Lisbon's tram 28 is the best damn tram ride in Europe...
There are more than 200 European cities with tram networks – everything from wooden carriage heritage lines in Innsbruck, Turin and Malmo, to futuristically curvacious trams in Tours, Le Mans and Bordeaux.
However, none is more fabulous than Tram #28 in Lisbon, which trundles over four of the city’s seven summits and is by far the best ride in the city. The cute wooden carriages were built in the 1930’s and seat just 20 people, and with a wheelbase little longer than a family car, its progress is decidedly fidgety.
If there was such a thing as a clear run on Lisbon’s cramped and twisting streets, then the entire length of route 28 would take about 45 minutes, but unplanned halts are frequent. Once I was riding the tram when the driver stopped to help a lady retrieve her house keys from the groove of the track.
The Start: wait by the yellow tram stop sign in front of the monumental white facade of the Carmelite Estrelo Basilica. Then board the next tram #28 heading for ‘M. Moniz’, and you’re off.
It’s a straight run past faded shop-fronts until the tramcar swerves down a far narrower street - look to the right for glimpses of the Tagus River and the Bica funicular falling away towards it. Next you cross Bario Alto (Lisbon’s best bar hopping district) and Chiado (for upmarket shopping), before Portugal’s parliament on the left is cue for wheel screeching around a sharp left hand bend and a steep descent to the flat grid-patterned streets of Baixa.
First Stop: the geometrical discipline of Baixa comes courtesy the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1775, after which the whole area was demolished and redesigned. Unless you want to ride the route nonstop, get off at the first stop on the flat and walk through the triumphal arch into Praca do Comercio – Lisbon’s most impressive square.
Second stop: back aboard tram #28 and it’s uphill past Lisbon Cathedral (the huge-doored building on the right) until you see the vine-tousled trellises of Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Jump off here for fabulous views over the ramshackle roofs of the Moorish-influenced Alfama district, then follow the walking signs up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge. The esplanade of cannons commands fine views over the city, and an outside table at the castle restaurant makes a good coffee stop.
Third stop: sunset views from the castle are terrific, but from the higher elevation of Graça they are even better. So walk back to Santa Luzia and catch another #28. The hillside is steep here and after a vertiginous section of sagging road it’s a sharp left turn and an uphill slog to Graça. Leap off when you see a triangle of trees on the left and walk through to the Miradouro da Graça. The two great little café’s here are where laid back Lisboetas come for sunset views crowned by the castle’s silhouette. Or opt for a romantic meal by the panoramic windows of swish Via Graça restaurant.
Last stop: time to board your last tram #28 for the gentle downhill slope to its terminus at Martim Moniz square. Round off your day with a liqueur at Ginjinha Sem Rival (Rua das Portas de Santo Antão, 7), one of several hole-in-the-wall bars - only found in this small area - that sell the bittersweet and sticky-as-cough-mixture cherry liqueur called Ginjinha. ‘Com’ means you want your small glass of it with cherries in it and ‘Sem’ means without; either way, it’s only $1.50 and enormously potent.
Getting there: Lisbon Airport has good connections across Europe and globally. TAP Portugal routes include most European capitals, plus Belem, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Fortaleza, Natal, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia, and Sao Paulo in Brazil, plus Abidjan, Accra, Bissau, Dakar, Lome, Luanda, Maputo, Praia, Sao Tome, and Sao Vincente in Africa. Other useful routes include Athens with Aegean Airlines; Dublin with Aer Lingus; London with British Airways, Monarch and Ryanair; Dubai with Emirates, and Istanbul with Turkish Airlines.
Getting around: a single ticket costs €2.90 or a one-day Lisbon Card is €18.50, including unlimited public transport use and free/discounted attraction admission.
Five other fab European tram rides
Amsterdam: narrow blue and white trams fan out from the city’s elaborate Centraal Station, but line #2 is the best for connecting the sights. Its route passes the Royal Palace, the Begijnhof courtyard of historic houses and Bloemenmarkt floating flower market. After that it beelines down the Leidsestraat shopping street and skirts the grassy Museumplein – home to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum of modern art. A few stops further is Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest green space. See the public transport operator, GVB
Prague: tram #22 has a super scenic section between Peace Square and Prague Castle. Start at the 60-metre spires of Prague’s St Ludmila church and board an ageing red and cream tram towards Pohorelec. You’ll pass Charles Square, the New Town Hall and National Theatre, before crossing the river to Queen Anne’s Summer Royal Palace, Prague Castle and your final stop outside the Strahov Monastery’s Baroque library. See the Prague Prague Public Transport Company
Istanbul: the gleaming new T1 line scythes through the traffic chaos, stopping at the Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern. But the streetcars of the Taksim-Tünel Nostalgia Tramway are more fun. They are 100 years old and proceed at little more than walking speed along the pedestrianised Istiklal shopping street. Inside the red and white carriages it’s dim lighting and a semi-constant clang of the driver’s bell to shoo away shoppers. See iETT
Budapest: tram #2 makes a lovely 20-minute ride along the Pest’s bank of the River Danube. Start at Jászai Mari Square (sit on the right for the best views) and head in the direction of Közvágóhíd Square. You’ll pass the Gothic Parliament Building, Art Nouveau Gresham Palace and the iconic Chain Bridge - all the way with views across the river to Buda’s hilltop Castle District. Alight at the fabulously grand Central Market Hall for its cornucopia of comestibles. See BKK
Vienna: the cities showpiece circular boulevard is the ‘Ringstrasse’, which follows the course of mediaeval city walls knocked down in 1860. A stress-free alternative to making the loop by changing from public tram #1 to tram #2 half way round is a ride on the yellow Vienna Ring Tram, which includes commentary. It makes the loop every 30 minutes from Schwedenplatz, takes 25 minutes, and passes the Museum Quarter, Hofburg Palace, Parliament and Opera House.