Lisbon neighborhoods, Lisbon
The Alfama is Lisbon's oldest district and consequently one of the city's most appealing neighbourhoods. Roughly enclosed by Rua da Madalena to the west, the Castelo to the north, the Panteão Nacional to the east and the river to the south, the area is a maze of alleys, streets, passageways and stairs. Therefore the best way to discover the Alfama is by foot - you won't come far in a car anyway as all but the biggest streets have restricted access. The Alfama has a Mediterranean atmosphere, but with a distinctive Portuguese touch, namely the ubiquitous azulejos (tiles). They can be found pretty much everywhere, be it on the walls of a dilapidated building or on display in a souvenir shop. Apart from that, the Alfama is a mixture of a tourist site and residential area. Most of the houses are inhabited by Portuguese people, there are no big hotels. A few apartments or pensions can be found, as can be shops and restaurants as well as Fado bars. Still, the district feels ungentrified. Moreover, despite the masses of tourists in Lisbon, huge parts of the Alfama remain almost untouched by them. It's the usual thing: Joe and Jane Average-Tourist won't stroll from the beaten path - so this is something that you should do. Another aspect of the Alfama are the electricos, the way-too-old looking trams that rattle up and down the hills. Line 28 zigzags through the Alfama and is very popular with tourists. I literally haven't seen a single empty tram of this line. Find out more about the electricos here. In my opinion, the Alfama is a great place to start your visit to Lisbon. Let yourself drift through this maze and discover this lovely part of Portugal's capital in your own pace.
Well, you should walk as much as you possibly can all over Lisbon, of course. You'll see much more that way.
I've chosen Alfama because it's the district I was determined to explore on my first visit to Lisbon, and the first place I wandered on my second. It's the oldest part of the city, less damaged by the 1755 earthquake than other parts because it was protected by the huge lump of rock on which the castle sits and on the slopes of which Alfama was built.
In Moorish times this was a sought-after, 'upmarket' part of the city, and that's where its name comes from. Originally it was probably 'Al-hamma' (meaning 'place of the baths'...I wonder if the excavations behind the Se have any link with that?) or, possibly, 'al famm' meaning 'mouth' (as in mouth of the river Tejo).
Now it's a rabbit warren of tiny alleyways and narrow streets, staircases and courtyards built on the steep slopes of the hillside. Washing hands out to dry, tiny gardens are cared for, pot plants stand on windowsills and people live their everyday lives.
We wondered as we wandered....where exactly were the several caged birds we could hear singing? How did older residents cope once their legs began to give out? What was it actually like to live in a place where, in order to go pretty much anywhere else, you must always go up or down? Where were the shops for everyday items (we found a few, but not many)? Did all the residents walk down or up to tram or bus for their daily shopping? And where we saw buildings which had clearly been renovated and restored with the aim of renting or selling to the wealthier citizens of Lisbon: where would they park their inevitable cars?
Wandering Alfama isn't 'dangerous', as some out-of-date guidebooks and websites will tell you. It might be iffy in the early hours of the morning, but the same can be said for anywhere in the world. In the daytime the only unease I have ever felt has come from my own feelings of guilt at wandering an area and looking at it rather as if its residents were in a zoo. That feeling was compounded on this visit when a Segway tour pootled past us. Somehow, Alfama with Segways doesn't seem quite right.
There's a a fair amount of renovation going on (becoming a World Heritage site brings in the money...) but there's also still a great deal of dilapidation. It's obvious that this was once a poor district where people struggled hard to get by....and many are probably still struggling hard.
Spend a couple of hours wandering its maze of streets, look out for the occasional azulejos panel, fountain, public laundry, ancient doorway..... stop for a coffee and pastry if you find somewhere to do so..... go inside the churches if they are open (they've never been open when I've visited). You'll get a sense of what once was and that, for me, is one of the most important parts of visiting any settlement anywhere. It is only by knowing the past that we can begin to understand the present.
For long neglected, this typical quarter, by the castle, is one of the most central and accessible. Without great touristy attractions, the quarter is being recovered and cleaned, and it is today a good option to descend from the castle.
Rua do Capelão is a narrow street commonly mentioned in Fado, because it was the residence of Severa, the first great reference of Fado, only surpassed by Amália many years later.
Fado is still present in several small taverns in the area.
Old neighborhoods’ labyrinth of streets is where you can find Lisbon’s soul. Alfama, Mouraria are two of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon in which you can still find Moorish inheritance. Here the Fado was born and here it is sung every day. Here the new and the old collide: rehabilitated houses and old houses which will make you think that they will fall in a near future (though they survived an earthquake).
Here you’ll get lost and find some of the cities hidden treasures: tiles, viewing points, street art
and an atmosphere that feels lost in time, specially due to the lack of cars and the elderly inhabitants.
So, if you want to find the old Lisbon that hasn’t changed and feel the stories that it has to tell get lost in the Castel hill, you never know what you’ll find.
Príncipe Real is full of contrasts. The buildings are majorly old and traditional and the Príncipe Real garden has the oldest tree of Lisbon but at the same time new stores with new concepts are flourishing every day.
In Príncipe Real you can appreciate the architecture of old buildings recently restored, walk in the gardens and in Saturday morning shop in a Biological Products Market or eat some sweets, brunch or pizzas in the hip and new restaurants in the zone (Poison d’Amour or Pizza a Pezzi).
There are also some perpendicular steep narrow streets worth a look if your legs are up to it !
This place is perfect to see by foot as by bus or car can be quite chaotic. To reach it you can use subway (yellow line stop Rato) or Gloria’s lift.
Although not in a period of explendor Av. da Liberdade is still one of the main avenues. It started by being in the XVIII century and after the earthquake as the main garden of the city, the place for the elite to come and walk around.
In 1821 the gates were wide open and everybody started using this big green space of the city centre.
From 1879 to 82 the garden the avenue that can be seen today was open in the area of the public garden.
The city hall has some plans to that area but they are still on the drawer. However it's in this avenue that many of the hotels are situated. There are some good stores (including many international brands like Prada), a tourist office in Restauradores, some quiosks open day and night, a great statue of Marques the Pombal at the Rotunda and a memorial to the war heroes of the first world war. The avenue is very noisy and a bit polluted and at night there are some people sleeping around but is still a place to go and in the top 40 most expensive avenues in the world. The Lisbon colliseum is near and it's a place where many concerts are held.
Lisbon has no beach but it is served by several beaches less than one hour distant by public transportation, suitable for all tastes (if you accept cold water):
Big surf with secluded beaches in Guincho (wild), Praia Grande (Sintra), Praia das Maçãs, or across the river in Caparica (long coast with several beaches)
Low surf in Estoril’s coast with evidence to Cascais, Estoril, Oeiras and Carcavelos (the largest).
Going a little further, Ericeira in the north, and Sesimbra or Arrábida south, merge an interesting visit to their beach facilities. And going even further there’s… Portugal.
Lisbon's main attraction lies in its ability to charm people with its cute neighborhoods. It is easy to get lost in the Baixa areas and the old buildings ooze charm and ambiance. They make for some great photos and all the mom and pop shops are very cute to shop in and say hello. The people are super friendly and the prices in the wee shops are dramatically lower than the shops on the more popular city streets.
The Alfama district is made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches and whitewashed houses. It's an extremely interesting and picturesque place to explore on foot. The area also has many breathtaking views of the city.
The Alfama area of Lisbon is its oldest area. It is located on a hill with the castle of St George at the top. This is a lovely area filled with winding streets, colourful houses, tiled houses, cafes, churches, lookout points with great views. A wonderful area to explore either on foot or on the number 28 tram.
Alfama, taken from the Arabic al-hamma or the baths, is the mediaeval section of the Portuguese capital. It was originally the section in which Muslims lived when the country was under Islamic rule, but since the expulsion of the Moors in the 12th century, it has simply been the heart of the city under the protection of the Castelo do São Jorge. The presence of many old buildings and the weaving, confusing streets leads me to believe that this section of Lisbon was not nearly as badly destroyed as Baixa, as it didn’t succumb to the plans of the Marquês do Pombal following the devastating earthquake of 1755. Today, the areas of Alfama that are closest to the Castle and those that are along the picturesque Miradouros are the best preserved and most likely to be renovated. In other parts of the neighbourhood, however, you are likely to find run-down houses, where the poor and immigrants have found affordable accommodation close to the city centre and where there is no end of traditional, cheap restaurants to satisfy your craving for real Portuguese cuisine.
This area is home to the Castelo San Jorge and Se cathedral. It is also an absolute joy to lose yourself and just wander for a few hours. Compact houses line steep streets and stairways, with laundry hanging everywhere.
I had this idea of biking through Portugal in the middle of August - which some may call it corageous - and thanks to the excellent service provided by Bikeiberia I realised it. The staff were friendly, eager to give information, and prices were cheap. Although fortunately we didn't need to, having their contact numbers and knowing they would have come by van to our rescue was enough to make us feel safe. Said all of this, be careful when you travel North of Lisbon in Extremadura, the paths are quite hilly. But this makes for wonderful views when you travel along the coast. Enjoy!
Bairro Alto. This is a neighborhood of Lisbon you cannot afford to miss. It is an astonishing area of the city, quirky, bohemian and idiosyncratic. In terms of its place in time, stepping into its sonorous but bewildering mazes of endlessly winding streets, the visitor is incomprehensibly thrown into a realization that he/she is suddenly deposited at a place somewhere not quite detached from the medieval times.
Okay, there are likewise a constant reminder of the current times - a trendy cafe, a fashionable boutique here and there, a gleaming restaurant with outdoor seating under a billowing white umbrella...that puts you in the right perspective of today's travels but always there is no matter what a sense of old, very very old indeed that refuses to budge from the many new encroachments of modern refurbishment and uplifting burnished facades. No question therefore that the more one spends wandering aimlessly around Bairro Alto, the more the place takes you back in time of startlingly eerie nostalgia.
Many times countless would-be visitors to Lisbon, especially the first-timers, tend to ask the oft-repeated question of where and which area of the city is best to spend one's time on - given the limit of one's stay - and whereby reap the utmost rewards from a partaking of as varied a scene , travel offerings and a lasting feeling of a trip. Thus, Bairro Alto most definitely, apart from the other notably very interesting and ancient neighborhood of Alfama on the opposite hill of old Lisbon.
In Bairro Alto one will find the strange admixture of experiences as far as sights and pleasurable little journeys are concerned: the old and the trendy, the ancient and the upcoming, an abbey, old churches, fantastic restaurants, smoky local taverns, fado houses, late-night bars and discotheques, fashionable clothing boutiques, the botanical gardens, a university, limitless cafes, tiny fruit stands and family-owned groceries, a nameless venue for drag shows, gay-oriented dance halls, beautiful open parks, old bookstores and much much more.
Lisbon, being a capital is wide-expanse and heavily populated tho not as densely as the other European capitals. The core of the city is old Lisbon, mostly an 18th century layout after having been severely devastated by a horrific earthquake in 1755. What has remained are just a few neighborhoods mostly upon her seven hills well spread-out in the old city from where on each lookout commands a most magnificent and breathtaking views of the city and her famous river, the Tejo. It is on these stark, ancient, very historic and full of medieval ambiance neighborhoods that the visitor will, on one's random and casual exploration on foot -losing one's full senses from their endless winding about and unwinding into grand, romantic and human alleyways, corners, narrow passages, steep ascent and descent....that the visitor can truly feel the incredible mystique and an unsurpassed allure of this city.