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:
  • Lisbon Cathedral (Santa Maria Maior)
  • Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa (Saint Anthony of Lisbon's Church)
  • Sao Jorge Castle
  • Miradouro de Santa Luzia
  • Miradouro das Portas do Sol
  • Miradouro da Graca
  • Graça Church and Convent
  • Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora
  • National Pantheon (Santa Engracia)
  • Military Museum (Museu Militar)
  • Fado Museum
Lisbon Cathedral (Santa Maria Maior)

1) Lisbon Cathedral (Santa Maria Maior)

The oldest church in the city, first constructed in 1147, Santa Maria Maior was built on the site of a Moorish mosque after the conquest of Lisbon by Christian forces under King Afonso Henriquez, during which time the relics of St. Vincent of Saragossa, the city's patron saint, were brought from Southern Portugal and placed here, still remaining unmoved.

After suffering 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, evident in the thick stone walls and fortress-like towers. This style is common with many Portuguese churches of the Christian conquest period, when they were used as military bases for launching attacks on enemy forces.

The Cathedral's interior is 'plain' compared to others you may see in different countries but still pretty impressive with its gothic arches and ceilings, plus sections of stained glass. Two noteworthy chapels are that of St. Ildefonso with a carved sculpture of one of the first Portuguese Ambassadors, Lopo Pacheco with a dog at his feet, and the chapel dedicated to Lisbon-born San Antonio de Padua. Archeological excavations in the courtyard have unearthed several objects from the Visigothic, Roman and Moorish periods.

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

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–7pm
Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa (Saint Anthony of Lisbon's Church)

2) Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa (Saint Anthony of Lisbon's Church)

The Church of Santo António is a Roman Catholic temple dedicated to Saint Anthony of Lisbon (also known as Saint Anthony of Padua). According to tradition, the church stands on the site where the saint was born, in 1195.

António, whose secular name was Fernando de Bulhões, came from a wealthy family. In 1220, while studying in Coimbra, he entered the Franciscan Order, adopting a new, clerical name. His missionary travels led him to Italy, where he eventually settled, in Padua. Due to his immense popularity, António was canonized less than a year after his death, in 1232.

The site of his family home, very close to Lisbon Cathedral, was turned into a small chapel in the 15th century. In the early 16th century it was totally rebuilt, though, leaving nothing to date of the original structure.

In 1730 the church was further modified and redecorated. During the 1755 Lisbon earthquake it was almost totally destroyed, with only the main chapel left standing. The church was fully rebuilt after 1767, in a Baroque-Rococo style, which the form we see it in today.

June 13 is officially Saint Anthony's day and is one of the "Popular Saint Festivities" celebrated in Lisbon. Ever since 1755, on this day, each year a procession, honoring of the saint, starts from the church, passing by the Cathedral, and then meandering down the slopes of Alfama neighborhood.

The church was classified as a National Monument in 1982, following a visit by Pope John Paul II. During the visit, the Pontiff inaugurated the statue of Saint Anthony outside the church, in the square, and prayed in the crypt, which marks the spot where the saint was born.

A small museum inside displays images and manuscripts related to the life of St Antonio – the patron of lost things – while also allowing visitors to view the gold and silverware belonging to the church.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Sao Jorge Castle

3) Sao 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. Its footprint is roughly square in shape and was originally encircled by a wall.

The complex consists of the castle proper ('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.

Restaurants, cafes, wine bar, ice cream stand, and public restrooms are available once inside. Peacocks live and run wild throughout, especially around one of the main dining areas. The food is more expensive in the castle walls than in areas outside, but not terribly expensive; you can also pack your own foods and beverages and walk around with open containers. €10 per adult; kids are free. A great activity for international guests!

Why You Should Visit:
The castle certainly offers commanding views of the entire city, can be a very peaceful place first thing in the morning, and a magical one at sunset. There is also a permanent exhibition worth looking at, as well as an excellent 'camera obscura' in one of the Moorish towers (shows every 20min with languages rotating between English/Portuguese/Spanish).

Walking to the site is very much uphill, but still a wonderful walk through the narrow streets of old Lisbon, and there are plenty of places to stop to eat. Alternatively, take the cable car #28 to admire the neighborhood with its cute and varied architecture (great photo ops!).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–6pm
Miradouro de Santa Luzia

4) Miradouro de Santa Luzia

The Miradouro de Santa Luzia is close to the Miradouro das Portas do Sol and has the same iconic vista over the tiled roofs and churches of Alfama and out over the Tagus estuary. While the point of view is a tad less advantageous, this is the cozier and more inviting place due to its beautiful garden laid out in several succeeding levels, azalea trees, ample seating arrangements (some protected by pergola-type roofing), and exciting wall panels, the traditional "azulejo" blue tiles.

One of the tiled panels portrays the milestone of the Portuguese history of "Reconquista" (freeing the Iberian peninsula from the Moorish occupancy) on the outside wall of the Santa Luzia church, while the second "azulejo" mural, that of the Praça do Comércio as it looked before the 1755 quake, is on the other, down the hill, boundary of the observation terrace.

There is a small café on the premises as well as restrooms (to find the latter, walk a few steps up the hill, corner the church, and take the steps down). Luckily, the Santa Luzia and Portas do Sol lookout points are spaced within a minute's stroll from each other, so there is no need to choose, as one can enjoy both during the same sightseeing walk.

Pay attention to the small market immediately on the left with various cork goods and textiles if you plan to buy something for souvenirs – with a little bargaining, the prices there are far better than other places.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol

5) Miradouro das Portas do Sol

The Largo das Portas do Sol street in Lisbon derives its name from the old Porta do Sol (Gate of the Sun), which is part of the city's old Moorish fortification existed prior to and ruined by the 1755 earthquake.

The Gate was adjacent to the Church of São Brás of the Order of Malta, now commonly referred to as Santa Luzia, whose bell tower was built upon the wall that runs along the Adiça to São Pedro, between two ancient towers. The wall of the Gate, destroyed in the earthquake, was to be incorporated into the Castle of São Jorge, next to the Gate of Dom Fradique.

In the middle of the 18th century, in one of the tombs inside the churchyard of São Brás, a large stone cannonball was found, fired by the Moors at the defenders of Lisbon, led by D. Afonso Henriques, during the city conquest.

From the Portas do Sol, among other points of interest, you can observe the Church of São Vicente de Fora, as well as the whole of Alfama neighborhood, extending all the way down to the Tagus River. The viewpoint itself is a balcony-like space. In 1949, a statue of São Vicente, by the sculptor Raul Xavier, was installed here.

For an ultimate fun experience, look for a flight of stairs and a WC sign. Go down the stairs and under an arch you will find a mural depicting Lisbon's history in a comic-book style. Nearby is the Museum of Portuguese Decorative Arts.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Miradouro da Graca

6) Miradouro da Graca (must see)

Although commonly referred to as Miradouro da Graça, the official name of this viewpoint is Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, given after a poetess who spent many a day admiring Lisbon from this spot. Her bust keeps doing that, while the lines from one of her poems adorn the nearby wall. Unlike many other viewpoints in Lisbon, attracting mostly the tourist lot, this one in the Graça neighborhood is equally popular a meeting spot with locals, and a sort of spiritual refuge for those seeking to rest at the on-site café offering refreshments and comfortable sitting in the shade of the church and the surrounding pine trees, generously complemented with the stunning view of the city down below, the Tagus river flowing in the background, with the sounds of bustling metropolis drowned in tranquility.

This viewpoint is often the finish line for those walking up the hill from Alfama and the Castle of Saint George. En route to the terrace, visitors pass by a small garden with a small fountain and a bronze sculpture. A series of steps leading up to the viewpoint are paved with traditional cobblestone designs.

With the castle seen to the left, over the years, this view has proven a magnet for artists who flocked here in droves, anxious to capture the history of Lisbon on canvas or paper. The undoubtedly key sight meeting an eye here is one of the city’s oldest churches, Igreja da Graça, originally built in 1271 and revamped in Baroque style following an earthquake in 1755.

Its interior decoration is rich in grisaille paintings and gilded woodwork. The centerpiece therein – the image of Christ carrying the cross – is traditionally taken to streets for an annual Easter procession since 1587. The adjoining convent served as military barracks throughout the 19th century, and was opened to the public only in 2017. It has an elegant cloister and an interior mixing marble and a series of 18th-century tile panels.
Graça Church and Convent

7) Graça Church and Convent

The Graça Church, one of the oldest in Lisbon, was built in 1271 and given to the hermits of Saint Augustine, albeit the present Baroque-style structure was constructed in the 18th century after the 1755 earthquake ruined the original structure.

Inside, you will get some initial impressions: an interesting painted ceiling, a (rather scary-looking) statue of São Tomás de Villanova, two ornate marble chairs placed in the sacristy, plus a few gilded Rococo-style sculptures in the chapels... But walk further on to the adjoining convent and you will find a white room with tiled walls from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries making up large historic scenes! There is no charge for any of the above-described, which is quite nice indeed.

Apart from the church, you have to come here for the fantastic views across Lisbon afforded by Graça's 'miraduro' – the highest lookout point in Lisbon. It may be a bit of a leg workout going up the hill to the romantic pine-shaded terrace, but well worth it in the end, especially if you find comfort in the little shops and markets scattered through the neighborhood.
Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora

8) Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora

Dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of Lisbon, this 17th-century monastery is among the best examples of late Renaissance architecture in Portugal, characterized by strong Mannerist tendencies. It also houses the last resting place of the monarchs of the House of Braganza, the dynasty that ruled Portugal for over 250 years – their Pantheon is one of the most beautiful, serene and evocative spaces in all of Lisbon.

The monastery is located around two cloisters with stunning 'azulejo' (or tile-covered) walls depicting a variety of historical and other scenes. The sacristy is exuberantly decorated with polychrome marble and painting, while the church's main altarpiece was crafted by one of the finest Portuguese sculptors, Machado de Castro, in Baroque style.

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 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 over Alfama district 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
National Pantheon (Santa Engracia)

9) National Pantheon (Santa Engracia)

A 16th-century church with a 20th-century dome and many famous personalities buried in its crypts, Santa Engrácia has been declared Portugal's National Pantheon; a fitting place for explorer Vasco da Gama's cenotaph as ships from around world moor on the quayside below. There is no wait for the €4 per person entry, and visitors can climb the steps to the rooftop terrace that affords commanding 360-degree views of Lisbon and the harbor.

Despite destructive collapse and countless financial struggles, Santa Engrácia was finally inaugurated in 1966. Royal architect, João Antunes prepared an ingenious design for it, never before attempted in Portugal: a centralized floorplan with a Greek cross shape and a square tower on each corner (the pinnacles were never completed), while the façades are undulated similar to Borromini's baroque designs. The main façade has an entrance hall (galilee) and three niches with statues, entrance being obtained through a beautiful baroque portal with the coat-of-arms of Portugal held by two angels.

As befitting a self-respecting church, inside you will find a magnificent 18th-century baroque organ that was brought from Lisbon Cathedral and, of course, the floor and walls are decorated with baroque, polychromed patterns of marble. On different floors, there are small wooden balconies where one has a good view of the massive hall below.

A flea market takes place on Saturday, so visiting on this day adds to the fun!

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm
Military Museum (Museu Militar)

10) Military Museum (Museu Militar)

People often forget that Portugal had an enormous global empire for almost six centuries and this museum – although showcasing strictly the military side of things, i.e. artillery, arms, uniforms and military art – does give a good overview of the not so distant past. Founded in 1851 on the site of a 16th-century shipyard, it has an outstanding collection of model artillery – the world's largest. Until the early 20th century, the building was, in fact, a manufacturing unit for weaponry.

Notable among the exhibits 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 WWI, and murals showing the historical voyage and discovery of the sea route to India. The 1st floor has many exhibits showing the services of the Portuguese as part of the WWI allied forces.

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 they have any familiarity with fencing or kendo.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm
Fado Museum

11) Fado Museum

If you have time, squeeze in a visit to the Museu do Fado, dedicated to the evolution of the form of music and the passion it evokes in Lisbon. Although another form of Fado is sung in the city of Coimbra, the Lisbon version – evolved in the 1840s from songs sung by sailors – is the earliest and most popular.

While not large, this museum has audiovisual shows, multilingual information panels and a large music archive, all of which will likely prepare you to experience some Fado while in Lisbon. The free headsets are a must and will give the history of the music while explaining the different guitars and sitars on display. Visitors can also purchase recordings from the museum shop and, during the weekends, enjoy live performances at the museum's small café (fee is included in the ticket).

After or before your visit, a walk through the charming/authentic surrounding area is highly recommended to get a snapshot of local life. Typical houses, some of which survived the 1775 earthquake, are still found nearby, along with old taverns and grocery shops, a renovated 13th-century fountain (Chafariz de Dentro), and laundry lines strung overhead.

If looking to get a good bite with your Fado, check out PARREIRINHA DE ALFAMA (Tue-Sun: 8pm–1am) or GUITARRAS DE LISBOA (Mon-Sat: 8pm–2am). For good food, good prices and good hospitality with no Fado singing, there are dozens of other options around: try RODA VIVA, O BECO, A MURALHA TASCA TIPICA LISBOA... or explore the offers at your own pace.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–6pm

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Travel Distance: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles
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