Fado is in the city’s soul

Unique experiences await congress delegates in Portugal's capital

Maryalicia Post

Posted: Friday, September 1, 2017

The Champalimaud Centre

The Champalimaud Centre

Lisbon has a soul, and its name is ‘fado’. Fado, or ‘fate’, is the theme of Lisbon’s plaintive songs, born on the streets and elevated to the status of art by fadistas such as Amália Rodrigues. An evening of fado features a singer and two guitarists – and in the most traditional setting, these artists will also have served the dinner (and possibly cooked it too).

When dinner is over, the announcement is made: ‘Silêncio que se vai cantar o fado’ (‘Silence, because fado is about to be sung’). After that you may sip your wine – but not eat, and especially not talk – while the singer pours her heart out.

For an authentic fado evening, a popular recommendation is Sr Fado in the Alfama. The hosts are Duarte Santos and Ana Marina, who offer homemade ‘rustic Portuguese’ food cooked by Ana. Ana sings, and Duarte, who will probably have been your waiter, is joined by another guitarist as the guests experience an evening to remember. The cosy room seats about 25 people. Reservations are essential. Fado evenings are Wednesdays through Saturdays. For details, visit:

Fado was recognised by UNESCO in 2011 as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’. You can learn more about fado and its most celebrated exponents at a museum dedicated to the art. The Museum of Fado is a good place to start or finish a walk in the hilly, picturesque streets of the Alfama.

It’s safe to say that only in Lisbon can you go to sea in a tiled boat, the Trafaria Praia. A decommissioned ferry, re-purposed into a floating work of art by Joana Vasconcelos, it was Portugal’s entry in the Venice Biennale in 2013. Hand-painted tiles – a 21st Century panorama of Lisbon – cover the hull while below deck there’s a surrealistic installation of fairy lights and blue fabric to explore.

If you’d simply like to visit the ferry at its dock at Cais do Sodré, it’s open on Mondays. To combine a visit with a one-hour river cruise, you can go Tuesday to Sunday, with departures at 10.30, 14.30 and 16.30. Reserve on the website:

A ride on the vintage No 28 trolley is one of the most popular ways of seeing Lisbon, the Alfama in particular, without the challenge of climbing its steep streets. In fact, you may find it a touch too popular as it’s often full to bursting.

Consider Tram 12 instead. This route is also served by pre-war Remodelado trolleys and covers a shorter distance – 4km from Baixa to Alfama in 20 minutes – and is significantly less crowded. On either route, be careful of pickpockets. Trams, called ‘eléctricos’ in Portuguese, operate from 08.00 until 20.45.

3 to note…

The Champalimaud Foundation will be familiar to eye surgeons as the sponsor of the annual million-dollar Vision Award, the largest prize in a field supporting the fight against blindness. The foundation’s spectacular research and oncology treatment centre occupies a riverside position near Belém. Its landscaped public area has become a popular attraction. The foundation’s interior garden is reserved for the use of oncology patients treated at the centre, but can be glimpsed through the building’s spectacular windows. The centre’s café, the Darwin, is open to the public so that anyone can enjoy the food and take advantage of the terrace with its view of the mouth of the River Tejo.

The project for developing the archaeological site at São Jorge Castle as a museum won the Piranesi Prix de Rome 2010 International Prize for architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça. His ultra-elegant structure encloses and exhibits a portion of the dig on the site of Lisbon’s first known human settlement. The excavations on the top of the city’s highest hill began in 1996. Remnants of successive periods of inhabitation – Iron Age settlement, Medieval Muslim occupation and a 15th-Century Palace – were uncovered, and the most significant artefacts are exhibited in the museum. Free tours include entry to the Muslim houses. In October there are six tours a day. No need to book, just wait at the site for a guide. Museum website:

If you think the artwork on the tile wall of the Botto Machado Garden looks like graffiti, you’d be right. The 52,738 hand-painted tiles that make up the mural are the work of the Portuguese-French artist André Saraiva, who won his street cred in the 1990s, in Paris. His work, tagged with a top-hatted stick figure known as ‘Mr. A’, showed up on postboxes, windows and abandoned buildings. Now his work is featured in museums and galleries around the world. Lisbon’s 188-metre-long mural, the initiative of Lisbon City Council and MUDE (Design and Fashion Museum), was inaugurated in October 2016. The design represents Saraiva’s imaginary Lisbon rendered in bright colours. The mural is near Flea Market Square, Campo de Santa Clara.