Alfama Walking Tour, Lisbon

Alfama Walking Tour (Self Guided), Lisbon

Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon, spreading downhill between the medieval former royal Castle of São Jorge and the Tagus river. Under the Islamic rule, Alfama constituted the largest part of the city, and was increasingly inhabited by fishermen and the poor. The reputation of being a poor area still lives on. The name Alfama derives from the Arabic al-ḥamma, which means "hot fountains" or "baths," akin to "hammam".

The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, that had destroyed much of the capital, spared Alfama as a picturesque, compact labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares. The historic no. 28 tram, winding its way up through the district these days, has been a landmark of the city for many decades. On the slopes of Alfama there are several terraces (miradouros), such as Miradouro das Portas do Sol (Gates of the Sun), Miradouro da Graça, from where you can observe Lisbon in all its splendor, and Miradouro de Santa Luzia, presiding over the remains of the Moorish city walls.

Among the historic attractions found here there are numerous churches, including the prominent Lisbon Cathedral (aka Santa Maria Maior), oldest in the city (dated 12th–14th cc); the Convent of the Grace (Convento da Graça, 18th century); the mannerist Monastery of São Vicente de Fora (late 16th–18th century), where the Kings of the House of Braganza are buried; and the baroque-style Santa Engrácia Church (17th century), presently converted into a National Pantheon for important Portuguese personalities.

Lately, the neighborhood has been invigorated with the renovation of the old, mixed-use houses which, among other residents, are occupied by restaurants where Fado music is played. For those keen on this typically Portuguese style of melancholy music, there is a dedicated Fado Museum.

Complete with an abundance of cute little shops and cafes, Alfama represents a lovely tourist destination, perfect for both historical quest and a night out with dinner. Whether you're culturally-motivated or simply looking for fun, take this self-guided walk to find the gems awaiting you in the oldest 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: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Santa Maria Maior (Cathedral of St. Mary Major)
  • Igreja de Santo Antonio de Lisboa (St. Anthony's Church)
  • Castelo de Sao Jorge (Saint George's Castle)
  • Miradouro de Santa Luzia (Santa Luzia Viewpoint)
  • Miradouro das Portas do Sol (Portas do Sol Viewpoint)
  • Miradouro da Graca (Graca Viewpoint)
  • Igreja e Convento da Graca (Graca Church and Convent)
  • Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora (Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls)
  • Panteao Nacional (National Pantheon)
  • Museu Militar de Lisboa (Lisbon Military Museum)
  • Museu do Fado (Fado Museum)
Santa Maria Maior (Cathedral of St. Mary Major)

1) Santa Maria Maior (Cathedral of St. Mary Major)

Santa Maria Maior, the city's oldest church, originally erected in 1147, stands as a testament to Lisbon's rich history. It was constructed on the former site of a Moorish mosque following the conquest of Lisbon by Christian forces led by King Afonso Henriquez. During this pivotal period, the relics of St. Vincent of Saragossa, the city's patron saint, were transported from Southern Portugal and enshrined here, where they have remained undisturbed.

Enduring substantial damage from the numerous destructive earthquakes that plagued Lisbon, the present-day Cathedral underwent reconstruction in the 20th century. This renovation imbued the structure with a predominantly medieval aesthetic, characterized by robust stone walls and fortress-like towers. This architectural style is a common feature among many Portuguese churches from the Christian conquest era, often used as strategic military bases for launching assaults against enemy forces.

Although the interior may appear somewhat 'plain' when compared to churches in other countries, it remains remarkably impressive, featuring Gothic arches, vaulted ceilings, and sections adorned with stained glass. Notable among its chapels is the Chapel of Saint Ildefonso, housing a carved sculpture of one of the first Portuguese Ambassadors, Lopo Pacheco, depicted with a loyal dog at his side. Additionally, the Cathedral includes a chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, a celebrated figure born in Lisbon. Excavations in the courtyard have unearthed various artifacts dating back to the Visigothic, Roman, and Moorish periods.

Admission to the Cathedral is free, and for a modest fee, you can also ascend partway up the tower to the Treasury between 10am and 5pm (please note that it is closed on Sundays).
Igreja de Santo Antonio de Lisboa (St. Anthony's Church)

2) Igreja de Santo Antonio de Lisboa (St. Anthony's Church)

Were you aware that Saint Anthony was actually born in Lisbon? It's believed that he came into the world and lived here before embarking on his journey as a preacher. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the church situated at the site believed to be his birthplace.

The crypt, accessible through the sacristy on the left, is the sole remaining vestige of the original 1195 church, which succumbed to the devastating 1755 earthquake. Within this crypt, you'll encounter a tile panel commemorating Pope John Paul II's visit to the site in 1982.

Following the earthquake, a new church was constructed in Baroque and Pombaline architectural styles. This ambitious project was overseen by Mateus Vicente, the same architect responsible for the magnificent Basilica of the Star ("Basílica da Estrela"). Funding for the endeavor was partly derived from contributions gathered by the city's children, who would solicit "a small coin for Saint Anthony". Even today, the chapel's crypt floor remains adorned with coins and messages left by devotees.

During the same period, a tradition emerged in Lisbon neighborhoods of crafting thrones dedicated to Saint Anthony. These thrones replicated the church's altar and served as additional sources for collecting funds to rebuild the edifice. The tradition of constructing altars endures to this day, especially during Lisbon's popular festivals throughout the month of June, which are dedicated to Saint Anthony, the most venerated saint among Lisboetas.

Just like in Brazil, Saint Anthony also enjoys a reputation here as a matchmaker, and people seek his intervention to find suitable spouses. Furthermore, it is customary for young couples to visit the Saint Anthony's Church on their wedding day, where they leave flowers and offer prayers to the saint, beseeching his protection for their marriages.

Adjacent to the church, you'll find a small museum housing paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts associated with Saint Anthony. Museum admission is €3, with free entry on Sundays until 2pm and when using the Lisboa Card. If you have a penchant for acquiring religious souvenirs during your travels, you'll discover a selection of medals, statues, and other items available at the church as well.
Castelo de Sao Jorge (Saint George's Castle)

3) Castelo de Sao Jorge (Saint George's Castle) (must see)

Saint George's Castle commands a prominent position, affording captivating vistas over Lisbon and the expansive Tagus River. This fortified stronghold, in its current form, traces its origins to the medieval era and is perched atop the highest hill in the city's historic heart. Its layout is approximately square, and it was initially encircled by a protective wall.

Within this complex, you'll find the central castle ('castelejo'), alongside auxiliary structures, including the remnants of the royal palace, well-tended gardens, and an expansive terraced square that offers breathtaking panoramic views of Lisbon. The citadel's primary entrance features a 19th-century gate adorned with Portugal's coat of arms, Queen Maria II's name, and the date 1846.

Once inside, visitors can enjoy a range of amenities, including restaurants, cafes, a wine bar, an ice cream stand, and public restrooms. Peacocks roam freely throughout the grounds, particularly in one of the primary dining areas. While dining within the castle walls may be slightly pricier than in the surrounding areas, it is not excessively so. Alternatively, you have the option to bring your own food and beverages and explore the grounds with open containers. Admission is €10 per adult, and children enter for free, making it an excellent attraction for international guests.

Why You Should Visit:
The castle certainly offers sweeping views of the entire city and can be a tranquil oasis in the early morning and a magical setting during sunset. Additionally, there is a permanent exhibition worth exploring, as well as an exceptional 'camera obscura' located in one of the Moorish towers, offering shows every 20 minutes in various languages, including English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Although the journey to the castle involves a steep uphill climb, it provides a delightful stroll through the narrow streets of historic Lisbon, with numerous opportunities to stop and savor local cuisine. Alternatively, you can take cable car #28 to admire the neighborhood's charming and diverse architecture, providing excellent photo opportunities.
Miradouro de Santa Luzia (Santa Luzia Viewpoint)

4) Miradouro de Santa Luzia (Santa Luzia Viewpoint)

The Santa Luzia Viewpoint sits in close proximity to the Portas do Sol Viewpoint, offering the same iconic view over Alfama's tiled roofs and churches, extending to the Tagus estuary. Although this vantage point may be slightly less advantageous, it compensates with its cozy and inviting atmosphere, featuring a beautifully landscaped garden spread across multiple levels, azalea trees, ample seating arrangements (some protected by pergola-like roofs), and captivating wall panels adorned with the traditional "azulejo" blue tiles.

One of these tiled panels depicts a crucial milestone in Portuguese history, the "Reconquista" (the liberation of the Iberian Peninsula from Moorish occupation), displayed on the exterior wall of the Santa Luzia church. Meanwhile, the second "azulejo" mural showcases the Commerce Square ("Praça do Comércio") as it appeared before the devastating 1755 earthquake, positioned on the opposite boundary of the observation terrace, further down the hill.

There's a small café on the premises, as well as restrooms (to locate the latter, simply ascend a few steps up the hill, turn the corner at the church, and follow the steps downward). Fortunately, the Santa Luzia and Portas do Sol lookout points are just a minute's stroll away from each other, so there's no need to choose between them; you can delight in both during the same sightseeing excursion.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the small market on the left, offering various cork products and textiles if you're considering souvenirs. With a bit of bargaining, you'll discover that the prices here are much more favorable than other places.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol (Portas do Sol Viewpoint)

5) Miradouro das Portas do Sol (Portas do Sol Viewpoint)

The name of Largo das Portas do Sol street in Lisbon has its origins in the ancient Porta do Sol ("Gate of the Sun"), which was a part of the city's Moorish fortifications that existed before being devastated by the 1755 earthquake.

This gate was located next to the Church of São Brás, now commonly known as Santa Luzia. The church's bell tower was constructed on the wall that ran along the Adiça to São Pedro, positioned between two ancient towers. The gate's wall, which was destroyed during the earthquake, was intended to be integrated into Saint George's Castle, adjacent to the Gate of Dom Fradique.

In the mid-18th century, a significant historical artifact was discovered inside the churchyard of São Brás: a large stone cannonball, fired by the Moors at the defenders of Lisbon, led by D. Afonso Henriques, during the city's conquest.

From the Portas do Sol area, among other notable sights, you can enjoy views of the Church of São Vicente de Fora and the entire Alfama neighborhood, stretching all the way down to the Tagus River. The viewpoint itself resembles a balcony. In 1949, a statue of São Vicente (Saint Vincent) created by the sculptor Raul Xavier, was placed here.

For a unique and enjoyable experience, seek out a flight of stairs and follow the WC (restroom) sign. Descend the stairs and pass under an arch to discover a mural depicting Lisbon's history in a comic-book style. Nearby, you'll also find the Museum of Decorative Arts.
Miradouro da Graca (Graca Viewpoint)

6) Miradouro da Graca (Graca Viewpoint) (must see)

While commonly referred to as the "Miradouro da Graça", this viewpoint officially carries the name "Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen", in honor of a poetess who frequently gazed upon Lisbon from this very spot. Her bust continues to do so, while lines from one of her poems grace the nearby wall. Distinguishing itself from many other tourist-heavy viewpoints in Lisbon, this one in the Graça neighborhood enjoys equal popularity among locals. It serves as both a meeting place and a spiritual refuge for those seeking respite at the on-site café, which offers refreshments and comfortable seating in the shade of the adjacent church and the surrounding pine trees. Here, visitors are generously treated to a breathtaking view of the city below, with the Tagus River flowing in the background, all enveloped in the tranquility that contrasts with the bustling metropolis.

This viewpoint frequently marks the conclusion of a journey for those ascending the hill from Alfama and Saint George's Castle. Along the path to the terrace, visitors traverse a small garden featuring a quaint fountain and a bronze sculpture. The series of steps leading to the viewpoint are paved with traditional cobblestone designs.

With the castle visible to the left, this vista has over time attracted countless artists eager to capture the history of Lisbon on canvas or paper. The most prominent feature in view is one of the city's oldest churches, the Igreja da Graça, originally constructed in 1271 and later revamped in the Baroque style following the earthquake of 1755.
Igreja e Convento da Graca (Graca Church and Convent)

7) Igreja e Convento da Graca (Graca Church and Convent)

The Graça Church, among the oldest in Lisbon, dates back to 1271 when it was entrusted to the hermits of Saint Augustine. However, the present Baroque-style edifice was constructed during the 18th century, replacing the original structure which was devastated by the 1755 earthquake. Its interior is lavishly decorated with intricate grisaille paintings and opulent gilded woodwork. The focal point of the church, an image of Christ bearing the cross, has been a fixture in the annual Easter procession since 1587. The adjacent convent, having served as military barracks during the 19th century, was only made accessible to the public in 2017.

Upon entering, you'll be greeted by intriguing elements: an ornate painted ceiling, a somewhat imposing statue of São Tomás de Villanova, two finely adorned marble chairs in the sacristy, and a collection of gilded Rococo-style sculptures within the chapels. However, the real treasure awaits in the adjoining convent—a pristine white room adorned with tiled walls hailing from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, depicting grand historical scenes. It's worth noting that there is no admission fee for any of these remarkable sights.

Beyond the church's interior, Graça is also renowned for its breathtaking panoramic views of Lisbon, accessible from its "miraduro," the highest lookout point in the city. While the uphill climb to the romantic pine-shaded terrace may give your legs a workout, the reward makes it all worthwhile, especially if you're enticed by the charming shops and markets scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora (Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls)

8) Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora (Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls)

Dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa, Lisbon's patron saint, this 17th-century monastery stands as a remarkable example of late Renaissance architecture in Portugal, marked by its distinct Mannerist features. It also serves as the final resting place for the monarchs of the House of Braganza, the ruling dynasty in Portugal for over 250 years. Their Pantheon within the monastery is a place of exceptional beauty, tranquility, and historical significance.

The monastery is organized around two courtyards adorned with breathtaking 'azulejo' (tile-covered) walls depicting scenes from Portugal's rich history. Through these cloisters, visitors can explore the former monastic refectory, which, since 1855, has housed the tombs of the Braganza dynasty. This sequence of resting places spans from João IV, who restored the monarchy in 1640, to Manuel II, the last Portuguese monarch, who passed away in exile in England in 1932. Among these notable figures is Catherine of Braganza, the widow of England's Charles II, credited with introducing the concept of "teatime" to the British.

Additionally, the sacristy is lavishly adorned with polychrome marble and artwork, while the church boasts a magnificent Baroque-style main altarpiece, a masterpiece crafted by one of Portugal's finest sculptors, Machado de Castro.

Why You Should Visit:
Plenty of interesting things to see, including the 18th-century cloisters, the sacristy, the Pantheon of the House of Braganza, the captivating 'Les Fables de La Fontaine' tile work, and the Patriarch's Gallery. However, the highlight of your visit is undoubtedly the ascent to the towers' terraces, providing some of the most stunning panoramic views over the Alfama district and the Tagus River.

Upon purchasing your ticket, you will receive a leaflet containing a map and a concise history of the monastery. It's highly recommended to follow the map to ensure you don't miss any of the monastery's captivating features.
Panteao Nacional (National Pantheon)

9) Panteao Nacional (National Pantheon)

The soaring white dome of Santa Engrácia sets it apart as the tallest church in the city, and it has earned a reputation for being synonymous with unfinished work. Construction commenced in 1682, yet it wasn't until 1966 that the project reached completion. Today, it serves as the National Pantheon, a final resting place for illustrious Portuguese figures, including the renowned writer Almeida Garrett (1799–1854), Portugal's iconic fado singer Amália Rodrigues (1920–99), and the legendary football icon Eusébio. It's also a fitting location for the cenotaph of explorer Vasco da Gama, given the presence of ships from around the world mooring on the quayside below.

The ingenious design by royal architect João Antunes for this structure was a pioneering venture in Portugal, featuring a centralized floorplan with a Greek cross shape and square towers at each corner (though the pinnacles were never completed). The façades boast undulating contours reminiscent of Borromini's baroque designs. The primary façade incorporates an entrance hall and three niches adorned with statues, with entry gained through an exquisite baroque portal adorned with Portugal's coat of arms held by two angels.

As expected of a church of distinction, the interior boasts a magnificent 18th-century baroque organ relocated from Lisbon Cathedral, while the floors and walls are bedecked with intricate baroque, polychromed marble patterns. On different levels, you'll find small wooden balconies affording excellent views of the grand hall below.

Visitors can access the rooftop terrace with panoramic 360-degree views of Lisbon and the harbor without any significant wait, and the entry fee is €4 per person. If you happen to visit on a Saturday, you'll have the added delight of exploring a flea market!
Museu Militar de Lisboa (Lisbon Military Museum)

10) Museu Militar de Lisboa (Lisbon Military Museum)

People often forget that Portugal held a vast global empire for nearly six centuries, and this museum, though primarily focused on the military aspects such as artillery, weaponry, uniforms, and military art, provides a valuable glimpse into the not-so-distant past. Founded in 1851 on the grounds of a 16th-century shipyard, it boasts an exceptional collection of model artillery, claimed to be the world's largest. Interestingly, the building served as a weapons manufacturing facility until the early 20th century.

Noteworthy exhibits include Vasco da Gama's sword and a 14th-century cannon. Many rooms feature splendid baroque interiors adorned with mosaic tiles depicting various accomplishments of Portuguese military forces throughout history, from the Christian victory over Moorish rulers to World War I. There are also murals portraying the historical voyages and the discovery of the sea route to India. On the first floor, you'll find numerous displays detailing the Portuguese contributions as part of the World War I Allied forces.

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

On Saturday and Sunday mornings from 10 to 12:30, a martial arts club conducts training sessions in European swordsmanship (with two-handed swords, not fencing) in the museum's basement vaults. This is a captivating watch for those interested in martial arts, particularly if they have some familiarity with fencing or kendo.
Museu do Fado (Fado Museum)

11) Museu do Fado (Fado Museum)

If you find yourself with some spare time, consider fitting in a visit to the Fado Museum, which is dedicated to the evolution of this musical genre and the deep passion it stirs within Lisbon. Although another variant of Fado is sung in the city of Coimbra, the Lisbon rendition, originating in the 1840s from the songs of sailors, is the earliest and most beloved.

Although not particularly large, this museum offers audiovisual presentations, informative panels in multiple languages, and an extensive music archive. All of these resources are likely to enhance your understanding of Fado before experiencing it in Lisbon. Be sure to make use of the complimentary headsets, which provide a detailed history of the music and explain the various guitars and sitars on display. Visitors can also purchase music recordings at the museum shop and, on weekends, enjoy live performances at the museum's cozy café (the fee is included in the ticket).

Before or after your museum visit, a stroll through the charming and authentic surrounding area is highly recommended. You'll have the opportunity to glimpse local life, with typical houses, some of which have survived since the 1775 earthquake. You'll also encounter old taverns, grocery shops, a beautifully restored 13th-century fountain known as "Chafariz de Dentro", and laundry lines strung overhead.

If looking to get a good bite with your Fado experience, consider PARREIRINHA DE ALFAMA (Tue-Sun: 10pm–10:30pm) or GUITARRAS DE LISBOA (Mon-Sat: 8pm–2am). If you prefer good food, reasonable prices, and warm hospitality without Fado singing, there are numerous other options to explore, such as RODA VIVA, O BECO, A MURALHA TASCA TIPICA LISBOA... or you can venture at your own pace and discover the dining offerings in the area.

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