Alfama Lisbon

Lisbon + Sintra

Notes and Observations

  • Lisbon metro is modern, reliable and the quickest way to travel around the capital. There are four metro lines, covering 46km of track and served by 55 metro stations. The metro is open from 6:30am until 1:00am and there is typically a train service every 6-9 minutes. The metro is the recommended means of travel from the airport to central Lisbon and to travel any distance around Lisbon.
  • Look for restaurants that offer Petiscos. Petiscos are generally small version of large plates. The genius behind this model is that you can then order and taste more dishes by ordering smaller versions than you would if you ordered full size dishes. Petiscos are a part of Portugal’s gastronomy and are traditionally found in tascas – taverns or cafés. Trendy bars and restaurants (known as Petisqueiras) serve Petiscos with Portuguese wines. Unlike tapas, petiscos are fairly unknown outside Portugal. Common Petiscos offered: click here
  • Try liqueur drink Ginjinha. Ginjinha or simply Ginja, is a portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (Morello cherry) in alcohol and adding sugar together with other ingredients. It is a favourite liqueur of many Portuguese and a typical drink in Lisbon. This sweet liqueur is drunk in small glasses and to order it the Portuguese way, you have to know two words: ‘com’ or ‘sem’, meaning you would like yours ‘with’ or ‘without’ cherries. Go for ‘com’ (with). In some places, the Ginja is served in a little chocolate cup. Sip half of the Ginja first, the eat the cup with the other half.
  • Experience Fado music. Fado usually expresses saudade. Saudade is a longing, an ache for a person or place or experience that once brought great pleasure. It is akin to nostalgia but, unlike nostalgia, one can feel saudade for something that’s never happened, and likely never will.
  • When you sit down in restaurants, the server will probably bring some appetizers you did not order (typically bread, cheese, olives). This is common in Portugal, its called couvert. These are not free and you are not obligated to eat anything. You can just send those back as soon as the server brings them, or just leave them untouched on the table, and you won’t be charged (but always check the bill)
  • Lots of Russian tourists – I would guess 50% of all tourists were speaking Russian. I wonder why?
  • Lots of body ink. Seems like every 1 in 2 Portuguese women have visible tattoos.
  • Lots of Nepalese restaurants. I researched why, and turns out there are about 300K Nepalese origin people in Portugal (most of them in Lisbon) as compared to about 70k Indian origin. That explains.
  • If you order a glass of wine, the server will bring an empty glass and a bottle of wine to your table and pour the glass for you. This leads to confusing conversations where people think the server misunderstood their order and brought a bottle instead of just a glass.
  • Lots of smokers. Too many smokers.
  • One of the best mass transit systems in the world. The Metro is one of the best I have ever seen. Beautiful, clean, large stations; clear signage; frequent trains; good coverage over most of Lisbon. The final mile is also very well served by trams and busses. The Lisbon Mass Transit system gets a 10/10 from me. Stay close to a metro station and you will be all set.
  • Lots (most?) of restaurants are closed on Sundays. Very weird.
  • Seven Wonders of Portugal:
    1. Castle of Guimarães in Guimarães (northern Portugal)
    2. Castle of Óbidos in Óbidos
    3. Batalha Monastery in Batalha (central Portugal)
    4. Alcobaça Monastery in Alcobaça (central Portugal)
    5. Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon ✔
    6. Pena Palace in Sintra ✔
    7. Belém Tower in Lisbon ✔

Must See / Do

  • Try the Pastel de Nata (custard tart) 10/10
  • Experience Live Fado Music (Excellent option: Adega Machado) 8/10
  • National Pantheon in Lisbon 7/10
  • Sao Jorge Castle 10/10
  • Walk around Alfama (Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen viewpoint, Santa Luzia viewpoint) 8/10
  • Lisbon Cathedral 5/10
  • São Jorge Castle 10/10
  • Carmo Convent 9/10
  • Ride of the vintage tram lines 6/10 (Line 28 is popular, but its Meh. Pro tip: Ride the 12E tram from Martim Moniz to São Tomé when you visit the São Jorge Castle – same experience as the 28E, a tenth of the crowds)
  • Cristo Rei (National Sanctuary of Christ the King) 8/10
  • Belem Tower 9/10
  • Jerónimos Monastery 10/10
  • Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) 8/10
  • Basílica da Estrela 7/10
  • Time Out Market 8/10
  • (Sintra) Moorish Castle 10/10
  • (Sintra) Pena Castle 8/10
  • (Sintra) Quinta da Regaleira – Initiation Well (Poço Iniciático) 8/10
  • (Sintra) Cabo da Roca 8/10


Day 1 (Friday) – National Pantheon, Alfama viewpoints

  • Buy Via Viagem card and a return ticket. Have to buy Via Viagem from a Metro Station
  • Take Metro Red line from Saldanha (S Sebastiao direction) to S Sebastiao (last stop). Change to Blue line. Take Metro Blue line (Santa Apolónia direction) to Santa Apolónia (last stop)
  • Walk to National Pantheon (closed Monday) – climb to the top of the dome for great views
  • Walk to Church of São Vicente of Fora. Good photo opportunity between this church and the Pantheon
  • Walk to Viewpoint Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
  • See street art “Walltile Amália Rodrigues by Vhils” (Remember this spot. This is the stop for the Sao Jorge Castle on the 12E tram line)
  • Walk to Miradouro das Portas do Sol Observation Deck (38.712339, -9.130285)
  • Walk to Miradouro de Santa Luzia viewpoint
  • Dinner Options: Alfama Cellar || Mestre André || Pateo 13 || Flor dos Arcos
  • Fado option: Parreirinha De Alfama (opens 8pm) || Sr Fado
  • Walk to Santa Apolónia station (last stop). Take Blue Metro (Amadora Este direction) to S Sebastiao. Take Red Metro 1 stop (Aeroporto direction) to Saldanha

Day 2 (Saturday) – Flea Market, Christ, Belem, Bairro Alto

  • Buy the 24-hour public transport ticket that costs €6.15. Have to buy it from a Metro Station
  • Take Metro Red line from Saldanha (S Sebastiao direction) to S Sebastiao (last stop). Change to Blue line. Take Metro Blue line (Santa Apolónia direction) to Santa Apolónia (last stop)
  • Walk to Flea Market in Jardim Boto Machado (GPS: 38.71578, -9.12434) (Tuesdays and Saturdays only. Saturdays preferred. Opens 9am. But it really opens 9:30am)
  • Walk to Metro station Santa Apolónia. This is the first stop. Take Blue line 1 stop (Robeleira direction) to Terreiro do Paço
  • Walk to Cais do Sodré Ferry Terminal. Take the 15 minute ferry to Cacilhas (ka-see-lesh) ferry terminal. From the ferry terminal cross over to the connected bus station and catch the 101 bus. The regular bus service departs on the hour and 30 minutes past the hour between 9:00 and 18:00 every day. Cacilhas bus station is well organised and each bus route is labelled above the bus stands. Buy single one-way ticket (paper ticket, not Viva Viagem) from the driver. The 101 bus takes 20 minutes and terminates at the entrance to the Cristo Rei statue.
  • Eat lunch at Time Out Market. This is a good public market to try different foods in a communal setting. Think Reading Terminal Market in Philly // Pike Place Market in Seattle // Oxbow Public Market in Napa // Great Market Hall in Budapest // Lexington Market in Baltimore // St Lawrence Market in Toronto
    Food Options:

    1. Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria (Best in town)
    2. Seafood from Alexandre Silva
    3. Marlene Vieira
    4. Seafood at Sea Me
    5. Iberico Bellato from Manteigaria Silva
    6. At Garrafeira Nacional you can try 50 year-old port by the glass
  • Take 15E tram from Cais do Sodré to Largo da Princesa. Walk to Belem Tower. Climb to the top for the viewing platform
  • Walk to Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Option to climb to the top for views.
  • Walk to Museu Coleção Berardo (Berardo Collection Museum)
  • Walk through Praça do Império to Jeronimos Monastery
  • Walk to Pastéis de Belem bakery (Third Best in town). This pastry shop/ bakery is the home of the delicious custard tart (known as the Pastel de Nata) and no trip to Belem is complete without savouring one in this loud and chaotic cafe. Many of the traditional Portuguese cakes and tarts have sweet yolk based fillings and originate from bakeries that were close to major monasteries. The reason is that the egg whites were used by the monks to starch religious clothes, giving the yolks free to the bakeries close by. Hence the home of the Pastéis de Nata is next to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos!
  • Walk to Ajuda National Palace
  • Take 18E Blue tram to Santos. Walk just a little north and take the Green 25E tram to Basílica da Estrela. Climb to the top for a unique view. In this church the spiral staircase takes you to the top of the neve and gives a unique view of the dome from the outside (In most churches, you don’t have this view since you basically climb to the inside base of the dome). You can also walk inside to the base of the dome (Cannot climb to top of dome)
  • Take Tram 28E (Martim Moniz direction) to stop “Calhariz – Bica”. Try the Ascensor da Bica. From here it goes downhill. Walk downhill and then take the escalator uphill or ride the tram both ways. Often there are more people lined up at the bottom of the hill to take the tram uphill than the tram can accommodate (20). In that case, you might have to get off the tram and get in the back of the line to come back up. There are 2 tram cars travelling in each direction and the weight of the car going downhill pulls the other car uphill. The trams run every 15 mins. There are bars by the uphill stop of the Ascensor Bica – You can get a beer and drink it out in the open by the tram tracks.
  • Take Tram 28E (Martim Moniz direction) to stop Chiado. Dinner here.
  • Dinner Options in Chiado: O Arco // Carmo // O Bacalhoeiro // Restaurante Duque
  • Walk to Baixa-Chiado Metro station. Take Green Metro (Telheiras direction) to Alameda. Take Red Metro (S Sebastiao direction) to Saldanha

Day 3 (Sunday) – Sintra

  • Sintra is 25km to the west of Lisbon and the recommended means of travel is by train. DO NOT DRIVE. The roads are hilly and narrow, and there is no parking in Sintra. Most of the attractions in Sintra open at 9:30am in the Summer and 10am in the Winter. Get there early and be among the first. Sintra is famous for two local food items: Queijadas and Travesseiros. Queijadas are small sweet cakes, that are made using fresh cheese instead of butter. Travesseiros are rectangular pastries made from fluff pastry and almond paste.
  • Buy 2 single Metro tickets. Take Metro Red line from Saldanha (S Sebastiao direction) to S Sebastiao (last stop). Change to Blue line. Take Metro Blue line (Santa Apolónia direction) to Restauradores. Walk to Rossio station (different from Rossio Green Line Metro station). Rossio to Sintra is 40 minutes.
  • There are 2 train stations at Sintra: the Metro terminal is “Sintra” and the other one is “Portela de Sintra”. When traveling from Lisbon to Sintra, “Portela de Sintra” is the penultimate station. “Sintra” is the last. Bus 434 (the touristic route to Pena and Castelo dos Mouros) departs from the terminal station “Sintra”. Bus 435 (the touristic route to Regaleira, Seteais and Monserrate) also departs from the terminal station “Sintra”. Long distance busses depart from “Portela de Sintra”.
  • Decide between Scotturb bus 434 and CitySightSeeing Hop on Hop off bus. If CitySightSeeing: take the Blue line bus. First Busses leave at 9:30am. Get to Sintra early and get on the first bus.
  • Another option is to take the tuk-tuk (rickshaw). Fare for each person is $5. There are tuk tuks waiting at the train station, at city center/National Palace, at Pena Palace and at Moorish Castle.
  • Take the bus to National Palace of Pena (UNESCO World Heritage Site – MUST SEE) (Blue Stop 5)
  • Walk back downhill to Castelo dos Mouros (UNESCO World Heritage Site – MUST SEE) (Blue Stop 4)
  • Take the Bus to Sintra City Center, but get off 1 stop before the Sintra Terminal. The stop is called Volta do Duche (Blue Stop 7). OR Take rickshaw (tuk tuk) from Moorish Castle to Town Center
  • Lunch
  • Walk to Sintra National Palace (UNESCO World Heritage Site – MUST SEE)
  • Walk to Quinta da Regaleira (UNESCO World Heritage Site – MUST SEE). Be sure to see the Initiation Well (Poço Iniciático)
  • — SKIP — Walk to Tivoli Palácio de Seteais
  • 2 options: (1) Take CitySightSeeing Red Bus to (quick stop) Monserrate Palace (UNESCO World Heritage Site – MUST SEE) (Red Stop 4), or (2) Take Scotturn 435 Bus to Monserrate Palace. If taking Scotturn 435 Bus, have to come back to Sintra City Center at this point. If taking CitySightSeeing Red Bus, can go onwards
  • — SKIP IF SHORT ON TIME — Take CitySightSeeing Red Bus to Adega de Colares (Winery) (Stop 5)
  • — SKIP — Take CitySightSeeing Red Bus to Praia Grande Beach (Stop 6)
  • Take CitySightSeeing Red Bus to Cabo da Roca (Stop 7)
  • — SKIP IF SHORT ON TIME — Take CitySightSeeing Red Bus to Convent of the Capuchos (Stop 8)
  • Take CitySightSeeing Red Bus to Sintra City Center (Stop 1)
  • Walk to Sintra Terminal station
  • Take train back to Lisbon
  • Dinner Options near Rossio: Carmo // O Arco // O Bacalhoeiro // Restaurante Duque
  • Walk to either Baixa-Chiado or Rossio metro station. Take Green line Metro (Telheiras direction) to Alameda. Take Red line Metro (S Sebastiao direction) to Saldanha

Day 4 (Monday) – Alfama, Baixa, Chiado

  • Buy the 24-hour public transport ticket that costs €6.15. Have to buy it from a Metro Station
  • Take Metro Red line from Saldanha (Airport direction) to Alameda. Then Green Metro line from Alameda (Cais do Sodré direction) to Martim Moniz. Change to Tram: Take tram 12E (Purple line), Get off at stop São Tomé, then walk to the Castle ticket window
  • Walk to São Jorge Castle. Opens at 9am – get there on time. Tickets cannot be bought online and the line is a bitch later in the day. See the Camera Obscura tour for an amazing view of Alfama and Lisbon (9/10) (Tours every 20 mins starting 10am, English tour at 10am, perfect timing if you enter the Castle at 9am)
  • Walk to Lisbon Cathedral
  • See Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa (San Antonio Church) right across from Lisbon Cathedral. Good photo opportunity here with the tram in foreground and Lisbon Cathedral in the background
  • Walk to Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição Velha
  • Lunch options: daPrata52 (1230-3) || Moma
  • Arco da Rua Augusta viewing platform. Take elevator for good views. Walk around Praça do Comércio (Comercio Plaza)
  • Walk to Elevador de Santa Justa and take the elevator up. The elevator is good to photograph from outside, but the 10-second elevator ride itself is very ordinary and unremarkable. Skip the ride if there is any line and just walk to the Bairro Alto neighborhood (Trust me on this one)
  • Walk to the ruins of the Carmo Convent
  • Take the elevator Santa Justa back down.
  • Walk around Rossia Square
  • Walk to Igreja de São Domingos (Saint Domingos Church)
  • Have Ginjinha shot in one of the 3 Ginjinha bars around Rossia Square: (1) A Ginjinha, (2) Ginjinha Sem Rival, (3) Ginjinha Rubi
  • Walk to Elevador da Glória (Gloria Funicular)
  • Take the Yellow tram/Funicular up to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (viewpoint) for fantastic views
  • Walk to Igreja de Sao Roque (Church of Sao Roque)
  • Dinner options: Adega Machado (“Fado Inside the Box” Fado experience) (Great option 10/10) || Bairrices (22-item all-you-can-eat tapas tasting menu) || Lisboa Cheia de Graça || Lisboa à Noite || O Faia

To Do for Next Time

  • Ajuda National Palace
  • Day trip to Cascais
  • Navy Museum

Photos taken with a garden-variety iPhone 6