Exploring the Streets Around Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon
If you’re visiting Lisbon, it’s nearly impossible to miss the majestic castle towering over the city atop São Jorge hill. The Castelo de Sao Jorge is a popular tourist attraction for those visiting Lisbon, but the real charm is in the maze of cobblestone alleyways surrounding it.
While the tourists grab an Uber or take the overpacked Tram 28 straight to the top of the hill, they miss out on an opportunity to dive into the local culture of Lisbon.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge is located smack bang in the middle of Lisbon’s historic Alfama district. Although the castle itself receives extremely high traffic from tourists, the area surrounding it has managed to remain authentic and full of local appeal.
The neighborhood is very hilly, so throw on a sturdy pair of shoes, and get ready to explore. You can easily spend up to 5 hours getting lost in the maze of quaint streets and still find new surprises around the corner.
Begin Your Journey
The best place to start your ascent is on the Alfama district’s eastern end at Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, a church dating back to 1629 that also houses a museum which you can visit for 5€ if you want to.
If you happen to be there on a Tuesday or Sunday, you can check out the Feira da Ladra as you wander across the Campo de Santa Clara. It’s the primary flea market in Lisbon, where you can find tons of cool stuff sold by locals like vintage clothing and handmade crafts. It’s a great way to support the local community and find some great bargains yourself!
Google maps won’t be necessary to explore this area as all roads will eventually lead to the castle, and using maps is impossible in the maze of streets. As long as you’re going upwards, then you’re heading the right way. Besides, getting lost is half the fun!
You’ll likely notice the sardine-packed, yellow Tram 28 whiz past you. It is essentially a tourist bus, and it’s not uncommon for there to be huge queues of hundreds of people waiting to get on. In reality, you won’t be able to see a quarter of as much as you can see by exploring on foot.
Portas do Sol
One place you have to stop as you meander the streets is the viewpoint from Portas do Sol. You’ll find many unmarked viewpoints throughout this area, but this one takes the cake. There’s a kiosk there where you can grab a drink and take a load off, or if you want to treat yourself you can enjoy a cocktail at the rooftop cocktail bar. If you’re a beer drinker, then you have to grab a Sagres or Super Bock, which are Portugal’s local beers.
The view looks out over the Tagus River (or Tejo in Portuguese) and the district’s terracotta roofs, and as the sun goes down, they turn an even more fiery color. While there’s often local musicians playing music throughout the day, it’s definitely worth checking out around dusk for the full experience.
You’ll notice many unmarked shops and bars down the tight alleyways, many of them just locals selling coffees or pastries out of their homes. You can also find some fantastic deals on traditional Portuguese dishes in this area, so use it as a chance to experiment.
Grilled sardines, or sardinhas assadas, are a typical Portuguese dish that you can find at almost every local restaurant, but Páteo 13 serves up the best in the area. They are near the bottom of the hill, tucked in a small alley, and serve fish straight off their charcoal grill. Some local spots host Fado nights, such as Santo André, where you can enjoy some traditional Fado music while having dinner (they have the sardines too) or drinking some delicious port.
The locals are extremely friendly, especially to those who are respectful of Portuguese culture. So, make sure you give everyone an “Olá” and say “obrigado” (thank you) as you leave.
The Alfama district is extremely safe, and locals are always happy to point you in the right direction, and don’t be afraid to check out unassuming alleyways to see what you can discover.
Although the castle itself is a tourist destination, it’s still worth visiting. There is a kiosk called Wine with A View, which sells…. you guessed it, wine with a view. There’s no better place in Lisbon to enjoy a glass of wine, and you even get to keep the glass!
If you’re staying in Lisbon, the Alfama district will be a place you will revisit time and time again. Each time, you’ll find a new street, café, viewpoint, or shop and give your legs a great workout in the process.