THE FOLLY OF THE TROLLEY
Sometimes you have to tell travelers what they don’t want to hear. So forgive me as I grab you by the lapels, look you in the eye and tell you that you may want to reconsider taking a ride on Lisbon’s most famous trolley, the #28 tram.
How can the opening scenes of every travel show about Lisbon be wrong? Why would the guide books, posters and every piece of Lisbon themed bric-a-brac lie to you? We even have trolleys pictured on our website! The trolley looks charming and downright quaint. In reality, it’s a bizarre set-up. You pile into a century old machine, and if you’re lucky enough to get a seat, that seat is a wooden bench. Then, you crane your neck to take pictures of your surroundings which are inundated with other tourists, who are, in turn, trying to take pictures of you rolling by. The queue for this ride can be up to two hours long at peak season. And, I didn’t even mention the pickpockets!
EFTF cannot in good conscious recommend riding the #28 tram, let alone with children and a stroller. So, we offer some alternatives that can scratch that itch of old-timey travel on rails.
Elevador da Bica
What is it? You can’t spell funicular without ‘fun.’ Of the three active funiculars in Lisbon, this is the most dramatic. All three funiculars will certainly save you some toil getting from low point A to high point B, but Elevador da Bica has the longest ride and the steepest ascension. The funicular works on a counterweight pulley system, so as one goes up, the other must come down. Just like the nearby Santa Justa Lift, all the funiculars were designed by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard – his vertical game was strong. This funicular will provide transportation AND be one of your best photo ops in Lisbon. Unlike the trolleys, the driver will limit how many can be on board at one time, so people aren’t piled on top of one another. As a bonus, pickpockets are highly unlikely to be found here.
Where to use it? From Cais do Sodré to Bairro Alto
How long is the ride? A few glorious minutes.
Tips? Once deposited up top, you are a short walk from Manteigaria, a worthy candidate for best pastel de nata in town
How much? To buy a single ticket from a funicular driver, it will cost €3. If you have a prepaid transport card, the ride will cost €1.50. Fare included with Lisboa Card.
What is it? This is a museum dedicated to the mass transportation company that has serviced Lisbon for over one hundred years, Carris. It is also where all the elétricos (trolleys and more modern trams that run on tracks, powered by electricity) park at night. It’s a two-part museum. First, you get a history of mass transit in Lisbon and an introduction to the people who made it happen. Then, you get to ride a trolley into the backlot to explore the second phase which is a hangar full of old buses and trolleys. Kids can climb the buses and trolleys to their heart’s content.
Where is it? At the Santo Amaro stop of many bus lines and the 15E tram.
How long is the ride? Maybe 3 minutes. But, you have unlimited time to take pictures of your family on a trolley.
Tips? To ring the trolley bell, you need to find the pedal on the floor. Show your children where the bell pedal is at your own risk. There will be lots of ring-a-ding-dinging!
How much? Adults €4.50. Seniors €2.50. Children 6-18 €2.50. Children under 6 are free. Open Monday through Saturday 10:00 am – 1:00 pm & 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm (closes for lunch).
Don’t Ride the Santa Justa Lift Either
When in Rossio or Chiado, you may notice the Santa Justa Lift aka the Carmo Lift. If your first impression is that it looks like a Gothic, miniature Eiffel Tower, then your architectural eye is in focus. Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard designed the lift and he was an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, hence its construction of iron. The flourishes and windows all scream Gothic, a nod to old Lisbon.
As tempting as this may look to ride, I must tell you to steer clear of this attraction too. To begin with, there is often a significant wait to ride it. Furthermore, the views at the top are essentially the same as Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara or other vistas offered up in Bairro Alto.
Sorry (not sorry).
Still Want to Ride a Trolley?
If you just can’t let the idea go, we understand. Here are two alternative trolley routes that might not be as busy or uncomfortable as the #28.
For a long ride: To see parts of town you would never otherwise see, there’s the #18 right across from Cais do Sodre. This tram travels along the riverfront before climbing up into the residential neighborhoods of Alcântara and Ajuda. It ends in a little loop above Belém. Driver might ask you to disembark, but you can hop right back on to complete the round trip in about an hour. Just before that little loop is one of Lisbon’s best kept secrets: Ajuda Botanical Garden. Hop off at the stop Cç. Ajuda (GNR) to discover Lisbon’s oldest botanical garden with some Dr. Seussian trees, a sensory garden and pleasingly symmetrical hedgerows.
For a short ride: Ride up the heart of Bairro Alto by finding the #24 at Praça Luis de Camôes. This can be a heartstopping ride as the trolley negotiates a hill, sharp turns and gaggles of tourists. It’s only a couple of stops before you’re at the Sâo Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint or the Principe Real Garden. This will give you a quick taste for the trolley action in the most touristic parts of Lisbon.
How much? To buy a single ticket from a trolley driver, it will cost €3. If you have a prepaid transport card, the ride will cost €1.50. Fare included with Lisboa Card.