I must say that out of the many accomodations around the world that I’ve been blessed to be able to experience, this particular one in Alfama district in Lisbon is one of the most unique. The truth is that we booked this place in a hurry, just before we left for our trip because the previous apartment we booked cancelled on us. I guess it was a blessing in disguise.
Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon where you’ll find narrow cobblestone slopes for pathways, tiled walls from over 300 years ago, old churches and neighbours chatting from their windows. It was settled by the Visigoths as far back as the 5th century but it was the Moors who gave the district its atmosphere and name. Alhama means springs or bath, a reference to the fountains and hot spring found in the area. The Moors were also responsible for designing its streets as a defense system while enabling the homes to remain cool in the summer.
As our driver drove the streets of Alfama, we were in awe. And then suddenly, he stopped his car and told us that he could only drive us till here as the pathway up will be too narrow. So, we had to pull our 8 luggages up the steep cobblestone pathway as the neighbours looked on and some gentlemen offered to pull our bags up till the door of our apartment. We must’ve caused a ruckus that afternoon as we wouldn’t learn till later that the 300 year old tiled and pastel buildings of this district are not soundproof of course and you can hear everything that is going on around the neighbourhood!
Upon our arrival at the entrance to the apartment, we were greeted by LeeAnn who was there to show us around. As she set eyes on our massive luggages, she told us not be intimidated by the stairs to our apartment and that we will get use to it. When she opened that door, I will never forget the shock we had, the stairs were narrow, steep and looked like it was never going to end! I wish I was exaggerating and we were living on the third floor alongside the residents. Do not expect a lift because its an old neighbourhood.
I thought my shock would end there but when we opened the door to our apartment, I was floored. One of the girls screamed, “It’s a Pinterest home!”.
As much as I did love living in this little village town, I wish I was better prepared! Here are some tips if you’re planning to spend a few days living in an apartment in Alfama.
- The slopes are steep and can get slippery when it rains so it’s advisable to wear proper footwear and take your time to walk, theres no need to rush here anyways.
- The apartments do not have a lift of course, the stairways are long and steep which can make you feel claustophobic so take note when carrying children and heavy bags.
- The bathroom is very, very small. So small that its just enough for you to wash up and get out. That’s because this old neighbourhood didn’t use to have bathrooms since they had hotsprings to bathe in.
- You can hear everything thats happening in the neighbourhood from conversations friends are having 3 floors down, dogs barking, residents walking up and down the stairs, church bells ringing and Fado being sung till late into the night. Your neighbours can also hear you! So be mindful not to blast your music, laugh or gossip too loudly. You should probably have sex quietly too or the whole town will know what freaky deeds you were up to last night.
- If you’re taking a cab around, take note that drivers with a special license are permitted to enter the district within certain hours of the day due to safety issues.
It was definitely an amazing experience. Living in Alfama allowed us to live like the locals and it was like being transported back in time. I loved it here minus the miniature bathroom and scary staircase but I would definitely recommend living in this vintage beauty at least once during your stay in Lisbon. Here are some places nearby that you can visit.
Attractions around Alfama
Casa dos Bicos – A 16th century architectural that has a curious façade of spikes.
Doca do Jardim do Tabaco – Sleek restaurants and club on the waterfront.
Decorative Arts Museum – A decorative arts collection.
Fado Museum – The story of the national music.
Graça Church and Miradouro – terrace offering a panoramic view of the São Jorge Castle and central Lisbon.
Lisbon Cathedral – The oldest church in Lisbon.
Military Museum – A testament to Portugese battles.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol – Standing over Alfama’s rooftops, domes, and church towers.
Miradouro de Santa Luzia – Views of the river and Alfama.
Santo Antonio Church – Said to be the birthplace of Saint Anthony.
São Jorge Castle – A Moorish castle overlooking the historic centre of Lisbon and Tagus River.
São Vicente de Fora Church – a 17th-century church and monastery.
The National Pantheon – The domed church that is a considered a symbol of Portuguese identity.
The Roman Theater – The remains of a once large Roman theater.
The Tile Museum – An ancient art form in a lavish old convent.