Lisbon was founded in Castelo and as it grew it spread down the slopes towards the River Tejo. The first area to form outside the castle walls was Alfama. This barrio is fascinating and still retains its ancient feel and Moorish influences. Its layout is chaotic, typical of Moorish cities where the narrow, confusingly arranged streets represented a defence as well as protection from the heat of the sun. This gives Alfama a very distinctive feel.
Alfama is different from the other areas of Lisbon. During the day the neighbourhood has a sleepy residential feel to it but at night it shifts gear; the restaurants and bars fill and the sound of Fado drifts through the air. Fado is the nostalgic Portuguese music that is considered to be the purest expression of Lisbon’s soul. Fado has its roots in Alfama. The bairro is the subject of many songs and has been the inspiration for Fado artists and songwriters throughout the ages; many consider Alfama to be the birthplace of Fado.
As you explore Alfama you will undoubtedly fall in love with its narrow streets, steep steps, dimly lit taverns, flower-laden iron balconies and pretty squares. The blogs LisbonLux and Carlos Fontes suggest walking routes that take you through some of the most interesting parts and I have included links and information about these walks at the end of this post.
Alternatively, if you prefer to explore alone, a good starting point is the Santa Luzia viewpoint (Miradouro de Santa Luzia). The old wooden Tram 28 stops here. As well as beautiful views over the city there is a small water garden with shaded seating and pretty murals made from the blue and white Portuguese tiles. A little further up the road is Largo Portas do Sol, this has fantastic panoramic views over Alfama and São Vicente; you can see the impressive Igreja e Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora, the splendid building of the National Pantheon and the dome of the Church of Saint Stephen. It is a breathtaking view. Nearby you will find the little kiosk Portas do Sol Café. The Café is on the wide street dominated by the statue of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon, holding the symbols of the city – a boat with two ravens. Opposite is the Museum of Portuguese Decorative Arts, another place well worth a visit.
Other things we loved in Alfama included:
the National Pantheon, a 17th-century church and monument; the Fado Museum on Largo do Chafariz de Dentro; Sé de Lisboa, Lisbon’s Cathedral, on Largo da Sé; and the weirdly beautiful Casa do Bicos (House of Beaks or spikes) on Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, just a little way down from the Cathedral.
Self-guided walks around Alfama and Tram 28
LisbonLux have put together a fantastic self-guided walking route that takes you through the prettiest streets and past some of the best sights. This post is in English and Portuguese. Click here to read more ….
Carlos Fontes’ blog is a local historian. On his blog he talks about his 365 favourite things to do and see in Lisbon. Alfama is described in some detail and he outlines a walk that includes his favourite streets. His blog is in Portuguese so I have included a very rough description of his walk below in English or click here to read his blog in Portuguese
Carlo’s route starts at Lisbon’s Cathedral, Sé de Lisboa, from here he suggestions you follow the street Cruz de Sé in the direction of the Igreja de São Miguel de Alfama (built in séc.XVII), from the church head in the direction of Largo do Chafariz de Dentro (built séc.XIII) to the impressive Igreja de Santo Estevão (which was built in séc. XVIII, by João Nunes Tinoco); and finally seek out the bright pink building the O Pátio dos Quintalinhos on Villa Rocha just off Rua das Escolas Gerais. This building might not look much now but it is significant in Lisbon’s history; it was established in 1290 to advance learning and higher studies and symbolises the establishment of the first University of Lisbon.
A ride on Lisbon’s traditional wooden Tram 28 is a “must do” thing to do for anyone visiting Lisbon. LisbonLux have a whole blog post dedicated to Tram 28 and its route. Click here to find out more…
Photography and Credits: Unless otherwise stated, all photography in this post is the property of LisbonLux.com. LisbonLux have generously given their permission for the use of their photography on this site. LisbonLux is an independent blog and one of the best city guides to Lisbon on the web. For more information about Lisbon visit: www.lisbonlux.com