Hi Frugalistas! Regular readers will know I love wandering the backstreets and quaint lanes of places I visit. When I was researching my trip to Lisbon I discovered that right in central Lisbon was exactly my kind of place – the Alfama, a fishing village in Lisbon. Exploring the Alfama was therefore a highlight of my Lisbon experience. So join me in exploring the Alfama – a fishing village in Lisbon.
How to reach the Alfama
The Alfama is just north of the Baixa district of central Lisbon. It’s a hilly area, and getting there is all up hill, so unless you are a very enthusiastic walker the best way to get there is by tram. The number 12 and 28 trams from Placa Figueira run a very convenient circular route up into the Alfama, and then back down the hill to the Baixa. Exploring the Alfama: a fishing village in Lisbon
I think the tram trip to the Alfama is well worth the effort. Firstly, the trams used on the route are the tiny, older trams. They really are so quaint and atmospheric. Secondly the streets are so narrow that in parts you can literally reach out of the tram and touch the buildings on either side. Yes, the tram will be incredibly crowded, and there’s a good chance you will need to stand. But it’s an unbeatable experience trundling up the hill. Exploring the Alfama: a fishing village in Lisbon
Exploring the Alfama
You can, of course, hop off the tram anywhere you like. But a good spot to get off is at the base of the Castelo de Sao Jorge (the Largo de Portos do Sol or the rua Saudade near the Cathedral are good stops). To reach the peak of the Alfama district and the Castelo just keep heading up the hill. The Castelo is the large fortification you can see at the top of the hill, so you can’t miss it. If you go up rua Saudade there are some old Roman ruins just on your left as you head up the hill.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge is a worthy first stop when you are exploring the Alfama. There’s not a lot to the castle itself. It’s largely ruins and some rebuilt fortifications that date from the era of the Salazar dictatorship. But the views out over Lisbon from its ramparts are genuinely lovely. I also loved peering over the edge of the ramparts into the Alfama itself. I don’t know about you, but I find a peek into people’s backyards fascinating…….Exploring the Alfama: a fishing village in Lisbon
Once you have finished exploring the Castelo de Sao Jorge it’s time to head back down the hill. Find your way back to the Largo Santa Luzia. Exploring the Alfama: a fishing village in Lisbon
frugal first class travel tip: the streets in the Alfama are very jumbled, and not necessarily well marked. Maps are not always as detailed as you need. I found I was able to navigate my way quite successfully using the tram lines and the river as landmarks.
Now it’s time to start visiting the backstreets of the Alfama. Basically there is no set itinerary from here. There are some lovely views of the river from Largo Santa Luzia and the bottom of Largo das Portas do Sol. There is a Museum of Portuguese decorative arts on Largo Santa Luzia, and a Fado museum on Largo Chafariz de Dentro further east, closer to the river. But the star attraction of the Alfama is definitely the streets and buildings……
Tiny streets tumble down the hill. Grandmothers stop to chat. Cats meander. Washing hangs on the line. Narrow laneways empty out into secret squares.
My own personal tour of the backlanes of the Alfama led me down the stairs from the Largo das Portos dal Sol at rua Norberto de Araujo (sign posted). I passed by some old building that seemed to be undergoing renovation to become little shops, then down some more stairs until I reached the Largo San Miguel. Then along some other little laneways following a grandmother to I’m not sure where. I wandered into dead end streets. I saw washing on the lines, old men sitting chatting over their newspapers……..
As it was coming up to the festival of St Antonio, the patron saint of fishermen in Portugal I saw bright paper decorations, and stalls being set up for the festivities. If you are in Lisbon in early June, the Alfama district is celebration central for the feast of St Antonio.
I came out of the backstreets of the Alfama just near the large cathedral. As I often find, when I was walking around I wasn’t always sure where I was. I couldn’t always find my location on a map. But I wasn’t lost. I knew I was in the Alfama, and I felt safe.
The Alfama district is a distinct and lovely part of Lisbon. But it is a part of Lisbon that is changing. As the older residents disappear they are being replaced by well to do professionals who want to live in the centre of Lisbon. There is a lot of building work going on, as the Alfama heritage is brought back to life. While it may be that the “old” quaintness, atmosphere and fishing heritage of the Alfama could be lost, I think it is so wonderful that the beautiful old buildings, and its pretty narrow streets will survive. I also think it is wonderful that the Alfama will continue to be a vibrant living neighbourhood, rather than a tourist oriented pastiche as you see in many other cities and towns.
Having said that, if you have the opportunity, visit the Alfama now, while grandmothers still wander the laneways, and while the washing on the lines is not all designer jeans…….
I promise you will enjoy it.
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