It is the second oldest permanently inhabited district in Europe. A labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys, where you are taken back in time. A place for art and street parties. Where you can ear the melancholic sounds of Fado music. Or be amazed by the panoramic views of the majestic Tagus River. One of the best areas in the city to have an amazing meal. It’s time to do a Lisbon Walking Tour: Alfama.
Land of good waters
So, let’s star with the name. What does “Alfama” means? The word originates from the Arabic “Al-Hammam”, meaning “The Bathouse”. Historians say that, since the Roman times, the area is known for its sources of warm, thermal waters, frequently used for medicinal purposes or simply to relax or socialize. When the Iberian Peninsula fell under the islamic rule, this district was the place where everybody in “Al Usbuna” – the arabic name for Lisbon – came to have a bath. “Al-Hammam” simply turned into “Alfama”.
Today, these water sources are not used anymore. But some signs of the “land of good waters” are still visible. During our walking tours, we are able to show you fountains and drinking spots where you can fill a bottle and enjoy a refreshing drink. Just like our forefathers did.
Travel in time
During a Lisbon Walking Tour: Alfama, one of the main focuses of interest is the sense that you have travelled back in time. This area of Lisbon was less effected by the Big Earthquake of 1755 and still keeps the old Muslim/medieval urban design.
That means a spiderweb of alleys and narrow ways, sometimes so clustered that you can touch buildings on both sides of the streets with your two hands. Besides the working class architecture, Alfama is also home to some of the most significant noble mansions in Lisbon, some of them pre-earthquake. And if you know where to look, you can spot the place where, tradition says, Christopher Columbus lived in the XV century.
However, Alfama’s old soul and charm is not only made of buildings. Actually, it is the people you see and meet that bring the district to come alive. The area is known for its strong communal spirit. That openness of mind is shared with the neighbors, but also with whoever walks by. It’s nor rare to be greeted with a “Bom Dia” (Good Morning) or “Boa Tarde” (Good Afternoon) or be offered a little shot of sour cherry liquor by an old lady that smiles and says: “it’s only one euro, my darling!”. How can you resist?
Parties and art
Alfama is authentic, colorful, friendly and old-school charming. And, every month of June, the place to be in the city. The Santo António (Saint Anthony) Eve Festival – an all night long celebration that starts in the evening of the 12th – kicks in a three weeks nonstop street party. Until the end of the month, hundreds of thousands of people eat, drink, sing, dance and create unforgettable memories in and of Lisbon. And we love to share all of this with our guests.
However, the old district has a lot to see and do anytime or any season you choose to visit. For instance, are you an history and art lover? If so, there are multiple choices available. You can visit some of the most beautiful temples in the city. Learn how to paint traditional Portuguese tiles with a craft master. See how the Romans enjoyed the theater. Or even discover how a church was a stage for revolution.
Today, Alfama is also the area where you can see some of the best XXI century Portuguese Urban Art. Half a decade ago, the city officials decided to allow creators to use the white facades as canvas for their work. That prevents wild graffiti and tagging and has created a huge outdoor gallery. And also a real photographic bonanza during our tours.
Feel the Fado
“What is Fado?” is a common question that our guests have for us. But there are no simple answers. By definition, Fado is a musical genre unique to Portugal. Its origins are obscure, but one thing is sure: soulfoul, melancholic, sometimes politically incorrect Fado – or Fate – can be addictive.
Some say that Fado is close to Flamenco and African sounds. Others defend that these song’s lyrics and the instruments used – including a Portuguese 12 strings Fado Guitar – bring it close to the Blues or Country Music. We believe that Fado is a hybrid musical and cultural expression and we enjoy showing it every chance we get.
If you want to start, or complement, your journey into this kind of music, a good option is to visit the Fado Museum, in Alfama. But, when searching for the meaning of Fado, our advice is simple: you have to listen to it, in order to feel it. And Alfama, one of the birthplaces of the genre, is the perfect ground to do just that. There are several small, authentic places, where you can immerse yourself in the “Fado Castiço”. Often, the singers are not even professional and that adds to the mistique.
Lisbon Walking Tour: Alfama with us
The best way to know Alfama is to walk it. Better still if you can skip the crowds, to find a great viewpoint and enjoy the landscape. There is a lot to catch your attention. The red rooftops, the maze of buildings, the tower bells of the parishes… And the Tagus’s waters, spread out in front of you.
Next, it is time to get lost. Go down some steps, discover passageways or use the elevators, if you want to save your energy. All of a sudden, you will find yourself in the true heart of old Lisbon. And if you feel like having a little rest, the area has lots of bars and restaurants. Perfect to have a drink, some snacks or a meal, rich in Portuguese flavors.
Excited to all that Alfama has to offer, but unsure how to organize things and make the most of your time? Leave it to us. We have been showing the district to our guests for many years and would love to share it with you, your family and friends. Just reach out to Your Friend in Lisbon and let us take care of everything. You just need to enjoy.