Cookies help us to deliver our services. By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies. By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn more.

10 Things to Do in Alfama

Let yourself be captivated by the nooks and crannies of the oldest neighborhood in the city.

Matteo Gramegna

Matteo Gramegna

9 min read

10 Things to Do in Alfama

View of Alfama, Lisbon | ©Filiz Elaerts

Steep streets, viewpoints, pastel-colored houses, streetcars and the melodies of fado: Alfama is Lisbon in miniature and exploring it means stepping into a very authentic area. Read on and find out what to see and do in this area of the Portuguese capital.

1. Choose a guided tour

Tagus River Cruise| ©wolli s
Tagus River Cruise| ©wolli s

A good way to get to know Alfama is through a guided tour. You will discover the oldest district of the Portuguese capital with an experienced guide who will take you to the main sights of the area. These urban tours of Lisbon usually last between two and three hours and touch the emblematic points of the district: the Cathedral, the viewpoints and the Castle of São Jorge. The tours can be conducted in English and are available in both the morning and afternoon. They usually depart from a location in the district or from the central Praça do Comércio in Baixa. As for the price, it is usually around 15 €.

If you have little time, this is the best option. The guides know the shortcuts and the most interesting historical attractions.

Book a guided tour of Alfama

2. Climb the fortress of Alfama

The castle of São Jorge| ©Heribert Bechen
The castle of São Jorge| ©Heribert Bechen

The castle of São Jorge dominates the capital from the top of a hill. Its foundation dates back to the 8th century when the Muslims controlled much of Portugal. At that time, Lisbon was known as al-Ushbuna and was an important administrative and commercial center. Unfortunately, between the 16th and 18th centuries it fell into decline due to the numerous earthquakes that struck the country.

Restructuring carried out between 1938 and 1944 and in the 1990s has restored the castle to some of its former glory. Today, it is one of the most visited monuments in the city and its main attraction is the incomparable view over Lisbon and the Tagus River. Take some pictures and continue your walk to the Castillejo (the old Muslim citadel), the Torre do Homenage (Torre de Menagem, the largest and where the royal standard was raised) and the camera obscura, a system of lenses and mirrors that allows you to see the city at 360 degrees and in real time.

Being located on the top of a hill, you must climb Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo, a street that leads to an entrance of the fortress.

3. Enter an ancient church converted into a mausoleum

Lisbon's National Pantheon| ©Deensel
Lisbon's National Pantheon| ©Deensel

The white silhouette of Lisbon's National Pantheon (Panteão Nacional) juts out from the rooftops of Alfama. From the outside, the monumental entrance and the large dome are reminiscent of a church, and indeed, this was its original use. At the end of the 17th century, the Infanta Maria of Portugal ordered the construction of a temple to house the relics of Santa Engracia but, less than a century later, a thunderstorm destroyed it. In the 19th century, the Liberal Revolution brought with it the Republic that indicated this place as the most suitable to host the tombs of the illustrious Portuguese.

In its interior rest personalities such as Pedro Álvares Cabral, the lady of fado Amália Rodrigues or Eusébio, the legend of Portuguese soccer. Another attraction of the National Pantheon is its large panoramic terrace overlooking the Alfama district. The monument is open from Tuesday to Sunday (from 10:00 to 18:00 in summer and from 10:00 to 17:00 in winter) and the entrance fee is around 4 €.

If you like religious architecture, about five minutes walk from the Pantheon stands the Church and Monastery of San Vicente de Fora. The temple has been renovated in the sixteenth century according to the project of the Italian architect Filippo Terzi.

4. Visit the Casa dos Bicos and immerse yourself in Saramago's works

Casa dos Bicos| ©Jake Setlak
Casa dos Bicos| ©Jake Setlak

The Casa dos Bicos was built in 1523 by Brás de Albuquerque, the son of the Indian Viceroy Afonso de Albuquerque. The Portuguese nobleman traveled to Italy and was struck by the architecture of the Renaissance. Upon his return to Portugal, he ordered the construction of a residence characterized by the peaks of the facade and the irregular shapes of doors and windows.

According to connoisseurs, it is inspired by the palace of the Diamonds of Ferrara. The building is located at Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 14 and the name of this street gives us a clue. In the 20th century, the Casa dos Bicos had lost its residential function and had been converted into a cod warehouse.

Today, it is the headquarters of the José Saramago Foundation and houses a permanent exhibition entitled "A Semente dos Frutos". The collection includes books, original manuscripts, photographs and other documents linked to or that had belonged to the writer. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday, from 10:00 to 18:00.

If you like archeology, on the first floor of the Casa dos Bicos you will find a series of ancient structures: a part of the Fernandine wall, tanks from Roman times used for fish canning and remains of the Islamic fence.

5. Enjoy the panorama

The Portas do Sol viewpoint| ©Vitor Oliveira
The Portas do Sol viewpoint| ©Vitor Oliveira

Lisbon is a city of slopes, hills and esplanades. No visit can be complete without a few stops at the panoramic points scattered throughout the geography of the capital. In the Alfama district, the most beautiful and famous belvederes are essentially two:

  • Mirador Portas do Sol (Largo Portas do Sol), a balcony overlooking the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, the old town and the waters of the Tagus. It is possibly the best belvedere in the city. The famous streetcar 28 passes through here, which is why it is quite frequented by tourists. Still, it is worth a visit to enjoy the view and listen to the street musicians.
  • A short distance away you will also find the Santa Luzia Viewpoint (Largo Santa Luzia). The panoramic point is composed of two floors and is decorated with a deck where bougainvillea, columns and tiles climb. From here you can see the churches of St. Michael and St. Stephen, the dome of the National Pantheon and the Alfama district. The place is frequented by painters and artisans who sell their wares.

Matthew's advice

If you are staying near the Portas do Sol viewpoint and don't mind getting up early, I recommend going to the viewpoint early in the morning. It is the best spot to see the sunrise.

6. Taste Portuguese delicacies

Eating at Cervejaria Ramiro| ©Betty L
Eating at Cervejaria Ramiro| ©Betty L

After a long walk, it is necessary to regain strength and sit down for a while to eat. In Alfama there is no shortage of options as its narrow streets hide some establishments that offer traditional recipes at an affordable price. Read on and find out where to stop without spending an arm and a leg:

  • Cervejaria Ramiro, a neighborhood classic. Despite its name, it is one of the best fish and seafood restaurants in the city. (Avenida Almirante Reis 1)
  • Le Petit Café, a restaurant halfway between the cathedral and the castle. Its menu offers a wide selection of fish. If you want to try their specialty, I recommend ordering an octopus dish. (Largo São Martinho)
  • O Beco, an establishment known for its bacalhau à Brás. Sit at their tables and enjoy the abundant portions (Beco do Espírito Santo 9).
  • Almargem, a simple and cheap tavern a stone's throw from the cathedral. (Travessa do Almargem, 4)

If you are looking for a vegetarian restaurant, Princesa do Castelo (Rua do Salvador 64A) serves vegan, vegetarian, and macrobiotic dishes. Another option is The Food Temple on Beco do Jasmim 18.

Book a gastronomic tour of Lisbon

7. Find a different souvenir

Market in Campo de Santa Clara| ©Andrea Mann
Market in Campo de Santa Clara| ©Andrea Mann

Every Tuesday and Saturday, the Santa Clara field hosts the most typical flea market of the city: the Feira da Ladra. As you can guess, in the past it was the place where stolen objects were sold while today it hosts a good number of local vendors and artisans. Here you can buy new and used clothes, vinyls, second hand books, ceramics, costume jewelry, tiles, old cameras and much more. It is worth strolling among the stalls to buy an original souvenir. The origin of the Feira da Ladra dates back to the Middle Ages and is a must of the Portuguese capital.

After some shopping, you can rest for a while in the nearby Jardim Botto Machado, a green area much appreciated by Lisboners. Here you will find the Clara Clara, a café with a terrace in the shade of a hibiscus tree.

8. Taste the famous pastéis de Belém in Santo António

Pastéis de Belém| ©André Luís
Pastéis de Belém| ©André Luís

The history of pastéis de nata is linked to the history of Lisbon. It all began in 1820, the year of the Liberal Revolution. In this year, the bourgeoisie, dissatisfied with the situation of the country, forced the king to return to Portugal and return Brazil to the status of a colony. In this convulsive situation, the religious orders began to suffer many closures and the friars of the Hieronymites Monastery (among others) stopped receiving funds. To alleviate the crisis, the monks began to sell egg yolk-based desserts outside the sacred place.

These desserts were so successful that the original recipe was acquired in 1837 by the Fábrica de Pasteles de Belém, one of the best known establishments in the Portuguese capital.

However, the best pastries are found in the Alfama district. Pastelería Santo António seems to have found the perfect formula for mixing milk, sugar, vanilla and egg yolks. The pastry won the contest for the best cream cake in Lisbon in 2019, promoted by the Peixe em Lisboa gastronomic festival.

Mateo's tip

Pastéis de Belém are a perfect gift for family and friends. If you travel close to Christmas, you can also come home with a bolo rainha, the Portuguese roscón de reyes. At the famous Confeitaria Nacional you will find a vast assortment of typical desserts.

9. Take streetcar 28

Tram 28| ©Vesela Vackavikova
Tram 28| ©Vesela Vackavikova

In addition to the free tour, another way to get around the neighborhood is by streetcar 28. To take this means of transport, you should approach Praça Martim Moniz, a square in Baixa. After leaving the flat part of the city, the convoy climbs the steep streets of the capital and touches the main monuments of Alfama: the cathedral, the viewpoints and the castle. The journey ends at Campo Ourique station, in the Bairro Alto. As for the duration, it may vary depending on the time and traffic. Normally, the complete tour takes about 50 minutes.

The single ticket costs around 2,90 €. If you plan to take it on more than one occasion, I recommend choosing a daily ticket which costs about 6,15 €. In any case, be careful. As it is frequented by tourists, you might run into pickpockets.

10. Finish the tour in a fado tavern

Entrance of the Parreirinha de Alfama| ©janblan
Entrance of the Parreirinha de Alfama| ©janblan

Alfama is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon. This is where the real Lisboners live and its alleys are the favorite place to listen to fado. Some believe that the genre derives from the melancholic songs of the Muslims after the Christian reconquest, others consider that it comes from the contamination with Brazilian music. What is certain is that fado is synonymous with Portugal and the best bars that offer it are located in Alfama.

One of these is Parreirinha de Alfama (Beco do Espírito Santo 1), an establishment that owes its fortune to Argentina Santos, one of the most talented singers of her time. In the 1950s, the artist put this bar on the map thanks to her legendary performances and collaborations with singers of the caliber of Berta Cardoso, Alfredo Marceneiro and Celeste Rodrigues.

Another bar with a great tradition and a good number of positive reviews is Clube de Fado (Rua S. João Praça 86), a historic place a stone's throw from the Lisbon Cathedral. For an even more authentic experience you can opt for A viela do Fado, a tiny place in Rua dos Remédios 111. If you want to eat while enjoying live music, I recommend you to read the post Fado Dinner in Lisbon: the best options.

Be careful with the small snacks served by the waiters. They are not included in the price and are charged separately.

Book tickets for a fado show in Lisbon