There could not be a more iconic image of Lisbon than the little yellow trams rattling through the steep hills of the Portuguese capital, all but bowling down little old ladies as it roars through the tiny streets. They are an icon of a city, a symbol of the past and a map to the key points of interest in Lisbon.
While they are often as crowded as a tin of sardines, there is still no better way to get across town than hanging onto the leather straps for dear life as the tram jerks around unimaginable turns and sticks its tiny head out of impossibly narrow streets. One could argue that walking would be healthier for you, however, the acrobatic workout you will get trying to say on your feet is better than any gym session. Expect to get friendly with your fellow passengers.
There are a handful of tram routes still running in Lisbon, including a modern fleet that will whisk you off to the Belém Tower, but the №28 is THE classic Lisbon tram to catch. Owing to the incredibly tight turns, twists and lifts the tram must endure, only the original 1930s Remodelado trams can perform the task, leaving more modern counterparts incapable of living up to the task.
Praça Martim Moniz
Stop : Praça Martim Moniz
The №28 tram starts at the Praça Martim Moniz. One thinking of skipping the queue by getting on a couple of stops before the end of the line will be gravely disappointed as each tram trip required the passengers to disembark at Praça Martim Moniz. The line can seem long at times, but persist! for the cost of a couple of coins the voyage from Praça Martim Moniz launches you into a journey that will span the breadth of Lisbon. Taking you through the narrowest of streets, past some of the finest monuments and lookouts Lisbon has to offer. Praça Martim Moniz is the undeniable starting point for any Lisbon adventure. Join me, as I explore my favourite places along the route of Lisbon's Tram №28
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
Stop : Voz Operário
The Monastery, built in Romanesque style outside the original city walls, was one of the most important monastic foundations in mediaeval Portugal. It houses royal pantheon and is a majestic building with an austere façade that follows the later Renaissance style known as Mannerism. Behind the Monastery proper is a splendid view looking east that gives magnificent close-up views of the National Pantheon dome.
Portas do Sol
Stop : Portas do Sol
Lisbon is a city of lookouts, and with such a hilly terrain, it is no wonder why; every slope has a fantastic view. I have been to them all, but in my opinion, there is no better lookout than the Portas do Sol. The easterly facing miradora gazes over the old town of Alfama, with its labyrinth of narrow passages and steep steps, crested with the domes of São Miguel, Santo Estêvão and São Vicente de Fora churches. This makes it the perfect place for that late afternoon Porto sundowner as you stare into the postcard-perfect view.
Stop : Sé
The Lisbon Cathedral, or locally known just as Sé, is a Roman Catholic Cathedral constructed centuries before the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the Age of the Crusades. The Gothic Cathedral has endured numerous earthquakes, the worst being in the 14th, 16th and 17th centuries; the latter would destroy half of the structure. It was rebuilt in a Baroque style, and it is this incarnation we see today. The cathedral resembles a castle more than a church, with its strong, broad, duel towers that flank the entrance. It is steeped in Portuguese history and should be on the map for any Lisbon expedition.
Baixa & Terreiro do Paço
Stop : Conceição
As the tram rumbles along Rua Conceição in Baixa, the downtown area, if you crook your head southward, you might catch a glimpse of the emblematic gateway entering (or exiting depending on your interpretation) of Terreiro do Paço or the Palace Yard. The Portuguese are very proud of their Naval past, and as the square leads directly onto the water, you can see why it plays such importance in the national psyche. The Rua Conceição, where your tram stops, has great opportunities to catch some great tram shots in your viewfinder. With a long lens, one can compact the image and capture the trams crowded with towering architecture bookending them along this straight stretch of track that is oft found in squiggly Lisbon.
Ascensor da Bica
The only tram more famous than the №28 is the Ascensor da Bica, and if we are to get technical, the Ascensor da Bica is not even a tram at all, is a funicular railway. The №28 does an excellent job of navigating the sheer gradients around Lisbon, but there are some journeys that not even the Remodelado could mount. For these exemplary steep grades, a special cable pulled funicular railway are employed. It is no doubt the best image to capture, and it does not harm that the backdrop is one of the most gorgeous in all of Lisbon.
Basílica da Estrela
Stop : Estrela
The baroque Basílica da Estrela was created when the Queen popped out a boy. The story goes that the Basílica was a bet between Queen Mary, the first of her name, and God, where she bargained that if God were to give her a healthy heir, she would return the favour by constructing a Basílica in his honour. It must have been an insufficient offering, as baby Jose died two years into the construction and his mother cried herself to death, being laid to rest in the Basílica created for her son.
Equally insufficient is the Jardim da Estrela opposite the Basílica da Estrela. It is certainly no Jardin du Luxembourg or Hyde Park, but to give it its due credit it is a refreshing green space in a city otherwise consumed with tiles and clay. It is an ornate tree lined landscaped garden with a number of ponds, where ducks, birds, and turtle frolic. It is a favourite with families, exercise groups, picnic lovers and those just looking to escape the steep and dense streets of Lisbon, and to this end, it is perfect.
Stop : Campo Ourique
When you get off at the final stop, you will be faced with a sculpture of an hourglass with bat wings. The morbid reminder that tram journey, and life, all must come to an end sooner or later. The carving adorns the walls and buildings of the Prazeres Cemetery, or Cemetery of Pleasure. You might be forgiven for being perplexed by the name until you realise that it is taken from the local neighbourhood, which shares the same name, and not with some posthumous hanky panky.
The cemetery is indeed a delightful place to take a stroll and soak up the atmosphere. The largest and most famous cemetery in Lisbon is host to many famous and influential Portuguese who are housed in adorable mausoleum adorned with skulls or weeping women. At the rear of the park, one has an excellent view of the west of the city, looking out over the Salazar bridge.
Buy it, ride it, enjoy it
Tickets will set you back €2.90 for a single journey and can be purchased straight from the tram driver. Alternatively, better still, you can buy a Viva Viagem, a Lisbon transport ticket similar to the London Oyster Card, from any metro station. They cost 50¢, and then are charged up with pre-paid money. With this card, it will cap your cost at €6.15 for any given 24h period. Meaning you can get off and on the tram as much as you like in 24h and never spend more than €6.15. And it works not only for the tram, but also trains, metros and buses. The tram is least crowded at the extremes of the day, so get up early, or go to bed late to make sure you get a seat.
Be warned though, the line №28, along with other central trams in Lisbon, is a pickpocket hot spot. So it is best to put your valuables in your inner pockets, or in a bag that you keep close to you. Whilst travelling with my father he received a few "how's your mother" along the trip, but his cunningness left them empty handed.
The №28 is also the most popular tram, especially with tourists, so don't expect to get a seat unless you get on at the start of the route at either end. Not to mind, even if you grab a seat, you may wonder why you wanted one as your posterior bounces up and down on the hardwood seats as the tram twists on the tracks that must have been laid down by a sadistic carnival mechanic. They supposedly run every 10min, but often you can wait half an hour for one, only to see three go past in an instant. At least the brakes work, sometimes I learnt as I cascaded towards the ground. However, if it were any different, it would not be worth it. They are perfect just the way they are.
Author: Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours which run photography tours in the most photogenic cities across the globe. A professional photographer for over a decade, Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.