Tourist Sites in Portugal
Once a great seafaring kingdom that dominated trade routes to Africa, South America and Asia, today Portugal’s grandiose past can still be seen in the buildings, monuments and museums of this fascinating country. Indeed, when it comes to the sights, there’s simply loads to do – meaning it’s a challenge to select a list of just the top ten tourist attractions in Portugal.
However, we’ve considered, cogitated and deliberated to pick out ten of the best sights in Portugal for visitors to explore and - while we’ve gone for the more obvious attractions - we’ve also slipped in a couple of less recognisable suggestions too…
So whether you plan to walk the Medieval streets of Lisbon and Porto, or head to the border of Spain where walled towns separate the two countries, you’ll constantly be absorbing a fascinating chapter of Portugal’s past. And for a more comprehensive list of Portuguese visitor attractions, visit our full historical sites of Portugal page.
With its breathtaking location and fairy-tale colour palette of ice cream pink, yellow and blue all flowing seamlessly around the blend of Moorish-pseudo-medieval architecture, it’s not surprising that the Pena National Palace is top of our list of tourist attractions in Portugal. This masterpiece of 19th century romanticism was built by Prussian architect and engineer Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. Today it’s open to visitors, who will be just as overwhelmed by its over-the-top interior as its exterior. What’s more, as impressive and whimsical as the Palace is, its setting - atop a cliff and surrounded by beautiful maintained park - is equally stunning. Pena National Palace has got our stamp of approval, as well as UNESCO’s.
Like Portugal itself, the Belem Tower is understated - and magnificent. Rising majestically from the banks of the River Tagus in Lisbon, with its interesting asymmetric shape and ornately decorated turrets, it simply doesn’t have a bad angle. Even its derriere looks good, which we all know is no easy feat. Looks aside, the Belem Tower is a symbol of Portugal’s Age of Discovery. It was built between 1515 and 1520 to celebrate the expedition to India of Vasco da Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer, and it’s one of the finer examples of the Manueline style of architecture. One of the major tourist attractions of Portugal, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - no surprise there - and we recommend visiting either at sunrise or sunset for the best snaps.
For a brief period of time, Ajuda National Palace served as the official residence of the Portuguese royal family. Then Portugal became a republic and the royal family had to move out. Their loss is certainly posterity’s gain. A stunning example of neoclassical architecture, which an equally opulent interior, Ajuda National Palace is a must on any Lisbon tour. On top of hosting dignitaries, it’s also an art museum.
4. St George's Castle
St George’s Castle sits perched atop the highest hill of Lisbon, which makes it the perfect destination to go to for amazing city views. That’s not the only string in its bow though; its history is as epic as its setting. The earliest mentions of St George’s Castle date back to the eleventh century. Then, in 1147, it was conquered by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques. It served as the official residence of the royal family from 12th until the 16th century when it was abandoned in favour of other more glamourous palaces. Despite going into disrepair from then, it’s still a formidable sight to see and provides city-vistas that are simply unbeatable.
Deserving of its place among the top 10 visitor attractions in Portugal for its mosaic floors alone, the ruins of Conimbriga are probably the best example of Portugal’s Roman past in the country. The settlement has been inhabited since the ninth century BC and was a prosperous town under the Romans. On top of the mosaics, visitors should also check out the houses and public buildings, as well as the Roman roads and the impressive public baths which had complex and intriguing heating systems installed.
6. Jeronimas Monastery
One word springs to mind when walking into the Jeronimas Monastery and that’s simply: wow. The monastery was built at the same time as the Belem Tower under the orders of King Manuel and also celebrates the successful voyage to India of the explorer Vasco Da Gama. These two superstars of Portugese history are now buried within its truly mind-blowing walls. When visiting the Monastery be sure to look up: tall, impressive columns give way to a dramatic ceiling. It’s also three tourist attractions of Portugal for the price of one: Jeronimos Monastery is now home to the National Archaeological Museum and the Maritime Museum.
Rising 412m above sea level and boasting incredible panoramic views, this ruined castle rises majestically above its surrounding forest and morning mists. While it was originally built by the Moors around the eighth century, as rumour has it, most of what’s on display today only goes back to the nineteenth century. When the clouds move away, the views of neighbouring palaces and the Atlantic are breathtaking. If you want to feel like royalty, you can get to the castle via horse and carriage. Athletic and adventurous types might want to walk up along a lovely forest trail.
8. Silves Castle
Few walks will be more memorable than a walk along the walls of Silves Castle, one of the most famous Portuguese tourist attractions. Made from sandstone, this imposing Medieval castle defended a once-thriving Moorish settlement in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Whilst the allure of Silves Castle might be its well-preserved defensive walls, turrets and gates, other remains, of buildings and cisterns, are also worth exploring.
9. Castelo de Almourol
Castelo de Almourol is the stuff of legends; located on an island which was once a Roman fort, the castle was built by Gualdim Pais, Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar, in 1171. The castle’s distinctive - and remote - location on a river, and its impressive history, make it one of the best hidden gems among Portugal’s visitor attractions. Little wonder then that poets have been inspired by this memorial to Portugal’s Age of Chivalry - it’s as dreamy as it is domineering.
10. Batalha Monastery
The truly spectacular Batalha Monastery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary to commemorate a major military victory at the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. It now stands as one of Portugal’s top attractions and is one of the most incredible buildings in the country. This stunningly ornate convent and masterpiece of Gothic art was built under the reign of King Joao I, who was later buried here. Successive kings continued to add to the Monastery, creating a fascinating fusion of history and architecture and a destination not to miss.
If that’s whetted your appetite for all things Portuguese, remember you can download your free printable Top Ten Portuguese tourist attractions guidebook now as well as exploring our full list and map of Portugal’s tourist attractions.