If you have been reading my blog since 2015, then you have probably seen how I rave about Lisbon, its pretty streets, and pastel houses. Do you want to know what’s the prettiest part of Lisbon?
The answer is Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district.
I was writing an itinerary post for Lisbon and I realized how I spent most of my time in Alfama. When you see the pictures, you won’t blame me. After all, it looks like a Wes Anderson movie backdrop.
A little insider tip for my website visitors – when it comes to Lisbon’s most amazing neighborhoods, Alfama is the more famous one but the one that’s next to it Graça is awesome too. Graça comes within the São Vicente district. Some maps of Alfama actually include the São Vicente district too.
So for the sake of this article, this list of things to do in Alfama also has a few from Graça.
The neighborhood of Alfama is situated between the medieval Castelo de São Jorge and the Tagus River. Castelo de São Jorge is also called St. George Castle and it overlooks Alfama.
Believe it or not, Alfama’s name originated from the Arabic language. The original word was “al-hamma” which is an Arabic word for the fountains or the baths.
The entire Lisbon city is built on steep hills and Alfama district is no exception. As a result, there are many viewpoints and lookout terraces which are called “miradouros” in Portuguese. (Porto in Portugal also has a lot of viewpoints)
The streets of Alfama are narrow and it feels like you are inside a labyrinth. Some of the streets also overlook the Tagus River and from some, you can see the top of São Jorge Castle.
The devastating earthquake of 1755 didn’t destroy most of Alfama and thankfully most of the historical landmarks, streets, and buildings still remain. As a result, in some places, you will feel like you have stepped into a time machine and gone back a few decades.
Things to do in Alfama Lisbon
Table of Contents
Follow Tram 28 Route
If you have seen photos of Lisbon or read even a few lines about this city, you probably already know about the tram 28. It is a historical tram and this particular line was created in 1914 so that the residents of Graça & Estrela could move to Baixa.
These historical yellow trams are tiny! There’s the place for barely 20 people and in peak months many more get shoved inside and they have to stand for the journey.
A lot of first-time visitors want to ride the historical tram 28. I did too back in 2016 but I gave up hope after seeing how long the queue was. It was easily going to take hours. The queue was even longer in 2023. Unless you can brave the long lines, you won’t be able to ride the tram 28.
Over the years, I have realized that it is a lot of fun to just follow the scenic route of Tram 28 as it moves around Alfama and São Vicente. After all, the beauty of the landscape gets even more awesome with the pop of color that the yellow tram brings.
The streets of Alfama and Graça are on steep hills and it is fun to see how these trams move slowly as they climb up the streets. So if you are going to walk in Alfama, then get ready to climb on these steep streets and enjoy the workout. Many are cobblestone streets so they tend to get slippery.
In order to see the best locations for the tram, get to Miradouro Portas do Sol belvedere, and walk up to Calçada de Santo André, and just after that is Graça.
Castelo de São Jorge
When you are in Lisboa, you will definitely see the medieval building of Castelo de São Jorge, it is high up on a hill in Santa Maria Maior at one end of Alfama. It was initially the center of Lisbon.
The only way to visit São Jorge Castle is to do it super early in the morning before the people start queueing up. The queues are painfully long! It is a good idea to eat something before you arrive here because of the climb.
Consider getting a Lisboa card if you are going to visit historical sites like this one and you can also use it on trams/buses.
São Jorge Castle is historical and the first fortification dates back to 2 BC. If you get past the long lines and go inside, you will notice 10 towers. The towers are connected with a wall, that divides the courtyard.
If you manage to beat the crowds and get inside, you will climb steps to reach on top of the wall and the towers for a panoramic view of Lisbon. It is an uninterrupted 360-degree view of Lisbon and the Tagus River.
The most famous tower is The Tower of Ulysses, which was earlier the location for the national archive – the Torre do Tombo.
Make sure you eat something before you head to Castelo de São Jorge because not only do you need to climb a lot inside but also just to reach the entry point of the castle.
Torre da Igreja do Castelo de São Jorge
Were you not able to get into São Jorge Castle? Don’t worry, walk a few steps and you will see a church with a bell tower along the castle walls. You can go up for a view and without the crowds.
“Torre da Igreja do Castelo de São Jorge” means “the tower of the church of St. George Castle” and it is exactly that. The entry fee for this is EUR 5, which also includes a drink of your choice – water, juice, white wine, champagne, and port wine.
There are spiral steps that go to the top and once you are up there, you will see a lovely view on all the sides. You can ring the bell too but be careful, it is loud.
Of course, the view from the actual São Jorge Castle is better, more panoramic and more open. But the view from Torre da Igreja do Castelo de São Jorge is almost as good except you have the frame of the tower window – which actually added a nice touch for my photos.
For the exact location on Google Maps, click here.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
This is perhaps the most famous spot in Alfama and it deserves all the hype. Miradouro das Portas do Sol is an elevated belvedere with stunning views of Alfama’s pastel-hued houses, and the Tagus River, and in the distance, one can also see the Monastery of são Vicente de Fora.
Unlike many other viewing terraces or miradouros, this is pretty spacious and you will get a spot to see the sunset next to the railing. The railing isn’t so high so the view feels uninterrupted like some of the other nearby viewpoints.
There is also a Portas do Sol cafe/bar with massive outdoor seating where we bought large Caipirinha cocktails for €7 per person and they were amazing. Of course, if you go in Alfama’s inner lanes then these cocktails are for €5 per person but here you are also paying for this stunning view.
We were here to catch the sunset and we didn’t leave until it was nighttime and it was a very fun-filled evening.
Miradouro de Santa Luzia
Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a part of the Church of Santa Luzia (Igreja de Santa Luzia), which dates back to the 17th century. No one actually visits this church here but they come here for the stunning views over Lisbon’s old quarters.
This viewing terrace is right under Portas do Sol but the experience is completely different. There are arches, pillars, and sitting spots next to each pillar with a slightly different view from each one.
This viewing terrace is covered with a green vine that was thriving here in the humid summer months. At one end of this boulevard is also a massive bougainvillea that was blooming with magenta flowers when I visited.
Arrive here just before the sunset, watch the colors change as the sun goes down, and after that, you can move up to Portas do Sol for a cocktail.
Sit in a Cafe on a Slanted Street with a view
There is a limit to how much you can walk, and move around for sightseeing. At some point, you have to sit and relax. At this point, I want to highlight the fun of slowing down in Alfama with a cup of coffee/tea or even a glass of wine.
Lisbon is built on steep hills and as a result, there are a lot of slated streets. The same is true with Alfama and the streets get even narrower here. Some of our best moments that were spent in Alfama were when my friend and I sat next to a window with a view of a slanted road with slow-moving red and yellow trams moving up and down these streets.
We often sat at a small Nepalese restaurant called Yak and Yeti. You can also sit at a nearby bar called Alter, but it was a bit expensive with just one table overlooking the street.
If you are looking for just a cafe where you can drink tea or coffee, with a bakery and breakfast options, then Copenhagen Coffee Lab in Alfama is for you. Right outside this cafe is the tram route.
Another awesome spot with a nice view is actually an ice cream & pizza shop – Insano Gelato e Pizza. Walk a little ahead and then there is another restaurant with a view – Salsa.
Miradouro da Graça
This is my favorite viewpoint in Lisboa and is a bit higher than the others. Unlike the other viewing terraces in Lisbon, this isn’t a crowded spot. From here you can also see the nearby Monastery of são Vicente de Fora much better than the others.
Just like Miradouro das Portas do Sol, there is also a cafe/bar on top with chairs next to the viewpoint. The view isn’t as uninterrupted as that from Portas do Sol but nonetheless, I liked this spot enough to climb 200-300 steps to see it twice.
For me, not just the actual viewpoint but the way to it was pretty beautiful. Yes, you have to climb a lot of steps but the breathtaking views along the way especially right before the sunset time make it worthwhile. There is a lot of street art and graffiti on the walls of the steps.
I must inform you that you can’t actually see the sun going down from this viewpoint because of the direction but the golden hour colors make it lovely nonetheless. If you want to see the sunset, then go to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte instead.
Sé de Lisboa
Sé de Lisboa is also called the Lisbon Cathedral. The full name is “Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa or Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary Major” in Portuguese or the Cathedral of Saint Mary Major in English.
Sé de Lisboa is the oldest church in Lisbon and was built in 1147 and is a protected national monument since 1910.
Over the last centuries, Sé de Lisboa has survived many earthquakes, the worst being the 1755 Lisbon earthquake that destroyed the main chapel of the cathedral. This cathedral has been modified and restored many times, which is why it is a mix of different architectural styles – Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical styles.
The entry fee for Sé de Lisboa is EUR 5 and if you decide to go inside, you will also see the artifacts. If you did get the Lisboa Card, then you still have to pay EUR 4 to get in.
To be honest, my style of traveling doesn’t include going inside every single church or iconic building unless there’s something really special inside. Instead, I like to enjoy how they look from the outside. So yes, you don’t need to go inside Sé de Lisboa but just appreciate the building from outside and that’s it.
Eat Pastel de Nata
After or before you visit Sé de Lisboa, go to the nearby bakery Pastelaria Santo António to enjoy the most famous snack of this city.
There isn’t a single guide for Lisbon or Portugal in general where I don’t mention Pastel de Nata. After all, this delicious snack is as famous (and iconic) as the Yellow Tram 28.
Quick intro, Pastel de Nata is a Portuguese egg tart that was created for the first time in a monastery in Lisbon and today it is a popular snack sold in every single bakery. This is one of the things that made me fall in love with Lisbon when I first visited in 2016.
So when you are in Alfama, visit Pastelaria Santo António, which is near Lisbon Cathedral – Sé de Lisboa. Even if you see a long line here in peak seasons, don’t be discouraged because the staff has a nice system and people keep moving faster.
Old Alfama Square & Chafariz de los Caballos
If you are going to walk around in Alfama, then one of the spots that you will surely cross is Old Alfama Square. It isn’t a massive square like the one at Rossio but a small one with restaurants all around and the Fado Museum on one side.
There is also a historical water tap called “Chafariz de Dentro ou dos Cavalos” which means “Fountain of Dentro or dos Cavalos” and is also marked as “Chafariz de los Caballos” on Google Maps. The water usually doesn’t run out from the taps anymore except in the mornings.
If you are a fan of the Azulejos – the ceramic Portuguese tiles that are everywhere on the buildings then you should also check out a shop that’s near the square – Azulejos de Fachada. Maybe you can buy something for your own house.
If you are hungry then get a table outside in one of the restaurants in the Old Alfama Square and enjoy the authentic Portuguese flavors.
If you are looking for an offbeat thing to do in Lisbon without crowds, then this is for you. If you don’t know this already, Fado is a traditional Portuguese blues music style and if you have any interest, then you will enjoy the Fado Museum.
Fado Museum has a pastel pink building which was earlier a former water elevatory station. Inside is a permanent exhibition on Fado with videos and documentaries about the Portuguese guitar, Fado music, and information about legendary singers like Celeste Rodrigues, Amália Rodrigues, and Manuel Rebello to name a few.
Sit on the armchair with earphones for an interactive experience. There is also a cafe inside.
The entrance to the Fado Museum is EUR 5 and you won’t spend more than 30 minutes inside. Use the audioguide to maximize your experience.
Dinner in Alfama with Fado Show
Now that you know about Fado music, it is time to actually enjoy it in real-time with wine.
There are many restaurants within Alfama where you can eat dinner, drink wine, and enjoy a live Fado Show. If you walk around Alfama and Graça in the evenings, you will find at least one if not more.
I will recommend a place where I actually went to eat – Santo André. I didn’t know there was going to be a Fado Show but just 30 minutes before the Fado start time, locals kept coming in and some were standing.
I ate prawns, and grilled octopus here. The food was decent and not expensive. The cocktails were for EUR 5, so we were pretty satisfied with everything here.
Apart from Santo André, a few more restaurants in Alfama / Graça with Fado performances are:
- Clube de Fado,
- Taverna D’El Rey (very expensive),
- A Baiuca,
- Duetos da Sé,
- Sr. Fado.
When in doubt walk on Rua de São Pedro and you are sure to find live Fado show in one of the many restaurants here.
Miradouro do Recolhimento from Chrildren’s Park near the Castle
I have seen many guides for Lisbon but almost no one talks about this place which is the best viewpoint of Lisbon and is free!
There’s a children play ground overlooking Alfama city and Tagus River. It is higher up than Portas do Sol much more open and viewing possibilities all around. This is right after São Jorge Castle and you will find it easily if you just walk around in this area.
There is a lovely play area here and the time I visited, lemon trees were fruiting. All around the park were lavender bushes.
There are benches near the play area where you can sit and admire the view. There is a hexagonal wooden frame too that is perhaps made just for Instagrammers because it makes a lovely photo frame.
The playground has closing hours too and one can find them on Google Maps too.
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
No matter which viewpoint you go to in Alfama, one building that stands out as you look at the view is the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, which actually means “Monastery of St. Vincent outside the walls” translated from Portuguese to English. This neighborhood is actually São Vicente but some segregations classify it as Alfama.
The monastery building is definitely stunning from the outside and also is one of the buildings that I say you should see the insides of.
If you are a fan of Azulos, you will love the museum inside this 17th-century monastery because you can see blue and white tile work that’s something that Portugal is famous for. Not only the tile work but the monastery also offers the other main thing that Lisbon is famous for – the views from the top.
Unlike some other attractions and historical buildings of Lisbon, the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora isn’t crowded. So if you weren’t able to visit Castelo de São Jorge, then you should consider including São Vicente de Fora Monastery in your itinerary.
The entry fee for the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora is EUR 5 in 2023 & 2024. You can visit the São Vicente Church without the entry fee but with the EUR 5 fee, you can visit the high altar and main areas of the Church. The royal pantheon of the Braganza monarchs of Portugal is situated in the São Vicente monastery.
Santo Estêvão Belvedere
I promise this is the last viewpoint on this list. Miradouro de Santo Estêvão is one of the quieter viewpoints as compared to Portas do Sol. You are a little closer to Rio Tejo (the Tagus River) as compared to the other viewpoints so it is a bit different.
Santo Estêvão Belvedere doesn’t have benches for you to sit on but the lack of crowds makes up for it. Sometimes a few street musicians play here, so you can experience something special if you are in luck.
This viewpoint is actually in front of a church – Igreja de Santo Estêvão where you can see some lovely tile work.
You have to take a staircase to reach Miradouro de Santo Estêvão with cute houses on each side. It is close to the Fado Museum, so you can do these two spots together in a day.
Walk on Rua dos Remédios
There are many pretty streets in Alfama’s maze of cobbled streets but there’s one that deserves a specific mention. Rua dos Remédios is a narrow street with steps in some places and is one of the oldest streets in Alfama.
It doesn’t have tram lines, and you can see the Tagus River at one end when you climb up on it. It is mostly a pedestrian street that’s lined with amazing restaurants and shops on each side.
There are arches on top at some spots. You can actually discover something new each time you walk on this narrow street and sometimes end up by mistake in someone’s courtyard.
Some other interesting streets to walk on are Escolas Gerais, Rua do Loureiro, Largo de São Estevão, and Beco da Bicha.
Night Walks & Streetfood in Alfama
Wondering how’s the nightlife in Alfama? To be honest, for nightlife, you should go to Bairro Alto or Pink Street. Stay in Alfama if you want to discover the beauty of this old district in the quiet of nighttime.
If you’d like to experience street food, then many sides of the streets come alive in Alfama as you walk from Portas do Sol to Graca direction.
These street-based restaurants open up at nighttime and get filled up by the locals. The early hours of the night in Alfama are buzzing because these streetfood restaurants play loud traditional music. But then suddenly everything quietens up before midnight when they close for the day.
Some of the best walks I had and photos that I clicked in Alfama were right after the sunset with the warm glow of the lamps.
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte is not technically in Alfama but is in the nearby district of São Vicente, it is close to Miradouro da Graça.
Because Miradouro da Senhora do Monte isn’t in the main historical Alfama, it doesn’t get as crowded as Portas do Sol or Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Also, it is higher and requires way more effort to reach here than the other viewpoints, that’s why not many people visit.
This is the largest lookout in Lisbon and you will get a wide view of the city. You will see the 25 de Abril Bridge over the Tagus River, Christo Rei, and Praça Martim Moniz much better from here than other lookouts. That’s why it is a good place to click loads of photos. There’s plenty of space to move around.
This is one of the few viewpoints where you can actually see the sunset and not just the sunrise. From Portas do Sol, Miradouro de Santa Luzia, or even Miradouro da Graça – you can’t actually see the sunset because of the direction. This one is open from all sides so is a good place to catch the sunset.
Tip: don’t include all the viewpoints in your visit because you will need to climb a lot and will hate me for suggesting them. In general, a lot of viewpoints are similar so just pick a few – ideally one for sunset and another general one.
Moreover, you don’t have to climb every single place yourself. Some visits require a tuk tuk so that you can just chill and enjoy the view without having to climb.
Feira da Ladra / Mercado de Santa Clara
Aren’t flea markets super fun? They give you an idea about the culture and you get to meet amazing people and possibly eat yummy street food. If you agree then you will love this one.
Mercado de Santa Clara has roots dating back to the 19th century and is a very old flea market in Lisbon. It was earlier situated near the Castelo de São Jorge but moved to its current location around Jardim Botto Machado in 1903.
It is also commonly called “feira da ladra” because a lot of stolen goods are sold here. It is held twice a week in Campo de Santa Clara in Alfama.
You can find antiques, handmade things, rugs, electronics, paintings, books, random house items, and even azulejos. Be ready to haggle a bit if you like something.
Feira da Ladra is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 09:00 to 18:00. In order to reach it, you have to walk uphill from the Santa Apolonia metro station.
The National Pantheon, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Santa Engracia Church are all nearby, so you can combine this trip with other places too.
Panteão Nacional or the National Pantheon is an impressive 17th-century building that was once of the Church of Saint Engracia. If you visit the Feira da Ladra, then this is just a short walk away and you will see the building from far away.
Here’s something funny, the construction of the building that has the Panteão Nacional began in the 16th century and ended in the 20th Century. So it took 400 years! Because of this, a famous Portuguese proverb emerged “Obras de Santa Engracia”, meaning work never finishes. I like that!
Whether you like the above story or not, the building should be visited since it is an iconic sight in Lisbon. It houses the tombs of some of the most famous people in Portugal – the heroes of the country.
If you decide to go inside the National Pantheon building, you can climb up to a higher level for panoramic views – a specialty of Lisbon if you haven’t already noticed.
Moreover, this isn’t one of the highly visited spots in Alfama so you can have some areas and viewpoints to yourself.
Where to stay in Alfama
I have said it already in my 2-day Lisbon itinerary post that you should definitely find a place to stay in Alfama for your trip. I did that also when I visited Lisbon in 2023 and I was on a street that had the tram lines, so the historical tram 28 went by my door every day.
Also, broaden your search to the nearby Graça district. Below are a few options that I recommend:
- Olissippo Castelo – Click here to book,
- WHome – CSA18 Premium Design Apartment – Click here to book,
- Costa do Castelo Terrace – Click here to book,
- Lisbon Gambori – Click Here to Book.
Final Thoughts about things to do in Alfama
This post for Alfama definitely has a lot of suggested things to do but I recommend you match your pace to the vibe of Alfama – slow. So relax, take things slow, and don’t try to climb every single viewpoint or waste time standing in long lines to enter every single historical building.