We’ve been fortunate enough to visit a lot of European cities over the years, but we’ve come to crave certain things. We like winding streets where you can get lost filled with interesting little shops. We like a good castle. And we have been in dozens of churches, but still keep going in. We’ve pretty much started rating them at this point.
Which makes the Alfama district of Lisbon perfect for us. It’s origins date back to when the Moors controlled the region. You can get there by either hiking up from the downtown area or being fortunate enough to snag a spot on Lisbon’s legendary Tram 28. We weren’t fortunate, so we hiked up and prepared to get as lost as you can with an iPhone and Google Maps ready to bail you out of most jams.
Alfama leading attraction is the Castelo de Sao Jorge, which is a pretty solid castle and worth spending an hour or two walking around. It’s a hike to get to there, but it has one of the absolutely best views of Lisbon and the harbour. It’s also worth sticking around until sunset. Surprisingly most of the crowds leave, meaning it’s easy to claim a spot and watch a spectacular sunset over the city.
But even if walking around castles are not your thing, you still have a church like the Se, which is not quite as big a climb to reach. It’s not as spectacularly over-the-top as some we’ve been to, but it’s a working church. When we visited, service was under way, with a sizeable crowd in attendance for a Wednesday morning. A lot of European churches feel more like historical monuments, so it’s nice to see one locals use.
If you keep wandering you’ll hit plazas with spectacular views of the harbour and places to grab some shade and a drink. Wander up high enough and you’ll get to the church of Santa Luzia. It’s perhaps better known for the plaza that offers even more spectacular views of the city. And unlike the castle, it’s free.
But sometimes it’s the little things during your wanders. When strolling through the streets looking for some lunch we got lost, turned a corner and found a little restaurant. Hungry and looking to regroup, we ended up spending a nice hour eating a great little lunch, sipping cappuccino and indulging in homemade ice cream.
It doesn’t all have to be historic sites and churches. Sometimes the memory of an unexpected find and a good meal can last a long time.
Craig Welsh is a former associate editor of The Packet who now lives in Iqaluit, but travels whenever he can.