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.
Between the hilly districts of the Bairro Alto and the Alfama lies the Baixa, from the Portuguese for “low”. The name is well-chosen, and a stroll in its elegant streets makes a pleasant change for legs weary of Lisbon’s steep hills.
This part of town was the worst hit by the 1755 earthquake, hence its more “modern” appearance. The neoclassical design is considered one of the finest examples of European urban planning of its day, and consequently the district is currently being considered for UNESCO listing as a World Heritage Sight. Laid out in a grid pattern, and interspersed with lovely squares, its streets have a very different atmosphere to the narrow winding lanes of the Alfama or the somewhat raffish, even subversive, tone of the Bairro Alto. There is an altogether more cosmopolitan air here, but the distinctive black and white pavement tiles and blue and white azulejos on its buildings give it a character uniquely Portuguese in flavour.
The main thoroughfare in the Baixa is the pedestrianised Rua Augusta, lined with Art Deco shop fronts with some eye-catching displays (lovely jewellery in one, tempting pastries in another). This links the grand squares of Rossio (Praça Dom Pedro IV) and Praça do Comércio (see separate tips). Another attractive square is the Praça da Figueira, a great place to pause for a coffee or cold beer and watch the world go by.
While the Bairro Alto perches on one of Lisbon’s seven hills, the Alfama sits on another, facing it across the lower area of Baxia. From each you have wonderful views of the other, but the views are not the only attraction of the Alfama, great though they are. This is the place in which to experience the city as it was in medieval times, a village of winding alleyways and fishermen’s houses.
The Alfama was first settled by the Romans and Visigoths, and was an important Jewish quarter in the 15th century, but it was the Moors who gave the district its atmosphere and its name: alhama means springs or bath, a reference to the hot springs found in the area. The Moors too developed its maze of streets which acted as a system of defence, while also helping their homes to remain cool in the summer heat. Because its foundation is dense bedrock, the Alfama survived the 1755 earthquake much better than other parts of the city, and its little squares and narrow streets form a striking contrast with the grand designs of the Baixa in particular.
It is easy though to over-romanticise this district. Many of the long-term residents are poor and their houses, while picturesque, are in a bad state of repair. Meanwhile more affluent people are moving in and renovating properties, putting them out of reach of the locals. Nevertheless, this mix of the run-down and the desirable is undeniably attractive to the visitor and to the visitor’s camera lens.
The best way to explore the Alfama is simply to wander its streets. You will inevitably get lost – don’t try to fight this, it is part of the Alfama experience, and glimpses of the castle above you or the streets of the Baixa below will be enough to orientate you from time to time. But if you’re looking for specific sights, that same castle, the castle of St George, is well worth checking out for its peaceful grounds and great views (see photo 3). Also worth a visit is the Church of São Vicente de Fora, or so I believe – it is still on my must-see list even after three visits to Lisbon.
But the truly distinctive sights here are the details – a caged bird, a line of laundry, a brightly painted balcony, a pot of flowers. Don’t then lose sight of these in your hurry to reach the top, or the castle, or whatever other “destination” you have as your goal.