Anyone who has ever walked through Alfama, the old town within Lisbon city, will have come across Fado music. Fado is an important part of Portuguese culture. It is a traditional music genre that expresses melancholy, nostalgia and longing. So integral to Portuguese culture that UNESCO recognizes it as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. If you’re planning to visit Lisbon, you may be considering watching a show or learning more about the musical genre. But not all Fado shows are made equally, where can you watch the best Fado in Lisbon? Read on to find out more.
- What is Fado?
- How to avoid the Fado tourist traps
- Best fado in Lisbon for a modern experience
- How much does Fado cost in Lisbon?
- What time does Fado start in Lisbon?
- How long do Fado shows last in Lisbon?
- How to learn more about Fado in Lisbon
- More guides for Lisbon
What is Fado?
Firstly, what is Fado. It is a musical style that originated in Lisbon. It has many musical influences, but is thought to have started with the working class in Lisbon in the 19th century who used Fado as a way to communicate. The late 19th century in Lisbon was a time of political and institutional turmoil. By the 1930s, many Fado Houses existed and listening to the music had become part of Portuguese cultural activity.
Fado means “fate” or “destiny” in Portuguese, and the songs often reflect these themes, as well as love, loss and hardship. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics which are sung in Portuguese, it is easy to hear the tone conveyed by the Fadistas (Fado singers) and it is difficult not to let it stir your soul.
Fado is usually performed by a solo singer who could be male or female, accompanied by a Portuguese guitar. In Alfama, you will find Fadistas of varying ages and backgrounds, showing that the music is often diverse.
There are many famous Fado singers who have been credited with making this music tradition popular. Amalia Rodrigues is thought to have led the internationalization of Fado in the 1950s. But, new Fado singers thrive today. Mariza is a current Fado singer who’s music can be found on Spotify. She brings a modern take to the traditional music.
Best Fado in Lisbon: Where to Enjoy the Musical Pride of Portugal
The main area in Lisbon where you will find Fado shows, and the Fado museum, is Alfama. This is the old town of Lisbon and to this day still maintains a charm. Whether you go to a Fado show or not, Alfama should be part of your travel itinerary in Lisbon.
There are a number of ways you can see Fado in Lisbon. Firstly many of the restaurants in Alfama host Fado shows, most evenings. There is also a Fado Club in Alfama. As well as a few bars where you may be able to catch some Fado. But, not all experiences are created equally and you will want to plan where you go to avoid walking into a Fado tourist trap.
How to avoid the Fado tourist traps
There are many places where you can listen to fado in Lisbon, but not all of them are worth your time and money. Some are tourist traps that offer low-quality performances and overpriced food. Be careful to avoid these places in Alfama. Others are authentic venues that not only provide a stage for talented fadistas but serve delicious Portuguese food too.
The best thing to do is check a few Google Reviews if you’re considering watching Fado at any of the restaurants. You’ll soon see whether the place offers an authentic performance or not. Besides the performances varying in quality, you’ll also find that the food does too.
There are places that will charge an extortionate amount of money (like around 50 Euros per head), for some sardines and a few glasses of sangria, justifying the extra charge because you are watching Fado. Avoid anywhere that enforces a “minimum spend”.
A good rule of thumb is also to avoid anywhere that is not crowded. The decent places will be booked up and the rooms filled! We would also suggest avoid anywhere that is trying too hard to get you through the door!
Best Fado in Lisbon for a big lineup: Clube de Fado
Clube de Fado, as the name suggests, is a full on Fado experience. Located in Alfama, this place is somewhat of an institution. The building itself is pretty special, a former palace with Moorish decor.
The main reason to choose Clube de Fado is that you can watch multiple performances of Fado in one evening. There are normally three different singers, as well as a guitarist who is fairly famous on the Fado circuit.
The food is well reviewed, with a high-end menu on offer. But, be warned, Clube de Fado is not cheap. Most guests spend around 60 to 70 Euros per head to dine here. Expect to pay around 30 to 40 Euros for each main course. We recommend booking, Clube de Fado is extremely popular.
Best Fado in Lisbon for Budget Travelers: Tasca do Chico
Many of the Fado restaurants in Alfama can feel quite high-end and may not be affordable for everyone visiting Lisbon. Tasca do Chico is a Fado bar, which has a much more casual ambience than the traditional Fado club or restaurant. It is a small bar located here in Barrio Alto, filled with Fado memorabilia. The fact that the bar is in Barrio Alto, the party centre of Lisbon. means that it draws in an eclectic crowd too.
On the weekends, you’ll find professional Fado singers. If you want something a little more entertaining then we suggest visiting on Mondays and Wednesdays, Fado Vadio nights, when locals and amateurs get involved on the stage! It’s a bit like Fado Karaoke and a lot of fun.
Drinks and snacks are available, prices are fairly reasonable. Doors open at 19:00 ready for the 21:00 show – if you want to get in, we recommend arriving early. You cannot reserve a table.
Best Fado in Lisbon for History Lovers: Café Luso
Cafe Luso in Barrio Alto, located here, is a fairly formal Fado restaurant, despite being in party capital Barrio Alto. The notable thing about Cafe Luso is the history. Not only does the building itself predate the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, but many famous Fado singers have walked the boards here. This even includes Amália Rodrigues.
The food is good traditional Portuguese fare and as expected, a little pricey, but it includes the cost of Fado. There are 160 seats and you can book in advance, so you could visit her with a group.
Best Fado in Lisbon with a fixed price: Mesa de Frades
Mesa de Fraes is a bit of a hidden gem in Alfama. Here you can enjoy simple but delicious food and excellent Fado. The show tends to be a mix of emerging singers an established performers. The building is a delightful former chapel which has excellent acoustics for music.
One of the things that we love about this place is that you know how much your night will cost you, as there’s a set price per head. For 60 Euros, you can enjoy three courses and wine, and of course Fado.
Best Fado in Lisbon for a modern experience: Fama d’Alfama
We stumbled upon Fama d’Alfama on our last night in Lisbon, having walked past many times and noticed how busy it was. The most notable thing about Fama d’Alfama, is that it’s visited by many Portuguese people and not just tourists. Sensing this was a good sign, we opted to visit.
Inside the restaurant is a cosy but warm and inviting dining room. The food is great and the wine list very enjoyable. Although it has an upmarket feeling, the prices are not extortionate. The food is Portuguese, but with some pasta dishes too.
The best thing is of course the Fado. Fama d’Alfama is the best places for Fado in Lisbon if you want a little more of a modern take on Fado. Here the Fadistas are often young and bring a new dynamic to the music.
You can find it here in Alfama. Book ahead if you want to enjoy the secure a table to watch the full show.
How much does Fado cost in Lisbon?
Most Fado shows in Lisbon are complimentary, they are not charged. Instead, the costs are absorbed through the meal or drinks you purchase in the restaurant or bar. Expect prices to be higher in Fado restaurants and you may be asked to cover a minimum spend.
What time does Fado start in Lisbon?
Fado shows in Lisbon tend to start at around 21:00 or 22:00. You will most likely be directed to book a table in a restaurant at around 20:00 so that you can have your first dish before the Fado starts and move on to your second during the show interval. Be sure to arrive on time so that you don’t disturb the show!
How long do Fado shows last in Lisbon?
The majority of Fado shows in Lisbon will last until around 23:00 or midnight. You can expect shows to be a total of approximately two or three hours, but with many breaks in between.
How to learn more about Fado in Lisbon
If you’ve tried one of the best Fado shows in Lisbon and enjoyed it, you may be tempted to dive into the deep end and learn more about Fado. Luckily, Lisbon has just the ticket in the form of the Fado Museum. Found in a converted water pump building on the end of Alfama, you can visit this museum between the hours of 10:00 and 18:00 all week apart from Monday.
This is not Lisbons best museum nor the biggest. But, it is special and fully dedicated to Fado. You only need an hour to explore the exhibitors, which will teach you all about the history of Fado. But you can spend longer, there’s a room full of comfy air chairs where you can relax and listen to a back catalog of all the best and most famous Fado.
A visit to the Fado museum will set you back only 5 Euros, less for children. This includes an audio tour, which has also been specially adapted for kids so that they can have their very own child friendly tour too!
Visit the Fado Museum if you are interested in learning more, but perhaps can’t budget a full Fado and dining experience in Lisbon.
More guides for Lisbon
If looking for more tips and recommendations for your trip to Lisbon, check out our other blog posts:
- How to spend a leisurely and fabulous three days in Lisbon
- Best areas of Lisbon to stay in for your city break
- What shoes to wear in Lisbon (it may not sound important, but it is!)
- How to take a day trip from Sintra to Lisbon
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