Dealing with Noisy Houses & Apartments in Portugal

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Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes

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. For many people, this won’t be an issue. For those that are sensitive to noise, wake up easily, or are going to be working from home a lot, it should be a consideration when renting or buying a property.

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. (Some is the key word here – it can really vary, depending on the age and construction of the apartment).

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, especially those with a high NRR rating, help too.

In terms of neighbourly noise, the worst area for noise is usually from the neighbours directly upstairs. In both Spain and Portugal, it often sounds like your upstairs neighbours is walking around in stilettos and constantly rearranging their furniture. In reality, they’re often just moving a chair but when it scrapes off the tiles or floorboards, it can sometimes sound like they’re moving a wardrobe.

Neighbours with children can also be a noise issue if the parents aren’t considerate of their immediate neighbours, especially those below. It can feel like some parents just let their kids run back and forth across the floor all day. Kids also tend to drop things a lot, which can be incredibly noisy when they bounce off the tiles. Kids aren’t actually that bad, though, as they tend to go to bed at the exact same time every night, so the noisy times are a bit more predictable. Having a rental apartment above can be worse as the tenants are constantly changing. These are more common in the city centre, and many are easy to spot as they have an AL (Alojamento Local) sign on the door.

Living next to a road can also be noisy, but if the hum of traffic is constant, it’s very easy to get used to it. It’s roads where there’s a sudden noise, such as a car horn or the sound of a tram passing (the Lisbon trams make a lot of noise), that are the worst.

It does without saying that living near a bar can also be noisy. It depends on the type of bar, of course, but it’s something to look out for. Some neighbourhoods like Cais do Sodré and the Bairro Alto in Lisbon are known for being packed with bars, bars that often stay open very late. Nearby neighbourhoods are often affected, particularly as revellers walk home. Lisbon has introduced a noise complaints phone number for the municipality (808 910 555) but how effective this will be remains to be seen. If you’re concerned about noise, the best thing you can do is avoid living on streets with bars and in areas that are known for nightlife.

We live in Coimbra and the noise at 4 and 6am closing time outside the bars sometimes doesn’t let us sleep despite ear plugs and noise machines.

Kurt

Living near communal bins is another thing to watch out for, especially as these are often collected very early in the morning.

For those living in a city like Lisbon, Porto, or Faro, flight paths are another thing to consider. It does depend a lot on how low the plane is likely to be at that point, so don’t rule every neighbourhood out, but perhaps be cautious of those that are directly next to the airport.

These issues affect apartments, of course, and not houses. The issues are also more common with the 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 apartments or 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 barking dogs. Some people in the countryside leave their dogs chained up outside and the dog can sometimes bark through the night, particularly if there are other dogs nearby and often when there’s a full moon. In most houses, however, this is usually easy enough to drown out with a fan or with a pair of earplugs. Sometimes you need both. Church bells can be another source of noise: while most churches no longer ring their bells between 11 pm and 7 am, there are parts of the country where the bells ring every fifteen minutes. However, unless you’re right next to the church, the sound shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

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, some people leave their dogs on the balconies while they go to work and the dogs spend most of the day barking at each other. 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 neighbour to have a small yappy dog that barks when you walk past their front door but, thankfully, they only really tend to bark when someone walks past and it shouldn’t affect you during the night. People also tend to be quite good at bringing the dog to another part of the house where it won’t be disturbed.

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.

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

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Comments

    • I would say the wooden floors are worse, although there’s not a lot in it.

      I am sure there are more modern apartments being built that have wooden floors and are well-insulated against noise. I’m referring to older buildings.

      Reply
    • I would say the wooden floors are worse, although there’s not a lot in it.

      I am sure there are more modern apartments being built that have wooden floors and are well-insulated against noise. I’m referring to older buildings.

      Reply
  1. Noisy apartments are an issue everywhere and not just in portugal…we have lots of issues we noise where we live in the uk. different places are worse..the ground floor is probably the worst because you get front doors slamming. the top floor is probably the best as there is nobody above you.

    portugal is definitely worse than the uk but this is not a uk only issue.

    Reply
  2. What can I do if neighbours are blaring music etc music most evenings and late into the night ?

    Can I call and complain to the GNR?

    Reply
  3. “Many seem to let their kids run back and forth across the floor all day in the hope that it tires them out.”

    Reading this, it is clear that James does not have children.

    Kids run, jump, dance, parents don’t just “let them” do that, it is part of their growth, you seem to propose to kill the lights out of children eyes…

    Reply
    • The author is right. Parents LET THEM.

      Children may want to run around or drop things on the floor but a GOOD PARENT will teach their children that they live in a world with OTHER PEOPLE and they shouldn’t do that. Lise you are ridiculous! Nobody is proposing you don’t let children run around ever but that you take them outside to do that. Because guess what…children need fresh air! They should be outside. Not running around an apartment.

      It isn’t the children’s fault. They have parents who don’t give a SH*t about they’re neighbours.

      Reply
      • Even if the kids spend a lot of time outdoors, they will still stay home for a considerable amount of time indoors, and kids are full of energy. Assuming laziness is the only reason parents don’t go out is over simplistic.

        And you propose what to send your kids after 10,11PM in the park??? XD

        What bothered me is that James implies that the motivation is to tire the kids out because parents aren’t doing their jobs and are ill intentioned.

        The reality is that even if you teach very young kids not to drop things or not to run, they will still do that. When I see my children dancing or running, I don’t see any reason to stop them, and attempting to stop them will often cause a tantrum.

        Of course, early morning and at late evening is a different story, but even with all the best intentions you can’t control kids (human beings) 100% and yeah they might occasionally run or drop stuff.

        The truth is that the noise insulation is crap in Portugal, but you prefer to complain about the parents rather to to go to your landlord.

        I am pretty sure you bunch do not have kids and are the kind of people complaining to the air hostess about a single mom’s newborn baby crying in a Ryanair flight…

        Reply
        • I didn’t write this post to comment on anyone’s parenting techniques. My experience of living underneath families with children is that the children seem to run about all day and drop things on the floor, and it doesn’t feel like the parents every say “don’t do that we have neighbours below” or “let’s go outside and do that.”

          The purpose of the post is that if you are noise sensitive, you should try to avoid living underneath other people because of the way noise travels in Portuguese houses. Children make a lot of noise, and it travels through these floors, but I would prefer to live under a family rather than students as the noisy times are more predictable.

          Reply
          • P.S. I have to say it’s hard to disagree with the other commenters. Because Portuguese apartments have so little insulation, I think everybody should be proactively trying to reduce the amount of noise they make if they can. I try to put foam on the bottom of wooden chairs, for example, as the noise these make in the apartment below is surprisingly loud. I know others who wear headphones if they’re watching loud films or listening to music late at night. I don’t know if there’s a lot the landlords can do about it as it would probably involve taking up the floors and putting insulation between. Maybe there are landlords that would do that in the long-term, but in the short to medium-term if people took more responsibility for the noise they could reduce I think their neighbours would definitely appreciate it.

          • James, I am sorry but when you write “Many seem to let their kids run back and forth across the floor all day in the hope that it tires them out” you make an assumption on parenting techniques. Life is more complex and raising children is hard.

            Unless you know you should avoid making negative assumptions, I hope your parents taught you that. It is often easier to put the blame on someone or on a category of people than trying to understand a problem in its full complexity.

            Till then, if you leave under a family and the kids are too noisy, then my advice would be for you to go build yourself a caban in a park, I hear kids avoid those places these days.

          • We have young ones and we didn’t just say it’s hard so we get a free pass. We put down really thick rubber mats in the corners of the room to make play zones and encouraged our children to play there. It doesn’t always work but they play on there the majority of the time and they like having their own little spaces. You make it about them. We encouraged them not to run but that was also because children shouldn’t run indoors anyway because If they’re running they’ll fall and start crying. Part of raising a child is telling them things they can and can’t do and a parent shouldn’t be afraid to do this. In the beginning there was no point in telling them about the neighbours but we will do as they get older. Our neighbours are very accommodating and Portugal is very family friendly but we also want to do our bit.

  4. I have this problem with neighbors above. Two small boys, probably about six and ten. There was a time when they would run around shouting as well, and I don’t mean occasionally, it was continuous from when they came in till sometimes well after eleven pm.(why are young children are up at that hour on a school night is another question…but)
    I had a talk with the father (he speaks English well, my Portuguese is a little iffy) in a very unheated way but got my point across. The shouting is a lot less but the running continues and it’s not a bit, it’s continuous from when they get in from school till 10, 11 or more. Slamming doors and dropping things as well. My parents told me about closing doors properly and that I didn’t have to shout in a conversation just speak normally. My two nephews were brought up in a similar manner and have grown into well rounded and decent people.
    Ive not been a parent and I appreciate that there are difficulties but also there should be some consideration for neighbours.
    I’m not sure of my next approach short of having more conversations with the parents. My extreme version sees me buying their apartment on the sly (they rent, I don’t) and giving them notice, and leaving it empty, after all interests rates in banks are not up to much,,!

    I have a host of recordings on my iPad which were gained from just sitting on my sofa.
    Aaaah… aaaand breathe….

    Reply
  5. I have a neighbor that constantly playing loud music all day long when we first moved in. Be very careful buying a cheap house, I regretted it. My neighbors doesn’t give a s**** about their neighbor, worst thing ever, kids with parents that love music, it is hell, I am working home too. Such a bad timing. I never had a problem with my previous apartment as people love the quiet environment. For me with a sensitive hearing due to work that I have, it is really challenging living with these kind of neighbors and the law doesn’t make any sense at all. Why from 11 pm to 7pm ? How about those people who needs to sleep earlier and has to deal with loud neighbor until 11pm and most of the time they won’t stop only when there is a police involved. Back in my country, apartment complex or condominiums, the noise should be limited and with moderation. I never had any issues back there because we even have a subdivision that noise are not allowed. In condos or apartment, we never had any problem. But here in Portugal, I don´t even know why such laws are incompetent. People have different schedules of work, schools or any way we want to go home to rest. The only way I guess is to buy a house of your own where you don´t have to share the building with neighbors, mostly disrespectful ones. Is there any place where you can file a complaint aside from the parish council ? The ombudsman? Or a place where I can file a petition against this problem, the article clearly states that noise regulation for neighbors doesn´t make any sense to me.

    Reply
  6. I am having the same issue with our neighbor upstairs with one child (4-5 yrs old) who kept running and jumping even late midnight. Its so frustrating. I dont know why this child has no bed time. He sleeps so late around 12:30/1 am. Is this normal here in Portugal? I find it very inconsiderate that his parents okey with this and doesnt think of other people around them.

    Reply
  7. It’s almost impossible to find a quiet apartment in Portugal, due to the poor construction of the houses and lack of consideration of the neighbours. Many Portuguese people feel offended if you ask them to make less noise, because they interpret your request as an attack on their freedom. Many Portuguese lack an abstract sense of civility and common good, although they are very warm and kind towards who is close to them. Rubbish collection is also a problem since it’s often done after midnight! I started a petition here, if anyone would like to join me in asking the city council to collect the rubbish before 11 pm https://peticaopublica.com/pview.aspx?pi=PT112561

    Reply
  8. Agree with all this. I had one place you could literally hear the clink of the very top floor neighbor putting a fork in the sink. There is a general disrespect I found from Portuguese. To driving/parking on sidewalks, to dog poop EVERYWHERE, to dogs trapped on tiny balconies all day alone, and not being careful with noise as well. I think some of this exists other places, as well, though. The Portuguese are just much more insular and flippant about things.

    Reply
  9. Agree with all this. I had one place you could literally hear the clink of the very top floor neighbor putting a fork in the sink. There is a general disrespect I found from Portuguese. To driving/parking on sidewalks, to dog poop EVERYWHERE, to dogs trapped on tiny balconies all day alone, and not being careful with noise as well. I think some of this exists other places, as well, though. The Portuguese are just much more insular and flippant about things.

    Reply
  10. The Portuguese are profoundly disrespectful and inconsiderate of those living near them – at least in urban areas. Knowing your neighbor is a rarity, kids stay up well past midnight, loud music is a constant, dog poop everywhere, animals stuck in small spaces barking or meowing for days, cars parked so close to houses you can’t open a door sometimes.

    As a native who had the pleasure of living in other locations, I can say you sleep and rest poorest in Portugal and the authorities do very little to enforce noise laws
    There are also very construction/renovation contractors that will offer insulation services as many don’t know how to work with the material and most employ uneducated illegal labor

    Reply
  11. I agree that the Portuguese don’t consider their neighbours at all. I moved around Lisbon for the past year and lived in 3 apartments so far. And every time I have the same problem. Accept for the first one which was an Air BNB in the middle of the centre, you could notice only foreigners lived here because even being located in the city-centre this was the most quiet apartment I stayed in so far. It just seemed to get worse every time I moved. In the apartment I live in now they are renovating above us and are starting at 7AM with drilling. Because of the bad isolation it feels like they are in the some room, you can even feel the ground shaking.. and they don’t consider us at all because every morning they start drilling and in the afternoon it’s quiet.. As someone who works from home and often has a nightshift this is becoming a frustration beyond understanding.. I wish there was a complained I could make but unfortunately the Portuguese couldn’t care less, especially about a foreigner.

    Reply
  12. Thank you for sharing the article. Is there a link to the Portuguese law around noise that is in English? Keen to understand what the law says about noise before 11pm and after 7am, so outside the quiet hours. Is there any regulation to limit noise?

    Reply

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