Looking for something unusual to do in Lisbon? Here’s my guide to visiting the elegant Basilica da Estrela, a hidden gem in Lisbon.
The huge domed Neo-Classical basilica is one of Lisbon’s most impressive and remarkable landmarks.
Set proudly on a hill, the basilica anchors the Estrela neighborhood of Lisbon.
It’s a bit off the main city center and hence not swarming with tourists. The stately white building seduces and its rooftop offers splendid views of Lisbon.
History of the Basilica
Built from 1761-90, the basilica was the passion project of Queen Maria I of Portugal.
She swore she’d build the best church in Lisbon if she gave birth to a male heir. In 1761, she became a mother. Construction began that year.
Unfortunately, her child, José Prince of Brazil, died of smallpox 2 years before the basilica was finished. Queen Maria lived out her life in grief. Her tomb is in the church.
The basilica was the first church to be dedicated to the Sacred Heart.
What To See at the Basilica da Estrela
The 18th century basilica was modeled after the Convento de Mafra, a palace monastery, constructed between 171-55. The basilica was built by Mafra School architects in a Neoclassical and Baroque style, made entirely of sugar white marble.
The basilica features a curvaceous white dome and commanding twin belfries. The facade is decorated with marble statues and flanked by two twin bell towers.
It’s one of the more ornate churches in Lisbon. Much nicer than the more famous Sé Cathedral in Alfama, if you ask me.
2. The Interior
If you found the basilica stunning from the outside, wait until you step inside.
While the outside is made of pristine white marble, the interior is awash with pink, gray, yellow, black marble. When light pierces the dome, there’s a captivating kaleidoscope effect that’s quite stunning.
The basilica is filled with paintings by Pompeu Botoni and Pedro Alexandrino. In the right transept, lies the tomb of its benefactor, Queen Maria.
It’s a fancy Empire style tomb. Maria was not embalmed, just sprinkled with herbs and sealed in three enclosed caskets.
Locked in a room nearby is an incredibly elaborate Nativity Scene, one of the world’s best nativity scenes. It cost 1 euro to light it up.
It was created by celebrated 18th century sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro. It’s composed of 500 figures made out of cork and terracotta.
3. The Rooftop
At Basílica da Estrela, unlike many churches, you can actually climb to the roof. 112 stone steps later, you can inspect the dome and bell towers at close range.
The bells are loud! Check to see if the door to the dome is open. If it is, you have a great view of the interior from on high.
You’ll also have sweeping views over Lisbon from the roof. Here’s a great video showing you what to expect.
After your visit, reward yourself with a relaxing visit to the Estrela Garden. Laid out in the 19th century, the garden is a picturesque haven from the hustle and bustle of the azulejo clad city.
Practical Information for the Basilica da Estrela:
Address: Praça da Estrela Lisboa
Hours: Basilica: 9:30am to 1:00 pm & 3:00 pm to 7:30pm; Rooftop: 10:00 am to 1:00 pm & 3:00 pm to 6:40 pm. Closed on – Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon, Saturday morning, Sunday morning
The church is free. The Nativity Scene is 2 € and can only be accessed between 3:00-5:00 pm. To get to the rooftop for views, it’s 4 €. A sign will tell you to enter via Door 12 on the right.
Getting there: Tram 25 or Tram 28 from Praça do Comércio. By car, it’s 10-15 minutes from the city center
I hop you’ve enjoyed my guide to the Basilica da Estrela. You may enjoy these other Portugal travel guides and resources:
You may enjoy these other Lisbon travel guides and resources:
- 10 day itinerary for Portugal
- Historic landmarks in Portugal
- 4 day itinerary for Lisbon
- 2 days in Porto itinerary
- 1 day in Coimbra itinerary
- Guide to Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood
- Guide to Lisbon’s Belem neighborhood
- Guide to Pena Palace
- Day trips from Lisbon
- Tips for Visiting Sintra
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