Lisbon in the rain: 6 things to do and 3 things to avoid
Lisbon is notorious for its sunshine practically all year long, but come November, it’s officially the start of the rainy season in the Portuguese capital.
That said, Lisbon in the rain is surprisingly still gorgeous but not the most appealing to spend time outdoors. There are still a few things you can do to kill time. Here are my suggestions.
6 things to do
Hop on the train to Cascais
Sometimes it’s raining cats and dogs in Lisbon, but Cascais is nothing but clear skies. It’s the luck of the draw if you don’t check your weather app frequently. But, like any adventure worth the risk, hop on the train, take the half-hour ride from Cais do Sodré, and check out the seaside town for yourself. Worst case scenario? Seeing part of the coast from a train without getting wet.
Visit an art museum
If you wanted to enjoy the nice weather and kept pushing the art museums in Lisbon to the bottom of your to-see list, a rainy day might be the perfect excuse to spend your afternoon in one.
There are no ideal choices here, so I’ll leave it up to your preferences. Check the ones around Baixa, Chiado, and Bairro Alto if you want to stay close to the city center.
Browse books at independent bookstores
Nothing is more soothing on a rainy day than curling up with a book. In a strange city, though, if you planned your tight schedule around a lot of sightseeing, browsing (and buying) books at an independent bookstore might do the trick.
And if it doesn’t work to shake off the gloominess, there’s always the possibility of discovering a new author or that book you’d be looking for (but didn’t know yet).
Spend the day at a cozy café
Usually, if you choose a non-touristic café, the staff doesn’t care how long you sit there with the same cup of coffee. Choose a back table, pick a pastry (or a few) from the well-lit glass counter, order your drink, sit back and relax. Reading material or listening material are optional.
Even if it rains all day, don’t expect heavy rainfall every hour (unless there’s a storm alert). After a couple of comforting hours at the café, step outside when you deem it’s “safe.”
Entertain the kids
Parents traveling with young children: I feel your pain (even though my son is now an adult). It suddenly starts pouring, and all your plans for the day go down the sewer drains. You have the option to stay put at the hotel, or you can make the best of the day.
Two places, to me, are the best to take the kids. Although mind you, none of them are secret spots in the city, so expect crowds. Oceanário is one of them if you want the kids to have that “learning while having fun” experience. Massive tanks and penguins are always an attraction for kids, and it’s indoors, so you don’t have to worry about the weather.
My other suggestion is El Corte Inglès. Yes, that giant department store in São Sebastião. Why? Because you have all in one place to entertain children for a couple of hours: a food court (or the supermarket, in case you don’t like the food options at the restaurants); a cinema (kids’ movies are launched in Portugal in two versions, one dubbed in Portuguese and one in the original language); and the toys and stationery section on the -1 floor (tread lightly).
Take a ride on a Hop On Hop Off bus
Not everyone loves riding these hop on hop off buses through a city, but the truth is that when it’s raining, it’s a great way to see the top sights in a comfortable (and dry) way.
It might not suit all travelers but keep an open mind.
3 things to avoid
It’s hard advice to give in Lisbon, considering every inch of the city is covered in black and white cobblestones. Hint (from someone who’s tripped, slipped, and fallen many times in Lisbon): the white stones are the most slippery, and the more polished they look, the worst they are. And, yes, that means the harder the fall.
Although I love the patterns of calçada portuguesa, they are dangerous. There’s a whole debate on this, with one side wanting the pavement to become cultural heritage and the other side defending it’s time to let it go considering how risky it is, particularly for people with reduced mobility.
But if you can’t avoid the sidewalks in Lisbon in the rain, at least avoid the shiny, all-white squares like, for example, Praça do Comércio.
Traffic becomes chaotic in Lisbon in the rain. It suddenly feels like every driver who passed the driving exam never learned how to drive when it’s raining! It’s truly a phenomenon.
That said, for people using public transit on a daily basis, it becomes a nightmare, especially for those who need to take a bus or a tram. So, if you can, avoid any of these two public transportations.
If it’s a rain and wind combination, spend time away from the riverside if possible. Avoid strolls at Avenida Ribeira das Naus or Belém, and spend less time taking that perfect shot at Cais das Colunas.
And if Baixa, the downtown neighborhood, begins to flood and, therefore, starts to resemble Tejo’s younger brother (and, believe me, that happens fast), well, the only way is up. Literally. Run up that hill like Kate Bush. Okay, maybe not run (sorry for the drama), but get to a less flooded spot uphill.