The original, independent guide to Lisbon
Hop-on hop-off tour buses provide a great way to discover Lisbon, and are ideal for visitors new to the city. The tour busses offer a convenient method to view all of the major tourist sights and districts in a single (long) day and indicate to visitors which areas to be explore further in-depth and at a leisure pace.
The main issue with the hop-on hop-off tour buses is due to the rapid growth of tourism in Lisbon; there are simply to many tourists for the services. During the summer expect full buses and long waits for popular routes. This guide will provide an introduction to the hop-on hop-off tour buses of Lisbon.
• Go round the entire route first and then leave at the areas which seem interesting.
• Tickets are valid for 24hour periods, don’t forget to use them the following morning!
• Always know the time of the last bus
• The provided headphones are junk, bring your own.
• Don’t expect much from the commentary – all companies are equally poor.
• Combined tickets offer better value but only pay for what you’re going to use
• Note the length of time between tour buses – certain routes only have a service every 90minutes
• Belem in the west should be visited before Parque de Nations in the north east.
A Yellow Bus Official Sightseeing Tours bus
There is a multitude of different ticket sellers, and endless route options, but basically there are three main tour bus companies:
• Yellow Bus Official Sightseeing Tours - Carristur (Owned by Carris the state bus company)
• Lisbon Sightseeing - Gray Line (Franchise operated by Cityrama)
• City Sightseeing (Franchise operated by Douroacima, LDA)
Carristur operate yellow buses while Gray Line and City Sightseeing run red buses. As Carristur are owned by the public transport company of Lisbon (Carris) they have their main hub in the centre of Baixa in the Praça da Figueira. The other two companies have their hub at the Praça Marquês de Pombal, a little way from the centre of Lisbon. A selection of the best bus tours are:
The Hop-on hop-off buses have their flaws but are one of the better value tourist activities in Lisbon. There are so many different options for the bus tickets but a typical 24-hour ticket costs around €20 and is significantly better value than the tuk-tuk tours. A 1-hour tuk-tuk tour for 3 people of just central Lisbon is around €50 and to include Belem would be more than €100.
The open-air tour buses are also great value when compared to similar tours in other popular holiday destinations, tours in Paris, Rome and London are 50-100% more expensive. The tour tickets are for 24 or 48 hours, which is much better than just providing a single day, and allows time on the following morning to use the ticket.
A City Sightseeing tour bus
The tour buses are very poor value when compared to public transport in Lisbon. A single metro ticket costs €1.90 and an unlimited 24-hour public transport ticket only costs €6.00. These unlimited tickets are exceptional value as they include the number 28 tram, the Elevador de Santa Justa and the Elevador da Gloria – three great tourist attractions for free!
All three of the Hop-on hop-off bus companies have two basic routes and a series of additional upsells and addons. At the core of each company’s routes will be one route heading from central Lisbon west to Belem and a secondary route covering the eastern and northern sides of Lisbon. The tour to the west and Belem should always be the first route taken, this is the Tagus Bus Tour (Carristur), Belém Line (Grayline) and Red Line (City Sightseeing).
The bus tours to the north and eastern sides of Lisbon visit the ultra-modern Parque das Nações but there can be long spells of not much to see. The Parque das Nações is great for a half day but can be easily reached by metro or the 728 bus. The Olisipo Bus Tour (Carristur), Oriente Line (Grayline) and Blue Line (City Sightseeing) routes will have less stops that you want to get off at and it’s probably better just to remain on the bus for the entire route.
The Parque das Nações
The tour operators may include tour routes of the castle or Alfama but due to the narrow roads only small buses (or trams) can make this route. During the summer, these specialist routes can become very crowded. The districts of Alfama and Baixa are best explored by foot and while waiting for a tour bus/tram the majority of the district could have been explored!
A tram tour addon is always enjoyable, as the once scenic number 28 tram is always crowded and now plagued with pickpockets.
Hop-on hop-off tour bus routes
The next section details the main sights and attractions at each of the stops along the route. For this section, we have followed the Carristur Yellow Bus Official Sightseeing routes as this is the most popular tour company in Lisbon.
Tagus Route - Yellow Bus Official Sightseeing
Restauradores: The Eden Theatre, regarded as the best example of Art Deco in Portugal faces onto this square with its large monument commemorating Portugal’s independence from Spanish rule. The funicular Elevador da Gloria, starts from here and slow grinds up the steep hill.
Av. da Liberdade:Tree lined avenue which is the central attraction during the popular saint festivities.
Marquês de Pombal: The statue in the centre of the roundabout is the Marquês de Pombal who redesigned Rossio and Baixa after the earthquake of 1755. The hop on off tour stops at the top of the large park (Parque Eduardo VII) and makes for a pleasant.
Saldanha:Home to 2 large and very expensive shopping centers not really any point to hop off.
Campo Pequeno: Lisbon’s bull ring is influence by the Moorish style of building and originates from 1892 in a Moorish style. Unlike the bullfighting in Portugal’s larger neighbor, the bulls are not put to death after the spectacle and are considerable less distressed. Below the bull ring is a good shopping center Atrium Saldana.
Praça de Espanha: This square contains the imposing Arch of St Benedict. Close by is the Foundation Calouste Gulbenkian, a world-class museum and cultural center.
Parque Eduardo VII: Named after the visit of King Edward VII (UK) in 1907 to Lisbon. The viewing platform offers views down the park and over historic Lisbon (Rossio and Baixa)
Amoreiras: The business district of Lisbon, with the distinctive Amoreiras Towers – which in my opinion are extremely ugly.
Estrela: A pleasant stop for the 18th century neoclassical Estrela Basilica and the Jardim da Estrela.
The docks: The trendy bar and restaurant district close to the Ponte Abril bridge. During day time can be very quiet and is expensive to eat here.
Fundação Oriente: The location of the Orient Museum
Torre de Belem: The first stop in the pretty district of Belem.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos: The grand monastery built on the site where Vasco da Gama spent his last night before his momentous voyage.
Belem: This stop is just outside the famous Pastry Natus the home of Lisbon’s custard tart and a great place for a Bica (strong coffee) The trams also leave from this location for Praça do Commercial.
Museu da Carris: The Carris transport museum, convenient as this is a Carris tour!
Museu de Arte Antiga: The Ancient Art Museum contains important European works by artists such as Bosch, Dürer, and Raphael. You can also see interesting 16th century Japanese screens recording the arrival of the Portuguese in Japan and much more.
Praça Comércio: The historic docks of Lisbon where adventures and sailors would sell their wares to the merchants of the Iberian Peninsula.
Praça Comércio: The central square surrounded by traditionally painted yellow government offices
Alfama: The oldest district of Lisbon, once a haven for all the undesirables now full of character and step streets. A labyrinth of narrow streets and the oldest part of Lisbon.
Campo de Santa Clara: Location for large market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Estação Santa Apolonia: Old central railway station with connections to the north and Europe.
Museu da Agua: Museum of water, Lisbon has always suffered with shortages of drinking water and has lead to the construction of some of Lisbon’s most grand architecture, eg the 14 mile aqueduct.
Museu do Azulejo: Museum focusing on the tradition of paint on tiles.
Poço do Bispo: Port area and estuary of the River Tagus.
Parque das Nações: The location of Expo 98 and the modern side of Lisbon. This area less than 20 years ago was abandoned docks and oil processing now is the wealthiest place in the city.
Gare do Oriente: A stunningly train station built over 3 levels of ultra modernism , the station connects to Vasco da Gama shopping center.
Aeroporto: Lisbon Airport.
Entrecampos: A square containing a monument to the heroes of the Peninsula War.
Sete Rios: Supposedly the location of seven rivers but all I see is lots of buses as this is the location of the main coach station.
Av. José Malhoa: The financial district of Lisbon.
El corte Ingles: Huge branch of a major Spanish department store.
Parque Eduardo VII: Parque Eduardo named after the visit of King Edward VII (UK) in 1907 to Lisbon. The viewing platform offers views down the park and over historic Lisbon (Rossio and Baixa)
Principe Real: This district has a pleasant square and garden and colorful 19th century mansions.
Bairro Alto: By day the narrow streets appear graffiti covered and dingy but by night this is the trendiest area of Lisbon, lots of small bars, drinking on the street and a great atmosphere, just don’t drink to much and keep an eye on your wallet.
Chiado: The theater district of Lisbon which was burnt to the ground in a major fire of 1988. There has been a massive regeneration program and is a great area for shopping.
There are three companies which operate hop-on hop-off tours of Lisbon and each of the companies offer similar routes, prices and services. All three companies offer two separate routes that last for around 90 minutes.
For all of the tour companies the route which heads north and west (to Belem) is more interesting than the north and east (to Expo Park) route and should be the first route travelled.
The original tour bus company of Lisbon operate the yellow buses and is a subsidiary of Carris the main bus and tram company of Lisbon. The yellow bus tour company offer two bus routes, a single route ticket costs €15.00 and the ticket is valid for 24 hours while the price for both routes is €24.00.
The main advantage of the yellow bus tours is that their tickets allow for unlimited travel on all standard buses, trams and includes the Elevador de Santa Justa. Carris tours have more buses running their routes and run longer into the night but their commentary is the weakest.
City Sightseeing operates the red buses and their two routes that are almost identical to the Yellow Bus Company. The City Sightseeing 24 hour ticket for both routes is better value at €18.00 but they have the less buses than Carris meaning waits for buses are longer.
The third company is Grayline tour buses who again operate red buses, the ticket they offer is slightly different and lasts for 48 hours but costs €20. Grayline offer 3 routes and are probably the best option for tourists with more time but Grayline tour have fewer services than Carris.
In conclusion all three companies offer a very similar service and tourist should be on the look out for internet offers or local offers before as on board prices will always be more expensive. One of the main consideration is choosing to join a tour bus is the price of a ticket which is very expensive when compared to the cheap price of public transport in Lisbon.
The main hub and start of all the tours is at Praça do Marquês de Pombal (top of Avenida da Liberdade) on the Yellow metro line. This is the easiest location to join each of the tours especially for Grayline and City Sightseeing as their main stops in Baixa are not very obvious. At Marquis of Pombal there are always tour buses waiting.