Working out which travel card and payment system you need to use the many forms of public transport in Lisbon can prove more complicated than it should be. If you aren’t using a Lisbon Card, you need to consider how many trips you are likely to take each day and which forms of transport that will involve before deciding the best way to pay.
On days when you intend to make less than 5 journeys on any given day, or use public transport like trains and ferries, the Viva Viagem Zapping system is the way to go. If you’re travelling within the city and plan to make more than five single trips per day using only buses and the metro, a €6.30 daily pass is the cheapest option.
If you have a Lisbon Card, your travel costs are covered, as well as some entrance fees. Check to see if the places you want to visit in Lisbon are discounted or free with the Lisbon Card to see if this is your best option.
Not sure what to do in Lisbon? See this article for ideas: 33 Things To Do In Lisbon. Must See Sights & Hidden Highlights
What is Zapping?
If you’re familiar with London’s Oyster card, Zapping runs on the same principle and, in my experience, it’s the best truly inter-modal transport payment system (see my experience with the Sete Colinas card below). Once you have a Viva Viagem card and have loaded it with credit, you can use it to pay-as-you-go on Lisbon’s buses, trains, trams, funiculars, the metro and ferries.
How to pay for and use the Viva Viagem Zapping system
You buy a Viva Viagem or Sete Colinas card for a small fee (50 cents) then add money to it – click the ‘zapping’ option on machines in metro stations or ask for this at the counters in metro and train stations, the ferry terminal, Carris kiosks and post offices. You need one card for each person travelling.
Each time you travel by public transport in Lisbon, you validate the card by swiping it across a sensor and the cost of one journey gets debited.
And it’s slightly cheaper than paying for individual journeys any other way, for example, you only pay €1.35 on buses and the metro instead of €1.50. The savings are even greater when you consider that the on-board price of a tram ticket is €3 but with Zapping, it’s only €1.35. On trains, you pay a flat rate of €1.80 for urban journeys of up to 90 minutes.
When you recharge your card, you get a small bonus credit. The minimum amount you can add to your available Zapping fund is €3, maximum is 40€.
If you find that your Viva Viagem card has expired (they’re only valid for 12 months) but you still have credit on it, don’t worry. You can continue to use the card as normal until there is no longer enough money left to cover the cost of a journey. Any remaining credit can be transferred onto a new card – just take it to a counter and ask them to do it for you.
Prefer to explore on a city tour? Check out these fun ways of getting around Lisbon. Click an image for more details and availability.Looking for Lisbon accommodation? See which neighbourhoods make the best bases.
A word of warning about the Sete Colinas card
I made an expensive mistake with the Sete Colinas card which turned out not to be as inter-modal as I expected it to be. I understood that I could use it on buses, trams and the metro so I calculated how many journeys my family would need during our stay and loaded up four cards with the appropriate number of journeys.
We used the bus one day with no problems but when we tried to use the metro the following day, our cards were refused. Even though we had unused journeys, I had to buy separate cards and pay for more trips for everyone to use the metro and we never did get around to using all the prepaid journeys on the Sete Colinas card.
This is because you have to use all of one type of transport credit before you can load a Sete Colinas or Viva Viagem card with journeys for a different mode of transport.
Crazy but true.
Happily, I’ve now found a system that allows me to use all forms of transport with one card, which is the way it should be. Zapping is my preferred way of paying for Lisbon public transport because you don’t waste money.
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We are going to be in Lisboa for a total of 10 days.
As a nerd, I have spent a lot of time trying understand how to optimize my metro, tram, bus, elevator costs.
I understand Zapping.
But, wouldn’t the “Navegante urban (30 days)” for €36 make the most sense?
Hi Dave, I haven’t looked into longer term options but quite possibly 🙂 I like Zapping because I visit Lisbon for short periods several times a year so I just keep putting credit on my card as and when I need it. It all depends on how much use you think you’re going to make of the transport system – I also prefer to walk around as much as possible so the Daily Pass, for example, is rarely of use to me but if you are doing more than 4 journeys a day, it would work out cheaper than paying by Zapping.
You could be right, Dave. I haven’t looked into that option as I’ve never needed a longer term solution. I walk a lot so my credit tends to last a while. If you’re planning on making more than 4 journeys a day, the daily pass is a good option and obviously, at €6 per day, if you can get a monthly pass for €36, it makes sense.
With Aerobus, you have 24h access to their route (from and to airport). This means, you can use their bus to all the stops along their route from to airport within 24 hours from the first time you use it. Hope this help. They also have the 2x24h for return trip as well. A price of 4,95 € is quite a bargain for what you get. Their bus route does go through downtown main area with shops and hotels.
Are you suggesting you can use it like a hop on, hop off service?
How does the card work with journeys outside Lisbon? If you took the train to Cascais for example would you need a separate card for the bus journeys there or will the same card still work?
Hi Emma, You can use the same card for urban train journeys, e.g. Cascais and Sintra – see the cp.pt website for more precise details. The whole point of the system is that you don’t need a separate card for bus/train/metro. That said, although you can take the train to Sintra and Cascais, the bus company that serves those areas is not part of the Lisbon Zapping scheme so you will need a different card to use Scotturb buses. Only Carris is covered.
How do you avoid leaving money in the card when you leave Lisbon? Is there a place to receive a refund? If there is not enough money in the card when you arrive at a station, can you then Zap the card for the additional amount in a machine that is located on the inside of the station before exiting much as we do in Washington DC metros?
Hi there, the only way to avoid leaving money on the card is to keep an eye on your balance and only load as much as you’re going to be able to use towards the end of your trip. Or just give your card to someone at the airport with a smile when you leave 🙂
If you haven’t got enough money on your card to get through the turnstiles, you’ll have to top up your card at one of the machines or kiosks in the station.
In Istanbul, we simply stood by the Istanbulkart ticket machine at the Ataturk airport arrivals metro entrance and offered it (with a small discount) to arriving travelers that spoke our language. They were VERY happy not having to deal with the ticket machine learning curve after many hours of flight. Just sayin’
Currently in Lisbon for 1 more day. Here are some subtle challenges with zapping which, in practice, seem difficult or virtually impossible to avoid:
Minimum load or reload is 3 euros. Because trips are either 1.25 or 1.80 (on local train to Belem for example), running the balance to 0 is very difficult – if not impossible. Because of that and since many folks are unlikely to return to Lisbon, we and those folks will lose any remaining balance. In addition, because a 0 balance is required to load cards with either single journey or 24 hour, the only practical way to load with either of those ticket types is to NOT load with zapping until AFTER any desired tickets of those types are first used up. In our case we ended up having to purchase 2 more cards to be able to load with 24 hour pass needed because they were much more economical (and less hassle) than dealing with zapping or single journeys on a day with an uncertain number of journeys beyond the planned 2 round trips.
Example: we loaded 0.50 card fee + 3.00 minimum at airport upon arrival (x 2 cards). Used 1.25 each for metro, then tried to board train to Belem but discovered balance of 1.75 (3.00-1.25) but 1.80 required for that train. Had to each load another 3 euros to cover 0.05 shortfall. Then found out in Belem that a bus runs a similar route for 1.25 (slower but very comfortable) and runs all the way back to the main square and beyond – which avoids having to walk considerable distance between train station and main square too!
Example: another traveler was trying to get to the airport at 6:30 on the metro. He discovered, unfortunately, that he had only 1.20 zapping remaining and had to either reload with 3.00 (and waste 2.95) or waste the 1.20 remaining balance to buy another card with 1.90 (1.40 single journey + 0.50 card fee). He missed the first metro train due to that extra complication – quite stressful since his flight was less than 2 hours away and the metro doesn’t open until 6:30?!?.
Thus, although the web site states somewhere that zapping can be reloaded with 0.01 increments after the initial 3 euro load, that is incorrect per my experience at both the ticket machines and the ticket counter. In fact, since the 1.40 single journey tickets can be purchased for 1.40+0.50 = 1.90 (vs 3.00+0.50 = 3.50 for zapping) and refilled with 1.40 per single journey (and thus avoid wasting the remainder of the 3 euros minimum required to reload for zapping if leaving Lisbon).
Single journey tickets support changing from the metro to bus or other supported transport operators for 1 hour for no additional cost vs zapping using 1.25 for each of those changes, if changing transport operators within that hour, single journey is 1.40 vs zapping 2.50 or 3.75 or … for same trip.
2 ticket agents and email response from Carris confirm that no refund is possible of either remaining balance or 0.50 card cost.
My chip and pin credit card would not work in the machine (declined despite correct pin being entered).
How/where specifically did you purchase a Viva Viagem and load with a 24 hour ticket before arriving at Lisbon please?
Thanks for your answer! This is a very helpful blog. I bought the card at the airport, used it a lot those 24 hours and left. Now I am coming back and still have it.
Note that even if the card is expired (over a year), you should still be able to use the remaining balance, you just can’t add more to it. Reportedly you can also take it to a ticket booth and get the balance transferred to a new card. Hope this helps.
I asked about this recently using the Carris website carris.transporteslisboa.pt/en/home/ online form:
Question: Once a card is loaded with a single ticket fare, and all single ticket fares are then used up via journeys, can that card then be reloaded with zapping?
Response: “The card does not separate loads at the same time. If you want to change the type of load, the card may not contain any previous load”
So yes, only single fare type is allowed at any one time, so all “fares” must be consumed to load a different type of fare. Thus, you can reload the card with zapping or single journey fares after the 24-hour period has expired.
Note that they have a very detailed transport map pdf that shows metro, buses (by bus #), funiculars, trams, and maybe even elevators:
I bought a viagem card and charged it with a one day validity since that was all i needed then. I am going soon to Lisboa and wanted to know if i can use the zapping in the same card
Hi Gaby, If your card is ’empty’ of trips and was bought less than a year ago, yes, you simply insert it into the machine and add Zapping credit. If it has expired, just buy a new one and do the same.
Thank you very much for your answer. It is empty and within the year limit.
I need to clarify/correct a subtle issue with of my previous post.
Using zapping, since Carris (which excludes metro) costs 1.25 for up to an hour, and each metro entry + exit costs 1.25, the cost of a metro (no time limit) + up to one hour Carris (example: bus + tram + elevator) combined journey is 1.25 + 1.25 = 2.50.
This would cost 1.40 using a single journey ticket if the total time of the metro+Carris combined journey (not just the Carris portion) is less than an hour.
Example: Rossio to airport fare is 1.25 using zapping via metro green+red line or bus+bus, or 2.50 using zapping (or 1.40 using single journey ticket) via bus+metro or metro+bus.
Sorry for my confusion.
Just got a reply (a few days – not bad!):
A “trip ticket” is 1.40 TOTAL for a 1 hour journey on metro+Carris, but zapping metro+Carris journey is 1.25 for metro PLUS 1.25 for EACH Carris transport type used without regard to 1 hour, EXCEPT if zapping using Carris WITHOUT any metro it is 1.25 for 1 hour. No wonder folks get confused!
Thanks for sharing the info here, Paul. It still contradicts what the Metro website (and my logic!) says on the matter but I suppose the safest bet is to go with the reply you were given and make your decision accordingly.
I have sent a clarification jquery to http://carris.transporteslisboa.pt/en/information-requests/ using their online form to hopefully resolve everything in one place (finally!):
They may take up to 5 days for a response per the site.
Odd – a poster on the lisbon “Public Transportation Options” blog just confirmed that 2 x 1.25 zapping was charged when switching from metro to bus within an hour.
Can you confirm that you or one of your friends have actually recently been able to switch from metro to bus (within 1 hour) and only charged the 1.25 zapping fee total for both legs? This would put this uncertainty to bed for many many folks and avoid the challenges with having to purchase, track, and use 2 Viva Viagems to load with zapping at 1.25 per journey vs single tickets at 1.40 per journey if they are indeed identical functionally. I only ask because there are lots of contrary posts on this topic so reality verification from someone who clearly appreciates the value of reporting actual experience is the only real solution.
I have just checked the Metro’s conditions of use and it clarifies that the Zapping fare functions in exactly the same way. You can switch between bus and metro within 1 hour. There is absolutely no need to have more than one card with Zapping credit (per person). You will be debited the correct fare when you swipe in and out of your journey.
Since even you still use the term Sete Colinas and it is widely used in the blogs and the official sites, it is impractical to forget. Some have speculated that it is the old version, but now the Viva Viagem, which may have been introduced with the metro, is the current version. That does not explain why the Sete Colinas is still being actively sold. Might be that the transit folks have too much invested in ticket machines or ??? Might be that it is subtly different in actual benefits. Thus, a clear factual explanation is really needed to clear up the widespread uncertainty of what the difference is from the Viva Viagem, if any, and if no difference, why it is still being sold.
Paul, I’ve done what I can to clarify and help. If you need further explanation, please contact the transport authorities.
How is thee Sete Colinas card specifically different than the Vivi Viagem?
Many sites interchange the names seemingly randomly or mention both.
Forget the Sete Colinas. The Viva Viagem card is the green cardboard card you buy from kiosks or machines for 50 cents. You then choose if you want to charge it with trips for certain forms of transport, e.g. metro and bus, or money that can be used on all transport, I. e. Zapping
Thanks Julie for taking your heartbeats to help.
When would a 1.40 “single journey ticket” of 1 hour or less make sense if a 1.25 zapping fare is also for 1 hour and is valid on the same transport methods?
I can’t see how it would
I wonder whether this statement is still true:
“Even though we had unused journeys, I had to buy separate cards and pay for more trips for everyone to use the metro and we never did get around to using all the prepaid journeys on the Sete Colinas card.”
My understanding is that Metro, Bus, Elevator, Tram, and Finiculars now are all valid – correct?
I haven’t looked into that recently but unless it’s changed, not with the Sete Colinas card. Stick with Zapping – you get more flexibility and cheaper fares.
Oh, and the Aerobus ticket is the only one that I have found that can be purchased on line – true? Not having to deal with the ticket machines and credit card issues and lack of correct cash and potentially long delays in lines for the minimal manned ticket stations is a huge benefit after a 7 hour flight and trying to get to a quiet place to rest up.
I believe so, Paul. There is a machine around the corner and to the right of the first bank of machines if you encounter a queue at the airport metro station. It’s not usually as busy as the other ones.
Your blog is a real gem because the documents on the public transport sites are quite confusing in what they do NOT reveal.
For example, you state that, using zapping, a metro+bus “journey” within 1 hour is still only a 1.25 single journey. Given that, when would a 1.40 “single journey ticket” ever make sense? Locking the card reloading to tickets only (no zapping) seems silly if zapping is cheaper at 1.25 for an hour journey that allows changing transport methods.
Also, does the Aerobus ticket, which has been and still is reported even recently as working on buses and metro on some blogs, still actually work on anything except the Aerobus? At 3.15 for 24 hours, that would be a real bargain.
Hi Paul, Someone asked me that recently so I looked into it (the Aerobus question) and found that the bit about using other buses within a 24-hour period is no longer on their website so I take that to mean it’s been discontinued.
Useful question – we’ll be doing exactly the same as you in 3 weeks! Good to have the answer right here.
Glad to have helped, Alan!
Thank you for your quick reply Julie 🙂