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Belem Tower | © Matthew Robey/Flickr
Belem Tower | © Matthew Robey/Flickr
Portugal / See & Do / 25 Sep 2017

The 11 Most Beautiful Castles in Portugal

Scattered across green meadows and rocky hills, Portuguese castles comprise a small but important part of the vast historical heritage of the country. Here are the most beautiful.

National Palace of Pena

The National Palace of Pena is the most famous castle in Portugal due to its colorful appearance and imposing location at the peak of the highest hill above the town of Sintra. It’s a monument of national and international importance, and recognized by UNESCO. The story of the Palace of Pena dates back to Middle Ages, when a chapel dedicated to the Lady of Pena was established. This eventually grew into a monastery and then a castle. The façade of the building is outstanding, and borrows elaborate details from the Manueline and Moorish styles of architecture. The clever design of the palace ensures that it could be seen from anywhere in the surrounding gardens and forests.

Parque e Palacio Nacional da Pena, Estrada da Pena, Sintra, Portugal, +351 21 923 7300

View on the Palace of Pena © Valeria Nikonova
View on the Palace of Pena © Valeria Nikonova

Belem Tower

Built in the 16th century, the Belem Tower has been ornamented with the symbols of the house of King Manuel I. These include the thick rope that encircles the castle and terminates in the elegant nodes and crosses at different angles. The tower was converted into a prison during the Spanish invasion of Portugal in the late 16th-century, and upper class criminals and political dissidents were kept in the dungeons. The Belem Tower provided protection for the Portuguese capital which was vulnerable to attacks from pirates and neighboring states. Today, the castle represents a key symbol of Lisbon, and serves as a reminder of the former power of the Portuguese on land and at sea.

Av. Brasília, Lisboa, Portugal, +351 21 362 0034

Castle of the Moors

The Castle of the Moors was built during the eighth and ninth centuries, and is one of the oldest preserved fortresses in Portugal. This Moorish fort is located on a steep hill in the middle of thick forest and is surrounded by a high wall. The castle was altered to survive long sieges, with a huge reservoir for drinking water built inside. But despite its vital geographical location, the castle was abandoned by its inhabitants in the 15th century, and quickly lost value and started to decay. The high walls that encircle the castle’s towers remind us of the Great Wall of China. The only difference is that the impressive view here opens onto beautiful valleys that stretch towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra, Portugal, +351 21 923 7300

Castelo de los Mouros © Valeria Nikonova
Castelo de los Mouros © Valeria Nikonova

Guimarães Castle

Guimarães Castle is considered to be the most important medieval fortress in northern Portugal. Its striking feature is the walls built in the shape of a pentagram, with eight rectangular crenellated towers. Constructed in the 10th century, it later became the official royal residence of Count D Henrique, the father of the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. The castle withstood the Battle of São Mamede in 1128, which resulted in the victory of Afonso and signified the starting point of an independent Portugal. Since then, the castle has been dubbed the birthplace of the Portuguese nation.

Rua Conde D.Henrique, Guimarães, Portugal, +351 253 412 273

Almourol Castle

Located on the top of a small rocky island in the middle of the Tagus river, this sandstone castle has been described as one of the most picturesque fortresses in the country. The history of the castle dates back almost 2,000 years, and despite its respectable age, the Castle of Almourol has been very well kept. The rocky island has long been a strategically important point, controlling the waterway along the Tagus. It is widely accepted that the name comes from the Arabic wordalmorolan, which means ‘high rock’. Indeed, this definition perfectly describes the wonderful location of the castle.

Praia do Ribatejo, Almourol, Portugal, +351 249 720 358

Castle of Tomar

This castle, once belonging to the Knights Templar, is also a convent erected in the 12th century. It is considered one of the groundbreaking castles of its kind in Portugal because of the incorporation of unusually rounded towers. Its original mission was to protect Portuguese land from the intrusion of Arabs (known in Iberia as Moors). In 1312 the Templars were purged from Europe, and much later this castle would become the residence of King Manuel of Portugal. The king’s name has been associated with the most memorable changes in the design of the castle, when graceful decorations in the Manueline style were added.

Convent of Christ, Colina do Castelo, Tomar, Portugal, +351 249 315 089

Castle of Obidos

The construction of this magical castle dates back to the Roman presence in Portugal. Óbidos Castle has towers shaped in a cylinder and a square, while limestone and marble add a grandiose facet to the façade. It is a fine example of a well-preserved fortification, and the castle has escaped the fate of being turned into woeful ruins, instead being converted into a small romantic hotel. The village surrounding Óbidos is known for its appealing landscapes and exuberance of greenery. Once offering military protection in the heart of Portugal, the hotel now provides visitors with the opportunity to travel back in time. It reveals the hidden secrets of this former Moorish castle, and visitors will have to conquer the cobblestone streets and alleys of the village.

Pousada Castelode Óbidos, Paço Real S/n, Óbidos, Portugal, +351 21 011 4433

Castle of Belver

Belver Castle was originally built to prevent enemy access to the River Tagus. After the defeat of the King Sancho in the 12th century, the castle was transferred to the Order of the Hospitallers, who entrenched their monopoly of power over the entire territory of the region. Throughout many centuries the fortress stood unaffected by external influences and has retained its archaic military construction of the medieval period.

Castelo de Belver, Belver, Portugal, +351 92 638 6094

Castle of Dona Chica

This private residence was designed by Ernesto Korrodi at the beginning of the 19th century but has since remained unfinished due to lack of funding. The castle is named after the nickname of its patroness Francisca Peixoto Rego, which was Chica. The residence is built in the best traditions of the neo-romantic style, and features large arcade windows facing the front entrance, a colonnade porch and some elaborately ornamented entrances. The castle is closed to the public; however, visitors are not prohibited from admiring this exquisite piece of architecture from a distance.

Rua do Poente 10, Palmeira, Braga, Portugal

Castle of Evoramonte

Another example of an interestingly shaped castle is the Castle of Evoramonte, which pushes four cylindrical towers into the spotlight, so that the building can appear as a seamless whole structure. This place is also remarkable for the fact that it held the signing of the Concession of Evoramonte, thereby marking the end of a six-year period of civil war in Portugal in the 18th century. During his reign, King Afonso Henriques was devoted to his choice of Evoramente as a summer residence. He often returned for a break accompanied by his wife, Queen Mafalda of Savoy.

Evoramonte Castle, Rua da Convenção, Évora Monte, Portugal, +351 268 950 025

Castle of Evoramonte Júlio Reis/WikiCommons
Castle of Evoramonte Júlio Reis/WikiCommons

Castle of Viana do Alentejo

One castle that’s often overlooked by tourists is the Castle of Viana do Alentejo, which is a shame since this Gothic masterpiece is another one of the more beautiful fortresses in Portugal. Located in the heart of Alentejo, the two-toned white and gray octagonal structure was built in the beginning of the 14th century and since then has undergone a few restoration efforts, the last taking place a couple of decades ago. Topped in romantic towers and bordered on one side by a cathedral, it is a lovely representation of Portuguese architecture from the 1300s.
This article was written in collaboration with Nina Santos.