for about a week in the best case, or people that haven’t even been there in the worst case but taking advantage of publicity, commissions, services for referring people here or there.

Annoyance for all

The « tips » given being read and believed by millions of people, whether good or bad, everybody runs to these and concentrate themselves there. The most speaking example can be described by the Belem tower, ask any living soul in Lisbon, no one will ever recommend you the place as there is a very limited interest inside and that you’ll always be stuck in the one-way narrow staircase.
« Good addresses » are usually good at first, but once published and known by all, the quality decreases to meet the increase of customers and the prices also tend to follow the hike in popularity. The entire soul of the place disappears as you will no longer find Portuguese people there but only tourists.

Do not rely to all you will read in tour guides and on websites : you realize from yourselves once there what is worth visiting and what is not. Discovering the city is not limited to a to-do list, but the accumulation of experiences you will enjoy by following your instincts and interests.

Common sense and a little effort is usually enough to find good addresses in Lisbon).

Unexpected and risk will be way more rewarding as the are the essence of travelling. Don’t over plan, you will save yourself stress and disappointment.

Tourist dedicated structures
Please note that this section does not concern the city tourism center but the structures that were created here for tourists only and that have nothing Portuguese except maybe the name (Fado houses, souvenir stores) if it isn’t itself in English.

Nuisance for locals

Slowly but surely replacing small typical shops and crafts that make the charm and uniqueness of the neighborhood and its inhabitants.
Sharp increase in prices for all the goods.
Tourist annoyance

Usually a poor cost/quality ratio whether it is food, Fado or crafts compared to those provided locally.
No authenticity, you will be a tourist among other tourists, or worst in a acted authenticity store.

Make the effort to shop out of the highly touristic areas (Baixa, Alfama, etc.). Lisbon has many more areas and great addresses, sometimes only a hundred meters away.
Avoid places where clearly the marketing has taken the best of the place : multi-language descriptions, overly modern soul-less design, waiters grabbing you in the street, tourist packed places… But you should look out to places where people speak Portuguese where menus even if you don’t understand them, you know that you are in Portugal.

Vacation and traveling are often a time for people to blow off some steam, but there are ways to do so and ways to not.

Nuisance for the locals

Disrespect of privacy : taking pictures without one’s consent, blocking streets…
Un-civic behavior : bachelor parties, getting drunk in the streets, parties in rental apartments, yelling in Go-cars ad Tuk-tuks…
Cupidity : unfortunately more and more frequent with low cost tourism. It consists in systematically trying to negotiate prices and expect everything to be cheaper than in your home-country.

Be respectful and act with dignity just as you would do at home.
Be discreet, the tourist adapts to the local habits, not the other way around.
Do not travel if you are not ready to spend a penny.