Viruses can suffer ‘life-history’ trade-offs that prevent simultaneous improvement in fitness traits, such as improved intrahost reproduction at the expense of reduced extrahost survival. Here we examine reproduction-survival trade-offs and other trait compromises, highlighting that experimental evolution can reveal trade-offs and their associated mechanisms. Whereas ‘curse of the pharaoh’ (high virulence with extreme stability) may generally apply for viruses of eukaryotes, we suggest phages are instead likely to suffer virulence/stability trade-offs. We examine how survival/reproduction trade-offs in viruses are affected by environmental stressors, proteins governing viral host range, and organization of the virus genome. Future studies incorporating comparative biology, experimental evolution, and structural biology, could thoroughly determine how viral trade-offs evolve, and whether they transiently or permanently constrain virus adaptation.