The Best Castles, Palaces & Historic Homes in Portugal
Castelo de São Jorge (the Alfama, Lisbon; tel. 21/880-06-20; www.castelosaojorge.egeac.pt): This hilltop has long been valued as a fortification to protect settlements along the Tagus. Today the bulky castle crowns one of the most densely populated medieval neighborhoods of Lisbon, the Alfama. It encompasses a nostalgic collection of thick stone walls, medieval battlements, Catholic and feudal iconography, verdant landscaping, and sweeping views of one of Europe's greatest harbors.
Palácio Nacional de Queluz (near Lisbon; tel. 21/434-38-60; www.ippar.pt/monumentos/palacio_queluz.html): Designed for the presentation of music and royal receptions in the 1700s, this castle was modeled as a more intimate version of Versailles. It's a symmetrical building ringed with gardens, fountains, and sculptures of mythical heroes and maidens. Although gilt, crystal, and frescoes fill its interior, most Portuguese are proudest of the azulejos room, where hand-painted blue-and-white tiles depict day-to-day life in the Portuguese colonies of Macao and Brazil.
Palácio Nacional de Pena (Sintra; tel. 21/910-53-40; www.parquesdesintra.pt): Only a cosmopolitan 19th-century courtier could have produced this eclectic, expensive mélange of architectural styles. Set in a 200-hectare (495-acre) walled park, it was commissioned by the German-born consort of the Portuguese queen; it reminds some visitors of the Bavarian castles of Mad King Ludwig. Appointed with heavy furnishings and rich ornamentation, it's a symbol of the Portuguese monarchs in their most aesthetically decadent stages.
Castelo dos Mouros (Sintra; tel. 21/923-73-00; www.parquesdesintra.pt): In the 19th century, the monarchs ordered that this castle, evocative of the Moorish occupation of Portugal, remain as a ruined ornament to embellish their sprawling parks and gardens. Set near the much larger, much more ornate Pena palace, the squat, thick-walled fortress was begun around A.D. 750 by the Moors and captured with the help of Scandinavian Crusaders in 1147. It retains its jagged battlements, a quartet of eroded towers, and a ruined Romanesque chapel erected by the Portuguese as a symbol of their domination of former Moorish territories.
Bussaco Palace Hotel (Buçaco; tel. 23/193-79-70; www.almeidahotels.com): Of all the buildings in this list, the Palace of Buçaco is the most important national icon. Completed in 1907, it's also the only one that operates as a hotel, allowing visitors to sleep within the walls of a former royal palace. Constructed from marble, bronze, stained glass, and exotic hardwoods, and inspired by the greatest buildings in the empire, it represents more poignantly than any other Portuguese palace the final days of the doomed aristocracy.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.