Intriguing Alfama, the city’s oldest quarter, melds rustic charm with a daily life unchanged in centuries. Its steep staircases, tiny squares and labyrinthine alleyways spill down the southeastern slope of Lisbon’s highest hill under the watchful gaze of the magnificent Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George’s Castle). Alfama’s Moorish and Medieval origins are still evident at every turn: cramped little houses, cobbled narrow streets and winding alleys (some no wider than stone staircases) combine to create an atmosphere of cozy familiarity. Weave through the ancient warren of streets packed with caged canaries, fragrant balconies and bohemian spirit. Peep into the churches of São Miguel and Santo Estêvão and explore the nooks and crannies of tiny courtyards, stairwells, markets and fado houses, all seemingly oblivious to the onslaught of time.
Don’t miss the traditional ‘Festas de Lisboa’ from mid-May to mid-July
One of the most exhilarating ways to discover the area is aboard the delightfully quirky tram number 28. First stop is the Cathedral Sé, built in 1150 (three earthquakes and numerous restorations are responsible for its eclectic architectural style.) Next stop up brings the Miradouro Santa Luzia and Miradouro das Portas do Sol—two of many beautiful viewpoints across the city—offering riverscapes and rooftops on one side and the National Pantheon (the 17th century Church of Santa Engrácia) on the other. Across the street you’ll find the Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santo, a living museum that houses the world’s largest collection of 17th century decor, furniture and objects of art. Visit the workshops where craftsmen use ancient techniques to restore, guild and paint antiques as well as create new pieces. Then its onwards and upwards to the Castle!
Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St George) sits on the site of an ancient fortress that was used by the Romans, Visigoths and Moors. Conquered from the Moors in
1147 by Portugal’s first king, it remained a royal residence until the 16th century; it was later severely damaged in the devastating earthquake of 1755. Today the fully restored castle boasts courtyards, battlements and beautiful gardens within its ancient Moorish walls. A multimedia exhibition bring the city’s history to life while fountains and peacocks grace the shady surrounds. Worth the hike (or tram ride) to walk the ramparts and bask in the mesmerising city views.
FROM MID-MAY TO MID-JULY, DON’T MISS THE TRADITIONAL ‘FESTAS DE LISBOA’!
‘Festas de Lisboa’ is a two-month series of summer shows and events that takes place annually in Lisbon’s historic quarters. The city is swathed in colorful paper garlands and people spill onto the streets, listening to fado, eating grilled sardines, drinking the famous vinho verde (green/young wine) and generally embracing regional art and culture, music and food. June also brings the much-celebrated ‘Festas dos Santos Populares’ (Feast Days of the Popular Saints), with the partying peaking on the night of June 12th—St. Anthony’s Day, Lisbon’s patron saint—with huge parades and city-wide festivities. St Anthony’s Day also hosts the city’s annual collective wedding ceremony, featuring hundreds of Lisboan ‘Noivas de Santo António’ (Brides of Saint Anthony). Wedding parties don’t come much bigger than this!