Between it’s rambling historic towns, Moorish ruins and bucolic landscapes, there are hundreds of sites to see in Portugal. As the oldest nation-state in Europe, Portugal’s roots date all the way back to 1139. Along the way, hundreds of historic monuments and landmarks have made their way into the landscape. From 12th-century fortresses to ’50s statues, here are the 7 most famous monuments in Portugal.
The Most Famous Monuments in Portugal
This lovely little fort once guarded the Tejo Estuary and acted as the ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. Today, it’s Portugal’s most famous monument. Built between 1514 and 1520, the UNESCO World Heritage Site towers over Belem and the meandering river. Portuguese architect and sculptor Francisco de Arruda built the intricate facade in Manueline style. Look out for the carved rhinoceros, the first ever depiction of a rhino in Europe.
For sparkling city views, climb the narrow spiral staircase to the rooftop terrace.
Jerónimos Monastery was designed to commemorate the voyage of Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea. Construction began in 1501, but it wasn’t completed until the seventeenth century. Back then, the monastery was populated by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome, who gave guidance to sailors and prayed for the king’s soul. Today it’s a popular tourist site and hosts important diplomatic meetings.
Architecture aficionados in particular will appreciate the double-story cloisters, azulejos tiling and reticulated vaulting.
3. Cristo Rei Statue
Look up to the horizon and you can’t miss the Cristo Rei Statue. Perched on the southern banks of the Tejo Estuary, the 110-metre statue depicts Christ with his arms raised. If you think it looks familiar, you’re right – it was inspired by Christ the Redeemer in Rio. While it’s still a popular pilgrimage site, most people visit to hop up onto the 80-meter panoramic platform.
Combine your trip with a day out in Cacilhas and Almada, two equally pretty towns on the opposite bank of the Tagus River.
4. Castelo de São Jorge
Looming majestically over central Lisbon, Castelo de São Jorge’s origins date all the way back to the 1st-century. Explore traces of the Moorish neighbourhood at the archaeological site, take in a view on the Camera Obscura or stroll across its romantic belvedere. The gardens are also the only remaining green space in Lisbon that feature the native species of Portuguese forest.
You’ll find the castle in Alfama, one of the most colourful and characterful districts in Lisbon.
5. Alcobaca Monastery
Considered to be one of the most beautiful religious buildings in the country, Alcobaca Monastery is located in a pretty town on the Silver Coast. It was founded in the 12th-Century for King Alfonso I to celebrate victory over the Moors. Go to admire the baroque towers, the decorative vaults and some of its most famous tombs. Afterwards, take some time to explore the charming town, with its meandering river and bijou bridges.
Soaring 412-metres above sea level, Castelo dos Mouros or ‘Castle of the Moors’ sits on top of a huge hill high above Sintra. It played a pivotal role in Portugal’s road to independence. Formerly a Moorish outpost, the castle dates back to around the 8th-century, when most of Portugal was occupied.
Take a peek over the walls – the views are spectacular.
Pena is probably the prettiest palace in Portugal. With its peeling pastel walls and hilltop perch, it’s not unlike a Disney castle. German Baron von Eschwege built the Romanticist palace on the remains of a monastery in the 1840s. Outside it’s all swirling domes, statues and towers, while inside you’ll find sumptuous furniture, paintings and imposing statues.