Visit during the Festas dos Santos Populares in June for an authentic, rough and ready party atmosphere
Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest district, one of the only parts of the city not destroyed by the great 1755 earthquake. Spread over one of the seven hills on which the city is built, this is the city’s Arab quarter, and you can tell: with its labyrinth of narrow streets, crooked alleys and steep steps it has the feel of a kasbah. Old as it is, Alfama contains some of Lisbon’s main attractions, including the formidable Castelo de São Jorge and the Romanesque Sé Cathedral.
Between the Old and the New
Alfama has historically been a poor district of Lisbon, populated by fishermen, but it’s becoming trendier ever year. Yet it still retains its ancient charm and distinct village atmosphere. Washing lines hang between pretty, dilapidated buildings, and melancholic Fado music drifts alongside the smells of sardines being barbecued on the streets and pastelerias serving sweet tarts and strong espresso. To catch its more traditional aspect, visit in the early morning, when women are selling fresh fish from their doorways.
28, A Leap Through Time
Take the number 28 tram for a rattling, clunky and completely enchanting ride through history. This route connects the district of Graça with Baixa, passing through the streets of Alfama. The narrow roads and all the ups and downs mean modern trams simply can’t hack it. So instead you’ll be riding in the tiny, historic Remodelado trams which date from the 1930s. Hop off the number 28 tram at the Santa Luzia viewpoint for Alfama’s best view, stretching over its tiled roofs and the gleaming Tagus estuary.
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