Explore the oldest part of Lisbon and probably the most iconic. Alfama goes back to the time of the Visigoth and was one of the few places in Lisbon to survive mostly undamaged by the earthquake of 1755.
Made of a maze of narrow streets, tall buildings, and great viewpoints, walking this self-guided tour, you will discover the soul of Lisbon.
A little of history about Alfama:
Lisbon, like most of the Iberian Peninsula, was occupied by the Moorish from 711 to 1147. The occupation of Lisbon ended when Dom Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, and its army seized the fortified Alfama for three months. During the Moorish occupation period, many influences became natural to the Portuguese people. A good example is in the language: the name Alfama originates from Arabic and means “Spring of Hot Water”. Most of the names that start in “Al”, originates from the Moorish occupation.
A curiosity: until these days Portuguese people still say “Oxalá” when they hope that something happens. This word originates from Arabic, meaning “May Ala allow it”. Although you may think that the Portuguese people saying this prayer are Mouculmans, most of the Portuguese people are Catholic. We just say it, because it has become part of our vocabulary.
Alfama Walking tour map:
This tour starts in Portas do Sol. An amazing viewpoint and a great starting place to begin your discovery of Alfama.
To get there, our recommended option is to take the tram 12 from Martim Moniz and leave directly on Portas do Sol square. It’s a great way to start your tour, very scenic and it is the most traditional way to get to the upper part of Alfama.
Another option is to take the elevators from the Rua dos Fanqueiros. Although this is free, you will need to navigate from inside buildings and it can be a bit complicated. For those who may want:
This option is divided into two separate elevators. Take the first elevator from the Rua dos Fanqueiros 176 and it will take you to the upper street. When you leave the elevator, turn left and locate a Pingo Doce supermarket, and it is there that you will find the second elevator. When you leave the second elevator, turn right and follow the signs that say “Castelo”. It is a ten minutes walk uphill but at least it is free.
Alfama Walking Tour steps:
São Jorge Castle Gate
After you are done enjoying the views of Portas do Sol, just locate the signs that point to the castle.
When you get to the São Jorge Castle, you will discover an almost perfectly preserved castle from medieval times. But that is not true. The São Jorge Castle was recovered in 1940 because it was basically in ruins.
Ticket prices for 2021: Adult 10 euros and it is free for children under 13 years.
But between 13 and 25 the ticket price is 5 euros.
Either option we recommend paying an extra 2,50 euros and you will be granted a guided tour. This is great because the castle has a great history and many hidden corners with interesting and romantic tales.
You can buy your ticket in advance and escape lines here:
Miradouro de São Jorge viewpoint
After the ticket office, you will see the Viewpoint inside the Castle. Before going in more, stop here for a moment and observe the view.
You will notice that the Castle was built there, because of the clear line of sight of the entrance of the river Tagus, the harbor, and the city.
And while you are here, look down to the bottom of the hill of Alfama and imagine you are a Moorish Soldier, watching the Portuguese army at the bottom prepare their siege. It should be easy because of all those medieval cannons aiming at Lisbon, around the viewpoint.
São Jorge castle
Built by the Moors in the 11th Century to maintain their occupancy of Lisbon, it was originally built on a settlement in the 1st century BC, yes… BC. It was rebuilt by many forces ever since. And even today, it is still possible to find remaining structures from the Visigoths and the Romans here.
One of the several legends from this castle goes back to the reconquest of the Portuguese army in 1147, the Knight Martim Moniz, who had an important role in the siege, noticed that one of the smaller gates of the castle was still not fully closed and used his own body to prevent them to completely close, giving his life to allow the conquest of the castle and the final victory of his brothers in arms.
You can still find this door on the castle with the name Porta de Martim Moniz.
Torre da Igreja do Castelo
After leaving the main castle, wander the streets inside the walls and look for the sign of the Igreja (church).
On the Igreja do Castelo, in which the children of the kings were baptized, you will find the highest tower in old Lisbon. Although you need to pay 2,50 euros for the entrance and if you are feeling up to it, you can climb the stairs, which has about 50 steps, and view the city from Inside this church you will see the exhibition “Há Vida no Bairro do Castelo”, which shows the full history of Alfama, as one of the most typical neighborhoods in the city
Jardim Júlio de Castilho
On leaving the Castle, walk the street that goes downhill and you will reach Largo Santa Luzia.
On this square, you will see a church and go around it. There you will find the Jardim Júlio de Castilho. A beautiful garden with an amazing viewpoint over Alfama.
Have a sit on this garden, take a rest of the walk on the Castle and observe the old tiles on the back of the street, that represents the conquest of Lisbon by Dom Afonso Henriques and how the Praça do Comércio was, before 1755 earthquake, that destroyed most of the downtown Lisbon.
Museum and School of Portuguese Decorative Arts
The next stop on your tour is the Museu de Artes Decorativas Portuguesas (Museum of the Decorative Portuguese Arts). From the Jardim Júlio de Castilho go back to the street and turn right. Walk up a couple of minutes and you will again reach the Miradouro das Portas do Sol.
On the back of this square, you will see the Museu De Artes Decorativas Portuguesas. In this museum, you will have the opportunity to walk inside of an example of a noble family home. Filled with wonderful pieces of art and extremely expensive decorative pieces, the immense house is filled with amazing art and decor. You will feel like you were a noble back then… or at least a guest in a rich aristocratic house.
When you leave the museum, on the right corner of the building, you will see stairs on the other side of the street.
Just walk down and keep going down when in doubt that you are in the right way. Like this, you will be able to enjoy the real Alfama until the next stop.
If you see a Tasca (Portuguese name for a small restaurant with almost no tables) sit on the esplanade and enjoy a sangria until you are ready to continue your walk.
During your walk, you will notice that the streets are very narrow and the building very high. This is an influence of the Morrish, who designed the streets this way to keep the heat of the sun away from the residents.
Your last stop on this tour is the Fado Museum. A museum dedicated to the Soul of Lisbon. Opened in 1998 as the Fado Museum, it the former building of the Station of Water Pumping to Alfama, that was built in 1868.
Here you will experience what fado is meant to be, how it started, and how it is played. We could try to describe this Intangible Cultural Heritage recognized by Unesco, but the most famous and eternal singer of fado, Amalia Rodrigues, once said:
|O fado sente-se,não se compreende,nem se explica.- Amália Rodrigues||Fado is felt,It is not understood,nor is it explained.- Amália Rodrigues|
In an attempt to explain fado, it is a popular form of singing that originated in the Lisbon working-class, centuries ago. The songs of fado are about nostalgia, loss, and “Saudade“, the Portuguese word of missing something and needing something at the same time, to be able to continue living.
It is a gender of music that calls out your inner emotional being to make peace with the fate that was given.
Take a listen to an excellent example of Fado:
But some modern artists can give a happy feeling to this gender and still keep the fado soulÇ
If you like this self-guided Alfama Walking Tour, take a look at our other self-guided tours in Lisbon:
Alfama Self guided Walking tour
Baixa Self guided walking tour