Fado. You can’t understand Portuguese culture or decipher the messages inherent in the tangle of streets in the Alfama until you see, hear, and at least partially understand fado.
Lisbon’s Fado Museum, Museu do Fado is a good place to start. Like Turin’s National Cinema Museum, it’s meant to take you back and forth through time, to understand the art’s origins and direction, the vector of creativity.
I was impressed with the installation of an old-time tavern where fado might be sung in the days before the tourist throngs. As they’ve done in Turin with cinema, there are stations where one might sample the music in comfortable and modern chairs.
The museum’s web site has a listing of Lisbon’s Fado Houses as well. Ask there for a recommendation. Many have become tourist joints, where huge tour groups get the closest tables and chat loudly amongst themselves. Try to find a small, intimate place.
In any case, you can get into the museum free with a Lisboa Card
Getting to the Fado Museum
The Fado Museum is on Largo do Chafariz de Dentro, 1 in the Alfama (see map below). There is parking at Jardim do Tabaco and Largo do Terreiro do Trigo parking lots. Buses 9, 25-A, 28, 35, 39, 46, 59, 90, 107, 206, and 216 will get you there. Closed Monday.
There is a store where you can buy Fado and Portuguese guitar music on CD, as well as a Coffee Shop.
For classic Fado, look for Amalia Rodrigues. For the hot new Fado, try Mariza. For guitar, look for the classic stylings of Carlos Paredes, the king of Portuguese guitar music.