First impressions of post-pandemic Lisbon
I apologize for the fancy, almost dramatic title; there was a time, somewhere between 2020 and the end of 2021, that I truly believed neither of these two things would happen again: that I’d be writing about travel and that Lisbon would be crawling with tourists.
Both have happened.
I can’t complain about the travel writing part (I’m having a blast, despite the heat wave, the buses and trains with broken AC, and the fact that I can’t share with you all that I’m doing right now; but I will, soon). The tourist crowds side of it? I can’t help to feel concerned. I’ve seen this happening before: relying on tourism (any tourism) to boost the economy.
The latest reports claim that, tourism-wise, the numbers are below pre-pandemic times and that we might reach “normal levels” in 2023. It’s these “normal levels” that I’m worried about because what are good numbers for them means the city will return to unbearably crowded streets, public transit, cafes and restaurants, and attractions. Case in point: the last time I took the Santa Justa lift to go up to Largo do Carmo was in 2016. Most tourists don’t know the lift is public transportation, and even I doubted it one time until the Carris employee told me that yes, I could use my public transit card.
Fortunately, there’s another elevator you can use to go up from Chiado to Largo do Carmo (when and if it’s working); it’s free and has zero lines. From the outside, it looks like another souvenir shop (tricky, I know). It’s pinpointed on the map below (excuse my potential lack of map accuracy, but look for the cork souvenir shop).
Don’t get me wrong. I know many people who worked in the tourism business that had a tough time in the last couple of years. Most of them lost their jobs, and those who had started their own companies had to shut down without any hopes that they’ll return to it, no matter how great the numbers seem to be right now. It pains me to see restaurants and cafes that went out of business or succumbed to gentrification as the only way to survive. Yes, Lisbon is now a cosmopolitan city where you can find almost everything you’ll see in another European capital, and locals deserve that, too. Four years ago, that would make me foam at the mouth, but imagine if there comes a time again when all we can explore is our backyard?
Lisbon is not yet unbearably crowded (I don’t feel it), there are new museums and attractions to explore (albeit a bit overpriced for my taste and for what they offer), and a couple of new food and drinks spots have caught my attention (haven’t tested them yet, though).
It’s not all bad. Although, I do wish we’d gotten over the electric scooter pandemic by now. Most people (locals and tourists) who hop on one don’t know how to ride it, and they seem to leave it anywhere in the middle of the street when the money runs out — a phenomenon I have trouble wrapping my head around.