Lisbon neighborhoods, Lisbon
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.
Few visitors leave Lisbon without sampling the delights of the Bairro Alto by night. Its bars, restaurants and fado venues are described in all the tourist literature. But I want to introduce you to the day-time sights of this atmospheric quarter. As well as containing two of my favourite Lisbon sights, the Convento do Carmo and the fabulously ornate church of Sao Roque, its streets are lined with at times crumbling but frequently attractive houses, many of them decorated wholly or in part with the characteristic tiles or azulejos. And while graffiti can be rightly said to be a scourge of the city, here there are many examples when the line between vandalism and art is very ill-defined (see my general tip for some examples of this).
You can reach the Bairro Alto by a steep climb from the many streets and staircases that lead up from the Baixa area, or by taking one of several funiculars or the Santa Justa lift. If you choose the Elavador da Gloria you will arrive just by the side of another of the Bairro’s attractions, the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara, with a restful fountain, plenty of benches and stunning views of the city. From here, make your way into the back streets to experience the quarter’s street life and search for the details that will enable you to capture its magic through the lens of your camera.
Please see my Local Customs tip on Azulejos and my General tip on Graffitti for more images of the characteristic details that you can spot on a walk through the Bairro Alto.
This is a very popular night spot for locals and tourist likewise. Along the small marina right at the northern foot of the 25 de Abril Bridge, actually standing under the bridge, there are a line of buildings - which were the former fishermen cottages and warehouses - now restaurants serving finest beef and sea food and clubs with music and loud parties - thanks to many UK guys :)
From the "docas" you have a great view of the bridge, looking up directly under it and looking along it's length over the river, seeing all the way to Cristo-Rei (the Jesus statue) on the other bank, trough the masts of the harbored boats.
We had dinner here on May 28th 2009 with all VT members attending 5th European VT Meeting - based in Cascais.
Belém is the historic neighborhood, west of downtown, here is the famous Belém Tower, also the great Jerónimos Monastery, the Monument of the Discoveries, the Coach Musem, the Cultural Centre of Belém, the Belém Palace (presidency of Portugal) and of course the mother of traditional and delicious custard tars Pastéis de Belém.
Reaching Belém can't be done my metro, as there is no station there, instead the most used is the tram - line 15 - which is a little crowded (prone to pickpockets too). Walking is too far from downtown, so the other option is by car (rental or taxi). By the way - parking is Belém is much easier than in other neighborhoods of Lisbon.
I found Belém to be very relaxed, with many gardens, you can walk (a lot to walk between Belém Tower from Pastéis de Belém) and rest on the grass in the shade.
Baixa neighborhood is the most central. There is a straight line (almost), from Praça do Comércio (Square of Commerce), trough the Arco do Triunfo (in the picture), from there you enter the parallel pedestrian streets (Rua Augusta and Rua dos Correiros), which are the most walked streets of Lisbon. Walking north you will find on the left the Santa Justa elevator then you reach Praça Dom Pedro IV, with the tall column and the National Theater and the train station, then Praça Restauradores, after which is the long boulevard Avenida da Liberdade going to the big square Praça de Marquês de Pombal after which is the Parque Eduardo VII.
Too bad you're afforded in this trip only a measly four hours in and for Lisbon. It's criminal I'd say on the part of the cruise ship. But, hey, one's got to make do of a given situation if only to stay ahead of the game. I'd suggests you decide on just a single itenerary to obtain the most out of your four hours. Your ship will very likely dock at the usual cruise line terminal at the Alcantara district in Lisbon which is halfway between the city center and the historic Belem district. All your nervous concern about distances, getting stuck in traffic, not to mention jostling with crowds at sights are rightly understandable. I agree keep it simple and let the thought of having missed the main attractions this time allow you to ponder a reasonable return trip to Lisbon. That said, pick either staying just right in Alcantara or the Belem district where you have the magnificent Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Monastery of the Hieronymites), the Maritime Museum, a somewhat limited Archeological Museum next to the monastery and half a kilometer from here, the awesome Torre de Belem (Belem Tower). You can reach Belem on a quick and easy bus ride or the veritable tram (take #15)and you're there in less than ten minutes. At Belem, you'll be assured of giving your four hours more than its worth, tho I must warn you the throng of tourists will be there as well for sure to test your mettle. The other option already mentioned is to stick around in the Alcantara district. The neighborhood is right up the hill above the docks, you merely cross the train track and highway, climb the steps and you're in Alcantara. It's a quiet and very pleasant neighborhood, perfect for a slow unhampered stroll to peek around. You mention your own penchance for museums, one of Lisbon's (and quite possibly, the world's I must say)is the Museo de Arte Antiga (Museum of Antiquated Art, they really need to find a suitable name for this great place) which literally is just a few step climb from the docks. You won't miss it - it's a huge Victorian looking structure in royal yellow right next to the charming Jardim 9 de Avril (Garden of the 9th of April). The museum is filled with eclectic collection of Portuguese tapestries and 18th century Portuguese paintings, Oriental vases and furniture, faiences, sculptures, religious art and a marvelous collection of European paintings. Don't miss the museum's greatest acquisition - Bosch's triptych 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony'. The museum also has a wonderful cafe - Cafe D'Art - on its grounds set among giant jacarandas and literally jutting out the hillside overlooking the Tejo river where you can see and keep an eye on your ship. After your neighborhood ambling and museum tour, go have a meal or coffee/tea here where the kitchen serves outstanding Portuguese dishes. If you find yourself having extra time, a few doors away from the museum is The York House Hotel, one of Lisbon's grand old institutions with a memorable cafe to boot.
“I do love Tejo because there is a big city on its banks...” said Fernando Pessoa, the most famous of Lisbon’s poets, bard of his river.
From the beginning, a profound bond has tied the river to Lisbon, which rose just in front of the 15km wide estuary which the Lisbonners with affection call Mar da Palha (sea of straw). The city runs along the river for 17 km in a succession of piers, docs, quays, and ports, with some space to people stretch their legs or run a bike on the banks of the river in some kms of riverside walks or “promenades”, which we call Passeio Ribeirinho (parts of it are now under reconstruction). Next to those riverside walks lots of activities developed -cafeteria, esplanades, restaurants, gardens, playgrounds, and other leisure areas. And without any doubt these are among the most beautiful 17km of the 1007 km of the river that rises in the mountains of Albaracin (close to Madrid). Lisbonners love their river and come to its banks when they can -just to take some sun, students bring their books to read, friends come to chat and see the ships and boats passing by, families bring their kids to play and feed the fish, and those in love come here to see the sunsets :-) And with its seven hills, Lisbon has a number of places which we call Miradouros (view points) where the views of the river are splendid (see link). Maybe one of the best to get pleasure from the river views is Miradouro de Santa Luzia, close to the castle. If the weather is not haze you can spot for more than 50km.
The limits of the municipality coincide with the Vasco da Gama bridge (on the east) and Belém (actually Algés, on the west), nevertheless, the river stretches for more 10km west and officially ends at Bugio fortress, a landmark of the area which you can spot from the air if you land from that side of the town (ask for a window seat), and definitely you will see it if you travel by car or train between Lisbon and Oeiras or Cascais.
Before the 25 Abril bridge which connects the 2 shores of Lisbon was constructed (1966), the passage across the river was entrusted to passenger boats and ferries, still now used mostly by the working class with residence on the southern part of the metropolitan area.
I personally recommend a trip to the “other side” (from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas). Nowadays the crossing is functioning with modern quick boats but you still see some of the old charming Cacilheiros and ferries operating. Alternatively you can take the cruise tour (see link).
The waters of the river, while not as clear as they were 20-30 years ago, are still full of fish, with sea bream, mullet, sole, and sea pike. And Lisbonners enjoy a weekend afternoon in the banks of the river fishing; nowadays because of the laws prohibiting the fisheries in most of the places, we have to go in front of Algés (west of Belém area) or some hidden areas in Alcântara to see the resistant ones -mostly men above they 50’s.
But the lords of the roost on Mar da Palha are above all the aquatic birds, such as stilts, sea partridges, avocets, etc, which come to winter here from September to March and the entire estuarine area becomes a reserve. You can spot big areas with them if you cross the Vasco da Gama bridge to Alcochete.
Along with other activities like salt extraction (for chemical industry) still active 10 km north of Lisbon, the gastronomy of the entire region also developed on the sea and river goods and there are several gastronomic festivals all year round with specialties from fried or stuffed eel to hard roe blend with açorda, a bread soup like (but thick). It’s a fantastic experience to take a bit of all sorts of fish raised in Tejo river.
The Parque das Nacoes (Park of Nations) was built for the World Fair EXPO 1998. The huge area with its wide walkways lined with fountains, palm trees, cafes and futuristic buildings is a complete contrast to Lisbon's Old Town.
The main attractions include the Oceanium, the Vasco da Gama viewing tower and a cable car which runs along the whole site parallel to the waterfront.
Numerous cafes, pubs and restaurants offer scenic views of the sie inlcuding the Vasco da Gama bridge. With 17,2 km in length it is the longest bridge in Europe.
The Parque das Nacoes is situated about 5 km east of Lisbon's city centre. The nearest metro stop is the futuristic "Oriente Station" (red line). From there you can walk through the Vasco da Gama Shopping centre in the direction of the waterfront.
As a country of sailors, discoverers, and fisherman, of course Lisbon has a big school of sailing, paddling, canoeing, and all sorts of aquatic sports - the Naval Club of Lisbon. That’s the reason why most Saturdays and Sundays morning you can see the river crowded of all sorts of floating devices, especially between the 25 Abril bridge and the Bugio fortress.
From time to time we also have all sorts of regatta -from the small typical boats of Tejo (faluas and fragatas) with its triangular shaped sail, to the Classic Tall Ships Parade (like the Cutty Sark regatta), or the F1 powerboat race. We can take a tour on the typical boats of Tejo from the marina of Parque das Nações (running during summer time on weekends).
But on a daily basis, thousands of Lisbonners and commuters from “the other side” also cross the river using the passenger boats and ferries. Nowadays, there are quick boats ensuring the “fast lane” life we have to deal with, but you still can take the slow charming orange/white Cacilheiros, after the name of the closest point on the other shore -Cacilhas. Cacilheiros are part of the river, part of the history of the town, and gave origin to all sorts of stories, and fado songs, etc. I personally recommend a trip to the other side (from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas) just to enjoy seeing Lisbon from afar in a sunny afternoon. And why not to extend a bit more and take some fresh fish in the restaurants in Cacilhas?... and there are dozens of good ones.
Speaking about fish, we still maintain some small communities of fishermen in some spots south of Lisbon -Paço de Arcos (Oeiras county), Trafaria and Porto Brandão (Almada county)- and north of the town - Alverca and Vila Franca de Xira (Vila Franca de Xira county). These fishermen only work in the river, nevertheless, the last kms of water in this estuary are quite salty and we have a big percentage of sea fish there. Actually, because the estuary is so wide, the tide effect is felt up the river for more than 50km, making the soil on the banks of Tejo northern of Lisbon very rich -the Lezírias.
Of course being such an important vehicle for people and cargo traffic, the river become full of big and small boats and cargo ships transporting all sorts of containers and goods coming and going to anywhere in the globe. That is the reason why so much of the water front of Lisbon (Alcântara area but mostly east of Alfama) is full with containers, big cranes, and related stuff.
Besides that and also because Lisbon is becoming more tourist appealing these last years, the movement of big cruise boats become a big business and we do have now approx. 400 cruises stopping in Lisbon every year. That’s why along with the original Rocha de Conde d’Óbidos quays (close to Docas area) we now have 2 more places for cruises close to Santa Apolónia area.
Moreover there are several places with marina facilities for small / medium size boats. So you are most welcome to bring your own boat. The only drawback... you are not allowed anymore to be a “VIP” and dock at the Cais das Colunas in Praça do Comércio as in the old days.
When people hear of Monsanto they think of the multinational company that does some genetic manipulations in plants and is normally quite polemic.
In Lisbon there is a different Monsanto. One of the hills of Lisbon that was an agricultural area was transformed in 1934 in a forest, the biggest urban park in Europe with almost 1000 hectares. It is called the green lung of Lisbon, has more than 150 species (birds, squirrels, bats, etc) and many trees. Throughout times the park was drilled to do roads and build buildings but it is still quite big and calm.
There are several places in the woods to do picnics with places to do the grills (Mata de São Domingos, Zona Recreativa do Calhau, Parque de Merendas do Alvito, Parque da Pedra, Parque de Merendas do Moinho do Penedo or Vila Guiné).
Playgrounds and areas of leisure for children are available such as Parque do Alto da Serafina, Parque do Alvito or Parque dos Moinhos de Santana.
There is also a Camping that it will only be a good choice if you have a car to get to Lisbon (http://www.roteiro-campista.pt/Lisboa/monsanto.htm).
Monsanto is a windy place and there are some remains of old windmills scattered throughout the park. Many are in ruins.
This mountain was used to take stone for the buildings of Lisbon so there are some remainings of the old quarries across the park
There are some fortresses and military installations throughout the park since it was an important defense position (Forte do Alto do Duque, Forte de Monsanto, Luneta dos Quartéis).
Monsanto is the place where it was built the telecommunications tower of Lisbon.
It is also a nice area to practice sports. There are tennis clubs, maintenance circuits, paths for bikes, skates, climbing,
There are several beautiful overlooks over the city, the bridge and the river such as Keil do Amaral Park, Montes Claros, etc.
There are many nice restaurants scattered around Monsanto park such as Chimarrão, Monte Verde or Luneta.
Ecological activities are done by the park Interpretation Centre - The Espaço Monsanto (Schedule - From 21 March-20 September: Thu-Fri 9h30-17h00, Sat 9h30-18h00, Sunday 14h00-18h00; From 21 September to 20 March: Thu-Sat: 9h30-17h00, Sun 14h00-17h00) – that has a permanent exhibition to better know and learn about this Park. There is also a medium-sized auditorium, a small amphitheatre, car park and a small picnic area. Other companies, such as terramater (www.terramater.pt), do also activities, in this case trips to search for mushrooms. There is a monthly schedule of activities most at weekends.
In the area close to Benfica there is the beautiful Palace of Marqueses da Fronteira a Baroque Palace with a wonderful garden full of glazed tiles and statues. Nearby there is also a nice church. To enter the palace you need to take a guided tour (May-Sep: 10h30, 11h, 11h30, 12h00; Oct-Apr: 11h, 12h, closes Sundays and Holidays; Phone: +351 21 778 20 23 E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org).
Graça district is one of my favorites in town. Once it was the proletarian outskirts of the city, the place where the workers lived in houses built by their bosses. They would get in the 28 tram and follow down the hill to downtown where most offices and factories existed. There are some remains of these old times. The gracious houses of Vila Berta, Vila Sousa and others are remaining of this not so far away past.
But the history dates back in time. In the Arabs time the place was called Almofala, which meant prison. Later it was the place where the first bishop of Lisbon, São Gens, was crucified by the Romans. Close by you’ll see today the lovely chapel of senhora do Monte. Inside, you find the old chair of São gens that a legend says eases the labor pains if the pregnant seats there before the labor. Some believe it is the remaining of an old fertility cult. Also inside the chapel there is an old nativity scene. Normally the chapel is closed. In front there is a nice garden with wonderful views over Lisbon. Going down a bit you’ll find Albergaria Senhora do Monte, a nice hotel with brilliant views over the city. In the top you’ll find a lovely bar with great views.
In Rua Damasceno Monteiro you have the fancy Via Graça restaurant also with great views over town. The most important building in the neighborhood is the Convent. Today it is used by the militaries and only the church is open to the public. The entrance to the church can be done in the Graça Belvedere. Graça belvedere has a nice view and a small esplanade to chill out. The place can be a bit windy though. You can still a bit and imagine the troops of Afonso Henriques imagining a way to break into the Castle that was in Moorish hands for centuries.
Graça was also one of the first neighborhoods to have its own cinema. The place where today you can find Pingo Doce supermarket was once Rex Cinema. There are some elements still standing from the old cinema.
Natália Correia, the Azorean poet, lived here many years and in a bar called Botequim close to Vila Berta done many of her gathering of poets and artists.
Parque das Nações (ancient place of Expo'98)
In 1998 Lisbon held the world wide exposition under the theme 'The oceans a heritage for the future'. Today this area is called Parque das Nações and it's easily reached either by subway or train (Oriente Station). Oriente station was built by Calatrava and is the main station of Lisbon with connections to train, bus lines, urban train Lines (Azambuja, Sintra) and buses. There are also rent a car and other services.
Another major transportation element is Vasco da Gama bridge in the north area of Parque das Nações that opened in 1998 and is one of the biggest of the world and the biggest car bridge in Europe (with 17,3 kms). It opened with one of the biggest meals of history when thousands ate a huge Feijoada (Portuguese and brazilian dish composed by beans meat and rice). It is also used to the marathon, half marathon, mini marathon of Portugal and to a bike tour done every year (www.meiamaratonadeportugal.com).
The area has a big mall (Vasco da Gama with cinemas, nice restaurants, 164 stores and a hypermarket, www.centrovascodagama.pt). In the north area opened recently the Supercor a supermarket from El Corte Inglès with quality products (www.elcorteingles.pt). There is also the famous store of Cristiano Ronaldo, that is probably incredibly expensive. The area has also plenty of restaurants, bars and other shops. At night the casino is the big star with its nice bar, expensive restaurants, live and free shows, the concert hall and more than 800 slot machines and 22 game tables (www.casinolisboa.pt).
In Expo you can also celebrate nature, walking by the river, taking the cable car, walking in the beautiful gardens. But the big star is the Oceanário (www.oceanario.pt). It is one of the biggest aquariums of the world (open from 10h-19h in winter and until 20h in summer, costs 11€/normal ticket) and it was designed by Peter Chermayeff. It includes environments of all the oceans of the earth. In the south area of the Parque das Nações there is a marina, that has been close for some years but will re-open soon. Tejo Bike rents bicycles to travel around the park (http://www.tejobike.pt). you can also use the cable car that cost 2,99€ and is normally open from 10h-20h at weekends and from 11h-19h at weekdays.
In FIL, the international fair of Lisbon, many events are held (www.fil.pt). The Atlantic pavillion (18.000 seats pavillion of multiple functions), held the masters of tennis, the indoor athletic world competition of 1999, the MTV Europe Music Awards, and is normally a stage of concerts (www.pavilhaoatlantico.pt). Outside looks like a huge spaceship inside like an inverted ship. In the south area of Parque das Nações there is teatro Camões that normally has dance shows (http://www.cnb.pt/) and is the headquarters of the portuguese dance company.
Parque das Nações has several hotels with nice views over the river (Tryp Oriente, Tivoli, Olissipo Oriente, VIP Executive Arts) and a youth hostel (in the north area). The former Tower of the north area of the park will be transformed into a hotel.
There are some interesting buildings such as the Portuguese pavillion by the architect Siza Vieira, the train station by Santiago Calatrava, the knowledge pavillion by Carrilho da Graça (today the science pavillion). There's also a free ciber cafe at the knowledge pavillion (just climb the big ramp). Punctually there might be some outdoors activities. In the new years eve there are normally celebrations in this part of town, there is to be also an international fireworks festival I think in June.
And remembering that before Expo 1998 this was the former hidroplanes airport (planes that crossed the atlantic and many stoped in Lisbon), an area of polluting and degradated industries and a slaughterhouse, and now is a fancy, nice district by the river.
In these clips you can see a bit of what was Expo 98, how was the area before the event and some ads: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GDPEYTtTEw.
Alfama is probably my favourite neighbourhood in Lisbon. Its narrow streets, beautiful belvederes, old churches and nice restaurants are their basic characteristics. In the streets you can hear the sounds of Fado from the many taverns/restaurants.
- Mesa de Frades (Rua Dos Remédios, 139-A, Tel:21 887 1452)
A beautiful fado house in an old chapel with beautiful glazed tiles.
- Chafariz del Rey - www.taverna-del-rey.com/
- Casa de Linhares - www.casadelinhares.com
A beautiful house in an old palace.
- Parreirinha de Alfama (Beco do Espírito Santo, 1, tel: 21 886 82 09)
Traditional house by the fadista Argentina Santos.
- Marquês da Sé - www.marquesdase.com
Beautiful XVII century house with Alexandra, a famous fadista singer.
- Dragão de Alfama (Rua Guilherme Braga, 8; Phone:21 886 77 37)
A simple and cheaper fado house but with a long history.
- Casa de Fado - www.clube-de-fado.com
You can also know more about Fado in Fado Museum (open from Thuesday to Sunday from 10h-18h; entry €2,20). Madredeus and Wim Wenders have turned Alfama renowned, here is a video of part of the movie Lisbon Story with a beautiful fado http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bOhxGBRXAU. There are also other Fado Videos about Alfama such as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DoxP54sMJ4 (From Cristina Nóbrega).
The name Alfama comes from the arabic name Al Hamma, that means baths/fountains. The area has indeed many waters and fountains and probably in the arabic time was used to those functions (Chafariz de Dentro is a beautiful water fountain that still exists nowadays, and there is also Chafariz D'El Rey). Some waters have temperatures above 20ºC and in times they were called medicinal. Alfama has indeed an arabic look with its narrow streets, white houses and cloth hanging.
This district started to be a place of wealth even during the arabic period. But soon became a neighbourhood of fisherman and poorer people. Even today the neighbourhood has a very close community that protects each other.
The district has many belvederes like Portas do Sol and Santa Luzia. Above Alfama there is the beautiful castle dominating the city.
Inside Alfama there are some important churches Santo Estevão, Chapel of Senhora dos Remédios and São Miguel Church (the first two churches are National Monuments). There are also some remainings of the old city walls. All this district is an insight of what Lisbon looked like before the 1755 earthquake since, although many things were destroyed, the global planning of the area remains the same.
Beside the fado houses Alfama has many nice restaurants. Museum of Decorative Arts close to Portas do Sol Belvedere is a nice museum with furnitures, textiles, tiles, china and other arts (entry 4€; open 10h-17h). There are also artists working inside and keeping alive these traditions.
The night from 12 to 13 of June is the big night of Alfama when all the people of Lisbon come here to celebrate the party called Santos Populares (Popular Saints). There are sardines and other food on the street and also beer. And people keep drinking, eating, talking and dancing until morning. Every May there is usually the Lisbon downtown an international competition of urban downhill where some of the most experienced bikers of the world come down the hill from the castle to the river.You can see the path and a video of one of the performances of the winner in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTDpF87XOos.
There is an interesing and different tour that can be done in Alfama. Every last Saturday of the month, for 20€ Lisbon Walker organizes blinded trips to Alfama. A different way of feeling the city, informations through email@example.com.
You wouldn't think it to look at it necessarily, but the Bairro Alto has always had the cachet of being both both fashionable and the haunt of bohemians here in Lisbon. By day the steep narrow streets are quietly busy with the residents getting on with their daily life, at night things get decidedly livelier as the restaurants, bars and clubs open their doors for business. Our Lisbon visit coincided with Carnivale and wandering the streets of the Bairro Alto on a Monday morning, although there were certainly plenty of signs of some serious partying - confetti on pavements and streamers drifting into corners - there were not many people around. Maybe they were sleeping off the night before.
We virtually had the place to ourselves as we admired the beautiful tiled facade of a house on Largo Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro (he was an artist and humourist most noted for his political caricatures and comment), tried to buy a lotto ticket from the little fellow in Largo Trindade Coelho (Coelho was a writer, though not the author of The Alchemist - the cult book of the 90s ) outside the exceedingly plain facaded and exceeding elaborately interiored Igreja de São Roque, decided against having a tattoo and generally just found our way up and up through a maze of narrow streets to the Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara then down a steep set of stairs and paths to Rossio far below.
Then we turned around and took the Elevador da Glória up to the top and wandered around some more.