Things to do in the Alfama District of Lisbon
The historic district of Alfama in Lisbon is the oldest area of the city and oozes with gorgeous vistas, cobbled streets and cultural sites that harken to old Arabic and Islamic times to Iberian rulers that created more impressive monuments and cultural treasures in the area.
In this guide of the Alfama, we will share some of the history, cultural buildings, scenic viewpoints, top attractions and many more inside tips on visiting this colorful and vibrant district.
So, let’s get started with the best things to do in the Alfama district of Lisbon
A little history about the Alfama
The Alfama is the oldest district of the entire city of Lisbon, in fact the area traces itself back to xxx with the entire city resembling the narrow streets in the district. The name Alfama is derived from the Islamic word “Al – Hamma” meaning bath and fountain where you will find lots of fountains all around the district today.
From the years 711 to 1147, the city was ruled by the Moors and this mostly Muslim neighborhood was where the wealthy elite lived in ancient Lisbon.
In 1147, the Moors were defeated and the city was taken back by Christian rulers and most of the wealthy moved out to be replaced with fishermen, sailors, ordinary and poor people who flocked to the affordable parts of this district and eventually the area came into decline and was about to be razed to the ground if not for the devastating earthquake of 1755 which damaged most of the city.
But, the Alfama was spared along with a few other neighborhoods which stuck together as a community and became a strong neighborhood community that still has a strong sense of community for visitors wanting to explore and she the historic attractions around this district.
How to get to the Alfama District
You can get to the Alfama district four different ways by walking, taking trams, public buses or taxi/uber rides
The most popular is Tram 28 which starts off at the entrance to the Alfama and makes its way through the cathedral, the miradouro and other attractions around the Alfama to explore
You can walk around the Alfama and climb the streets to the different parts of the district from the Cathedral and up to the top at the castelo for the magnificent views below
Buses also cover some of the back areas of the district and gets your up through the back way.
Last, you can catch a taxi or Uber to get to any attractions around the city you are heading to, traveling around by both methods is relatively inexpensive for short distances into the Alfama district.
Consider getting a Lisbon card which will cover your transportation and attraction daily for the timeframe you want to visit the city
Inside tips to visiting the Alfama
Since the area is hilly with cobblestone streets, make sure to wear sturdy and comfortable shoes that won’t trip you up on uneven pavement.
This is a neighborhood, be respectful– this is still a working neighborhood so do be aware of locals getting around and living in the area and give them space and privacy
Rainy season issues – the pavements are very slick in rainy weather so be extra careful when you are walking around to make sure you have solid footing in your steps.
The Alfama is very popular at night time with the restaurants and Faro clubs that have made this area well known and fun to visit the clubs.
15 places to visit and things to do around the Alfama
Castel de Sao Jorge – Castle of St. George
One of the historic national monuments of Portugal, the Castel de Sao Jorge was originally a Roman castle built 200 BC and later fortified in the mid-11th century during the Moorish occupation and was used primarily as a fortress and defense for the city and housing military troops.
This was changed when the Moors were defeated and the rulers converted the castel into a royal palace. The Spanish converted it back to a fortress and military barracks after they ruled the city. Afterwards with Portuguese independence, the castel was declared a national monument and preserved as a living museum for all to enjoy.
Today the castel has a small museum and you are allowed to walk around the ramparts of the castel and check out the gorgeous views of the city below.
Tip – you’ll find some fantastic views walking around the ramparts of the castelo and some unique views to also explore while you are climbing around the various towers and walls.
Exploring the towers and ramparts around the castelo
Lisbon’s Cathedral Se
The Sé de Lisboa or Cathedral of Lisbon is the oldest church of Lisbon and dating back to 1147. A mix of architectural styles, the church is mostly Romanesque and Gothic styles combined. The church has been rebuilt many times and survived the great earthquake of 1755.
One of Portugal’s national monuments, the church and cloisters are open for visitors to see the inside, tower and cloister areas and is open from 10am to 6pm daily.
Igreja de Sao Miguel
An important local church in the Alfama with elaborate interior decorations and striking exterior architectural details. Sitting in an unassuming square the small church is a good one to visit especially if you want to get away from the and crowds for a short timeframe.
Museo de Lisboa – Teatro Romano
You’ll find the Roman Theatre ruins located in a former leather bag factory and a printing press building.
The Museum of Lisbon stands over an archeological dig site and houses interesting artifacts and information about an ancient Roman Theatre that you can learn about when you visit.
Visit the Miradouro of the Alfama
The many Miradouro or lookout points around the Alfama are very popular with visitors to see the views, take some selfies and hang out around the bars and restaurants or just seating areas to enjoy the views.
Miradouro de Santa Luzia
If you take the tram 28 line, it will automatically stop at this spectacular Miradouro or look out point with views of mostly the river front area of the Tagus below and spectacular architecture that surround this area.
Miradouro de Graca
One of the best views of the entire city is from the terrace of the Miradouro de Graca which is located above the castel and has trees and an open-air café to enjoy and relax. This is a beautiful miradouro and later in the afternoon is relaxed and not so hot with breezes flowing through the area. Late afternoon to sunset is a gorgeous time to be here.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
Another beautiful lookout points and terrace that offers sweeping views of all the red rooftops down to the Tagus River. This is another fantastic spot to hang out in, find a bar or cafe and enjoy the views into sunset and late into the night.
Lisbon Military Museum
This elaborate and beautiful museum hosts a complete military collection of artillery, beautifully painted interior rooms and fascinating collections from hats, guns, cannons and other war memorabilia that makes this a must visit even if you are not into war related content.
The details of the ornate rooms and all the miliatry regalia and collections makes this one of the most fascinating and rich displays from Portugals past into a beautiful museum to explore.
Ornate rooms with beautiful collections of military regalia and armaments
Museum of Fado
The history of music and Fado is strong in the Alfama with this museum that shares some of the beautiful music, displays, instruments, artwork and various exhibits that celebrates the Fado in this country’s social fabric and music nature even to today’s time frame.
10. National Pantheon
This impressive architectural building houses all the celebrated tombs of national heroes and figures of Portuguese importance including Vasco de Gama, artists, writers and royalty.
The beautiful marble façade is matched with the ornate interior and tombs to these important figures.
11. Church and monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora
A beautiful church located below the Miradouro and pays tribute to the many European and Portugues crusaders that are buried in its crypt and tombs below. The church and monastery stands in gorgeous white and looks beautiful from any of the miradouro viewpoints. The interior altar and details are worth entering the church to visit and even relax from the extreme heat on hot days in the Alfama.
Interior details of Church and monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora
12. Campo de Santa Clara
A popular flea market happens on Tuesday and Saturday around the plaza area and called the Feira da Ladra, or “Thief’s Market.” It’s lively and colorful where you can find treasures or even souvenirs for great deals. There are lots of eateries and bars to hang out after shopping around the markets or you can just relax in the park areas in the open plaza behind the churches.
Looking for antiques and treasures at the flea market days
13. Amalia Rodrigues Mural
A beautiful mosaic mural and famous street art in Lisbon depicts Amalia Rodrigues, a famous fado singer who popularized the fado craze to the rest of the world. The cool mosaic blends beautifully to the cobblestone street and is a fun place to photograph the mosaic and other details in the area or a fun selfie if that’s your thing.
14. National Tile Museum
Located in a beautiful restored convent, the National Museum of tiles houses an extensive collection of mosaics and tiled murals that impresses the minute you walk into the many galleries. The church inside is also wonderfully decorated with painted tiles that showcase the beauty of these azulejo tiles which is a popular decorative element that Portugal is known for.
Gorgeous azulejo tile displays at the National Tile Museum
15. Enjoy a Fado experience in the Alfama
The Fado experience is strong and vibrant in the Alfama district where the national pastime of Fado singing and acoustic instruments really add to the experience of visiting around the Alfama. There are still a few popular Fado places to visit around the Alfama district to include:
Parreirinha de Alfama
Clube de Fado
Sr. Fado de Alfama
Páteo de Alfama
The fado experience can be done with dinner service or just drinks and the show itself for the price of admission to the Fado show. All of these traditional Fado clubs are fun to go to at night in the Alfama and have an excellent experience in this historic district.
Here’s a quick look at the Fado experience in one of the Alfama clubs below
Where to eat around the Alfama
The Alfama district is a very popular tourist district and you will get your variables of good food vs tourist food that is sold for the views or convenience of that location. If you are looking for really delicious meals to sit and relax and enjoy a delicious meal then check out some of the places below
Prado Restaurant $
A farm to table dining approach to this casual but well executed Michelin dining spot in the Alfama district. The changing menu features classic dishes and dishes done with local ingredients and made with the Chef’s own interpretation.
Restaurante Farol de Santa Luzia $
A popular and local seafood restaurant at Santa Luzia area. You’ll find classic menu items to try like mexilhão de cebolada e pimentos (mussels with peppers in a tomato sauce) and lombo de bacalhau à lagareiro (grilled salted cod fillet with baked potatoes) or if you are really hungry and want to share a dish, consider the cataplana de peixes or seafood fish stew.
Princesa do Castelo $
A fantastic vegetarian restaurant very close to the castelo is one of the best in the entire city. Princesa do Castelo offers a delicious seitan shepards pie, mushroom and avocado toasts and that serves hearty bean soups that will fill you up or choose any of the dishes that are specials and changes weekly on the menu.
Further reading on Lisbon and Portugal
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Conclusion on Things to do in the Alfama
If you decide to do some exploring around Lisbon, check out these Things to do in the Alfama and around this district.
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