Discover the Charm of Alfama: 15 Top Things to Do in Lisbon’s Historic District overlooking the city (2023)

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. You can easily explore the area on foot or even take some guided tours around the district to get a real taste of local life, art, amazing views and places to eat along the way.

In this guide of the Alfama, we will share some of the history, cultural buildings, scenic viewpoints, top attractions. We share the typical local foods to sample, restaurant recommendations 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

Things to do in the Alfama District of Lisbon

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.

Where is the Alfama district in Lisbon located?

The Alfama district is located in the historic heart of Lisbon, Portugal. It is situated in the oldest part of the city, covering the eastern slope between the São Jorge Castle and the Tejo River. Alfama is known for its narrow winding streets, colorful houses, and rich history, making it one of the most iconic and picturesque neighborhoods in Lisbon.

It’s easy enough to climb the streets and stairs or even take the famous tram 28 to get to the heart of the Alfama.

A little history about the Alfama

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

How to get to the Alfama District

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.

The morning time frame is when everything is alive at the Alfama and you can really experience the working world of this district.

If you love views, go later in the afternoon and visit the various viewpoints or miradors which are public spaces with fantastic views

The Alfama district is famous for it’s Fado and entertainment venues, so make sure you book an event for dining, drinks or the show on its own.

The touristy but scenic Tram 28 is the best way uphill and a real taste of life in this fantastic old town, take it to the top and then walk down to the main central part of the city.

Inside tips to visiting the Alfama

15 places to visit and things to do around the Alfama

Castel de Sao Jorge - Castle of St. George

  1. 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.

Castel de Sao Jorge - Castle of St. George

Exploring the towers and ramparts around the castelo

Exploring the towers and ramparts around the castelo

  1. 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.

Lisbon’s Cathedral Se

Igreja de Sao Miguel

  1. 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

  1. 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.

Museo de Lisboa – Teatro Romano

Visit the Miradouro of the Alfama

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

  1. 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

  1. 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 de Graca

Miradouro das Portas do Sol

  1. 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

  1. 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

Ornate rooms with beautiful collections of military regalia and armaments

Lisbon Military Museum

Museum of Fado

  1. 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.

National Pantheon

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.

Church and monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora

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

Church and monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora

Flea market fun at the Feira da Ladra

Campo de Santa Clara

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

Looking for antiques and treasures at the flea market days

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.

Amalia Rodrigues Mural

National Tile museum exhibits and displays

National Tile museum exhibits and displays

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.

National Tile museum exhibits and displays

Interior church details and tile displays

Gorgeous azulejo tile displays at the National Tile Museum

Gorgeous azulelo tile displays at the National Tile Museum

National Tile museum exhibits and displays

Enjoy a Fado experience in the Alfama

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

A Baiuca

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.

Enjoy a Fado experience in the Alfama

Here’s a quick look at the Fado experience in one of the Alfama clubs below

Weather and the best time to visit Lisbon

Lisbon enjoys a Mediterranean climate, characterized by mild winters and hot summers. The city experiences pleasant weather throughout the year, but the best time to visit depends on personal preferences and interests.

Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to October) are generally considered the optimal seasons to visit Lisbon. During these months, the temperatures are mild, ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F). The city is less crowded compared to the summer months, making it easier to explore popular attractions comfortably.

Summer (June to August) is the peak tourist season in Lisbon. The temperatures soar, often reaching 30°C (86°F) or higher, and the city is bustling with visitors. It’s a great time to enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities, but be prepared for larger crowds and higher prices. Booking accommodations and attractions in advance is advisable.

Winter (December to February) in Lisbon is relatively mild compared to other European destinations. The temperatures range from 8°C to 15°C (46°F to 59°F). While it’s not as warm as other seasons, Lisbon still has plenty to offer, including cultural events, festivals, and lower accommodation rates. Pack a light jacket for cooler evenings.

Keep in mind that Lisbon can be quite rainy during the winter months and occasionally experiences strong winds. If you’re planning outdoor activities, it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast in advance.

Traditional food to experience in the Alfama district

When exploring the Alfama district in Lisbon, you’ll eventually get hungry and you should try the local cuising or street food in the area. Check out these traditional foods you should experience:

Bacalhau à Brás: A classic Portuguese dish made with salted codfish, eggs, onions, and thinly sliced potatoes. It’s a flavorful and satisfying dish commonly found in traditional restaurants in Alfama.

Sardinhas Assadas: Grilled sardines are a staple of Portuguese cuisine, and Alfama is an excellent place to indulge in this traditional delicacy. During the summer months, you’ll find sardine festivals and street grills serving up these delicious fish.

Caldo Verde: This hearty soup is a Portuguese favorite, made with kale, potatoes, onions, and a generous serving of Portuguese chouriço (sausage). Warm and comforting, it’s a great choice for cooler days.

Pasteis de Bacalhau: These golden, crispy codfish cakes are a popular snack in Portugal. Made with mashed codfish, potatoes, and seasoned with herbs, they are a must-try street food in Alfama.

Pastéis de Nata: Indulge your sweet tooth with Portugal’s famous custard tarts. These delectable treats consist of a flaky pastry crust filled with a creamy custard filling. Look for traditional bakeries in Alfama to savor these mouthwatering pastries.

Arroz de Marisco: If you’re a seafood lover, don’t miss the opportunity to try Arroz de Marisco, a flavorful seafood rice dish. Packed with a variety of fresh seafood such as shrimp, clams, mussels, and sometimes crab or lobster, it’s a seafood lover’s delight.

Ginjinha: As you stroll through Alfama, keep an eye out for small stands or bars offering Ginjinha, a traditional Portuguese liqueur made from sour cherries. Sip on this sweet and tangy drink served in a small chocolate cup for a truly authentic experience.

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

Where to eat around the Alfama

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.

More inside tips on exploring the Alfama district in Lisbon

Sure, let’s delve into the heart of Alfama, Lisbon’s most charming district, without mentioning the obvious highlights.

Get Lost in the Narrow Streets

The best way to explore Alfama is to get lost in its labyrinth of narrow, winding streets. Don’t worry about a map; just wander. You’ll stumble upon hidden gems, cozy cafes, and local life unfolding before your eyes.

Local Fado Spots

Instead of the well-known Fado venues, ask a local for recommendations. You might discover an intimate spot where the soulful sounds of Fado resonate more profoundly.

Graffiti Art Hunt

Alfama is adorned with captivating street art. Take a self-guided graffiti art hunt and be surprised by the talent that lies within the district’s walls.

Tram No. 28 Alternatives

Rather than queuing for Tram 28, consider taking Tram 12 or Tram 25. They offer a less crowded, equally charming ride through Alfama.

Hidden Miradouros

Alfama boasts incredible viewpoints apart from the famous ones. Ask locals for directions to lesser-known miradouros, where you can enjoy breathtaking vistas in serenity.

Family-Run Tascas

Skip the touristy restaurants and opt for small, family-run tascas. You’ll savor authentic Portuguese cuisine and experience genuine hospitality.

Meet the Cats

Alfama is known for its feline inhabitants. Embrace the local culture and spend some time with these charming alley cats – they have their own stories to tell.

Sunrise or Sunset Strolls

To avoid the crowds, take early morning or late evening strolls. The district exudes a different, more tranquil charm during these hours.

Antique Shops and Flea Markets

Alfama is a treasure trove of vintage finds. Explore the antique shops and flea markets, and you might stumble upon a unique souvenir.

Mingle with Locals

Strike up conversations with the friendly locals. They can provide you with insider tips, stories, and a deeper understanding of Alfama’s rich history.

Exploring Alfama off the beaten path allows you to discover the district’s hidden secrets, making your experience all the more memorable. Enjoy your adventure in this historic and enchanting part of Lisbon!

Further reading on Lisbon and Portugal

Lisbon Attractions

8 traditional Portuguese foods

The National Tile Museum at the Alfama district

Final Thoughts to visiting the Alfama district of Lisbon

Don’t be afraid to walk around the Alfama and get lost, it’s easy enough and you can talk to most shop owners and visitors about getting to the main streets. Or you can easily get an Uber ride or tram back downhill from any of the narrow streets. Don’t forget to watch a local fado show or try out one of the local cafes in the area and enjoy the afternoon or sunset overlooking the fantastic miradors to the city below.

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Conclusion on Things to do in the Alfama

Conclusion on Things to do in the Alfama

In conclusion, visiting the Alfama district in Lisbon is an enchanting experience that should not be missed. With its narrow streets, charming atmosphere, and rich history, Alfama offers a glimpse into the city’s past and showcases the authentic beauty of Lisbon.

By following some inside tips, you can make the most of your visit. Wear comfortable shoes to explore the district’s winding streets and hills, and take the opportunity to explore on foot to truly immerse yourself in the neighborhood’s unique ambiance. Visiting in the morning allows you to enjoy Alfama’s authenticity and capture stunning photos without the crowds.

Don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine, experience the soulful Fado music, and engage with the friendly locals who call Alfama home. Whether you’re visiting São Jorge Castle for panoramic views, riding the iconic Tram 28, or simply getting lost in the alleyways, Alfama offers endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.

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