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Table of Contents
An overview of Alfama
Alfama lies between the Tagus river and the steep slopes that lead toward São Jorge Castle. It houses many traditional places and the famous tram 28 rides through the narrow streets. The name comes from ‘al-ḥamma‘, the Arab word for hot fountains or hot baths. Within the district, you’ll discover the streets of the parishes (freguesias) São Vicente de Fora, São Miguel and São Miguel.
When you smell the sardines and hear Fado in the background, you’ve probably arrived in Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon. With its charming streets, picturesque houses and traditional restaurants, this place is not to be missed when in Lisbon. There are plenty of escadinhas (steps), so you’ll get a workout at the same time!
During the 1755 earthquake, Alfama wasn’t badly damaged thanks to the dense bedrock foundations, and the district remained a labyrinth of tiny streets. So leave your map at home and discover this fabulous district’s squares and alleys. On top of that, Alfama boasts a ton of sights that are unique in the neighbourhood. Let’s dive in and discover the epic places in Alfama. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
Tip: read to the end to find some quiet spots with fewer tourists!
Miradouro da Graça
The slopes of Alfama are famous for their famous viewpoints. Miradouro da Graça is one of them, and from this point, you overlook the castle and the western parts of Lisboa. In the background, you’ll spot the bridge Ponte 25 de Abril, Praça do Comércio and the Carmo Convent. During the day, the Convento da Graça is often open. Have a look inside and enjoy the quietness within the monastery walls. Miradouro da Graça is a popular place during sunset so it can get very crowded!
Jardim da Graça is a nice little park next door, and here are some lovely places to eat or enjoy a glass of wine. Hidden spot: walk around the convent and walk to Jardim da Cerca da Graça. This park is a lot quieter and a hangout spot for locals. If you cannot get enough of the excellent views, you can also walk further up to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, the highest viewpoint in the city.
Miradouro da Luzia & Miradouro das Portas do Sol
Two other famous viewpoints are located next to each other. Miradouro da Luzia and Miradouro das Portas do Sol are separated by the church Igreja de Santa Luzia. Portas do Sol means gates of the sun, and you have a wide-angle view over Alfama.
Walking along the Igreja de Santa Luzia, you’ll spot some remnants of the historic Moorish city walls. Miradouro da Luzia is famous for its pergola and azulejo tiles. It has probably the prettiest viewpoint in the city, and therefore also the busiest! Someone might be singing Fado, buskers play the guitar, and the overall atmosphere is just amazing.
Sé de Lisboa
The cathedral in Lisbon, Santa Maria Maior, is the oldest in the city and was built in the 12th–14th centuries. The construction started after D. Afonso Henriques won the conquest of Lisbon, and in a couple of years, the Romanesque structure was finished. The cloister lies at the back of the cathedral, one of the oldest monuments in Lisbon. The Gothic cloister dates back to 1261, and in 1649 a secrecy was added. The building is sturdy as it survived many earthquakes throughout the years, including the one in 1755! Many parts were destroyed but have been rebuilt or remodelled since.
The cathedral holds many religious artefacts, and one of the highlights of your visit will be viewing the enormous stained glass window. The entrance fee is €5.00, and it’s well worth it having a look inside.
Fado, the songs about Lisbon, saudade (an intense longing, melancholy sadness) and tradition. In Alfama, Fado houses are everywhere. And when you’re here, visiting a Fado show is highly recommended! After all, it is classified by UNESCO as World Heritage! And while you enjoy a delicious traditional Portuguese meal, you’ll listen to songs about Lisbon.
You’ll feel the songs, even when you don’t speak Portuguese! In most Fado houses, you’ll have to remain silent when they are singing and playing music. Notice the unique guitar with six pairs of strings and a pear-shaped harmonic box! Discover the soul of Portugal in the songs and listen to the charismatic voices of the singers. If you want to learn more about Fado, don’t miss a visit to the Fado Museum!
Where to watch Fado: LX Bohemia and A Baiuca are some favourites.
Buy me a Coffee
In 1682 the National Pantheon was built, but then it was known as the Church of Santa Engrácia. It is Portugal’s first baroque monument, and the interior is covered in white marble. The construction of the building took so long that the dome was only completed in 1966!
Since 1916 it has been known as the National Pantheon, and inside you’ll find an octagonal floor plan. Here you’ll discover tombs of well-known and influential cultural figures. Examples are Fado singer Amália Rodrigues, author Almeida Garrett and general Humberto Delgado.
São Vicente de Fora
The Monastery was built between the 16th–18th century, and it is the place where the Kings of the House of Bragança are buried. You can find the marble tomb in the ancient cistern, and both Catherine of Bragança and Carlos I (the next-to-last king of Portugal) are buried here. The Monastery is dedicated to São Vicente, and inside you’ll find a unique collection of decorative tiles. The highlights are 38 panels which contain the fables of La Fontaine. Don’t forget to visit the rooftop for a stunning view over Alfama!
De fora means ‘out’ in Portuguese, and São Vincente de Fora was built just outside the city walls.
São Jorge Castle
When you’ve reached the top of the hill, it’s time to visit São Jorge Castle. It overlooks the district of Alfama, and the best viewpoints are here! You’ll learn more about the Moorish occupation in the small museum, and from the castle walls, you’ll enjoy the most breathtaking views. Peacocks are everywhere, and you’ll spot some beautiful little streets around the castle.
Festas de Lisboa
Are you in Lisbon in June? Then Alfama is the place to be! In June it is time for the annual Festas de Lisboa, a street festival with lots of Pimba music, sardines and beer! It was once a two-day festival, with the feast of St. Anthony on July 13th being the most important day. Now the festival takes over a month and expands to the neighbourhoods of Bairro Alto, Mouraria and Bica. The night of July 12th is the biggest party, and the folksy music is blaring from every street corner.
On Avenida da Liberdade you can witness the colourful parade with costumes and dance. On the streets, you’ll see people selling plants (manjericos) as a symbol of undying love. And if you happen to walk past the Igreja de Santo António, you may spot many people getting married. This event is known as the Brides of Saint Anthony, as this saint was the matchmaker!
Would you like to be photographed in Alfama?
Rua de São Tomé
On Rua de São Tomé, you’ll spot a unique artwork on the cobblestones. Lisbon-based artist Vhils created this work, and is a tribute to the Dado singer Amália Rodrigues. Amália da Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues is known as the Queen of Fado and the Lisbon born singer died in 1999. Vhils created a unique piece in the traditional pavement style you see all over Lisbon. The title of the artwork is Calçada, meaning pavement.
Behind Vhils’ art, you’ll spot a house that looks slightly different from the surroundings. Several buildings in Lisbon survived the earthquake, and many were destroyed. The oldest house is the house on Rua dos Cegos. The house is more than 500 years old, and the buildings around it have various styles.
Feira da Ladra
Every Tuesday and Saturday, the square in front of the Pantheon changes into the hustle and bustle of market stalls. It is Feira de Ladra, the fleamarket in Alfama. When you’re looking for a bargain or a treasure amongst the junk, this is the place to be. The word ladra means a female thief and means thieves market. The original name, however, was piolho ladro which means flea or bug.
Tip: Did you get hungry, and do you like mushrooms? Santa Clara dos Cogumelos is a tip-top restaurant with fantastic food and wine!
Where to stay
Alfama Vintage Studio Apartment
The Editory Riverside
Chafariz Del Rei
What do you think you’re favourite part in Alfama will be? Let me know in the comments! As usual, I hope this article was helpful and will set you up for your visit to Alfama. You can easily spend a couple of days in this district alone!
This was a great write up on Alfama. Very informative … I didn’t know about the National Pantheon which is now on my list . And must say… great pics.
I’m sure you will love Alfama! Let me know if you have any questions when you’re in Lisbon!
Alfama looks absolutely stunning, I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before! Thank you for sharing – will definitely be adding it to my list.
That is great to hear Leah, I hope you have a fantastic time when you visit Lisbon!
Portugal is so pretty! I need to visit this country one day
I hope you get to come over someday!
There is some lovely architecture in this city, and I love the art and the azulejo tiles!
Sure thing! I keep being mesmerised by all its beauty!