This year (2020) Lisbon is European Green Capital and the City Hall is making a great effort to improve the environmental quality indexes in the city ... Soon (unauthorized) cars will not be allowed into Baixa (downtown). The truth is that, although it is still allowed, it is not at all advisable... Only a (fortunately small) part of the families that we receive in our programs choose to move by car in the city - and in all these cases they arrived late to the starting point (as well as stressed and regretful). Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t drive in Lisbon:
On school days, the so-called “rush hour” is critical. Between 8:30 am and 10:00 am, the city's main arteries are clogged, as well as at the end of the day between 6:00 pm and 7:30 pm. This improves slightly during school holidays and, during the month of August, it can even be considered resolved, but - make no mistake - the calming traffic is only noticeable outside the historic centre.
The city is well served by public transport, especially in the historic centre. Three train lines converge to the Centre (Cascais line at Cais do Sodré, Sintra line at Restauradores and North line at Santa Apolónia), boats crossing the river, there are several subway lines and stations (very comfortable outside rush hour, and located not far from one another), countless buses and some tram lines. Baixa is the area of Lisbon best served by public transport (as all ways lead to Rome in Europe, we may say that all transport lines lead to downtown in Lisbon).
There are alternatives that are quite affordable on platforms such as Uber or Cabify, which cover all the towns bordering Lisbon. In addition, if you are staying in Lisbon, you can also combine “business” with pleasure and request a tuk-tuk to pick you up from the Hotel and take you to any destination…
Parking spaces are rare and paid for. Many of the spaces available on the streets are reserved for residents or have limited parking time. If parking on a public road, pay attention to the vertical signs (written in Portuguese) and also check that it does not prevent the passage of large vehicles - namely trams and buses. Unbelievably, in 2019, the public transport company lost 743 hours due to poorly parked cars. This causes inconvenience for those who have parked the cars badly, but also and especially for those who ride public transport and all other cars standing behind the bus or the tram that cannot pass.
If you really have to bring a car, choose to drive outside rush hour and choose to park in an underground car park - there are several in the city centre. In addition to the expected duration of journey recommended by Google Maps, consider (at least) 30 extra minutes for unforeseen events and… double check the traffic status and the best itinerary on Waze.
If in doubt, ask your travel agent or your local guide for help while planning your moves.
If you have rented a car to travel in Portugal, choose to leave the car parked outside the Centre / Baixa (the further away, the cheaper) and travel with public transport in Lisbon.
If you go to Sintra, we also discourage using a private car. Traffic changes are limiting access to authorized vehicles and public transport only (access to Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle is not allowed, except for bus, Uber or vehicles registered at the Tourism Bureau). And… do not expect to find a place to park near the places you want to visit (for example, there is no car park close to Quinta da Regaleira). The best option is to go by train, walk and take the bus (especially for families used to walking and with older children) or book a tour with transport (the best option for those with less mobility or for shorter legs ;) ).