No visit to Lisbon is complete without spending a day or a few hours in Alfama.
Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon, the only that survived the great earthquake of 1755 almost intact. While residents navigate those streets effortlessly, visitors have fun getting lost and exploring each nook. To help you plan your itinerary, this guide covers everything from the top restaurants in Alfama and best bars, to where to stay and things to do.
Top 7 Restaurants in Alfama
Most restaurants in Alfama are either small or popular or both. The mix of locals and tourists at lunch makes it easier to find a table without reservations, considering regular customers are on a tight schedule. But in the evenings, we at Devour Lisbon advise you to book a table, especially during the high tourist season (April to September).
Bela Vinhos e Petiscos
Bela is one of the authentic, laid-back places locals will tell you to go for wine, petiscos, and live Fado music in the heart of Alfama. Most shows are spontaneous, and you might have the pleasure to listen to one or two famous fadistas (Fado singers) between the amateur acts.
Cais na Preguiça
Closer to the Tagus River, in the border between Baixa and Alfama, Cais na Preguiça serves comfort food on the first floor and art on the second floor. Drop by for a lazy meal on Sundays, a Portuguese approach to brunch, and art exhibitions.
A Travessa do Fado
A Fado Museum wouldn’t be complete without its own restaurant with live music performances. A Travessa do Fado specializes in serving petiscos from noon to midnight with live Fado performances every Wednesday and Saturday evenings, in a contemporary and laidback environment.
Some say Fado Vadio, a sub-genre sung mostly by amateurs, is the most genuine type of Fado there is. If there’s one place you’ll get plenty of it, while enjoying a hearty meal, it’s A Baiuca. The restaurant is tiny and very popular, which means it fills up quickly. Book ahead with as much time in advance as possible.
Cruzes Credo, right next door to the old cathedral, is the perfect spot to grab a bite if you’re done sightseeing. This café and restaurant specializes in fusion cuisine with a Portuguese flair. It’s a good option if you’re not ready yet to explore the Fado/Portuguese cuisine tradition but wouldn’t leave Alfama for any other neighborhood.
Proving that vintage can also be Instagrammable is the Pois, Café. Pois is not just a Portuguese word, but an expression that depending on how you say it can have different meanings. It can simultaneously mean “right!” and “well…”. But the café is not as complicated as its name, quite the contrary. Serving mostly light meals, it’s known for its Sunday brunches and the relaxed environment to curl up with a book.
A true tasca, O Cartaxeiro always looks busy and always full, but the service is so efficient and fast that you won’t have to wait for a table for long. Open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., it’s the ideal place for an early or late lunch in a typically touristy area, right across the street from Museu do Fado. Dishes are simple and affordable, in the good old Portuguese traditional style.
Where to Stay in Alfama
A boutique-sized neighborhood calls for boutique-sized hotels, and there are plenty of those in Alfama. With its characteristic narrow, steep streets and cobblestones, Alfama is not the most accessible of Lisbon neighborhoods and locals aren’t big fans of the trolleys being dragged behind tired tourists day and night. We at Devour Lisbon suggest you book a hotel that offers transfer to and from the airport.
Memmo Alfama, Santiago de Alfama, and Hotel Riverside Alfama are great examples of small hotels with the perfect location and a cozy atmosphere. If you want the environment without the hills, look for hotels closer to Tagus River between Rua da Madalena and the Santa Apolónia train station.
Insider tip: short-term rentals have taken over Alfama in the past five years, making it a touchy issue for locals. If possible, choose a hotel over a short-term rental.
Best Bars in Alfama
Not technically a bar but a collection of improvised ones, in June all roads lead to Alfama to celebrate Santos Populares (the so-called popular saints or saints of the people include matchmaker Saint Anthony and Lisbon’s patron Saint Vincent). Cheap tap beer and sangria flow freely paired with the best grilled sardines in Lisbon.
Memmo Alfama Wine Bar & Terrace
Hotel guests pick Memmo Alfama for the location and the views, but bar-goers who are not staying at the hotel can enjoy the Wine Bar & Terrace too. It’s the perfect combination of the best view in Lisbon and a relaxing drink at dusk.
The most popular nightclub in Lisbon, Lux Frágil is typically crowded on Saturdays. It’s the place to dance all night long to the beat of resident DJ’s or attend live music concerts from all kinds of genres. Unless you’re on an exclusive guest list, getting in is at the bouncer’s discretion.
Things to Do
Get Lost in Alfama
The best way to explore Alfama is to get lost on foot in the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. The winding cobblestoned streets will lead you to dead ends and private courtyards and put you back on track, all at the same time.
When in doubt of where to go or to admire the city from the top, get to the two well-known viewpoints, Santa Luzia and Portas do Sol. Lisbon is beautiful any time of day, but in Alfama, sunsets are particularly mesmerizing.
If venturing on the city’s legendary seven hills is not in your plans, hop on the Lisbon tram 28 and have a glimpse of what neighborhood life looks like as the iconic yellow vehicle makes its way through narrow streets and alleys.
Fado and Cultural Heritage
Casas de Fado, the typical restaurants and bars advertising live Fado music, are everywhere. But before settling for the first place you see, visit the Fado Museum (Museu do Fado) to unveil the complexity of sub-genres of the UNESCO listed urban song and learn more about the biggest stars.
Lisbon is built upon layers of diverse cultural influences, dating all the way back to the Roman Empire. In Alfama, you get to see some of that heritage by visiting the Roman Theater Museum (Museu do Teatro Romano) and the medieval cathedral (Sé de Lisboa).
Must Do’s in Alfama
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, head over to Feira da Ladra for bargain hunting or buying Lisbon souvenirs. This flea market has been taking place since the Middle Age. Right next to it is the National Pantheon (Panteão Nacional), a remarkable Baroque-style church where important Portuguese personalities are buried.
To further explore the blend of old and new that’s Alfama, visit Fundação José Saramago. Closer to the Tagus River, the foundation created by the Portuguese author and Nobel Prize of Literature winner pays tribute to his life and work. The building, Casa dos Bicos, is part of Lisbon’s history as are the Roman ruins on the first floor that you’ll notice immediately going in.
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Sandra Henriques Gajjar is a freelance web content writer and travel blogger born in the Azores and based in Lisbon for 20+ years. Since 2014 she’s been blogging about travel, culture, and the people she meets in between at Tripper, a blog on sustainable cultural tourism.