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Bairro Alto is a bohemian neighborhood on the other side of Lisbon city center, opposite of the São Jorge Castle in the old town Alfama. Bairro Alto means the high neighborhood and that it really is with all its steep hills and cobblestone streets and the wonderful yellow funiculars taking people up the hills. Bairro Alto is neighborhood that divides opinions, but I personally like this part of the city a lot and I walk the streets of the Alto quite often, because it happens to be close to my current home.
Bairro Alto is nowadays a very popular place to go for the nightlife, but its history goes all the way to the 16th Century. Bairro Alto was the first planned neighborhood outside the medieval city walls and it was very popular among the aristocrats and the merchants. Also the artists and the writers became very fond of the neighborhood and in the 19th Century also the big newspaper houses came to the area. The story also tells, that because the journalists were always working late and they wanted to enjoy a relaxing time after work, the brothels started to arrive in the Bairro Alto area. Still to this current day Bairro Alto remains a popular and lively place for a good night out and instead of brothels it has many different types of interesting small bars with lively and versatile range of music where you can enjoy a delicious cocktail or a cold beer, whatever you prefer. Bairro Alto has something for everyone from Caribbean style bars to Irish pubs and it’s all in this wonderful old town neighborhood.
The vibes of the Alto has already charmed me once or twice as well and my favorite places and my best recommendations are for sure the small and wonderful Caribbean style bars with their tasty and fresh cocktails and reggaeton music. During these times of the Covid-19 it is very important to acknowledge the current restrictions and recommendations for example about the opening hours and the amount of customers for the restaurants and bars. These restrictions and recommendations are updated every week in Lisbon now, so be sure to find out the current situation to avoid any unfortunate surprises while travelling and going out.
HISTORIC AND ICONIC FUNICULARS AND COLOURFUL STREET ART
Although Bairro Alto is an amazing place for the nightlife, it is also so much more than just that. When the party people are still sleeping after a night out, you can head out to the streets to see the colourful buildings and the interesting street art, that has also found its place on the sides of the yellow iconic funiculars.
Because of the hight differences and many steep hills of the Alto neighborhood, it is possible to take the Elevador da Gloria funicular from the Restauradores Square in the city center to get up the hill to Bairro Alto. The Elevador da Gloria funicular was built in 1885 and it will bring you right next to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara viewpoint, which is one of the most wonderful viewpoints in the city.
I walk past the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara and the Gloria funicular every time I want to go to the Chiado area for a dinner or catch the next train to Cascais for a beach day from the Cais do Sodre Train Station, or if I just want to go and explore the city and the Alto area a bit more. This viewpoint was also the very first viewpoint where I took my first photos of the Lisbon city rooftops.
In addition to the wonderful Elevador da Gloria, there is also another funicular to the high quarter. Elevador da Bica is the most photographed and the most famous of the funiculars and you have possibly seen many photos of this already. You can find the Bica a bit lower than the Gloria and it is located in an idyllic narrow and steep street with colourful buildings around. The Bica was built in 1892 and it was made for bringing people from the Tejo riverside up towards the Bairro Alto.
Usually the Bica is very popular and has many tourists and photographers around it, but now during Covid I had the great chance to enjoy watching the funiculars of Bica pass each other with no other people next to me. The Elevador da Bica has two funiculars, one is always down and one is up and they always pass each other at the same time in the middle of the hill. No need to say – I was very excited when I heard the bells of the carriages ring and they started to come towards each other, passing just in front of me. Yay, my tourist moment was perfect!
OTHER SIGHTS TO SEE
Bairro Alto is not really bathing in the ocean of amazing sights to see, but it does have a few. The decorative baroque style São Roque Church and the beautiful church of Santa Catarina are definitely worth the visit and they are popular places among the locals and the tourists.
CHARMING CHIADO AND THE COLOURFUL PINK STREET
While spending time in the amazing Alto, you should also for sure visit the charming area of Chiado below the Alto. Chiado has also great restaurants and cafes, boutiques and local gems. Most of the Chiado was destroyed in the big fire of 1988, but has been rebuilt and reborn since back to its glory. After Bairro Alto and Chiado remember to pop onto the Pink Street below Chiado, close to the Cais do Sodre Train Station. It is literally a street painted in pink and it has many bars and restaurants around it. Now during the Pride, it also has rainbow-coloured umbrellas decorating the street wonderfully.
Experience the best neighborhoods in Lisbon all the way from Bairro Alto to the old town Alfama and everything in the middle with the local buses, metro and the iconic yellow trams with the Lisboa Card*, easily and all combined in one card.
REMEMBER TO ALSO CHECK OUT THE OTHER ACTIVITIES AROUND BAIRRO ALTO AND LISBON:
Check my previous article about the lovely old town Alfama and other posts about Lisbon also:
- Alfama – The charming old town of Lisbon
- New country, new way of life – First thoughts about Portugal
HAVE YOU ALREADY VISITED THE BAIRRO ALTO? IS IT A YAY OR NAY FOR YOU? SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE ON THE COMMENTS BELOW! 🙂
<3: Tiina Johanna
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Lisbon has many interesting things to see and to do and the best part of the city is definitely the various neighborhoods, not so much the sights as usually. I love to spend time wandering and exploring around the city, because I feel that I find something new and amazing every time. If I would have to choose a part of the city that is above all others and that I would tell about first, it would for sure be Alfama, the charming old town of Lisbon.
HISTORY, CURVY STREETS AND WONDERFUL VIEWS
Alfama is the oldest part of Lisbon and it’s located right next to the city center, beneath the medieval castle of Lisbon, Castelo de São Jorge. Alfama is full of twists and turns, hills, narrow alleyways and cobblestones all around, just like the old towns in general. Because Alfama is located on a hill, it is also a perfect spot to look at the wonderful views towards the Tejo river and see the orange rooftops of the colourful old buildings and there are amazing viewpoints to enjoy the sunny days. The most popular viewpoint is called Miradouro de Santa Lucia, which is a stunning place to enjoy time and to look at the sceneries around. From Santa Lucia is only a few minutes walk to another fantastic viewpoint called Miradouro das Portas do Sol, that is on a nice small old town square, where you can also hop onto the iconic yellow trams.
Alfama contains a lot of history and the name comes directly from the arabic word al-hamma, which means fountain/spa. Alfama has many lovely restaurants and cafes and there are many great options for us vegans and vegetarians too. Alfama is also one of the only parts of Lisbon that survived as it is through the terrible earthquakes in 1755 and the many old and colourful buildings and cute narrow streets are in its original form still today. The city also maintains these streets and buildings well to prevent decay.
As a home for the fishermen and the less fortunate back in the days, this interesting and beautiful neighborhood is a great place to spend a warm summer day exploring the streets, looking at the views and enjoying the many restaurants around. Alfama is very popular amongst the photographers, tourists and the locals, because the atmosphere is always amazing. The easiest way to get to Alfama is to use the old wooden yellow trams that are already an iconic sight in Lisbon in itself, or by taking a taxi or a uber. There are also many funny tuk-tuk drivers available all around the city and in Alfama that are eager to give you a tour, but the tour will for sure be very bumpy on the cobblestone streets. If you want to avoid paying too much for your tours, I recommend booking a tour in advance* to be sure of what you pay for.
SIGHTS AND GOOD VIBES
After visiting the Castelo de São Jorge on top of the hill and checking the views down to the wonderful Tejo river, the friends of history and sights should also see the Cathedral of Lisbon, the National Pantheon and the roman-catholic Church of Saint Antonius, that are all located in Alfama.
If Lisbon is new to you or if you only have a few days to get to know the city, Alfama is definitely the best place to start your exploring. Alfama will give you everything from sunny viewpoints and sceneries to small boutiques and delicious cafes and restaurants, historic sights from the medieval Castle to the beautiful Cathedral, and of course the great opportunities to follow and photograph the famous yellow trams outside and in – just follow the tracks and a tram will cross your path sooner or later! The most famous line is the number 28*, that goes around all the most important places in Lisbon and in the Alfama neighborhood.
ALFAMA – THE HOME OF FADO
Fado is a traditional Portuguese folk music style developed in the 1820s. Fado is emotional, passionate and melancholic and it lives strongly in Alfama. Fado belongs also to the Unesco World Heritage list. You can go to listen to amazing Fado in Lisbon for example at different restaurants, but remember to book a table in advance to avoid any inconveniences.
Fado is about nostalgia and missing gone times and lost things and fado has always been a way to express emotions even during harder times in history. Fado is really a historical thing to experience in Portugal! You can learn more about fado and the best gems of Alfama for example with this combined tram and walking tour*.
EXPERIENCE DEEPER THAN THE SURFACE
The best pieces and the most interesting hidden gems of Lisbon and the old town can be discovered through a fantastic guided tour*, where the guide tells you all the best spots to visit and the local tips for exploring and also of course the best places to eat! I always use guided tours when I have a tight schedule or when I really want to experience a country deeper than the surface. So far these tours have never disappointed me and after the tour it has been so much easier to go through the city on my own. At the moment all tours are planned with safety and health first and here in Portugal is also mandatory to wear a face mask in public places.
DO YOU LIKE OLD TOWNS? HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO ALFAMA? SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THE COMMENTS BELOW! 🙂
3: Tiina Johanna