Lisbon is a city full of history, and it all started in a district called Alfama. What was once the entire city, Alfama is now known as the “old part” of Lisbon. Tourists flock to the area to explore its streets, monuments and history.
Alfama wasn’t affected during the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of Lisbon so you can still walk down streets that pre-date it. These streets are packed with azulejo tiles, hidden restaurants and bars, and a great deal of character.
Among the narrow, winding streets, you’ll find a treasure trove of monuments such as the Lisbon Cathedral, the Fado Museum, the São Vicente de Fora Monastery, the Museum of Decorative Arts and St. George’s Castle (Castelo de S. Jorge).
It’s easy to understand why tourists are so taken by the sights of Alfama. One minute you’re walking down a tiny cobbled street, the next you’re standing at a belvedere looking out over the city. You stumble upon passages with laundry hanging above you before discovering a small praça (square) where you can enjoy a coffee and pastel de nata at a café. One of my favorite features of Alfama is the gorgeous azulejo tiles you can find on the buildings. Much to my dismay, however, pretty azulejos are sometimes broken and not repaired, or – worse – stolen.
Recent years have seen new restaurants and cute shops pop up in this part of town. I stumbled upon Alfama Shop on my last visit there and it’s packed full of lovely souvenirs to take home.
One of the most typical things to do in Alfama is to listen go to a fado music show in one of the many restaurants, tascas (small, low-key restaurants) or bars. Not only is it live entertainment as you eat or drink, it’s also an experience you don’t get outside of Portugal. Fado is Portugal’s most quintessential music and the opportunity to listen to a fadista sing to you live is one you simply cannot miss!
In addition to the beautiful houses with their intricate iron verandas and iconic historical monuments, you’ll come across the famous number 28 tram which – aside from taking you through Alfama – offers the most scenic tram route in Lisbon.
With so much history and so many sights and tastes, it’s hard not to be charmed by this “medieval maze” we call Alfama. But don’t forget to be smart about your trip. Here are my top 3 tips for your visit to Alfama:
1. Wear comfortable shoes! I can’t stress this enough: you’ll be doing lots of walking up and down hills. Above all, some of the sidewalks are worn and slippery, so shoes with a grip are your best friends. Ladies, leave the stilettos in your hotel room!
2. Be vigilant. Although Portugal is pretty safe, the more touristy parts of big cities are the worst for pick-pocketing and even muggings. Overall, it’s safe but – with any vacation destination – be vigilant of your valuables, especially at night.
3. Enjoy it during both day and night. The city is transformed from a vibrant, bright district to a still and lamp-lit scene from a movie. Besides, those belvedere views all lit up at night are just as impressive as they are during the day. You want to take your time and leisurely stroll through the streets, explore the shops and museums and try local delicacies at a typical restaurant.
Have you had a good experience in Alfama? I’m always looking for new restaurants, shops and museums to visit, so please comment below with your suggestions. I might end up blogging about your favorite spots!