Getting Around in Lisbon

In Lisbon, you’re spoiled for choice on modes of transportation: you can get around by car, taxi, tram, bus, subway, rental bike or scooter, hop on / hop off bus, walking, or tuk tuk.

Maggie and I had already decided that we didn’t want to rent a car, partly for the expense, and partly because it’s a pain to find a parking place in any city. It turns out Lisbon has a unique solution for that. In the central city, every neighborhood seems to have its own Neighborhood Parking Guy. (All the ones we’ve seen are men.) He might look like a hobo working for tips (the Alfama NPG is a dead ringer for Lyle Lovett), but he’s a vital part of the community. Every driver knows him, everybody is his friend. You’ll see him standing in an open parking place, waving down a slowly passing car, then directing the driver into a narrow spot like he’s directing an airplane into a terminal gate. It’s a real skill, and a necessary one: he saves drivers endless hours of driving around, and countless Euros in parking tickets. Looking at all the different ways cars are parked, NPG’s can get very creative in their definitions of parking places and how the cars should be arranged within them. They are modern art sculptors, working in automobiles and pavement. They should have a display of their works in a museum.

There’s a system of trams that’s part of the transportation system, but like San Francisco’s trolley cars, it seems like tourists get more use out of it than locals. That’s mostly because they’re so jammed with tourists that the locals would have a hard time finding a seat. For the most popular line, the #28E, we’ve heard that there can be a long wait at mid-day during the summer, but if you ride first thing in the morning or after dinner, that won’t be a problem. The tour guides issue dire warnings about gangs of pickpockets lurking at the entrance and exit doors of the trams, ready to strip the valuables off unsuspecting tourists in seconds, but we didn’t see any of that.

Within the neighborhood of Alfama, cars are a rare sight. The cobblestone streets are just too narrow and convoluted. The cars  mostly stick to the main roads, which makes walking in old town great for pedestrians. You still have to watch out for trolleys and tuk tuks rushing by, but that becomes second nature after not too long.

Our main worry walking in Alfama is getting lost. Actually, we don’t worry about it, we just do it. We have a couple of routes that we know, but finding a new place can be a real puzzle. Yesterday, following GPS, Maggie and I tried to find our closest stop on the #28E tram. We wandered around for twenty minutes, occasionally seeing some familiar landmark, but mostly having no idea of where we were. We finally gave up and decided to head downhill, find the river and figure out how many miles we had to walk to get home. The first corner we turned, we were face to face with somebody we knew! We don’t know anybody – who is this? It’s…the host of the restaurant across the street from our apartment! What’s he doing here? He’s…standing in front of his restaurant. We’re back where we started. We gave him a sheepish bom tarde and continued on our way, as if we’d planned it that way all along.

I think what we need to do is cut down on our choices. We haven’t had a problem with the bus or subway yet. The subway is a great way to zip across town and get to the general vicinity of where you want to be. Buses are air conditioned, clean, they run seemingly everywhere and they’re on time. There are so many bus routes, the city doesn’t make paper maps, so just like at home, there’s a web site / app: Whew! I think we’ve found our answer.




Getting Around in Lisbon

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