There is a dirty secret within tourism and it’s a secret shared by most tour guides and locals. We don’t like tourists!
Sounds strange, our economies depend on tourism and our jobs definitely depend on tourists, but let me explain. Think of your home city wherever it is, New York, California, London, Sydney and think of all the places you avoid just because of the tourists. Done it? Well, we feel exactly the same. Let’s get one thing straight; it’s not all tourists it’s just ones that do incredible stupid or obnoxious things without even thinking about their surroundings.
The Problem with the Tram 28, Lisbon
‘On the 1st of September (1901) the electric traction from Cais do Sodré to Algés will start functioning (…) It means: on the 1st of September the Hospitals will have no beds available and the cemeteries will need to expand.’
O Imparcial, 25th August 1901.
It is fair to say that the opening of the first tram in Lisbon was not (at least at first) a popular move. Fear of the new technology and the risk to life it could cause meant that few people could be found who were not fearful that a thunderstorm could end up sending lightning bolts through every window in the city.
Today though they are a much-loved icon. Providing small electrical trams that can twist and turn up the steepest and sharpest of hills. They go where the metro and modern articulated trams dare not tread.
The problem is for many residents of Alfama, Graça and so on they are the only form of public transport accessible to them. The number 28 is one such tram, and its popularity amongst tourists is a real headache for the locals. The trams have a seating capacity of 20 and a standing capacity of around another 30, they arrive every ten minutes and in the summer the square of Martim Moniz will have lines of up to 2 hours long with tourists waiting to take the 28’s iconic winding route.
How to ride the Tram 28
1: Buy your tickets in advance
You can buy tickets directly on the tram, but this costs you more and holds up the line. Instead, buy a daily travel pass for €6.90 when you arrive in Lisbon. These can be purchased at any Metro station in the city and are valid on all Metro, buses, trams, and ferries (find out more here). Alternatively, there is the Zapping option, the Zapping cards can be bought at all metro stops and a few other places around the city for just 50 cents and can then be topped up with anything from €3 to €40 depending on the length of your stay. Each time you get on a tram or a bus simply look for the yellow box and tap your card against it, your balance will come up at this point, so if it is running low you can easily top it up again at any metro before getting caught short.
2: Don’t use the trams at rush hour
We get it your on holiday and you want to see as much as possible, but people need to get to work, so let them. Lisbon’s a slow city, take an extra coffee and pastel de nata and relax. Try not to use the trams between the hours of 8 am and 10 am and then from 5 pm till 7 pm. This way you will help ease congestion on a very old transport system. The 28 is standing room only from 8 am till 7 pm, so if you really must ride the 28 then take it in the late evening, it will be cooler and less crowded.
3. Don’t ride the tram 28
We know that Rick Steeves says it’s a must do and so Fodors, TimeOut and every other guide book under the sun, but there are currently 5 tram routes that use the beautiful old yellow trolley and some of their routes lead to beautiful neighborhoods often ignored by the hordes heading to Alfama and Castelo. Also, the 28 is a pickpockets dream so do be careful of your belongings.
We particularly like the tram 25 and 18 which travel through fascinating areas like Estrela and Ajuda where you can visit the criminally under-visited royal palaces.
If your budget isn’t too tight you can splash out and pay €18 for a 24-hour hop on hop off historic tram pass. These are exactly the same as the public transport except they are painted red on the outside, but as you can’t see the outside when your inside, who cares? You will be guaranteed a seat, you won’t have your pocket picked like on the infamous 28 and you can jump on and off for 24 hours from validation of your ticket in all the historic quarters (Alfama, Comercio, Baixia, etc). You can buy tickets directly here https://www.yellowbustours.com/en-GB/Lisbon/Circuits.aspx
4. Don’t ride the tram!
Do you really want to spend 3 hours of your holiday in the baking sun, followed by an hour crammed like sardines into an un-airconditioned sweatbox? There’s a much better option. Take a walking tour!! Our Alfama tour covers a huge section of the Tram 28’s route, you’ll learn more and you’ll burn off some calories leaving more space for Ginjinha and a pastel de nata, and the one thing you will notice about our photos of the trams is we are never on them, Simple!
All in all the trams of Lisbon are a must see, but be sensitive of the locals and use them at sensible times of day and take the stress off the 28.
If you want to learn more about the historic trams of Lisbon we strongly suggest a visit to the Carris museum. Here you have all the different trams from the last century that you can climb on and explore, and your €4 entry also covers a quick spin around the still in use work yards in one of the historic trams. More information can be found at http://museu.carris.pt/en/