35+ Historic Landmarks in Portugal, For Your Portuguese Bucket List
Updated: May 29
Portugal is an incredibly beautiful and engaging country, with a diverse range of breathtaking travel options and destinations. From north to south, Portugal offers exciting vintage-y cites, eye popping landscapes, beautiful azulejo-clad churches, and important historic landmarks. There's something for every taste.
There are too many must see places in Portugal to describe in a single blog post. But if you're looking for some destination inspiration, I've complied an epic list of 37 of the best historic landmarks and destinations to visit in the Portugal.
Many of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites. As you might expect, most of them are concentrated in and around Lisbon and Porto. You can use this Portugal travel guide to fashion your own Portugal bucket list or road trip itinerary to match your preferences, choosing among Portugal's myriad cultural attractions.
35 Best Historic Landmarks and Attractions in Portugal
Let's get down to business. We'll travel through Portugal, visiting the most iconic destinations, soaking up the culture and must see sites along the way.
1. Carmo Convent, Lisbon
Carmo Convent is probably Lisbon's best historic site. It's an open air memorial to the worst day of Lisbon’s history, when the 1755 earthquake demolished much of the city.
The Carmo Convent was built and founded in 1389 by Portuguese knight Nuno Alvares Pereira. Pereira's foreboding and rather bleak creation was once Lisbon's most important church. It had an immense library with 5,000 books.
After it was decimated, the church was never entirely rebuilt and intentionally left roofless. Now, it's an evocative ruin housing the Carmo Archaeological Museum.
2. St. George’s Castle, Lisbon
St. George's Castle in Alfama is Lisbon's most recognizable landmark. Destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake, the fetching castle was rebuilt in the 1940s. It's a modern recreation of a medieval landmark, complete with crenelated walls and 11 towers. The doughty fortress looks quite authentic, as it was intended to, but it's not.
The hilltop that it sits on is important, having been occupied by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors. With the most prominent location on Lisbon's highest hill, St. George's Castle is essentially an excellent miradouro (viewpoint), with splendid panoramic views over Lisbon.
3. Santa Justa Elevator, Lisbon
The Santa Justa Elevator is both legendary and lovely. It was built in 1902 by French architect Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, a student of the famous Gustave Eiffel. It's wrought iron and decorated with elaborate filigree.
You travel up and down the elevator in wood paneled rooms with brass fittings. It links the Baixa and Bairro Alto neighborhoods. At the top, there are fantastic views over Baixa, Rossio Square, and St. George's Castle in the distance. If you want to hitch a ride, get there early because the lines are epically long.
READ: Tips for Visiting Lisbon
4. Praca do Commercio, Lisbon
Rua Augusta is Lisbon's pedestrianized main drag in the Baixa area. Much of this area was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1755. From its ruins, the Marques de Pombal created a new city center decorated in what came to be known as the 18th century Pombaline style.
The centerpiece of the city's post-earthquake design is the Praça de Comércio, a showy square on the riverfront. Spacious arcaded buildings encircle the square. A highlight of the square is a huge bronze status of King Jose I. The imposing triumphal arch, the Arco da Ria Augusta, was built to commemorate Baixa's comeback and reconstruction.
5. Se Cathedral, Lisbon
Lisbon Cathedral, often called simply the Se, is a Roman Catholic church with a fortress like exterior in the Alfama district. Like St. George’s Castle, it’s been rebuilt. The church and its imposing facade fit in nicely with the vintage look of Lisbon.
The Se was first built in 1150, just after King Alfonso Henriques took Lisbon from the Moors. The imposing exterior boasts a splendid rose window. Inside, it's a tad gloomy. It has 9 Gothic chapels and a Gothic cloister that's currently being renovated. Still an excavation site, Roman and other artifacts have been discovered there.
READ: A Stroll Through Alfama
6. Church of Sao Roque, Lisbon
Though plain and unassuming on the outside, inside Sao Roque is a revelation, one of Lisbon's most beautiful churches. It's richly decorated and smothered in gold. The church was originally built as a shrine to house a relic of St. Roch.
The church's Chapel of St. John the Baptist, built in 1742, is particularly lavish. It's embellished with precious marbles, jewels, gold, and mosaics. Sao Roque has some ancient tiles in the 16th century chapel dedicated to St. Roch. And there's a museum housing some of the treasures from the St. John Chapel.
7. Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora
The 16th century Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora is one of Lisbon's grand architectural sites and a secret hidden gem in Lisbon. In fact, it's hidden in plain sight, sitting atop one of the Graca neighborhood's highest points.
The monastery is downright jaw dropping. Dedicated to St. Vincent, Lisbon's patron saint, it's the burial place of kings and saints.
But the most compelling feature of the monastery is its richly decorated and sun-dappled cloisters. Everywhere you look, the cloisters are covered in stunning azulejo mosaics telling historical stories. Upstairs, an unbroken tiled pattern winds around the entire monastery. 100,000 tiles were used, making it the world’s largest collection of Baroque tiles.
8. Jeronimos Monastery, Belem
Jerónimos Monastery is a 500 year old UNESCO site and the premiere site in the Belem district. It's the finest example of Manueline architecture in Portugal.
Manueline architecture was a short lived late Gothic artistic movement that lasted 30 years in the early 16th century. It's a distinctively Portuguese style, named after its key influencer, King Manuel I, who reigned from 1495 to 1521.
There’s nothing like the moment you walk into the monastery's two level cloister, honey colored and dripping with organic detail. You'll be wowed by the delicately scalloped arches, twisting turrets, and columns intertwined with leaves, vines, and knots. And the gargoyles and beasties on the upper facade.
The cloister's highlight is the Refectory, a vast hall that served as the dining area for the monks. It's decorated with beautiful 16th century azulejo panels. Outside the Refectory is the Lion Fountain, where the monks washed their hands before meals.
Don't miss the adjacent Church of Santa Maria de Belém, which you can enter for free. (There's a separate line.) You'll be gobsmacked.
Inside, six massive tree trunk columns soar and spread wide into the cobwebby ceiling. The ceiling itself is a masterpiece, a fanciful spiderweb of stone. Superstar navigator da Gama is interred in the lower chancel, just to the left of the entrance. His tomb is festooned with seafaring symbols.
9. Belem Tower, Belem
The Tower of Belém is a beautiful Manueline-Gothic style structure, which is also part of Lisbon’s UNESCO designation. It’s just a 15 minute stroll along the river from the Jeronimos Monastery. And there are plenty of places to sit, relax, and admire the tower.
It's small, but has some personality. It looked very Game of Thrones-ish to my eye, which is always appealing.
Like the monastery, the Tower of Belem was commissioned by Manuel I and built in 1514-20. It's a fortress, adorned with rope carved stone and battlements in the shape of shields. The watchtower is built in a Moorish style. The austere basement below used to be a prison.
10. Monument to Discoveries, Belem
Perched proudly on the Belem's waterfront is a huge 56 meter statue-monument called the Monument to the Discoveries. Built in 1960, it was commissioned to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.
The monument is designed in the shape of a caravel, which is a speedy highly maneuverable sailing ship. It has Portugal's coat of arms on both sides. The sword of the royal house guards the entrance. At the far end, Henry the Navigator stands with a caravel in his hand.
On each side, in two sloping lines, are 33 of the Portuguese heroes linked to the 16th and 17th century Age of Discoveries, like Manual I. Near the monument, there's a Compass Rose 50 meters wide on the pavement. It displays a map of the entire world, showing the routes of the Portuguese navigators.
If you want to venture inside the monument, you'll have great views from the viewing platform on the 6th floor. You can access it by by elevator or stairs.
11. Ajuda Palace, Belem
Built in the early 19th century, Palacio da Ajuda is grand Neo-Classical palace. It served as the Portuguese royal residence from the 1860 to 1910. You can tour royal apartments and state rooms.
Inside, it's romantic. Clap your eyes on gilded and richly-decorated furnishings, tapestries, exquisite artworks, and other little "discoveries" from other countries. Don't miss the queen's chapel, home to Portugal's only El Greco painting.
The palace is about a 25 minute uphill walk from Belem. From Lisbon, you can also take tram 18E or several buses from downtown, including #760 from the Praça do Comércio. But it's worth the effort. It's an underrated hidden gem in Lisbon.
12. Batalha Monastery, Batalha
In Batalha, you'll be dazzled by the Dominican Monastery of Santa Maria de Vitoria. The ornate UNESCO-listed complex has Gothic and Manueline elements. Building began in 1388 and continued for centuries.
The historic structure was built to celebrate a pivotal 1385 battle, when Portugal overcame the mighty Spaniards in the Battle of Aljubarrota. The monastery and its church, the symbol of Portugal’s national pride, were built by Portugal’s prolific builder King Joao I, whose tomb is inside.
Characteristic of Gothic-Manueline architecture, you'll be delighted by the intricate carved floral and marine elements. The monastery is a must see for lovers of architecture, history, religion, or warfare. You can visit the church for free, but must pay to see the beautiful cloisters.
READ: Day Trips From Lisbon
13. Alcobaca Monastery, Alcobaca
If you love history or architecture, the UNESCO-listed Alcobaça Monastery is a must see site in Portugal. Alcobaca is a pretty town on the Silver Coast. It lies between Coimbra and Lisbon and can be accessed as a day trip from either city or visited en route between them.
The town is dominated by the austere and atmospheric 800 year old Monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaca, the largest Gothic religious structure in Portugal. It's one of Europe's oldest and best UNESCO sites. Alcobaca is a 12th century masterpiece of Gothic Cistercian art. Its vaunted architecture and history are bewitching.
I found it more beautiful and compelling than the vastly more crowded Jeronimos Monastery in Belem. Inside, you'll fine the ornate tombs of King Pedro I and Ines de Castro, Portugal's famous star crossed lovers. I was so besotted with their story, that I wrote a separate blog post about them.
14. Chapel of Bones, Evora
The star attraction of Evora is a rather bizarre and morbid ossuary, the Chapel of Bones. It's attached to the large Royal Church of St. Francis complex. Franciscan monks slaved away in the early 17th century building this unusual and chilling site when cemeteries were overflowing.
The bones and skulls of 5,000 people were collected from the cemeteries. The monks lined the chapel with them. The monks wanted to convey the didactic lesson that "life was transitory" and you'd better behave accordingly if you wanted a heavenly exit.
15. Escoural Cave, Evora
At Escoural Cave, you can visit a prehistoric rock art site. The cave is the site of an ancient Paleolithic settlement, with burial tombs and rock art. 50,000 years ago, the cave was inhabited by Neanderthals. The first drawings were made in 40-10 B.C.
Most of the rock art (paintings and engravings) was created in the late Neolithic– Chalcolithic periods. There are depictions of horses, bovines, other animals, and abstract figures.
The Escoural Cave was discovered in 1963. As new passages are discovered, more drawings are found as well. You need to book tickets in advance to visit, as only 10 people are allowed in at one time.
16. Coimbra University, Coimbra
Perched on the town's hilltop, Coimbra University is an ancient site. It's one of the oldest universities in the world, older than Oxford University. Coimbra itself is known as the “Athens of Portugal” for its knowledge and culture. Its university was founded by royal charter in 1290 in Lisbon.
King João II was a dedicated king. He got into hot water for overspending on the university instead of launching foreign conquests. But his dollars attracted great masters from all over Europe, making Coimbra University a prestigious school.
The must see spots in the stunning Baroque university include the Royal Palace, St. Michael’s Chapel, the Hall of Great Acts, the Private Exam Room, and the glorious Joanina Library. You can also climb the 18th century bell tower for panoramic views.
You have to take a timed entry tour to see the Joanina Library. The Noble Floor is stunning, like a sacred temple to books. There’s gold everywhere. It has a large central hall with a nave-like structure divided into three main rooms, clad in beautiful gilded bookshelves. Each room has a beautiful tromp l’oeil ceiling with an intricate allegory.
17. Ruins of Conimbriga, Coimbra
The remnants of the Roman Ruins of Conimbriga are an off the beaten path destination just outside Coimbra. History and archaeology buffs will be in 7th heaven. The site is among the best preserved ruins from the Roman Empire.
The town of Conimbriga was one of the largest Roman settlements outside Italy, dating from as early as the first Iron Age. In the 9th century B.C., Romans built an amphitheater for over 10, 000 people, city walls, three bathing complexes (with stone heating ducts) temples, and several residences.
Conimbriga wasn't excavated until the late 19th century. Only about 20% of the entire city is currently unearthed. The highlight of Conimbriga is its exquisite and well-preserved collection of colorful mosaic floors. The ones at the House of Fountains are especially remarkable.
18. Queluz National Palace, Queluz
Often referred to as Lisbon's "Versailles," this gorgeous 18th century palace is located 15 minutes from either Lisbon or Sintra. It's a national monument and hidden jewel-like gem in Portugal.
In 1747, Dom Pedro III (then prince regent) commissioned an architect to transform his hunting lodge into a swishy Rococo residence. Queluz Palace was later extended to add a pavilion, gardens, a throne room, and music room.
Dom Pedro lived there with his wife Maria. But there history is sad. Maria reputedly suffered from severe bouts of melancholy. When her son Jose died of smallpox, she went mad, suffering hallucinations and was confined to the palace.
The palace facade is stately and sober. It overlooks the spectacular Neptune Fountain. The formal gardens were decorated with mythological statuary and used for entertaining. There's also a canal decorated with azulejos depicting the royal family.
The highly decorated interiors are stunning. The highlights are the Ambassadors Hall, the Throne Room, and the Music Room.
19. Marvao Castle, Marvao
Marvao is a mountaintop eyrie in the Alentejo region near the Spanish border. It's home to one of Portugal's most beautiful castles, the well-preserved Marvao Castle.
The stout walls are made of granite. You can walk along most of the ramparts and climb the main tower.
20. Pena Palace, Sintra
The romantic Pena Palace in Sintra is one of Portugal's most popular must see attractions. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Pena Palace is beloved by its adoring visitors. It's the most romantic of the romantic palaces out there.
Most people adore Pena Palace, and the lines for visiting are epic. Pena Palace was the creation of King Ferdinand II, a genius who dared to be different. It's a heavy handed mish mash of different architectural styles. It looks like several castles smooshed together. It's a schizophrenic whirlwind of onion domes, turrets, crenellation, and fanciful sneering gargoyles.
The palace's facade serves as a color-coded legend. The red portion of the castle is the oldest part, built on top of a 15th century monastery that was destroyed in the great Lisbon earthquake. The ochre arches and domes showcase the Moorish influence. The blue tiled structures are reminiscent of the Manueline style.
Inside, there's less riotous color. But it's still pretty ornate. It's brimming with porcelain, Portuguese style furniture, and tromp l'oeil murals. The walls are decorated with 16th century Hispano-Arabic tiles.
Besides the palace itself, the estate boasts a lush green park of over 200 hectares, with plenty of trails and a treasure trove of sights and follies to keep you busy.
21. Quinta da Regaleira Palace, Sintra
Quinta da Regaleira was built by eccentric and superstitious millionaire Antonio Monteiro. It's an eerie romantic palace with stunning gardens featuring grottos, fountains, towers, and tunnels. It's part of Sintra's UNESCO designation. And it's a short 10 minute walk from Sintra's historic center.
The palace and its architectural ensemble are magnificent, with Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish, and Renaissance features. There are carvings associated with Masons, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians.
In the brochure you can get, Quinta is described as an "imaginary universe of symbolism and metaphor." It felt that way to me, very Pans Labyrinth-esque.
The gardens feature a startling "initiation well" that was used for secret initiation rites.
You walk 90 feet down the spiral (and somewhat slippery) staircase and then enter underground tunnels that take you into the gardens.
The well contains nine platforms, which are said to be “reminiscent of the Divine Comedy by Dante and the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of Purgatory and the nine skies which constitute Paradise.”
22. Castle of the Moors, Sintra
I loved Sintra's atmospheric fortress-castle, the Castelo dos Mouros. It's an ancient UNESCO site that's an easy 10 minute walk from Pena Palace. It's less glitz, but has an authentic ruins vibe. Once you arrive, it's a bit of a steep hike (maybe 15 minutes) to get to the top of the ramparts.
The Moorish Castle was built in the 8th–9th centuries by Muslims, but captured by Christians in 1147. It was abandoned in the 18th century and fell into ruins. But when King Ferdinand built Pena Palace, he preserved and conserved the ancient edifice. You'll have stunning 360 panoramic views over Sintra and of Pena Palace.
Just a word of caution. The castle walls have almost no railings and the stone path is uneven. But, on the upside, the Moorish Palace is (shockingly to my mind) the least crowded site in Sintra. Even in high season, the open spaces make it seem relatively uncrowded, especially compared to the insanely crowded Pena Palace.
READ: Tips for Visiting Sintra
23. National Palace of Sintra, Sintra
Though Sintra's other palaces tend to steal the show, the National Palace is well worth a visit. It showcases an intriguing blend of architectural styles. The conical chimney mark where the kitchens were inside.
The domed ceiling of the Salo dos Brasoes is decorated with the coats of arms of noble Portuguese families. The lower walls are decorated with bright blue 18th century Delft tiles. Also pop into the banqueting hall and check out its magnificent ceiling. It's divided into octagonal panels decorated with swans. Each swan wears an elegant gold collar.
In Manuel's wing, the rooms are decorated with beautiful tiles from Seville Spain. The Sala Arabe is also decorated with fine Portuguese azulejo tiles.
24. Montserrat Palace, Sintra
The Palace of Montserrat is another romantic destination near Sintra. Built in 1790, the Gothic Revival mansion has had several anglo-owners. It was first home to an English merchant, then passed to English novelist William Beckford, and then later to English millionaire and art collector Sir Francis Cook. Montserrat nearly became a ruin until the Italian state rescued and restored it in 2000.
The ornate palace mixes several architectural styles, from Neo-Moorish to Neo-Gothic. It's topped by a dome inspired by Brunelleschi's dome on Florence Cathedral. Inside, there's a library, chapel, and music room -- all featuring beautiful walls and ceilings.
The palace's highlight is its lush and lovely garden, landscaped in the 18th century by Beckford. The romantic green space is a veritable jungle of exotic flowering trees and shrubs. It was immortalized by Lord Byron in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. There's a rose garden, Mexican and Japanese gardens, and subtropical plantings.
25. Convent of Christ, Tomar
The town of Tomar boasts one of Portugal's most important buildings -- the 12th century complex of the Convent of Christ. It was originally the Convent of the Knights of the Templar of Tomar. As an ancient building, it has Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline architectural elements. It became a UNESCO site in 1983, and is a quick walk from Tomar's beautiful historic center.
Founded in 1160, the UNESCO-listed convent is a magnificent sprawling complex. You can visit a medieval castle, churches, chapels, and dazzling Manueline cloisters. The Templar Church has a massive Gothic nave, ornate ribbed vaulting, and an intricate altar.
The most famous part of the church is the Chapter House's incredibly ornate window. It's the pinnacle of Manueline style, symbolizing Portugal's maritime dominance. The window is decorated with all the distinctive Manueline elements -- carvings of seaweed, knots, ropes, corals, leaves, etc. The magnificent window was created by architect Diogo de Arruda in the 16th century.
26. Sanctuary of our Lady of Fatima, Fatima
The tiny town of Fatima, like so much else in Portugal is steeped in legend. This particular legend holds that three shepherd children saw visions of Mary, the so-called "Marian Apparition." They returned to the same spot and learned three secret prophecies. The final one was stored in the Vatican until 2000.
From 1928-54, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima was built on the miraculous site. It's now a hugely popular pilgrimage stop for Catholics. The architecture is impressive with a sweeping circular courtyard, a basilica housing the children's tombs, and the chapel of apparitions.
27. Palace of Mafra, Mafra
There's really only one reason to visit Mafra -- to see the enormous, extravagant and grand Palace of Mafra. It's one of Europe's largest palaces. Built in the mid-18th century, it was originally intended as a Franciscan monastery. But the Portuguese ruler, Joao V, had other ambitions. He built a palace intended to impress and intimidate.
A lavish display of wealth and power, the Baroque palace was built when Portugal's maritime fortunes were at their zenith. No expensive was spared. The finished product housed friars, a royal palace, one of Europe's finest libraries, and myriad works of art. You can spend hours exploring the 1,2000 rooms. The Throne Room is a head turner, with stunning wall and ceiling frescos.
The undoubted highlight of Mafra Palace is the stunning library. It has a priceless collection of 40,000 gold embossed books, held in Rococo style bookcases. Its marble floor is 90 meters long. As a tourist, you can only get a quick peak inside from the entrance. As with the Joanina Library, a colony of bats keeps the books free from insect infestation.
28. Porto Cathedral (Se do Porto), Porto
Porto's stern looking cathedral, the Sé do Porto, is in the heart of the old town. The Sé is a must see site in Porto. The imposing fortress-like cathedral is part of Porto's UNESCO designation, it's so old.
Construction began in the second half of the 12th century. It has been renovated and now sports three different architectural styles -- Roman, Gothic, and Baroque. The church facade has two towers topped with crowned cupolas, buttresses, a rose window, and a crenellated arch. Inside, the barrel vaulted ceiling, the nave, and the altar are fabulous.
The Gothic Cloister is the Se's must see highlight. Entry to the cathedral is free, but you’ll pay 3 euros to visit the cloisters. It’s worth parting with the cash, just to view the gorgeous 17th century azulejos, which depict events from the "Song of Solomon" the last section of the Hebrew Bible. Be sure to step out onto the terrace for one of the best views of Porto.
29. Bolsa Palace, Porto
Porto’s old stock exchange was built next to the Church of São Francisco in 1832. The exterior was finished in 1850 and has a Neo-Classical design. The eclectic interiors were decorated right up to the start of the 20th century. It's an underrated tourist attraction in Porto, in my view.
You need to go inside to comprehend the richness of the elaborate sculpture, decorative carvings, plasterwork, frescos, chandeliers, and tiles. The stuccoed Moorish Revival Salão Árabe is almost overwhelming, while the monumental Pátio das Nações courtyard is lit by an octagonal metal and glass roof.
30. Livraria Lello, Porto
Porto's Livraria Lello is stunning. It's considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, clocking in at #3 on Lonely Planet's ranking. Time Magazine placed it among the world's 15 most interesting bookstores. In 2014, CNN declared it was the most beautiful bookstore in the world. It's now classified as a National Monument.
It's one of Porto’s most popular and photogenic destinations because of its lovely art deco, art nouveau, and gothic interior. It also claims bragging rights as the rumored inspiration for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series.
31. Sao Bento Train Station, Porto
You may arrive at the Belle Epoque Sao Bento station without realizing what awaits you. The train station is wallpapered with amazing azulejo murals. They literally put the "romance" into train travel.