How and Where to See and Listen to Fado in Lisbon

Fado has become a symbol of Lisbon and Portugal. A poem, an emotive voice and a Portuguese guitarra make up a unique art form recognised all over the world.

There are daily fado shows in Lisbon, but also in Porto, Coimbra and other cities across the country.

Fado shows take place in restaurants or “fado houses” but also in other venues (just fado without dinner). Because many of these shows are created specifically for tourism, it can be hard to know which are genuine and worth it.

Fado as Musical Genre

Fado is a proper musical genre first documented in the nineteenth century. Its roots before that are uncertain. As a spontaneous musical style, it emerged in taverns, brothels and on the streets and alleys of the low-class neighbourhoods of Lisbon, such as Mouraria, Alfama and Bairro Alto.

Singing the daily urban stories of marginalised prostitutes, sailors and coachman, fado was for a long time considered a vulgar music style among Portuguese intellectuals and elite.

But fado soon witnessed the relationship between bohemian aristocrats and prostitutes, making progress in musical theatre, popular among the lower classes, until its widespread recognition in the twentieth century.

Amália Rodrigues

Amália Rodrigues is a familiar name to anyone who has heard about fado, perhaps the best-known fadista. As a singer, during the twentieth century, she became known as the Queen of Fado, taking poems by great Portuguese poets and singing them as fado in TV shows across the world.

Fado, urban popular song of Portugal, was inscribed in 2011 by UNESCO on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Why is it Called Fado?

The word fado comes from the Latin fátum, which translates to “fate” or “destiny”, reflecting the intrinsic feelings of life. Often referred to as sung poetry, fado is the musical expression of the melancholic soul of Portuguese people – a mix of nostalgia (saudade), hope, pride and conformism.

What Kind of Fado Show Do You Want to See?

Portuguese guitarra Lisboa em Fado

The question is actually do you want to just see a fado performance to get a taste of Portuguese culture, or do you want to commit to the full immersive fado and dinner experience?

Either way both will likely be “for tourists” as fado performances have become attractions tourists bring money to.

But even if you don’t see the authentic fado as performed on the backstreets of Alfama or Bairro Alto historic neighbourhoods, any local fado aficionado would be pleased with most so-called “touristy” fado performances.

The Best Places to See a Fado Show in Lisbon

Theatres (just fado without dinner)

Fado in Chiado: A 50-minute show with the right length to give you a taste of fado and of Portuguese culture. The venue is on the 3rd floor. Monday to Saturday at 7pm.

Lisboa em Fado: A live show that combines music and history in an intimate concert room. Daily at 6pm and 7.30pm.

Fado Restaurants / Fado Houses

For those looking for the full fado experience combining food, drinks and a fado performance, there are many restaurants, often called fado houses. Some are more authentic than others; most are on the expensive side.

In general, advance reservations are recommended, which might be done via the restaurants’ websites or by phone. If you are unable to book, arrive early to bag a table.

Most are located in Alfama and Bairro Alto, the historic neighbourhoods where fado was born and became popular. Parking is for residents only, and therefore extremely difficult in the surrounding areas. It is best to arrive by public transport, Uber or taxi.

In Alfama, Clube de Fado has built a reputation one as of the best venues in Lisbon, attracting both famous fadistas and VIP guests, photographed with Mário Pacheco, a guitarist, song writer and the original owner of the club (before selling it in 2019).

Still in Alfama, the authentic fado experience is delivered in just nine table of Sr. Fado de Alfama. And for an improvised, amateur version of fado, check out A Baiuca.

In Bairro Alto, take a look at A Severa, probably the oldest family-run fado hose in Lisbon. O Faia is also worth considering. Large groups are welcome at Café Luso.

For further details, take a look at 5 Fado Restaurants in Alfama and 6 of the Best Fado Houses in Bairro Alto.

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