The name Alcântara s derived from the Arabic word for bridge. Logically you would think that the district is named after Ponte 25 de Abril, the bridge that hangs above the district, but obviously that can’t be true.
The name refers to another bridge, an old Roman bridge that was here since ancient times. After the occupation by the Moors, the whole area was named after the bridge: al-qantara.
The evolution of Alcântara
Just like the city of Lisbon itself, Alcântara has experienced a great development in recent years. The area that now bears the name of this district has a long and important history for the city of Lisbon, but also for Portugal.
During the occupation of the Moors, the battle of Alcântara (1580) took place on the old Roman bridge. The Portuguese lost this battle and at the same time its independence. The Spanish king Philip II ruled over Portugal from that moment on.
The area functioned as a link between the city and the countryside, ideal conditions to settle here. After the 1755 earthquake – with a large part of the Baixa destroyed – especially the nobility and wealthy merchants no longer felt safe and moved away from the city centre. After the earthquake, the royal family had a palace built in the upper Ajuda, which made Alcântara very attractive for building residences and quintas (large country houses).
Origin of the industry
With its location on the Tagus River and the nearby valley, Alcântara was a place with strong potential for industrial development. In 1846 the company Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense, one of the largest factories in Lisbon, settled in Alcântara. The Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense was an industrial superpower founded in Lisbon in 1838.
In the years 1851-1855, in addition to the first building, five more were built to centralize the spinning and weaving machines spread throughout the city. The set of six buildings was then known as Fábrica Pequena (“small factory”). The industrial space had a size of 23,000 m2.
In the 20th century, the industry in Lisbon declined, partly due to strikes and the relocation of production to lower-wage countries. For a long time, this industrial area has been hidden from the outside world. Nowadays it has been completely returned to the city and the area is better known as LX-factory.
Alcântara has good connections with the other districts in the city. You can use tram 15E, the train or the buses that run through the district. Within 30 minutes you can be at Praça do Comércio or sink your teeth into a delicious pastel de nata in Belém or Basílica da Estrela.
The south side of Alcântara, with its many attractions, is very inviting to discover. But the north side, the side of the Alcântara valley, should not be forgotten. The striking Aqueduto das Águas Livres crosses the valley, and is an absolute landmark in the scenery of Lisbon.
The hidden miniature city, LX Factory, for creative people, but nowadays also a hotspot for tourists. Enjoy the versatility of this place: traditional Portuguese food, trendy boutiques, a bookshop.
Doca Santo Amaro
Doca Santo Amaro is located under Ponte 25 de Abril and functions as a marina. This is a great place to come and have a drink late in the afternoon. If you want to enjoy the nightlife, come after dinner. There are many different restaurants and pubs here. It is also an ideal place to walk around and enjoy the view.
Ponte 25 de Abril
Red, high and impressive, that’s the 3km (1.9 miles) long suspension bridge over the Tagus. The Ponte 25 de Abril bridge was modelled after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, designed by the same architect.
Eating and Drinking
This is the most delicious ice cream in the world, according to these ice cream makers of Santini. They’re not entirely wrong. Definitely worth trying out for yourself.
In 2009, the first Gelado Artisani branch was opened near Jardim da Estrela. With the opening of the ice cream shop, Gelado Artisani responded to the trend of the time: homemade ice cream with fresh ingredients.
Lodging in Alcântara
If you’re planning on exploring the city but don’t want to be in the busy city centre, this district is the ideal place to stay. Alcântara is located between the districts of Belém and Baixa and is easily accessible by public transport. Because you are not in the centre of the city, hotel prices are also very reasonable.
C&O Guest House Lisbon: Ideal if you are travelling with two people, but it also offers a large family room for under €70 or just over £60, with private bathroom. The guesthouse is just around the corner from the LX Factory and public transport to Belém or Baixa.
Vila Gale Opera: This 4-star hotel is less than 10 minutes from the Tagus and the public transport that takes you to Belém or Baixa. The hotel has a large roof terrace (overlooking the Tagus) and an indoor swimming pool. An overnight stay costs an average of €100 / £90 per night.
Junqueira Charming Apartment: This apartment can accommodate up to six people so it ‘s ideal for a family stay. The minimum number of nights you can book is three. But when you see this apartment you won’t regret it. Super comfortable and a good base to explore the city.