The oldest and most traditional neighbourhood in Lisbon, with cobbled lanes and alleys and steep, gruelling inclines, should be discovered little by little, stopping frequently to savour the view, atmosphere and authentic spirit of the oldest side of the capital. Take a deep breath and start to climb the hill that will reveal one of the best views of the city.
There are many ways to get to where old Lisbon is hidden away. Whether you come by boat, metro, bus or even tram, the tangle of streets punctuated by rails below and flower boxes above has to be discovered on foot. How else could you discover Beco do Forno do Sol (answer: in Graça, on the way to Vila Berta) or Cruzes da Sé, to which references exist from 1690? Or even Escadinhas da Saúde or Beco do Quebra-Costas, a street that has existed since 1565?
The cobblestones, testimony to the centuries and centuries of history, also await your footsteps. Enter the Sé (cathedral), dating from 1147, where you can still see the Tesouro (treasury) and the Roman ruins which preceded it. Continue up and don’t forget your camera: from the Miradouro de Santa Luzia you can see the pure essence of Alfama and the splendour of the Tagus, which is particularly impressive on sunny days. Once you’ve recovered your breath totally and let the sweet chords of the Portuguese guitar soothe your soul – it is at the heart of Fado, after all – climb up to the Castelo de São Jorge and visit the City Information Centre.
Only after absorbing every angle of Lisbon and feeling like a true conqueror of the city can you – and should you – go to Portas do Sol and enjoy the outdoor cafés which give the square its name; or climb up to get an even higher and even more special viewpoint. Even if the sun sets, there are countless restaurants and Fado houses where you can recharge your batteries and let the city cast its spell. Come and be won over.
The Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest quarter. Spread over the southeastern slope of the hill crowned by Castelo de São Jorge, the picturesque neighborhood is composed of a maze of narrow streets, winding alleyways, and steep flights of steps. Its kasbah-like layout is deliberate – this is the city’s ancient Arab district, and although there are no Moorish houses still standing, the tightly-packed lanes, small archways, and stone-paved terraces are full of atmosphere and great fun to explore.
Lisbon’s old quarter offers many things to do. Besides the castle, there are several historic 17th-century churches in the vicinity, as well as the city’s impressive cathedral. A clutch of excellent museums provide cultural diversion, and Lisbon’s biggest flea market is here. Some of the best views in Lisbon are from lofty squares such as the Miradouro Largo das Portas do Sol – once the entrance gates to the old city.
Alfama wakes up at night, when some of the city’s most authentic cafés and restaurants open their doors to serve delicious traditional cuisine and plenty of bonhomie. The neighborhood is also home to traditional fado houses, where this unique Portuguese musical expression can be appreciated in rustic and romantic surroundings.