15 Castles in Portugal to Add to Your Bucket List
There’s something romantic about castles that perfectly embodies the idea of traveling—exploring a new place, diving into the past, and taking photo albums full of Instagram-worthy snaps.
You can find castles all around the world, but Portugal, Travel + Leisure’s 2016 Destination of the Year, is a great destination for doing some castle-hopping.
There are the usual suspects, like Pena Palace, that travelers flock to year after year. And there are many more you should add to you itinerary.
In fact, make an entire itinerary out of this list. Not only will you get a good taste of the entire country, but there’s nothing better than spending a week (or two) soaking in the history and architecture of fortresses of the past.
Castle of Almourol
Located on the banks of the Tagus River in Central Portugal, the Castle of Almourol was once a military base for the Knights Templar. While historians aren’t sure exactly when this medieval castle was built, they do know it date back to at least 1129. After the Knight Templar disbanded in the 14th century, the castle was left to collect dust. It was revitalized in the 19th century, and remains an important location for events and travel itineraries.
Castelo de Marvão
You can find the Castelo de Marvão on the central border of Portugal and Spain. The castle can be seen for miles, thanks to its perch on one of the highest points in the Serra de São Mamede. The surrounding ridge was the perfect natural defense against enemies when this castle was in its prime back in the 12th century—the location was mainly used to track enemy forces from Valencia de Alcántra in Spain. Today, you can walk around the incredibly preserved walls and take in the spanning views of two stunning countrysides.
Castelo de Guimarães
Located in the northwestern region of Portugal, the Castelo de Guimarães is the site where much of the then-future of the country was planned. The castle was built in 968 by order of Mumadona, Countess of Galacia so that citizens would have a place of refuge against attacks from incoming Vikings traveling from Europe. This castle is also one of the pioneering designs that you now see scattered around the entire country—the defensive wall with a tower at each corner. Alfonso VI of León upgraded Castelo de Guimarães to include such a design, which proved fruitful given the number of battles that took place in the castle in years to come.
Castelo de São Jorge
This Moorish castle overlooks Lisbon and the Tagus Rivers—two important regions in the country’s medieval history. This location served as a stronghold in the 11th century, mostly used as a safe place for city administrators who lived on the citadel (you can still see these people’s homes in the nearby archeological site). The castle has survived many cultural transitions and an earthquake since its foundation, and is now a popular tourist destination.
Castelo dos Mouros
You can’t go far in Sintra without spotting a ruin or castle wall of some sort. The hilly area is spotted with royal palaces and castles, one of those being Castelo dos Mouros. Built in the 10th century, these ruins span across mountain ridges providing stunning views of the cities below. Lonely Planet shares that the best way to access this castle (that is, if you’re looking for a moody walk with views) is along Rua Marechal Saldanha, as opposed to the easier-to-find main road.
Castelo de Alcoutim
Head to the southeastern town of Algarve to find this medieval castle. Built in the 13th century, this castle has elements from two different styles of architecture: medieval castles and medieval forts. You’ll find an ancient protective wall accompanied with modern artillery batteries in the same scene.
Castelo de Obidos
This castle is most known for its role as a wedding gift from King Dinis to his betrothed Dona Isabel. It’s regarded as a very ‘feminine’ castle and you can now even sleep in its towers as it’s now a boutique hotel. (More on what it’s like to spend a night in a castle tower right this way.) The castle is a treasure trove of medieval design, right down to the space-saving stair design (spoiler: they’re much harder to walk down than you’d think). Today, each room has a QR code at the entryway, where you can learn more about the past rulers of the region.
The National Palace of Pena
It’s no surprise that Hans Christian Andersen was inspired by Sintra, and more specifically Pena Palace, when writing his famed tales. The palace is visible from any place in the park, and its vibrant colors set the perfect scene of 19th-centruy romanticism. The palace is surrounding by a lush park, and getting a little bit lost on your way to Pena is highly recommended.
Castelo de Porto de Mós
You’ll find this castle on the western coast of Portugal, right in the center. The specific origin of this castle has not been named, but archeologists believe that the region could pre-date history, given the pottery fragments they have found in the area. Roman coins have also been discovered nearby, meaning this very well could have a defense village during Roman occupation. This castle was key in protecting the nearby cities of Leiria and Coimbra during D. Afonso Henriques reign.
Castelo de Santa Maria da Feira
Legend has it that this castle was built on top of a temple that at one time was dedicated to a local divinity by the name of Bandeve-Lugo Toiraeco. The keep of the castle is the largest in the country—it’ll take you 60 steps to get to the roof. There’s also a rare “murder hole”—gaps that served as areas to drop objects (hot oil, boiling water, rocks) on enemies—onsite, which was built by Rui, son of Fernão Pereira.
Castelo de Viana do Alentejo
In the region of Alentejo, the Castelo de Viana do Alentejo houses a gorgeous church built in the Mudejar-Manueline style within its walls. The castle itself was built in a Gothic style in the 5th century, with towering columns and pillars. Step inside, and you’ll be dazzled by the 17th century tiles that adorn all of the walls around you.
This white-washed tower is located on the harbor in Lisbon, once used as a fortress guarding the entrance to Portugal’s capital city. The interior and exterior of the tower featuring stonework motifs that were commonly seen in other castles built in the Manueline style.
Castle of Tomar
Built by Gualdim Pais—the Master of the Knights Templar—in 1160, this castle overlooks the central town of Tomar and the River Nabão. The castle served as housing for the Order of the Knights Templar until it was disbanded in the 14th century. But the most beautiful part of the castle isn't necessarily part of the castle at all. Once inside, you'll find the Convent of Christ—a former Roman Catholic convent and monastery that's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Castelo do Sabugal
This castle’s unusual Pentagonal tower shape has set it apart from others in the region. The Castelo do Sabugal was originally a military fortress, but at one time also served as a prison. The most famous prisoner was Brás Garcia de Mascarenhas, which was known for his poem Viriato Tragic.
Castelo do Dona Chica
This castle is years younger than some of its peers on this list, with its construction dating back to 1915. It was originally created by Swiss architect Ernesto Korrodi for João José Ferreira Rego, who was married to Francisca Peixto Rego at the time. The castle’s name comes from this partnership—his wife’s petite form gave forth the name “Chica.” The castle’s surrounding area was lush with plant species from Brazil, which Francisca Peixoto Rego actively imported throughout the country.