Europe & Britain | Inspiration

The story of Fado: Portugal's enchanting music

Recently updated on October 4th, 2022 at 10:42 am

A guitar, a voice and a heartfelt emotion; that simple visualisation could describe Fado, a genre of Portuguese music and a recognised symbol of the country. However, describing Fado is no easy feat; it’s more than a musical genre. Rather, it’s a feeling – of anticipation, sadness, pain and love. It is a way of being.

Fado music is Portugal’s musical pride. The musical genre, which hides the history of Lisbon and Coimbra, is the most recognised music of Portugal and is considered a national treasure. How it differs from other Portuguese music is the unique sense of nostalgia. How does one find it? Embark on a journey through the winding streets of Lisbon’s traditional quarters; listen to it and lose yourself in the emotive melody.

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The History of Fado

There are conflicting ideas as to where the origins of fado – which translates to ‘fate’ in English – lie. Some believe it originates from the songs of the Moors (the people who founded the Mouraria quarter in Lisbon following the Christian reconquest). Others believe that it replaced the medieval chanson de geste. And others believe that it evolved from modinha, which was a popular form of song in the 18th and 19th centuries.

While the origins of the timeless Portuguese music are contested, one thing that is known of its origins is that it emerged in the heart of Lisbon. A byproduct of a cultural melting pot where the Moors mixed with the seafarers. This also gave way to the Moor-styled alleyways that run alongside the river.

Traditionally, fado music has always been the music of the people. And with ‘fate’ as the theme, it has given the genre roots that have marked its character. However, despite what might be said of the genre, it’s not always so nostalgic. In fact, the history of fado music also includes a legend that it was the inspiration behind a novel.

Enjoy a Portuguese fado evening when you travel with Trafalgar on the Best of Portugal tour.

Fado today

While the first fado records in Portugal are believed to have been produced in the early 20th century, fado didn’t gain mass popularity until the 1940’s. Between 1940-1960, the number of Portuguese musicians specialising in fado multiplied excessively. Well known fadistas (fado musicians) such as Amália appeared, who introduced fado to a global stage. Amália was also the singer who popularized the wearing of a black dress and shawl – both of which are now iconic to the genre.

More recently, a new wave of fado musicians have introduced new sounds to the genre. Including the creation of a fusion, which, surprisingly still hasn’t changed the character of fado. Most recently, in 2011, UNESCO granted fado music World Heritage status, as an urban Lisbon song, symbolic of the city and country.

Of course, the story of fado doesn’t end there… as music continues to shift and evolve, we’re sure that the history of fado will continue to grow.

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Where to experience Fado

The Fado Museum

Located in Alfama is the Fado Museum; the perfect location for discovering the history of Fado. The museum provides tribute to the famous Portuguese music that became popular in the neighbourhoods of Lisbon in the 18th century. You can follow the history in succession through a number of different recreations including records, photographs, films, props, instruments and other objects.

Bairro Alto

As if there wasn’t enough reason to amble along the idyllic cobblestone streets of Bairro Alto. In addition to being quaint and aesthetically pleasing, the winding streets are also good for evenings spent drinking, dancing, visiting sidewalk cafes and listening to fado.

You can wander the streets of Portugal in wonder when you travel with Trafalgar on the Best of Portugal tour.


Well known for its narrow streets and vibrant neighbourhood, a visit to Mouraria is essential for experiencing fado. Unlike in Alfama, fado is spontaneously played on the streets of Mouraria. In fact, there’s even a fado school where travellers can learn more about the genre!

Fado houses

Throughout Lisbon, there are nearly 50 fado houses that visitors and locals alike can visit to listen to live fado performances. Whichever neighbourhood you’re in, there’ll be several talented fadistas performing each night.

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Have you heard of fado music before? Let us know in the comments below! Or, if this article has sparked inspiration for a visit to Portugal, be sure to jump on our website, and learn how you can experience Portugal with Trafalgar.

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