Much of Lisbon’s heritage is condensed into the wonderfully preserved sights of culturally rich and charming Alfama, where guests can notice some traces of both the Arabic influence and Lisbon’s fishing past. Alfama’s narrow alleys and small squares invite you to explore its hidden corners, unique fish smells, the sounds of Fado, and fresh laundry hanging out of the windows – all of these create a friendly local community of people, who, despite having a rather humble lodging by today’s standards, remain open-minded and shine with happiness. This guide is a compilation of the ten best things to do and see in Lisbon’s Alfama.
National Pantheon of Santa Engracia
Built in 1681, Santa Engracia is the National Pantheon, and has a huge central dome and a rooftop terrace from which a sweeping 360-degree panorama of Lisbon awaits for your pleasure. It took three centuries to complete the National Pantheon, which is featured in a baroque style and completed using white stone. Inside is a spacious area full of air, colorful marble carvings and memorial burials of many famous Portuguese artists and intellectuals. On top of the dome there is a 360-degree viewing platform that offers unbeatable views of the Tagus river, Lisbon port and Alfama, which will open up in its magnificent beauty under your feet.
Opening hours: May-Sep, Tue-Sun 10am-6pm; Oct-Apr, Tue-Sun 10am-5pm
Largo de Santa Clara, Lisbon, +351 218 854 820
Bica Do Sapato
Located right outside the Santa Apolonia train station, this gourmet restaurant can be found in the former port building. It features an ample and spacious venue and fantastic views of the Port of Cais da Pedra. Bica do Sapato is privileged with an open terrace, which is protected from the wind by glass walls that do not distract from enjoying the wonderful views of the River Tagus. This place has been trendy since its opening 15 years ago, because it provides a cool ambiance and an unconventional menu. The menu changes according to the season and new courses are introduced frequently. This place is atypical, since it provides a choice of dining settings, from the casual cafeteria, to a restaurant with immaculate settings and a sushi bar. Bica do Sapato is famous for its commitment to delivering the best quality, and members of staff are professional and friendly.
Price: fine dining
Opening hours: Mon 5pm-1am; Tue-Sat 12am-1am
Av. Infante D. Henrique, Armazém B, Cais da Pedra a Sta Apolónia, Lisbon, +351 218 810 320
The Fado Museum opened in 1998 and has incorporated items belonging to hundreds of people related to this wonderful and charming cultural tradition of fado music. The Fado Museum is a living testimony of passion and dedication that never stops, and has helped musicians, instrument manufacturers and researchers gain the exceptional esteem which the practice of fado enjoys today. The Fado Museum’s principal philosophical idea is to promote the rich art of fado through extensive collections of periodicals, posters, musical instruments, phonographs, costumes, medals and other artefacts. Thus, the museum has managed to create a whole fado universe with its own spirit and endless stories, which has been inspiring for many Portuguese music communities and the international audience.
Opening hours:Tue-Sun 10am-6pm
Largo do Chafariz de Dentro, Lisbon, +351 21 882 34 70
Foundation Jose Saramago
This unusual building with more than thousand spikes was inspired by the Venice palace. It was built in 1523 and features Manueline-style windows. The building was turned into a foundation dedicated in the name of José Saramago, a Nobel Prize-winning author, where a huge library is held and special literary events are executed. There is also an archaeological excavation on the ground floor, which presents items that date back to the Roman period and some unique pieces such as parts of Lisbon’s medieval wall. Also known as the Casa dos Bicos, the building was built in the 16th century, and is now an important cultural hub of Lisbon.
Opening hours: Tue-Sat 10am-6pm
Rua dos Bacalhoeiros, 10, Lisbon, +351 21 880 2040
The Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora
Bravely standing on one of the highest points in Alfama, the Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora features an immaculately white-washed exterior and tall towers with a rooftop terrace, from the top of which you can see the incredible skyline of Lisbon. Despite having many advantages the church rarely gets too crowded, as tourists get too busy with other sights. Sao Vicente Church is also worth visiting in order to explore its 100,000 piece collection of baroque tiles, which is acknowledged as the world’s largest. Inside is a spacious venue with an eerie vibe and a dark mausoleum, the burial place of the Bragança family dynasty.
Opening hours:Mon-Sat 8am-5pm; Sun 8am-12pm
Feira da Ladra
Feira da Ladra literally translates as the ‘thieves fair’, however vendors claim that no objects they bring for sale have ever been stolen. It is the oldest and the most vibrant flea market in Lisbon, and specializes in antiques and second hand items including flimsy books, ceramics, dusty glasses and coins, and it is also full of different ancient trinkets. Those with a lot of patience and a bit of luck will be rewarded with some hidden gems.
Opening hours: Tue 7am-2pm, Sat 7am-6pm
Campo de Santa Clara, Lisbon, +351 21 817 0800
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
The remodelled Miradouro da Senhora do Monte received its name because of the ancient chapel of Nossa Senhora do Monte, founded in 1147, hiding beside the viewpoint. This little viewing platform is one of the best venues for breathtaking panoramic views of Lisbon, and is the highest point in Alfama. Miradouro da Senhora do Monte boasts having a full angle of the city view, as well as overlooking the Sao Jorge Castle and districts such as Chiado and Baixa.
The National Tile Museum
One of Lisbon’s most unique sights, The National Tile Museum, has collected a few thousands azulejo tiles, and presents the history of the art of the ceramic tile and tells the story of how it became a cultural and national tradition in Portugal. The collection consists of decorative ceramic tiles of different ages and periods, from the 15th century to the end of the 19th century. The various halls of the museum house different types of tiles, featuring every type from geometric Moorish shapes to Renaissance and Gothic tiles. A visit to this museum will be a good opportunity to learn more about the history and cultural tradition of Portugal, as well as look at the chronology and the evolution of azulejo mastership.
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10am-6pm
Rua Madre de Deus, 4, Lisbon, +351 218 100 340
Se de Lisboa
Erected in the 12th century, Se Cathedral, also known as the Lisbon Cathedral, is the oldest church in Lisbon. It features details of the Romanesque and Gothic architecture styles, which make it look more like a wonderful castle. Despite being called Lisbon Cathedral, it cannot rival the Jeronimos Monastery in the beautiful art of its carving and exterior decoration, however it is an important Roman Catholic church for locals. At the back of the entrance is located the 14th-century cloisters, with Roman and Moorish findings from archaeological excavations. Upstairs you can find a treasury with a collection of precious stones and gems, borrowed from the 18th-century King José’s collection.
Opening hours: daily 9am-7pm
Largo da Se, Lisbon, +351 21 886 6752
Museum of Portuguese Decorative Arts
Located on site of the former 17th century Azurara Palace, the Museum of Portuguese Decorative Arts features numerous examples of decorative art from the period between the 15th to 19th centuries. The collection is comprised of locally and internationally acquired textiles, furniture, paintings, silverware, Chinese porcelain, Portuguese faience and azulejos. The museum is home to the Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva Foundation, which has collected a vast number of historical artefacts which still remember the noble spirit of their owners. Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva was a wealthy banker and an avid connoisseur of all things beautiful. In 1953 he donated the Azurara Palace and part of his private collection to the Portuguese State. In this way the Foundation, name after him, was created as a Museum-School with the aim of protecting and disseminating the Portuguese Decorative Arts and the handicrafts related to them. Today, besides the Museum, the Foundation has 18 Portuguese traditional Arts and Crafts Workshops that keep alive a very significant intangible heritage of savoir-faire and ensure a specialised intervention in the Portuguese heritage through the conservation and restoration laboratory. (You can visit the Arts and Crafts Workshops from Monday to Friday by appointment).
Opening hours: daily 10am-7pm
Largo das Portas do Sol, 2, Lisbon, +351 218 814 600