There’s no ‘one way’ of getting around Lisbon. Unlike Paris, where you can pretty much live on the Metro, the Lisbon public transport system is made up of an intricate combination of bus, tram and underground. While it will take a little bit of investigation on your part in order to find out which routes on which modes of transport you’ll need to get, rest assured that the system as a whole is very efficient and in my experience, quite safe.
Lisbon Public Transport: Travel cards
There are numerous tourist travel cards available that allow you unlimited travel privileges plus discounts into big attractions in Lisbon. If you’re visiting for a weekend and want to cram as many sights into your time as possible, this is probably a good way to save money. Be sure to do your research beforehand and check that whatever card you buy allows you to get on all forms of transport and actually does work out cheaper than paying as you go.
As I’m staying in the city for two months, I didn’t bother with one-day tickets or tourist cards; instead, I embraced Zapping. It’s a similar system to London’s Oyster Card or Dublin’s Leap Card. You pay 50c for a Viva Viagem card at any ticket machine in the airport, Metro or any train station and then load a certain amount of travel credit onto it.
Each time you hop on a bus, tram, metro, train or ferry, you just swipe your card on a sensor. You’ll pay €1.25 for a single journey on buses and the metro instead of €1.40, and also €1.25 on a tram instead of the usual cash €2.85. You also get a bonus every time you recharge your card.
If you’re trying to get from one end of the city to the other, the metro is probably the most efficient way to do this if you’re staying close to one of the stops. For me, the closest station was a 20-minute walk from my apartment, so I rarely used it unless I was going further out of the city, like to Centro Comercial Colombo.
In saying that, it does stop at some popular locations, like Cais do Sodré, Baixa-Chiado and Restauradores. It’s also a great way to get into the city from the airport. I got a taxi to my apartment, but that was because I was towing a big suitcase, a backpack and a laptop bad with two computers. But when my friends came to visit, I talked them through getting from the airport to Cais do Sodré (one transfer) so we could get dinner at the Mercado da Ribeira.
The system is much simpler to navigate than Paris’ Metro and London’s Underground. There are fewer lines, better signs and cleaner transfers, which means you’ll be navigating like a pro by the end of your first day.
Carris is the main company in charge with running the bus (autocarro), tram (electrico) and funicular systems in Lisbon, so don’t panic if you see that written on a bus or tram stop. Trams are the oldest form of transport in the city, navigating those steep, calf-burning hills with gusto, and you can’t claim you truly experience Lisbon without taking at least one trip.
There are five routes, with the number 28 holding the title of ‘most famous’. This old-fashioned contraption runs through Graca and Alfama – two of the most popular areas in Lisbon – and many people will ride from start to finish if they want to get a real feel for the city.
Tram stops often double up with bus stops and while trams tend to stop anyway, you should still pop a hand out to indicate you want to get on. If you’re using a travel card, there are two scanning machines just inside the door or you can pay the driver directly.
While there’s no official queuing system, don’t push on ahead of people who were at the stop before you – it’s seen as bad manners. Commuters enter through the front and exit through the back door, and once you get on, make your way to the back as far as you can to make room for people getting on. When you want to get off at a stop, there are a couple of little red buttons you can press.
Note: Pay attention to the place name on the front of the tram. I was stranded a few times when I accidentally got on a 28 that was only going part of the way.
Same system as the tram, except there are more buses, the vehicles are much newer and you have to pay a little more attention to make sure you’re getting off at the right stop.
Don’t watch the driver try to navigate the steep hills and tight, twisting bends if you get travel sick…
Getting the train
If you want to visit the beach and spend a day out in Cascais or Estoril, you can get the Cascais train at the Casa de Sodré train station. I recommend getting off in Estoril and walking to Cascais for the great views. You can use your zapping powers to get all the way there for around €2.
If you want to witness Sintra’s stunning scenery for yourself – and you should – you can get the Linha de Sintra train, which departs from Rossio. You can also access it from a number of other stops, depending on your location. Again, you can use your zapping privileges to cover your transport for a measly €2.15 one-way.
For anyone hoping to spend some time in Porto during their Lisbon stay, I’d recommend just doing a day trip. The train is less than three hours and you should book in advance online to get a good discount. I secured a first class return ticket for just €50 and have never been so comfortable on a train in my life.