While Portugal may not be as large as some nations, there’s a lot to see and do. In fact, you could spend weeks in the country and still not get around to everything. How will you decide which places to visit during your stay? Here are seven of the most popular tourist attractions in Portugal that must be on your list.
Torre de Belém
Many people choose to find a comfortable place to stay in Lisbon and make it base of operations for their holidays. This works well since it’s relatively easy to get just about anywhere from this city. Best of all, there’s plenty to see and do in Lisbon on those days when you feel like staying closer to home and enjoying everything the city has to offer.
On one of those days, the Torre de Belém is a must. Considered among the most loved monuments in the city, the Torre de Belém holds the distinction of being one of Lisbon’s symbols of the Age of Discovery. During the 15th and 16th centuries, it served as the homeport for many of the explorations that increased the Old World’s knowledge of distant lands.
Originally, the Torre de Belém was designed for military purposes, while the construction was complete by 1521; it remains an example of military architecture that continues to impress everyone who enters that structure. All the design details were prepared by Franciso de Arruda, who utilized a number of elements that are considered to be part of what’s known as the Manueline style.
One of the things you’ll learn during your visit is that the tower is of such importance as a cultural icon that UNESCO chose to designate it as a World Heritage site. Truly, your time spend here will give you more of an appreciation of an era that has shaped the course of modern culture.
Convento do Cristo
On one of your excursions outside Lisbon a trip to Tomar is in order. There you will find the Convento de Cristo waiting for you. Originally constructed to serve as the headquarters for the Order of the Knights Templar, the Convento continues to inspire visions of what it was like to be alive in the 12 century. First occupied in 1160, the original Covento was added to over the next few centuries, making it one of the most versatile and richly decorated locales in Portugal.
While visiting the Convento, do spend time in the original Templar church that’s found at the center of the convent. Known as the Charola, the church’s architecture and decorative details speak of the purposes and beliefs held by the Order. The same can be said about the cloisters that were added to the Convento as recently as the 16th century. Make sure to spend time looking at the detail in the Manueline window designed by renowned sculptor Diogo de Arruda and learning more about the secret staircases that run throughout the Convento.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
Back in Lisbon, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian awaits you. This museum displays more than 6,000 pieces of art and artifacts that were once the property of a one person. Upon the death of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian in 1955, the museum came into existence in accordance with his wishes. As an Armenian oil magnate, Gulbenkian has the opportunity to amass an impressive collection that he chose to bequeath to Portugal.
The collection is considered among the finest to be found anywhere in Europe. Gulbenkian collected art from a number of different cultures and eras, ranging from the Classical period all the way through to the contemporary art of the early 20th century. The sheer diversity of the collection alone makes it one of the most important centers of culture in the world. You will have the opportunity to see such valuable treasures as 16th century illustrated manuscripts, Roman medallions that were discovered in Egypt, masterpieces painted by some of the world’s most important artists, and even furniture dating from key periods in European history.
During warm weather, the gardens surrounding the museum are ideal for picnics. All you have to do is look for the designated areas that are set-aside for those who love the idea of drinking in the beauty of the museum’s exterior while enjoying an outdoor meal.
Bom Jesus do Monte
The sheer beauty of Bom Jesus do Monte is difficult to fully describe. The only way to truly appreciate this beautiful religious sanctuary is to see if for yourself. Positioned on a wooded slop that’s found relatively close to Braga, the design is like something few people have ever seen. The Baroque Escadaria provides access to the church of Bom Jesus with it’s many chapels. Those chapels are decorated with a number of scenes depicting the life and ministry of Jesus, up to and including the Passion of Christ. The scenes are augmented with exquisite sculptures and statues that make the scenes even more compelling and inspirational.
The staircase progresses through what’s known as the Sacred Way, allowing visitors to visit each of the chapels. There, it’s possible to stop and contemplate each of the 14 Stations of the Cross. Near the halfway point, the stairs take visitors to the Escadório dos Cinco Sentidos, providing the opportunity to stop and consider each of the five senses. Just prior to reaching the church, visitors reach what’s known as the Staircase of the Three Virtues. While there, visitors are invited to stop and meditate on the central virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Along with the magnificence of what you’ve already seen, the view of the surrounding countryside will inspire a sense of awe. If you’re like many visitors, you will want to linger there for a time and soak in the beauty of creation before making your way back down the stairs.
Castelo de Guimarães
Considered the birthplace of Portugal, the Castelo de Guimarães is also where Dom Afonso Henriques, the nation’s first monarch, was born in 1110. For a time, Guimarães served as the capital for Portugal. Today, it’s a World Heritage site, owning to the historic monuments that are found near the old town center. In modern times, the Castelo de Guimarães remains an expression of of how significant the town and the monarch were to the creation of Portugal’s traditions and culture.
The original structure hails from the 10 century. During the 12th century, the structure was expanded by Henry of Burgundy to include battlements and towers that were capable of protecting the area from invaders. The tiny chapel where Dom Afonso was baptized is still found just outside the castle’s walls and is open for visitors to see.
While there, do climb to the Torre de Menagem and take in the view. This central keep made it possible to have a clear line of vision to all areas surrounding the castle, making it all the easier to see anyone approaching.
Silves Castle is a key site found in what was once the capital city of Moorish Algarve. During the early years of the 12th century, it was considered a seat of learning. Many Arabian artists, scientists, geographers, and other luminaries gathered here. The castle itself was constructed with an eye toward protecting those who lived in the city in the event of an invasion.
In later times, the city and the castle were captured by the Crusaders, bringing the area under the control of the Church once again. The castle remains the single most impressive historical structure in Algarve today, and provides a beautiful view of Silves. If your visit happens to be in August, be prepared to enjoy the Medieval Festival that takes place withing the castle and just outside the battlements.
Palácio da Bolsa
The Palácio da Bolsa once housed the stock exchange that served the city of Oporto. Hailing from the middle of the 19th century, it was constructed on the former site of a monastery. Also considered a World Heritage site, the palace is located within the boundaries of what’s known as the Old City.
Inside, visitors are able to see the opulence of the era in which the structure came to completion. Galleries and the range of ornate rooms found within the palace easily rival anything that one would see in a castle or other royal dwelling. Many find that the Arabian Room is among their favorite places to stop for a time. The combination of Moorish influence coupled with the extravagance of lush blue and gold make the space something that you will not want to miss.
These are only seven of the must-see destinations that welcome you to Portugal. Settle in and see what other wonders await you. You’re likely to find that one trip to this magnificent nation will not be enough.