Alfama Walking Tour (Self Guided), Lisbon

Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon, whose name derives from the Arabic “Al-hamma” and means "hot fountains" or "baths". The district is a home to numerous historic attractions, including former royal residence - the medieval São Jorge (Saint George) Castle, as well as numerous churches, of which the most prominent is Lisbon Cathedral, oldest in the city, and the Santa Engrácia Church, nowadays converted into a National Pantheon for important Portuguese personalities. There are just as many Fado bars and restaurants in Alfama, as well. Whether you're culturally-motivated, or simply looking for fun, there's plenty of entertainment awaiting you in this part of the Portuguese capital!
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Alfama Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Alfama Walking Tour
Guide Location: Portugal » Lisbon (See other walking tours in Lisbon)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Casa dos Bicos / House of Spikes
  • Igreja da Conceicao Velha
  • Church of Saint Anthony
  • Lisbon Cathedral
  • The Roman Theater Museum
  • Decorative Arts Museum
  • Fado Museum
  • Military Museum
  • Church of Santa Engrácia
  • Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
  • Graça Church
  • São Jorge Castle
Casa dos Bicos / House of Spikes

1) Casa dos Bicos / House of Spikes (must see)

The Casa dos Bicos (Portuguese for House of the Beaks/Spikes) is a historical house built in the early 16th century in the Alfama neighbourhood, with a curious façade of spikes, influenced by Italian Renaissance palaces and Portuguese Manueline styles. It survived the disastrous 1755 Lisbon earthquake that destroyed much of the city, but over time was abandoned as a residence and used as a warehouse. After a 20th-century renovation, it became the headquarters of the José Saramago Foundation.

The building is modeled after the Palazzos of Venice with Portuguese style Manueline arched windows, while its façade is covered with 1,125 diamond shaped stone spikes.

Why You Should Visit:
The ground floor, which is free to enter, is completely dedicated to an archaeological site, which is a must-see in this corner of Lisbon.
The upper floors are a paid area dedicated to Portuguese writer José Saramago and perhaps of lesser interest to most tourists.

Take care to note the slight exterior differences between the older bottom two floors and the newer top two floors.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-5:30pm
Igreja da Conceicao Velha

2) Igreja da Conceicao Velha

The Old Church of the Immaculate Conception is an ornate building that dates back to the 16th Century. It was declared a national monument in 1910 and is one of the oldest places of worship in Portugal.

The Igreja da Conceicao Velha was built on the site of a 15th century Synagogue. It was consecrated as the Church of Our Lady of Mercy. It was constructed under the orders of King Manuel I at the request of his sister Leonor of Viseu and her confessor Friar Miguel Contreiras. Leonor also founded the Order of Mercy and the church was dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy. At the time of consecration, it was the second largest church in Lisbon and the finest example of the Manueline style of architecture that combined Renaissance and Gothic designs. In 1755 the church was destroyed by the devastating earthquake and tsunami damaged many buildings in Lisbon and only the façade of the old structure was left. The present church was constructed again using the material from the ruins of the old church.

The present Igreja da Conceicao Velha has a magnificent portal with ornate figures of our Lady of Mercy and public figures like Pope Alexander VI, King Manuel I, his queen Eleanor and the figure of Leonor of Viseu at whose behest the church was built. Unlike other churches in the city, it has only one nave. The ceilings have a stucco pattern and the chancel is covered by a barrel vaulted ceiling.
Church of Saint Anthony

3) Church of Saint Anthony (must see)

Saint Anthony’s Church is dedicated to the man born into a wealthy Lisbon family and later canonized as Saint Anthony of Padua. It is located on the site where St. Anthony was born and spent his childhood.

Santo Antonio was born as Fernando de Bullhoes in 1195. He adopted the name Antonio and entered the Franciscan order. His family home was converted at first into a small chapel. The church was expanded and decorated in 1730 during the reign of King John V. Only the main chapel remained after the 1755 earthquake. The present structure was constructed in 1767 based on a Baroque Rococo design by architect, Mateus Vincente de Oliviera. The interiors have ornate neoclassical Ionic columns and the altar has a figure of the saint with Christ in his arms. 18th-century tiles decorate the walls of the sacristy.

Mass marriages are held in mid-June to commemorate St. Anthony’s Day. A religious brotherhood was constituted in honor of the saint and it takes out a procession on June the 13th every year. The Church attained the National Patrimony level after a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1982. The visit is depicted by a tiled panel. There is also a small museum that displays images and manuscripts about the life of St. Anthony and allows visitors to view the gold and silverware belonging to the church.

As per all Catholic churches make sure you are properly attired – no bare shoulders or knees; men remove the hat.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Lisbon Cathedral

4) Lisbon Cathedral (must see)

The Lisbon Cathedral also called the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major is the oldest church in the city and the seat of the Archbishop of Lisbon. The building has a mixture of architectural styles caused by several modifications to its structure through the ages.

The Lisbon Cathedral was first constructed in 1147. It was built on the site of a Moorish Mosque after the conquest of Lisbon by Christian forces under King Afonso Henriquez. The first structure was constructed in Romanesque style. The relics of St. Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of Lisbon were brought from Southern Portugal and placed in the Cathedral during this time. The building suffered extensive damage during the many devastating earthquakes that rocked Lisbon. The present cathedral was rebuilt in the 20th century giving the structure a predominantly medieval appearance. The façade has imposing towers like a fortress. This style is used in many Portuguese churches of the period of the Christian conquest when they were used as a military base from which attacks on enemies were launched.

Two noteworthy chapels within the church are the chapel of St. Ildefonso that has a carved sculpture of one of the first Portuguese Ambassadors, Lopo Fernandez Pacheco with a dog at his feet and the Chapel dedicated to San Antonio de Padua who was born in Lisbon. Archeological excavations in the courtyard have unearthed several objects from the Visigothic, Roman and Moorish periods.

Free entry to the Cathedral and you can also enter the Treasury for a few € during the hours of 10am-5pm (note that it's closed on Sundays).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-7pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Roman Theater Museum

5) The Roman Theater Museum

The Roman Theatre Museum has objects unearthed from a 1st century Roman Theatre built by the Emperor Augustus. The Roman Theatre Museum was first built as a small theater and was expanded in 57 AD. At this time it could seat 5000 spectators. During the middle ages it disappeared beneath the ground because of neglect and wind and soil erosion. After the 1755 earthquake, parts of the theater resurfaced resulting in renewed interest in the Roman past of Lisbon. Archeological excavations were undertaken and objects unearthed that form the permanent exhibits at the Museum.

The Museum has few exhibits including many columns, stone statues and a small collection of archeological finds. There is a statue of Silenus, the Greek God of wine making and drunkenness and an inscription probably created during its expansion in 57 AD about the dedication of the theater to the Roman Emperor Nero. The most interesting part for visitors is the installation of multilingual video and touch screens that tell the story of Lisbon under the Romans. Although the museum is small and the collection is minimal compared to many other Roman Archeological museums in Europe, it is well arranged and explained through multimedia displays.

Operation hours: Tue -Sun: 10:00 - 13:00 and 14:00 - 18:00
Decorative Arts Museum

6) Decorative Arts Museum

The Decorative Arts Museum housed in an aristocratic home showcases the life of wealthy citizens of Lisbon in the 18th and 19th centuries. The building is a 17th century palace that was the city residence of the Count of Azurara.

The Decorative Arts Museum was purchased by Portuguese Banker, Ricardo do Espirito Santo Silva whose family was one of the wealthiest in the country in 1947. He then converted it into a museum to house his vast collection. He donated the museum to the city in 1953. The interiors still have their original 17th century wooden floors, painted ceilings and mosaics of Azulejos, a typical Portuguese painted tin glazed form of tile work. Some Azulejos formed part of the palace while others were added while restoring the building to house the banker’s art and decorative objects collection.

The Decorative Arts Museum has tastefully arranged collections of Indo Portuguese, Portuguese, English and French furniture, a large collection of silver objects, faience tin glazed pottery, original Chinese porcelain, Flemish tapestry from the 16th and 18th centuries, an ancient grandfather clock and a horse drawn carriage. There are unique objects from almost every country ruled by the Portuguese when they were a colonial power.

Operation hours: Tue-Sun: 10:00-17:00
Fado Museum

7) Fado Museum

The Fado Museum is dedicated to the soulful songs called Fado that evolved in the City of Lisbon. It has a range of exhibits and displays that showcase a form of music that is unique to the city.

Fado evolved as a form of music unique to Lisbon in 1840. Although another form is sung in the city of Coimbra, the Lisbon version is the earliest and most popular. It evolved from songs sung by sailors that soon became a musical genre loved by the common man and sung by many famous Fado singers from Lisbon.

The Fado Museum is dedicated to the evolution of the form of music and the passion it evokes in Lisbon. It has audiovisual shows, multilingual information panels and a large archive of Fado music. The permanent collection is a journey through the history of the form of music including recordings of famous singers and instruments that accompany them. There is also a model Portuguese guitar workshop where a film shows visitors how a Portuguese guitar is made. A wax figure of a guitar maker and his tools is also found here. Visitors can also enjoy live performances at the small café at the museum or purchase a recording from the museum shop.

Operation hours: Tue-Sun: 10:00-18:00
Military Museum

8) Military Museum (must see)

One of the largest museums dedicated to military memorabilia in the world, Lisbon's Museu Militar tells the story of the exploits by the Portuguese armed forces. It has a large collection of artillery, arms, uniforms and military art.

The Military Museum is located on the site of a 16th century shipyard. It has the largest artillery collection in the world and was founded in 1851 by General Jose Baptista da Silva as an artillery museum. Other exhibits with military themes were added and from 1926, it got its present name. Until the early 20th century, the building was also a manufacturing unit for weaponry.

The Museu Militar has a large collection of guns, pistols and swords. Notable among them is a sword belonging to Vasco da Gama and a 14th century cannon. Many of the rooms have magnificent Baroque interiors, tiled mosaics portraying various exploits of the Portuguese military forces through the ages from the Christian defeat of the Moorish rulers till World War I and murals showing the historical voyage and discovery of the sea route to India. The first floor has many exhibits showing the services of the Portuguese armed forces as part of the allied forces in World War I.

Why You Should Visit:
Important not only for its military-themed exhibits, but also for the elaborately decorated rooms.
Surprises await you in each section, with numerous paintings, carvings and tapestry describing Portugal's history.
Ticket price is very reasonable and the route is quite easy to follow, with lots of exhibits you can touch along the way.

From 10 to 12:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings a martial arts club conducts training sessions for its members in European swordsmanship (two-handed swords, not fencing), in the museum's basement vaults. This is well-worth watching for people interested in martial arts, especially if one has any familiarity with fencing or kendo.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-5pm
Church of Santa Engrácia

9) Church of Santa Engrácia

The Church of Santa Engracia has been declared the National Pantheon and many famous personalities are buried here. It is a 16th century church with a 20th century dome. Visitors can climb the steps or take the elevator to the roof top terrace for 360 degree views of Lisbon and the Tagus.

The site of the Church of Santa Engracia had many previous churches before the current structure was built. It was dedicated to a martyred saint from the city of Braga, Saint Engracia. Joao Antunes, the Royal architect in the court of Manuel I designed the church. The layout has the unusual shape of a Greek cross with arms of equal length. There is a square tower at each corner. The main façade has an ornate entrance hall with three niches containing statues. The elaborately carved portal depicts two angels holding the coat-of –arms of Portugal. The interior is decorated with multicolored slabs of marble. The dome was completed in 1966 during the rule of the dictator, Salazar and converted into the National Pantheon.

Famous people buried in the church are writers Joao de Deus and Aquilino Ribeiro and the famous Fado singer Amalia Rodriguez. It also has cenotaphs to Afonso de Albequerque, Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora

10) Monastery of São Vicente de Fora (must see)

The Monastery of Sao Vincente de Fora is an imposing church dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of Lisbon. It was also the last resting place of the Monarchs of the house of Braganza, the dynasty that ruled Portugal for over 250 years.

The monastery is one of the best examples of late renaissance architecture called the Mannerist style in Portugal. The floor plan is that of a Latin cross. The nave has one aisle and lateral chapels. The main altarpiece was crafted by one of the finest Portuguese sculptors, Joaquim Machado de Castro in Baroque style.

The highlights of the interiors are the cloisters that date back to the 18th century. The monastery is located around two cloisters with azulejo or tile-covered walls depicting a variety of beautiful historical and other scenes. The upper floors have restored azulejos depicting the fables of Jean de La Fontaine. The early refectory of the monks was converted into a pantheon for the monarchs of the House of Braganza in 1855. Most members of the dynasty are buried here including Catherine of Braganza who became Queen of England as consort of King Charles II.

Why You Should Visit:
Plenty of interesting things to see, including the cloisters, the sacristy, the Pantheon of the House of Braganza, the tile-work of 'Les Fables de La Fontaine', as well as the Patriarch's Gallery; however, the crowning glory of the monastery is the climb to the terraces of the towers, which afford one of the most beautiful views of Lisbon and the Tagus.

With your ticket, you will also receive a leaflet, which includes a map and a short history of the monastery. It is highly recommended that you follow the map, so you don't miss anything.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Graça Church

11) Graça Church

The Graca Church is one of the oldest churches in Lisbon. It was built on the site where the forces of King Afonso Henriques camped when they laid siege of Lisbon to recapture the city from the Moors.

The Graca Church was built in 1271 and given to the hermits of Saint Augustine. The church was ruined in the 1755 earthquake and the present Baroque style structure was constructed in the 18th century. It has a simple façade with a bas relief dedicated to Saint Augustine. The interior is in the shape of a cross with a nave that has five spans. Tiles from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries decorate the walls and there are two ornate marble chairs placed in the sacristy. The chapels have gilded Rococo style sculptures, some of which date back to the 17th century.

The Senhor Dos Passos dressing room is located on the upper floor of the Graca Church. The Senhor Dos Passos or Steps Lord is a purple clad sculpture of Christ bearing the cross. It is taken out in procession during Easter and other local festivals. The building that was once the Graca convent is now used by the Portuguese military.
São Jorge Castle

12) São Jorge Castle (must see)

The São Jorge Castle occupies a commanding position overlooking the city of Lisbon and the broad Tagus River beyond. The strongly-fortified citadel, which, in its present configuration, dates from medieval times, is located atop the highest hill in the historic center of the city. The castle is one of the main historical and touristic sites of Lisbon. The castle's footprint is roughly square in shape, and it was originally encircled by a wall, to form a citadel.

The castle complex consists of the castle proper (the castelejo), some ancillary buildings (including the ruins of the royal palace), gardens, and a large terraced square from which impressive panoramas of Lisbon are afforded. The main entrance to the citadel is a 19th-century gate surmounted by the coat-of-arms of Portugal, the name of Queen Maria II, and the date, 1846.

Why You Should Visit:
By far the best views of Lisbon and can be a very peaceful place first thing in the morning.
There is also a permanent exhibition worth looking at, as well as a Camera Obscura in one of the Moorish towers (shows every 20min with languages rotating between English/Portuguese/Spanish).

Do come early to not only avoid the crowds (the tour groups start pouring in around 10:30am) but also for the best light – the sun is behind you as you look over central Lisbon.
Wander the terrace of the lower fortifications, then enter the Moorish inner castle to walk the ramparts for even better views.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Lisbon, Portugal

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