Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon and is a delightful maze of narrow streets, which lead from the Tejo estuary uphill to the castle. Contained within this ancient district there are some of Lisbon’s most historically important buildings including the Se Cathedral, Lisbon Castle, National Pantheon and Saint Anthony’s Church.
Prior to the 13th century, Alfama was the district outside of the city walls, home to the capital’s poorest residents. This tough and deprived reputation continued as Lisbon expanded and Alfama became home to the dock workers and sailors.
Today, Alfama has shrugged off its grim status and become a young, trendy and fashionable area of Lisbon but, fortunately, the area has lost none of its ancient charms. This guide will provide an introduction to Alfama and will detail the main tourist attractions, how best to explore the area and a brief history of the district.
The most enjoyable activity while in the Alfama district is a ride on the number 28 tram. The tram route connects the district of Graça with Baixa and passes through the streets and hills of Alfama. This narrow and undulating tram route is totally unsuitable for any modern trams, so historic Remodelado trams, which date from the 1930s, provide the service instead. To find out more about the 28 tram route please click here.
The best tourist attraction of the Alfama district is Lisbon castle. This castle has been entwined with Portugal’s early history and was the location in which the Christian Crusaders defeated the North African Moors in 1147. The castle was left to become a ruin during later years but was restored to its once magnificence during the 1940s. From the great vantage point of the battlements and walls, there are wonderful views of central Lisbon. To read more about the castle please click here.
The best viewpoint of Alfama is the Miradouro de Santa Luzia (Santa Luzia Viewpoint). From here there are wonderful views over the tiled roofs of Alfama and out across the Tejo Estuary. The view point is on the number 28 tram route and is close to the castle.
The best-undiscovered location in the Alfama is the Largo da Graça, which is often known as the Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (Sophia Andresen viewpoint). This peaceful, tree-shaded plaza, is positioned in front of the Graça Church and provides wonderful views over the castle and central Lisbon. There is a pleasant open-air café and this is an ideal place to relax after climbing all the hills of Alfama.
In need of a boy or girlfriend or better partner? Then the tradition surrounding the statue of Saint Anthony is for you!
The tradition is that you will find a new (or better!) partner if you are able to throw and land a coin in the book of Saint Anthony on the statue in front of his church, the Igreja Santo Antonio. This tradition originates that Saint Anthony is the patron saint of lovers (and Lisbon) and this church was constructed on his birthplace.
The Alfama district is an area of steep hills and narrow streets and there is very limited public transport; there are only one tram route, two bus services and no metro station. The only real way to explore Alfama is on foot. The most popular walking route is to follow the tram route from Baixa to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia. The other popular walking route is to exit from the Santa Apolónia metro station (last stop blue line) and climb the maze of streets uphill to the castle.
The Se is the solid and imposing cathedral that was the religious centre of Portugal. The cathedral dates from the 12th century and was constructed on the site of an important Moorish mosque. To read more please click here.
Saint Anthony is the patron saint of Lisbon and this church, which is dedicated to him, was constructed on his birth site. Saint Anthony was born in 1195 but the Baroque-Rococo style church dates from 1767, as the original church was destroyed by the massive 1755 earthquake. To read more please click here.
Church of Santa Engrácia is the National Pantheon of Portugal and final burial location of many important Portuguese, including the poet Luís de Camões and the explorers Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator. To read more about the Santa Engrácia please click here.
This museum details the history of the haunting music that originates from the Alfama district. Fado is sung by a solo singer and is accompanied by a traditional Portuguese guitar and this mournful yet powerful music reflects the emotions felt by the wives of sailors who had departed on perilous journeys. To read more about Fado please click here.
Lisbon was a major Roman city, on the streets of Alfama there are the remains of a Roman amphitheatre that had a capacity for 5,000 spectators. Close to the amphitheatre is the Museu Teatro Romano, a small museum that displays all of the objects that were found at the site. To read more please click here.