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Interesting Places to Visit in Portugal


Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Palácio Nacional de Sintra

A pair of odd-looking conical chimneys distinguishes the exterior of Sintra's National Palace. Tapering off into the air, their strange form draws the eye towards the center of the old town where this illustrious former royal residence holds court. Built for King João I in the 14th century, this is the oldest surviving palace in Portugal. Known also as the Paço Real, it is a sumptuous property and to appreciate it fully deserves a good hour of your time. The building unveils itself over several floors, and the walk-through begins in the majestic Sala dos Cisnes (Hall of Swans), so named for the painted swans decorating the ceiling. Similarly, further on, the Sala das Pegas (Hall of Magpies) honors this cheeky member of the crow family. See if you can count them all.

The highlight of the upper levels is undoubtedly the astonishing Sala dos Brasões. This glittering hall is banded by superb azulejo tile work, while the domed ceiling is embellished with the coats of arms (brasões) of 72 noble Portuguese families. And what about those chimneys? They can be admired as part of a tapered roof in the palace kitchens, along with a display of polished copper utensils once used to prepare royal banquets.

Castelo dos Mouros

Standing high above the old town across a craggy escarpment, the 8th-century Moorish Castle adds dramatic character to the barren landscape. Its weather-worn ramparts follow the precipitous contours of the Serra and serve as a reminder of how strategically important the stronghold was - it was eventually taken from the Moors in 1147 by King Afonso Henriques. A way-signed footpath from the church of Santa Maria in town leads walkers up through the steep and wooded lower slopes to the castle's curtain walls. Here, a number of Moorish grain silos stand near the ruins of a medieval Christian church and cemetery. To enter the castle proper, a ticket needs to be purchased from the interpretation center near the road entrance, where buses pull up to disgorge those less inclined to don hiking boots. Within the walls lie an ancient Moorish cistern and the foundations of Muslim dwellings. The castle's three squat towers, set between chunky battlements, can be climbed and afford breathtaking views of the town below and the Atlantic coast. One of them, "Fernando's Tower" is named after the Portuguese monarch who restored the walls in the 19th century - a genuine King of the Castle.

Quinta da Regaleira Museu do Brinquedo (Toy Museum) Monserrate


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