PORTUGAL TOP 10
1. Explore ancient Lisbon and hitch a ride on a traditional tram
Lisbon is far from being the only city in the world that has antique trams. In the US, San Francisco does, while Porto, in northern Portugal, also has its own version of these electric rail vehicles. They spread in the 20th century, reaching their peak of popularity in the 1950s and, at least in Lisbon, have become a permanent part of the city’s identity. It is hard to explain the attraction of this form of public transport, but the fact is that these yellow metal boxes have withstood the passage of time not least because they are ideal to traverse the narrow streets of neighbourhoods such as Alfama.
In this part of town the ancient street plan is conserved, because the area more or less survived the terrible 1755 Earthquake – which was inevitably a turning point in the city’s history and layout. The most popular route is that of the number 28, which runs from the Prazeres cemetery in the Campo de Ourique neighbourhood to Praça Martim Moniz. Given the trams’ limited capacity, there are often long queues. The fact is that tourists see this trip as an essential part of a visit to Lisbon, and prefer to catch an ordinary, packed tram to taking the red and green tourist trams that have now emerged as an attraction aimed at providing a guided tour of this route and the city. It is not clear whether it is because of the city’s soul represented by the yellow trams or the romance of travelling through time, trundling up and down the famous hills of the Portuguese capital on board this century-old vehicle.
Climbing the wobbly little steps and edging carefully behind the tram driver, you will hear the floor creak pleasantly beneath your feet as you sit on the old brown seats where countless historic figures – from writers to politicians – have sat on either side of the narrow aisle. Along the route, through the small square windows you can see some of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments and buildings. From the modern structures of Campo de Ourique, past the imposing Basílica da Estrela and Palácio de São Bento (the parliament building), the traditional and always lively Bairro Alto, the bustling streets of Chiado, the grand 18th – century buildings in the city centre, the marvellous Sé Cathedral that towers above the tram, the stunning views of the River Tagus that open out at every other corner and the narrow old alleys that take your breath away and send the adrenalin pumping as you make your way through. This is one of the ways to feel Lisboa, in a form of transport that is bound up with the city’s identity.