Exploring Alfama

Wearing a comfortable pair of shoes, take a self-guided tour through the historic and picturesque heart of Lisbon, as you wander the steep, and at times, narrow, maze-like cobblestone streets of the Alfama.  The walk, about 2 km or 1.24 miles, can be done in less than two hours with stops along the way to take in the sights and sounds and admire the views, but if you want to spend a little more some time in a museum or two, or stop for a coffee or glass of wine and a bite along the way, the walk could easily take a up the entire morning or an afternoon.

Largo-Sao-Vicente

You can begin your walk on Largo de São Vicente, in front of the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, founded in 1629.  The building’s façade is a mix of Gothic and Baroque styles, while the adjoining monastery with its beautiful cloisters and azulejos (tile panels), houses the largest collection of Baroque azulejo tiles under one roof.  The museum opens Tuesday-Sunday at 10:00 am.  

Leaving the monastery, cross the street and walk east down Campo de Santa Clara towards the park, the Jardim Botto Machado, across the street from the old Convento do Desagravo, now an elementry school.  On Tuesdays and Saturdays, from early morning to late afternoon, you can experience Lisbon’s original market, Feira da Ladra, (from the Portuguese ladro meaning a bug or flea, and not ladra, which means a women thief).  This gypsy flea market is though to have been around since the mid 13th-century.

From the Jardim Botto Machado, it’s only a few minutes walk to Portugal’s National Pantheon, the 17th-century Church of Santa Engrácia.  Rising above Alfama, the building houses the tombs of distinguished Portuguese figures, mostly presidents of the Republic, writers and poets, and is open Tuesday-Sunday at 10:00 am.  The tombs of the fado singer Amália Rodrigues and the football (soccer) player Eusébio are two of the most recent additions.  If you want, you can climb to the top of the dome for stunning views over the River Tejo and the city.  Tickets are 4€.

Continue on Campo de Santa Clara to Calçada Cascão and down to Rua Museu da Artilharia, where you will come to the Military Museum, Museu Militar de Lisboa, Lisbon’s oldest museum.  The building, with painted ceilings and ornate woodwork, has an excellent collection of swords, guns, uniforms, and cannons.  The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday beginning at 10:00 am.

Leaving the Military Museum, you continue down Rua do Jardim do Tabaco until you find the Fado Museum.  It’s housed in a pink building on your left at Largo do Chafariz de Dentro, 1 (in front of the new Cruise Ship Terminal).  Here you will learn the history of fado, its meaning, a combination of sorrow and longing, and the musical instruments used.  The museum is small, but offers you the opportunity to listen to all the different famous fadistas (fado singers) using the audio guides available.  Check for upcoming shows at: Fado On The Waterfront.  If you want to take a break, the coffee shop and restaurant are open Wednesday-Sunday.

From the Fado Museum, walk across the square and take the narrow street on your left.  Continue on a few minutes towards Largo de São Miguel, one of the quaintest squares of Alfama.  Its church, Igreja de São Miguel, dating from the 18th-century, boasts Mannerist and Baroque styles and has two bell towers, but unfortunately the church is closed most of the time, so you’ll probably won’t have the opportunity to visit its interior.

Continue around the back of the church and through Alfama’s alleys on Beco da Curvinhas and Rua Norberto de Araújo until you reach Largo das Portas do Sol, one of the most popular squares in Lisbon.  Here you’ll find probably the most photographed viewpoint in all of Lisbon.  You’ll definitely want to stop here for a few minutes to rest and look back out over the river area, the new the cruise ship terminal, Alfama’s colorful buildings and of course, the Pantheon.  On the corner between Largo de Santa Luzia and Largo das Portas do Sol, about 50 meters to the south, you’ll find another beautiful place offering amazing views over the Alfama neighborhood and the River Tejo.  Don’t miss out on the blue-and-white azulejos (tile panels), depicting the Terreiro do Paço, one of Lisbon’s most emblematic squares, and one of the largest in Europe, before the great earthquake of 1755.  

Now you can walk back to Largo das Portas do Sol, and then continue north on Rua de São Tomé,  were you’ll find a mural paying tribute to the fadista Amália Rodrigues, known as “Rainha do Fado” the Queen of Fado, a work of the Portuguese graffiti artist Vhils.

Castelo de São Jorge
View from Castelo de São Jorge

You can finish your morning or afternoon walking tour by hopping over to the Castelo de São Jorge, the castle of Saint George and its view out over the historic center of the city.

Contact Iberian Traveler – Maribel’s Guides to request a custom itinerary to explore the wonders of Portugal.

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