Apartments and houses in Portugal lack insulation. This means that not only can they be absolutely freezing during the winter months, but noise travels between apartments very easily as well. And while there are things you can do to stay warm in Portuguese apartments, it’s very hard to solve noise problems.
It is, unfortunately, one of the downsides of living in Portugal.
Sitting in some apartments, it’s not uncommon to hear your neighbours chatting, watching TV, arguing, or doing other things that you mightn’t particularly want to hear. Usually the sound is muffled so you can’t quite hear everything, although in some apartments you can hear conversations word-for-word.
Thankfully, most of those noises can be drowned out with a good pair of earplugs, a fan, or a white noise machine. You mightn’t get rid of them completely, but you should be able to sleep. A good pair of noise-cancelling earphones with some music or even white noise like the sound of rain or a fan is perfect for daytime studying or working as well. Earplugs help too.
On the subject of earplugs, it’s worth noting that earplugs come in different shapes, sizes, and levels of quality. Your average pair of earplugs that you pick up in the supermarket probably isn’t that good, and you should really be looking for a pair with a high NRR rating.
The NRR isn’t everything either as everyone’s ear canals are different, so often you’ll need to try a few different brands to see which ones work best for your ears.
In terms of neighbourly noise, the worst area for noise is usually from upstairs neighbours. In both Spain and Portugal, it always sounds like your upstairs neighbours walk around in stilettos and are constantly rearranging their furniture. Perhaps there’s a strong Feng Shui movement here that nobody knew about?
Neighbours with children are also a pain, as most people seem to let their kids run back and forth across the floor all day in the hope that it tires them out. Kids also tend to drop things a lot, especially what sounds like a bag of marbles.
Kids aren’t actually that bad, though, as they tend to go to bed at the exact same time every night so the noise is a bit more predictable.
The issue here is with tiled, uninsulated floors as they are quite hollow and tend to amplify whatever noise happens above them. Wooden floors can be better but, depending on the quality of the floorboards above, they can also squeak when someone walks on them.
These issues affect apartments, of course, and not houses. The issues are also more common with the more affordable (read: older) apartments rather than the newer ones. So, it is possible to avoid these issues if you rent a newer apartment or find one that has been renovated well. It’s also possible to put insulation between the apartments, and some people even pay for the work to be done to their neighbour’s apartments.
Houses obviously don’t have the upstairs, downstairs, or next-door neighbour issue, and so they can be a much safer bet noise-wise. Unfortunately, however, they’re more expensive and it’s often harder to find them, especially in the cities.
In the countryside, where they’re more common, the main noise issue is usually barking dogs. People tend to leave their dogs chained up outside in the countryside and they can often spend half the night barking at all of the other dogs that they can hear. In most houses, however, this is usually easy enough to drown out with a fan or with a pair or earplugs. Sometimes you need both.
Barking dogs can be an issue in the high rise suburban areas just outside of the cities, but this tends to be more of a daytime noise problem. Here, people leave their dogs on the balconies while they go to work and the dogs spend most of the day barking at each other (or crying). If you’re trying to work from home, it’s not only very noisy but it can be quite distressing listening to a neighbouring dog crying as well.
It’s also not uncommon for your older next-door neighbour to have a small yappy dog that barks when you walk past but, thankfully, they only really tend to bark when someone walks past and it shouldn’t affect you during the night.
Not every apartment or house is cursed with noise problems in Portugal, but quite a few are. You really need to do your research before agreeing to move in.