One of the most iconic symbols of Lisbon is the charming streetcar.
These bright-yellow streetcars (or trams) were originally sent over from America, but have since cemented themselves in the city’s culture. The trams endeared themselves to locals and tourists alike not only for their looks and novelty, but also for sparing explorers from a long walk up the city’s steep hills.
The first streetcars hit the narrow and cobbled streets of Lisbon in 1873, and were much different in appearance than the vehicles of today. These first “cars” were actually pulled by horses, and the first electric versions weren’t implemented until 28 years later in 1901.
Lisbon’s tram network reached new heights halfway through the 20th century, when the number of tracks in use was nearly double the size of what it is today. Instead of getting rid of them entirely when their popularity began to wane, the city held onto a handful of lines — a good decision in the long run.
Lisbon has gained notoriety in Europe recently, and has been named one of the continent’s most attractive cities. With the additional attention, the use of streetcars has only increased. Not only are the trams efficient, they’re also a fun and interactive way to see the city. Tram routes wind through the different boroughs and follow paths similar to the underground metro lines, usually leading right to the city’s most popular landmarks.
Today, 40 of the city’s 58 trams are vintage streetcars that still sport their wooden interiors and original dials. Traveling through the cobbled corridors of Lisbon’s Gothic architecture aboard a tram is a fitting way to get lost in the city’s history.
Most tram schedules start around 7 a.m. and stop around 11 p.m. When planning your streetcar adventure, keep in mind that trams are usually packed to the brim with little seating between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Don’t let this fact deter you, though. Instead, plan your rides for early in the morning or later in the evening, both magical times to see the city.
While aboard, it’s important to remember that, due to popularity, the trams have become an easy target for pickpockets. Always stay aware and make sure to keep your personal belongings within view.
The price of riding Lisbon’s streetcars is fairly reasonable. Single passes cost €2.90 on the spot, but if you’re looking to save, head to a metro station before your ride. There, you can purchase a Viva Viagem card for €1.45 or a 24-hour pass for €6.15.
With five different routes running throughout the city, it’s possible to reach almost any destination by tram — just look for the yellow signs along the sidewalks.
The most popular route, however, belongs to number 28, which travels from Martim Monez to Campo de Ourique. While on Historic Tram 28, you’ll be treated to views of the city’s historic centers and lanes covered in marvelous azulejos. This route also treats riders to watery views of the Tagus River for a stretch, and has stops in popular neighborhoods like Estrela and Alfama.
Number 12 shares the same tracks as 28, but on a much smaller scale (its short circuit can be completed in just 20 minutes). This route passes by the Lisbon Cathedral and Miradouro de Santa Luzia, and runs from 8 a.m. to10:45 p.m.
Although the number 15 is not a vintage streetcar like the others, it may prove useful when traversing the city. This route has favorable hours between 6 a.m. and 1 a.m., and connects Belem with downtown, an area that the metro system doesn’t service at all.
Number 18 might be the city’s most leisurely route, along which you’ll be swept through some of the city’s quieter neighborhoods (like the Ajuda district, which includes the National Palace of Ajuda and the Ajuda Botanical Gardens).
Last but not least, there’s the 25, which moves between Prazeres and Campo das Cebolas. As you sit back in the wooden cabins, take in the subtleties of Estrela and the riverfront community of Santos, where artistry and architecture are blended tastefully.
Although there aren’t as many trams in Lisbon today as there were in the 1800s, these boxy eye-catchers are still found cruising the city everyday. Whichever streetcar you take while visiting the sunny city of Lisbon, you won’t be disappointed. Take a seat, relax, and enjoy the ride!
Header image by Derek Stewart