If you’re a woman, it’s likely you’re no stranger to cat-calls. They can come from anywhere: construction workers hissing from a safe distance away obstructed by scaffolding, the front seat of a car packed full of dudes doing what seems is a series of drive-by woo-hoos, or even from a passing pedestrian who turns around and mumbles something as you pass. Women grow up with a sort of built-in barometer for when to feel angry, when to feel threatened and put your key between your knuckles, and perhaps least often of all, when to take it as a compliment, but what happens when you’re taken out of your comfort zone and plopped down on the cobblestones of Lisbon?
Are you in danger? What areas should you steer clear of? What should you avoid?
If you’re a guy, you’re probably more worried about getting ripped off. Sure, ladies like to look at you walking down the street too, but you’re less likely to have to resort to putting your keys between your knuckles. Lets instead focus on another kind of safety concern: how much danger your wallet is in, if you should put your passport in the hotel safe, or if changing money is best done here or back home.
Is that guy selling the fake drugs standing too close to you? Did you get screwed on the conversion from dollars to Euros? You’ve asked, we’ve answered.
Walking Alone Late at Night
This is kind of a no-no wherever you are but it’s unavoidable at times if you’re short on taxi cash or if the Uber just never showed up. Always use common sense when you’re breaking out on your own in the dark — it’s not very likely you will be targeted in Lisbon, but creeps can pop up anywhere. Stay on the lit side of the street, do your best to avoid empty streets, put your phone away, and pay attention to your surroundings. If you feel threatened, pop into a minimarket or any business that’s got its lights on and try to tell the proprietor what’s up. The Portuguese, in general, love the opportunity to be heroic.
What Not to Wear
Wear whatever you like— Portugal is typically baking hot so it’s pretty common to go skimpy, but bring a big scarf or lightweight cardigan as at night the wind can make things a bit chilly. These items will help you cover up as well on a walk home where that spandex side-boob top might attract the wrong kind of attention. As for shoes, I don’t recommend wearing high heels in Lisbon unless they’re wedges with nice traction on the bottom. Having to run in heels is difficult enough without the stiletto-snagging cracks between cobbles or the super-slick polished sidewalks sloping downward. Be vigilant. And dress for the city you’re in.
That last part goes double for dudes who think it’s okay to go shirtless around town.
The Portuguese might get rowdy at (and after) footie games, but in general, they are pretty well behaved and keep mostly to themselves or their groups of friends. That’s why it’s very common to be walking down the street or sitting in the bar and have one sound stick out above the rest: certain foreign-language conversations. That’s right, Americans, Russians, Brits, French, Irish, Spanish, and Italians. I’m not completely sure if people from the aforementioned countries speak in louder, more animated tones at home, but in Lisbon, they often do, especially when they’ve mixed a few drinks into the equation. So, if you’re walking home late at night alone (or in a group,) don’t speak in shrill, shouting voices — and for the love of god, don’t sing. Lower your pitch, lower your volume, and try to make it home while staying under the radar. The neighbors will thank you for it too.
Bag Dos and Don’ts
With the rise in tourism, Lisbon has also had an upsurge in the number pickpockets, so it’s best to come here prepared. Man bags, clutches, handbags, wristlets, shoulder bags, backpacks, fanny packs, necklace pouches, sac voyages: whatever you’ve got will do just fine in Lisbon, but make sure they’re shut if you have valuables inside. Zippers, flaps, locks, cinches — if they work, use them. Wear your bag toward (not ON) the front, especially at markets, tourist attractions, and on public transportation. If you’ve got a backpack, don’t attract extra attention by putting it on your chest or belly — putting it on one shoulder will do. Above all, keep your eyes peeled, and don’t leave valuables in your back pockets. Even if your back pockets zip or button, it’s still a bit risky.
Oh, and leave your passport, extra cards, and important documents at the hotel in the safe (if there is one). Just keep a color photocopy of your documents with you and you should be good to go.
There are plenty of exchange places around town that will gladly give you euros for your home currency, but you’ll need to consider what their exchange rate is and if it’s worth it when compared to your bank’s fee for out-of-network ATM withdrawals. Many American banks, for example, charge a few dollars — but sometimes up to a 15$ — for cash withdrawals at the Multibanco machines. You’ll have to do the math!
Note: New blue “ATM” machines are popping up all over Lisbon, and some charge fees for withdrawals on top of whatever your bank charges you. My advice is to avoid these machines even though they look quite friendly and head to the ones that say “Multibanco.” Also, they’re what the locals use.
If something happened and you need help, file a police report at the nearest precinct. Not all policemen speak perfect English, but it’s likely you can still file a report with little to no stress, and this will allow the police access to security cameras and more. It’s likely they can help you at least recover the bag or empty wallet (probably in a nearby trash bin), and chances are you will be able to at least recover some cards and whatnot that the perp didn’t want. And you’ll need the report if you bought travel insurance and hope to recover something through a claim.