Are you new in Lisbon, visiting, or just on the hunt for a change of scenery? Maybe you are moving houses and considering exploring a new neighborhood. If that’s the case, sit tight! We will take you on a tour through one of the best districts. We are, of course, talking about Alfama. So are you ready for our Alfama neighbourhood guide? Let’s get to it.
One of the most characteristic districts in Portugal, Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood with breath-taking views, unique shops, and home to Fado, the traditional Portuguese music. Spread on the hill between the Tagus river and the emblematic São Jorge Castle, Alfama is a maze of narrow Medieval streets, small squares, and run-down yet charming historical buildings covered in azulejos – the traditional light blue ceramic tilework.
Dating as far back as 1150, Alfama was one of the very few neighborhoods in the area to survive the brutal 1755 earthquake thanks to its sturdy bedrock foundation.
Look no further if you are down to experience an exciting yet slow-paced neighborhood with plenty of tucked-away secret spots, traditional cafés, and photo-perfect miradouros. This article will guide you through the ins and outs of making this beautiful neighborhood your home. We will cover everything—from what to do on a Saturday night to where to stay/apartment hunt to we got you.
How to Get Around
Because Alfama is a maze of steep hills and narrow lanes, transport options are limited. The best way to get around this neighborhood is by walking. A popular walking route is to follow the tram route from Baixa to Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Another favorite route is to exit from the Santa Apolónia metro station and climb the steep streets up to the castle. Be sure to take the number 28 tram at least once as well.
Another unique way to get around Alfama is by tuk-tuk! Tuks-tuks are perfect for navigating the narrow, undulating streets and make for an exciting and fun way to experience the city.
Things to do in Alfama
A lovely destination for short and long-term visitors alike, Alfama is one of the bests spots in Portugal to wander around and indulge your senses. Even better, some of the best experiences available in this dreamy old town are free. Here are a couple of things that you should do if you are staying in or around Alfama.
Visit the Fado Museum
A UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, Fado became a bit more tangible in 1998, when the Fado Museum opened its doors in the heart of Alfama. Get to know the collections donated by hundreds of singers, lyricists, musicians, composers, instrument makers, researchers, and aficionados who converged here to share a bit of their story.
Walk-Up São Jorge Castle
One of the city’s symbols, the ancient São Jorge castle, dates back to the fifth century and has been embellished and cherished throughout the eras. The walk up the castle is a lovely experience in itself, offering infinite opportunities to stop to take in the view and maybe some pictures—not to mention it’s good cardio! The best scenic route starts at Beco Dos Froís, and it is easy to follow. Once you arrive at the summit, you’ll be able to visit the castle (admission is €8.5) and observe an even more breath-taking view! There’s also a small quiosque for a scenic pit stop for food and drinks.
Stop At the Miradouro de Santa Luzia
Miradouro de Santa Luzia has a privileged view over Alfama and an even better over the Tagus river. Stop and admire the stunning azulejo murals, which have survived the test of time. One of them represents Terreiro do Paço before the 1755 earthquake. Another, the Christian attack on São Jorge Castle, very close to the lookout. The miradouro is free and open 24 hours, so why not buy a bottle of wine and enjoy an epic sunset before heading out on the town.
Hop on Tram 28
Connecting Martim Moniz with Campo Ourique, Tram 28 offers a delightful alternative to expensive hop-on-hop-off tours. For €2.90, you will be able to take a ride across Alfama on the most traditional means of transportation you could find in Portugal: the yellow tramway. This route will take you through a maze of narrow alleys, giving you a peek into the most authentic areas in the city.
Visit the Sé Cathedral & Church of Santo António de Lisboa
When the construction of Lisbon’s main cathedral, the Sé, first began in the 12th century, it symbolized the conquest of Lisbon (which was previously under Moorish rule) by the Christians. It is the OLDEST church in the city. Surprisingly, it has survived several natural disasters, like the great earthquake of 1755, which left part of the structure in ruins, which were later rebuilt. Today, the medieval façade is still intact, with a mixture of Romanesque, Baroque, and Gothic elements throughout the rest of the building.
In the sacristy is the cathedral treasury with numerous sacred objects, the most important being the casket containing the remains of St. Vincent, the official patron saint of Lisbon. Please note that you need to pay to enter to see the treasury.
Next to the Sé Cathedral is the Church of Santo António de Lisboa, which stands over the place where St. Anthony was born. Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things. So if you are a Catholic and lost something that needs finding, he’s your guy.
Enjoy a Drink at Memmo Alfama Red Pool Rooftop
Conveniently located a stone’s throw from the Lisbon Cathedral, this exclusive hotel with an outstanding view opens its doors to visitors willing to sip on delicious drinks on their rooftop terrace. Although the beautiful red pool is reserved for hotel guests, the surrounding area still provides visitors the perfect spot to soak in the ambiance and enjoy the view. A night in this high-end hotel will cost you around €100.
Shopping in Alfama
Much of Portugal’s charm comes from its unique aesthetics. Lisbon, in particular, is characterized by its pastel tone buildings and sophisticated azulejos patterns mixed and matched with modern-design shops and restaurants. And we shouldn’t fail to mention the amazing balconies locals love to decorate with plants and flowers.
With so much beauty, being tempted to keep a piece of Lisbon with you always is only natural. Luckily, Alfama boasts some of Lisbon’s best open-air market and craft shops.
Feira Da Ladra
Held on Tuesdays and Saturdays nearby the beautiful Botto Machado garden, this small yet eventful street market owes its name (thieves market) to its inglorious past. This spot was mainly dedicated to trading stolen items in its early days. Nonetheless, the market has been a Lisbon staple since the Middle Ages—making it the oldest one in Portugal. And it’s still going strong. Here you will find all sorts of crafts, furniture, rare finds, old records, and memorabilia. Whether you are actively looking to buy or are just down for its experience, the Feira Da La Ladra is worth visiting.
Alfama Shop – O Passeio da Dona Sardinha e do Senhor Bacalhau
Look no further if you are on the lookout for a quirky souvenir. O Passeio da Dona Sardinha e do Senhor Bacalhau is a local souvenir, arts, and crafts shop boasting traditional Portuguese clothing and miscellaneous decor such as the emblematic Portuguese sardinha. This is a family-run shop mostly selling products they have crafted themselves. So bonus points for supporting mom-and-pop businesses!
Alfama Best Restaurants
The perfect neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without offering a broad choice of affordable cafés and delicious restaurants. Below, we have highlighted a few of our favorite spots.
Restaurante Farol de Santa Luzia
Address: Largo do Chafariz de Dentro 1, 1100-172 Lisboa, Portugal
Type of food: Portuguese food | seafood
Open in 1973, this restaurant is a must-visit for fish and seafood lovers, offering a twist on classic dishes such as mexilhão de cebolada e pimentos (mussels with peppers in a tomato sauce) and lombo de bacalhau à lagareiro (grilled salted cod fillet with baked potatoes). If you’re in a group, try sharing the cataplana de peixes, a fish stew cooked in a traditional copper pan that will have you fighting over the final spoonful.
A Travessa do Fado
Address: Largo do Chafariz de Dentro 1, 1100-172 Lisboa, Portugal
Type of food: Portuguese food
As the name suggests, this quintessentially Portuguese restaurant is conveniently located by the Fado Museum. Along with its 12-hour petisco (local snack) menu, A Travessa do Fado hosts live fado performances several nights a week. This restaurant is ideal if you’d like to immerse yourself in local culture and is an affordable yet refined location. Among the menu highlights, you’ll find tasty appetizers such as peixiños da horta (deep-fried green beans in wheat flour batter) and more substantial dishes like bochecas de bacalhau (cod cheeks with caper and lemon butter).
Princesa do Castelo
Address: Rua do Salvador 64A, 1100-466 Lisboa, Portugal
Type of food: vegetarian/vegan, oriental-influence
Diners can head up the hill towards São Jorge castle to this popular veggie hangout where everything is homemade, with much of the food imbued with a distinctly exotic flavor (chef Nandan Bhoopalam hails from the Indian subcontinent). Despite its meat-free credentials, this restaurant is a big hit for any foodie, offering a wide variety of dishes that draw on Oriental influences. However, its menu changes almost every week, so follow the restaurant on Facebook to know what’s available.
Location: R. do Vigário 70B, 1100-616 Lisboa
Type of food: modern Portuguese
Boi-cavalo is a casual contemporary restaurant featuring modern Portuguese food. The restaurant has an a la carte menu, with frequently changing dishes depending on the year and produce availability. Boi-Cavalo also strives to work with sustainable, low-impact producers and purveyors. They also have a great selection of wines, including natural wines that they source primarily from small producers. Like their dishes, their wine selection changes almost weekly.
Alfama’s Best Coffee Shops
With its terraces and amazing views of the city, Alfama is a great spot to enjoy some downtime and a cup of coffee. Sharing a mid-morning or afternoon snack is an integral part of Portuguese culture that you are likely to see people taking advantage of the many cafés and pastry shops all week round. Among them, we have highlighted two of our favorites.
Pasteleria Alfama Doce
Location: R. Regueira, 39 E 39A, Lisboa 1100-435 Portugal
Located in a typical Alfama alley, Alfama Doce is a tiny pastry and coffee shop giving off a traditional low-key Portuguese vibe. The unpretentious atmosphere of the place and the friendly staff add to the experience of tasting quality coffee and a wide range of salty and sweet pastries available at very reasonable prices.
Insider tip: some consider Alfama Doce the best spot to taste pasteis de nata, Lisbon’s beloved custard tart, and a must-try treat.
Location: Rua do Salvador 32, 1100-465 Lisboa, Portugal
Part of a very old building Quase Café is the ultimate brunch destination for locals and visitors alike. It’s a cozy hipster-inspired coffee house filled with comfy couches, cushions, and quirky wall art. When it is nice outside, you can even sit on the patio to enjoy your coffee or hot chocolate. The somewhat British-inspired brunch menu features fluffy pancakes, O.J., eggs, and avocado on toast, among other options.
Plan Your Vacation: Where To Stay in Alfama
As they become wiser to the charm of this old neighborhood, more and more tourists are choosing Alfama as their home base when visiting beautiful Lisbon. From more affordable youth hostels such as Home Lisbon Hostel to upper-market apartment suites available at Alfama Terrace, you will find lots of options to spend the vacation of your dreams!
Nonetheless, chances are that —if you are considering Alfama of all places—you will be looking for an authentic experience and willing to mix up with the locals. If this is you, you might benefit from the many homestays listed on this FB group or Idealista.
Moving to Alfama: Is it Expensive?
Over the past decade, the Portuguese housing market has been subject to unprecedented fluctuations in price. With more and more foreigners choosing to call the beautiful city of Lisbon home, rent cost has skyrocketed. The past couple of years has seen rent become more affordable as tourism has been incredibly affected by COVID-19 restrictions.
Luckily, some landlords have decided to keep their prices down even as restrictions eased. As a result, apartment hunting in Alfama these days can turn into a bit of a quest with different possible outcomes. Overall, a room in a shared apartment will cost you around € 350-500, while a T0 (studio apartment) and T1 (one bedroom) will fall anywhere between € 700-1200 a month.
Although the hill offers some of the most beautiful views of the city, our advice is to stick to the Santa Apolonia area when it comes to apartment hunting. A few minutes walk from this metro and train station; you will find several becos (narrow lanes) conveniently located yet slightly tucked away from the high-traffic zone.
Although much like the rest of Lisbon, Alfama is no longer as affordable as it once was, the prices are offset by the accessible cost of food and leisure activities – especially when you compare it with other big European cities.
Living in Alfama: Things to Consider
Whether it is for a quick visit or the long term, living in Alfama is something we’d highly recommend. Nonetheless, there are a few things you might want to consider.
Being old town Lisbon, Alfama doesn’t present itself with a wide variety of brand new apartments. While we can’t deny the charm of old buildings, living in one might not suit everyone. Alfama’s homes tend to be a bit damp and have very thin walls, a downside for both temperature and noise control. Moreover, with locals and tourists taking advantage of everything this beautiful area offers, you might end up living off a busy street—or even find your balcony gets frequent visits from the squeaky and clattering Tram 28!
Another thing to consider is whether or not you have (or are planning to buy) a car. The narrow winding streets of Alfama make it almost impossible to find a parking space near your apartment—unless you have one in your building, which is rare. Some streets are only accessible for residents, but it might take you a while to get the correct permissions to park on those specific streets.
Safety-wise, Alfama is much better these days than it used to. While Lisbon overall keeps ranking high on the list of the safest cities in the world, looking after your belongings is always a good rule of thumb. Violent crime is a rare occurrence in Alfama, but pickpockets tend to operate here and there, particularly around Martim Moniz station and Tram 28.
Street lighting in the neighborhood is not always ideal, so if this is a big concern, you might want to stay away from the less well-lit Northern side of Alfama (bordering with Mouraria) and check listing closer to the Feira da Ladra/Miradouro da Graça area.
All in all, the advantages of living here outweigh the cons. Still, for the sake of full disclosure, it’s best to lay the truth out there.
Alfama Neighbourhood Guide: The Bottom Line
With its lovely vibe, entertainment option, and incredible beauty, Alfama is bound to be a forever-cherished Lisbon neighborhood. If you consider staying or moving here, you should pay a visit!