Alfama (Portugal)

Explore Moorish castles and medieval alleyways in Lisbon’s oldest district before an evening of traditional live music at an authentic Fado bar.

Alfama has retained many of its medieval buildings and unusual architecture from a period of Moorish rule. When the Lisbon earthquake hit in 1755, the district in the center of Lisbon was one of the least devastated areas. The Moorish Castle of Saint George looms large on the skyline from on top of a hill. Roman ruins and brightly colored houses add to the charm of Alfama. 

To get a different view of the major architectural attractions, head to the Portas do Sol lookout and café for stunning views over Lisbon’s medieval heart. Start your history lesson in Roman times at the ruins of a Roman theater and museum displaying unearthed carvings and artifacts.

Walk a few blocks through the charming tree-lined streets to the Castle de São Jorge. The fortress was constructed by the Moorish rulers in the 6th century and captured during the Crusades, after which it underwent renovations and became the Royal Palace. In one of the rebuilt rooms of the Royal Palace you can watch a multimedia film on Lisbon’s history. 

Don’t miss the Cathedral of Lisbon. The city’s oldest surviving building was constructed in 1150.

If you’re interested in imagining Alfama before the earthquake, head to the Tile Museum, housed in an old and lavish monastery. View five centuries of tile artworks, including a 75-foot (23-meter) tile cityscape created in 1738. 

Enjoy the opulent painted roofs, artworks and furniture of a 17th-century palace in the Museum of Decorative Arts, housed inside the Azura Palace. Next door you can watch artisans creating replicas of the antiques using age-old techniques. 

Go to the waterfront nearby the Santa Apolonia train station for modern boutiques, restaurants and nightlife. For the best traditional fish dishes try the area around the Casa dos Bicco, a 16th-century palace encased in spikes. 

The center of Lisbon is best explored on foot. Further out there are trams, buses and an underground metro system.

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