It is fair to say most digital nomads these days tend to think primarily of Madrid whenever the subject of living and working on the Iberian Peninsula comes up. This is understandable; after all, Madrid is an infectiously energetic city which is known to be a very agreeable place for wandering online workers to base themselves for an extended period of time.
But hold tight on the Castilian accolades for just one moment because, believe it or not, there is another city on this landmass that is cheaper, more beautiful and – if you can believe it - blessed with even more delightful culinary sensations than Madrid.
Rarely mentioned by online workers in the same breath as European heavyweights like London, Paris, Rome and Berlin, Portugal’s beguilingly beautiful capital remains one of the Continent’s true ’hidden gems.’ With its sexy laid-back vibe, winding Fado-filled streets, extensive vistas and tantalising ocean breezes, Lisbon is one of the most instantly likeable (and liveable) cities in all of Western Europe. Add to this the fact that English is widely spoken (or at least understood) these days and that the cost of living is so modest and you can understand why so many online workers - even those who knew nothing about Lisbon before they arrived – end up sticking around a lot longer than they initially thought.
So how does an online worker like yourself go about getting a share of this action? Well it’s easy; you just need to charge your laptop, find a cheap airfare and follow the three steps outlined below.
Step 1: Get Settled
Most digital nomads agree that it is normally better to stay in hostels for as little time as possible when ensconcing yourself in a new city as finding an apartment or houseshare often tends to be a better long-term strategy. However, there is something about Lisbon hostels (the better ones anyway) that makes them far more endearing, liveable places to stay than other backpacker joints in Western Europe. This is evidenced by the fact Hostelworld.com’s “Best Medium Hostel in the World 2014” is located in Lisbon: Home Lisbon Hostel. If you get the chance to stay in this amazingly welcoming (and surprisingly spacious) home-from-home then do: the owner’s mother (“Mama”) makes a generous dinner every night for guests that includes an appetiser, entree, dessert and some well chosen local Portuguese wines/liquors. Trust me, you’ll never want to leave..!
If finding an apartment is key to your plans then you won’t struggle too much to find something suitable in Lisbon as rents here (particularly for flatshares) are some of the lowest in Western Europe. A studio will set you back a little bit more but, when all is said and done, you’ll probably find there’s not that much in it. Naturally, properties by the ocean and in Barrio Alto (Lisbon’s most hip and bohemian neighbourhood) will cost a little more as they remain the most desirable locations although the fact that Portuguese landlords are often pretty flexible ensures there are bargains to be had even here.
Finding a room, flat or studio to stay in is a breeze in Lisbon as every local (and I mean every local) seems to know of a room going spare somewhere. If you prefer to sort your accommodation out in advance then head for the airbnb website, a perennial favourite amongst wandering online workers that rarely fails to deliver the goods.
Step 2: Get Around
Lisbon is one of the finest cities in Europe to meander around on foot. Without doubt, ascending and descending the winding streets while you munch on delicious pastries and catch glimpses of the Atlantic far below never stops being a teat. The fact that the city centre is also pretty compact with stunning architecture, pretty parks and grandiose public squares popping up more often than not only adds to Lisbon’s pavement-pounding appeal.
When fatigue does become an issue, you’ll find the city’s ever-expanding underground, the Metropolitano (www.metrolisboa.pt) a good way to get from A to B. Station entrances are marked by a big red ‘M’ and have ticket vending machines inside. The interiors of some stations (such as Baixa-Chiado and Oriente) are decorated with some glorious examples of contemporary art by the likes of Angelo de Sousa and Hundertwasser so even travelling underneath the city is a treat. Buying cadernetas (10-ticket booklets) or investing in a Lisboa Card makes good economic sense if you use the metro often (the Lisboa Card can also be used on buses, trams and funicular railways).
If you’ve driven in places like Paris or Rome then you probably won’t find Lisbon to be too stressful to drive around, either in a car or on a bike/scooter. However, those who are uninitiated in the ways of Latin vehicle manoeuvring may find it more preferable to hail down one of Lisbon’s plentiful (and quite reasonable) taxis as the heavy traffic, narrow one-way streets, rebel motorists, and overtly passionate tram drivers can be a lot to deal with at times. The hilly streets make cycling around the city centre a pretty exhausting affair too.
Step 3: Get Wired
Lisbon is a well wired city with reliable Wi-Fi so getting online is relatively straightforward. While it is easy enough to get online in your hostel, I would urge you to spend at least part of your working day in one of the city’s highly atmospheric cybercafes. Lisbon is blessed with some truly wonderful cafes and coffee shops, many of which are really relaxed about Wi-Fi use and afford some genuinely stunning views across the city, so give yourself a treat and indulge if your line of work allows.
If you’re looking to rent a property then you should be aware that installing a domestic Internet connection can sometimes be a less than straightforward affair (especially if the property in question is fairly old). The reason for this is, if there is a problem connecting the cable, third-party vendor companies like Zon or Vodafone are obliged to call out (and wait around for) a technician from Portugal Telecom (the state-run monopoly) to come and fix it. Unsurprisingly, Portugal Telecom are rarely in a hurry to rush out to the aid of consumers who are investing in communications packages from ’rival’ companies.
Although the co-working phenomenon has yet to explode in Lisbon to the same degree as it has in many other European cities, there are a number of opportunities available. Liberdade229 (in the heart of the city on Avenida da Liberdade 229, 2º), and CoworkLisboa (based in an old factory on Rua Rodrigues de Faria) are the two standout options at this moment in time.
So there you have it; you don’t have to go to South America or Asia to find a sunny, affordable and downright gorgeous digital nomad destination. If you like the idea of living and working somewhere where you can surf every weekend, learn a sultry new language a couple of afternoons a week and enjoy a raging nightlife and mouth-watering food every single night then do yourself a favour: give Madrid a miss and come and explore Lisbon instead...
Have you lived and worked on the Iberian Peninsula? What do you think of Lisbon as a destination for online workers? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment in the box below..