With a climate blessed with mild weather and plenty of sunshine and an architectural heritage undamaged by the Second World War, Lisbon ranks among Europe’s most visually stunning cities. Yet while Lisbon has plenty to offers its visitors in terms of sights and attractions, the city can sometimes be a punishing place to get around in. Driving in Lisbon means confronting narrow, labyrinthine streets and dealing with some of the most aggressive motorists in Europe. Furthermore, the classic transportation method of many travelers, the Metro, is not the most convenient choice for getting around in Lisbon. Instead, visitors to Lisbon will find the tram, and two lines of the tram in particular, to be the most effective means of getting around the downtown area and maximizing their sightseeing.
Why Not the Metro?
Unfortunately for most tourists, Lisbon’s Metropolitano was designed first and foremost with commuters in mind, and while the Metro serves that purpose admirably enough, it does a very poor job of helping visitors take in the major downtown sights with a minimum of fuss. The points of interest for most tourists are divided among the Metro’s Yellow, Green and Blue lines, so there is no equivalent to the downtown Blue/Orange line in Washington, DC, where one subway route places visitors at or near most of what they might want to see. Using the Metro to see Lisbon is simple, but it entails time-consuming changes between lines, as well as spending less time in the Lisbon’s mild, sunny climate.
Trams and Funiculars
A better way to get around downtown Lisbon is to use the city’s network of trams. The tram system is as easy to understand and use as the Metro, but spends all of its time above ground and with stops that are usually more convenient to the city’s attractions. This makes it doubly useful for tourists, since the route permits plenty of sightseeing on the way to the next point of interest. Furthermore, the tram cars charming antiques, and therefore tourist attractions in their own right.
Visitors to Lisbon should pay particular attention to two tram lines. Number 28 is the most famous and the most useful, running from the immigrant’s district of Martin Moniz on the west side of downtown Lisbon to Prazeres on the east side, passing by or near almost all of the city’s major attractions along the way. Number 15, which uses more modern cars, is the least expensive way to reach Belem. The route runs along the banks of the Tagus to the famed Tower of Belem and Jeronimos Monastery.
After the trams, the most convenient way to see the sights of Lisbon is on foot. However, the city was built on a series of hills, and any walking tour inevitably means scaling at least one of the steep slopes to reach neighborhoods like Barrio Alto or sights like the Castle of St. George. Thankfully, Lisbon has a handful of funiculars (elevadors) running the same yellow cars as the tram system, and with a little planning these can be used to take much of the work out of a walking tour. The two most useful to tourists are Elevador da Gloria and Elevador da Bica, and both ferry passengers up to Barrio Alto. Elevador da Bica starts at Cais do Sodre and finding it is tricky, since the funicular station is located inside a building and is poorly marked. Pay close attention to verifying your position relative to the funicular on your map, and don’t be afraid to peek into an open door or two. Elevador da Gloria, on the other hand, is out in the open and roughly one block north of the Rossio train station and Restauradores Metro.