There are different ways to go around Lisbon. Public transport (buses, trams, trains, metro) is quite cheap and organised(-ish) however a lot of people walk.
Lisbon’s calçada or stone pavements are becoming rare as they need maintenance and require specialist skills. However they still survive in the centre as it´s a tourist attraction, and so are the typical ceramic tiled facades.
Narrow ruas, streets go up and down linked by travessias , little alleyways and escadinhas, stairways. Sometimes a mini tram or a lift (elevador or ascensor) connects the high parts with the low parts.
Streets are not always level and broken in some parts, can be slippery and some are very narrow. Also keep in mind that stones are harder to walk on so be ready for some exercise and come prepared. It can be challenging for people with limited mobility but sometimes it’s the only way.
Parking on the street is a mess and sometimes includes the pavement also there is still a lot of graffiti staining the streets but it´s part of the experience, the real thing!
A map is a good accessory.
Get some free maps, not greatly detailed, from tourist offices, shopping centres, souvenir shops, etc. Some areas are a maze so don´t be afraid to ask for help as most people speak at least one foreign language.
As with anywhere in the world, be careful: don´t go to unknown places alone when dark, don´t take all your valuables with you and most importantly looking like a tourist may attract thieves.
Public Transport doesn’t reach all corners and is quite restrictive. A few years ago, there were some serious cuts in the government budget and transport suffered. The result is that you may have some buses, train or trams that do not circulate all week or all the time and may not use all stops.
So verify the timetable, route and stops before you venture somewhere, you can check on the stops or online: www.carris.pt
Don´t assume that trams (electricos) would be quicker. Tramlines are part of the narrow roads used by all kinds of transport at the same time. So it’s not uncommon that a tram is stuck in traffic or by a badly parked car.
Furthermore in areas where only trams and buses go and at peak times, it’s quite common that they are full, so giving it a miss or squeezing in is popular. Nonetheless at least people are civil and courteous.
More reliable is the metro (underground/subway), even though basic (4 lines) and not very extended. Still it´s regular, clean and gets you to main places fast. You will be surprised how quickly you can get to the other side of town!
Metro timetable: 6:30am to 1:00 am, there are also night buses.
Trains connect mainly the suburbs and outside Lisbon. The main station is Cais do Sodré which is at the bottom by the quays (thus its name Cais=Quays) and links all types of transport including ships.
There are some touristic buses and trams (some private, some public) and one of them is the famous tram 28.
I live near the terminus of tram 28 and 25 at Prazeres.
Unfortunately for local people, some places are only accessible taking this tram 28. So we have no choice even though if we could avoid it we would as it gets filled with tourists and pickpockets.
You have to realise that the entire scenic journey can last up to an hour, is very crowded from the start and there are long queues waiting to get in at every stop.
The maximum capacity is about 50 people (20 seats), it would be an understatement to say you feel like in a can of Portuguese Sardines. On top of this, because you are stuck in a full, narrow, small, wobbly tram, it´s very difficult to see anything at all! Yes it’s scenic and the tram itself is lovely and traditional but that line is too busy.
The other day, I was observing a couple of Brits at the tram stop. They had just come off the tram and look a little puzzled and lost. So they stayed at the stop to wait for the next tram(20 minutes) to take it again back where they came from. This happens all the time!
So I decided to talk to them and suggest the exploration of the area: the charming cemetery where famous people are buried, and the trendy gourmet market. More on that one here: discover the gourmet market of Campo de Ourique
Then I convinced them to take an alternative route back, walking down to Estrela where there is a beautiful basilica and garden and finally to catch the other tram back stopping in the Alfama picturesque neighbourhood for some more sightseeing.
How to make the trip more pleasant?
Take another tram line or bus back
take the tram for short journeys and do explore what is around
Note that the on-board price is 2.80 Euros cash, double of what you would pay with a transport card (see below).
Fares: Even though there are many possibilities like monthly passes, day passes, on-board tickets, etc. I found that the best way was to use a pay as you go paper rechargeable VIVA card where you just put some money onto it and use it.
Londoners would be familiar with this (Oyster card) as it has the same system of touching in (or validaçao) at the beginning of your trip and touching out at the end.
Basically with this you can mix types of transports (bus, trams, metro) it´s valid for 2 hours and will cost you only 1.25Euros per trip.
You can use the same card on the trains even though it will be more expensive.
For more info: http://www.carris.pt/en/base-fees/
The card can be charged at transport hubs and some shops.
In conclusion, for the small city that is Lisbon, Public transport is not bad at all. If I compare it to London that has had engineering work forever, is outrageously expensive and stressful to get around with, this one is a piece of cake.
Positive points: safe, clean, easy, cheap, bilingual.
Negative points: lack of info, schedule vary, limited.
TAXIS and more…
It´s also easy and cheap to take taxis. A taxi to the airport can cost you about 10 Euros (+ a supplement with luggage)which is a bargain in Europe. Note that there is also the Metro that goes to the Airport.
I take taxis at night, because it´s more convenient and in average they cost me between 5 and 10 euros. Note that they charge you a supplement if they have to come and pick you up but you will find many friendly drivers who will give you their card and work out a special deal.
To finish up I have to add that there is a cycling option that I have not yet tested, even though the layout, elevation and traffic make it a difficult one…to be continued?
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