The best independent guide to Lisbon
The best independent guide to Lisbon
The Elevador de Santa Justa is one of the truly unique tourist attractions of Lisbon. This 19th century industrial age marvel transports passengers up 45m from the Baixa district to the Largo do Carmo.
The Elevador de Santa Justa dates from an era when wrought-iron was not just a construction material but also an elegant art form. The exterior structure is adorned with glorious neo-gothic arches and geometric patterns, while inside two sumptuous polished wood carriages whisk passengers up in style.
Historically the Elevador de Santa Justa was an invaluable part of Lisbon’s public transport network, but today it is primarily a tourist attraction, and one of the highlights of the Baixa district. As to confirm the tourist focus of the Santa Justa, a viewing platform has been created at the top of the lift, and from here are some of the finest views of central Lisbon.
Being a popular tourist attraction there can be long queues and the return fare is excessively priced (€5.30). Fortunately, this article will show you how to avoid the queues, ride the elevator at a much better price and also provide the story of this wonderful contraption.
Related articles: Guide to the Baixa district – Lisbon in 2 days
The Elevador de Santa Justa is technically part of the public transport network of Lisbon, and is managed by Carris, the public transport company. This means that a ride on the lift is included in the 24-hour public transport ticket, which can be purchased from any metro station for €6.40.
Note: The 24h ticket cannot be purchased from the Elevador de Santa Justa ticket office, but from any metro station; Rossio metro station is the closest to the lift.
The 24h ticket is exceptional value, as not only does it include all buses, metro services and trams, it also covers the funiculars, and historic trams. This includes the three funiculars Glória, Bica and Lavra (€3.80 return), the Elevador de Santa Justa (€5.30 return), and the charming E28 tram (€3.00 single).
Note: The 24h ticket does not provide entry to the viewing platform on the Elevador de Santa Justa.
Insider tip: The Ascensor da Lavra, is virtually unknown to tourists, and provides the most peaceful and authentic funicular ride in Lisbon.
Related articles: E28 tram – metro guide
During the summer season, there can be very long queues to purchase tickets and the cabins are cramped and crowded. For a more pleasurable tourist experience we always recommend riding the lift either early or late in the day, and avoid the peak hours of 10am to 3pm.
The viewing platform can only have a maximum of 29 visitors, so again there can be a long wait during the peak hours.
Insider tip: There are always longer queues going up in the lift then heading down. A better route is heading up the hill by the Ascensor da Glória (on the Praça Dos Restauradores) and heading downhill by the Elevador de Santa Justa. This route also passes the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint and the Igreja de São Roque, the finest church in Lisbon. For a map and guide to theBaixa district, please see this article.
The viewing platform at the top Elevador de Santa Justa is one of the most romantic locations in Lisbon, especially when visited at night. The viewpoint may not be the highest of Lisbon, but it provides unrivalled views over the Baixa district and up to the Castelo de São Jorge, along with many outstanding photo opportunities. The view is worth the €1.50 admission fee, and as visitor numbers are limited on the terrace, it will never feel too crowded. The viewing platform is reached via a narrow spiral staircase.
Historic insight: The viewing platform was the original location of the steam engine which powered the lift. The steam engine did not raise the lift directly, but pumped water into two tanks held below the two cabins, which were connected by a steel cable. As the pumped water increased the weight of the upper cabin it raised the lower cabin, and the speed was control by mechanical brakes. This steam engine was replaced by an electric engine in 1907.
Insider tip: The castle and the Se Cathedral are best illuminated by the evening setting sun. For that perfect holiday photo or selfie visit the viewing platform in the late afternoon or evening.
Money saving tip: The top floor of the lift provides great views over central Lisbon but there is no need to either pay for the viewing platform or lift admission. The top deck can be accessed from the Largo do Carmo, by following the path to the right of Carmo ruins and then going through the Bellalisa Elevador restaurant.
Related articles: The best viewpoints of Lisbon.
The Elevador de Santa Justa was designed by Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, a student of the great iron craftsman Gustave Eiffel, whose crowning glory was the magnificent Eiffel Tower. Ponsard, after studying under Eiffel, returned to his home city of Lisbon to design his iron masterpiece: the Elevador de Santa Justa
Unlike the Eiffel Tower, the Elevador de Santa Justa actually solves a problem within Lisbon: how to ascend the steep hills in the heat of summer. The funding for the project was provided by the royal court, and construction began in 1900.
The gothic super structure and upper walkway were formally opened by the Dom Carlos I (king) August 1901, but at this stage, the cabins and the steam engine had not been installed.
The official opening was on the 10 July 1902, after two days of rushed of testing. The actual opening day saw a freak storm with torrential rain and lightning but still more than 3,000 tickets were sold on the first day. By the end of the first year, more than half a million passengers had ridden in the lift, making it nearly as popular as Eiffel’s tower.
The original elevator was powered by a giant steam engine, but it was converted to a much safer and cleaner electrical motor in 1907, which still powers the lift today.
In 1973, the Elevador de Santa Justa came under public ownership and was amalgamated into the government-run Carris Corporation, which also manages the tram and bus network. In 2002, the Elevador de Santa Justa and the three remaining cable railways of Lavra, Glória and Bica, were classified as National Monuments.
The Elevador de Santa Justa can transport up to 29 passengers in each of the two cabins for the 45-meter journey. The interior of each cabin is furnished with dark polished wood, shaded mirrors and brass dials, all of which have not altered since its inauguration in 1902.
From the Largo do Carmo there is a 25m walkway to the main lift shaft from Baixa to the walkway that connects to Largo do Carmo. The elevator’s wrought-iron struts and cross supports that form the shafts have been expertly fashioned into neo-gothic arches.
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