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10 of the Best Historic Sites in Portugal

10 of the Best Historic Sites in Portugal

1. Belém Tower

Belém Tower is an imposing medieval defensive tower on the bank of the River Tagus in Lisbon and a symbol of the Age of Discovery. Built between 1514 and 1520, Belém Tower is sometimes known as The Tower of St Vincent as its construction celebrated the expedition to India of Vasco da Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage site together with the Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower is a beautiful mix of sturdy fortifications and intricate detail. Built during the reign of King Manuel, it is considered one of the best examples of the architecture of its time, known as the Manueline style. However, it also includes distinctive Moorish features such as ornately decorated turrets.

10 Historical Landmarks You Must See in Porto’s Ribeira

Porto’s bustling Ribeira district is the most eclectic part of the city, inviting everyone to sit by its banks from locals to students and tourists. As a historical center and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is lots to see here, and the picturesque quality of the river, cafés, buildings, and statues only adds to the allure. Here are a few landmarks that should be enjoyed while visiting these extraordinary neighborhoods.

1. Portugal is one of the oldest nation-states in Europe

Believe it or not, but Portugal was first established as a country in the 12th century, making it one of the oldest nation in Europe. In total, it had one of the oldest running empires, spanning almost six centuries within the country borders that remained unchanged since 1139.

Outstanding right? I’m guessing you didn’t expect that.

2. The capital of Portugal is also one of the oldest city in Western Europe.

São Bento Palace Lisbon

Not only is Portugal the oldest nation in Europe, Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is also the oldest city by centuries in Western Europe and other cities such as London, Paris and Rome.

The city of Lisbon is a fantastic destination with cobbled-stone narrow streets, tram rides and amazing coastal views that make it an ideal place to discover. It is also a great city for young ones to visit with the best hip locations such as the famous Bairro Alto.

3. Lisbon was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in European history.

Well this doesn’t come up as one of the Interesting facts about Portugal.

Beautiful Lisbon was struck by a massive earthquake in November 1755, which was followed by a tsunami and fires that brought the city to rubble. This happened on All Saints Day, a major holiday when the churches are filled with burning candles.

When the earthquake struck it caused major fires with the candles. 275,000 people were killed and 85% of the buildings were destroyed.

And to this day, people still talk about the devastating earthquake.

Check also our guide to visit Lisbon (weather, things to do and much more.)

4. Portugal owned half of the “New World”.

Another of the Interesting facts about Portugal is that Portugal owned half of the “New World”.

In 1494, Portugal and Spain divided the world in two by signing the Treaty of Tordesillas which essentially gave Portugal the eastern half of the “New World”, including countries like Brazil, Africa and Asia.

The Portuguese Empire was actually tas wellst global empire in history and one of the longest-lived colonial powers, lasting for almost six centuries until Macau (now part of China) was handed over in 1999.

If you’re enjoying the content so far, make sure you stick around, I’m sure fact #17 will surprise you as well.

2. Oceanário de Lisboa, Lisbon

Oceanário de Lisboa, Lisbon | Ulrika / photo modified

Arguably Portugal's most popular and family-friendly visitor attraction, Lisbon's oceanariumis brilliantly conceived to highlight the world's diverse ocean habitats. This is one of Europe's best and largest oceanariums, containing a vast array of fish and marine animals.

Four separate sea- and landscapes recreate the ecosystems of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans. A huge central tank, visible from different levels, teems with shark, ray, and many other finned wonders and denizens of the deep. The transparent plexiglass design is such that smaller tropical species housed in separate aquaria set around the main tank appear to be swimming with their larger cousins.

Complementing this amazing spectacle are the open-air landscapes, where penguins, sea otters, and other cute and cuddly birds and mammals co-exist in carefree harmony.

3. Elvas

UNESCO classified Elvas as World Heritage in 2012 and it is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal. The city was fortified in the 17th century, during the Portuguese restoration of independence, to prevent raids from their neighbours, the Spanish.

If you want to know more, read my article about Elvas, the biggest fortified city in Portugal and Europe.

7. Odeceixe

Nestled against a hillside at the remote northwest border of Algarve, Odeceixe is a small town best known for its breathtakingly beautiful beach. Set between low cliffs, the Praia de Odeceixe is a sheltered beach with a shallow river that crosses the sand and spills into the Atlantic Ocean.

The beach is a popular spot for surfing, and there’s a local surfing school that offers lessons for children and adults. With restaurants serving traditional dishes like fresh seafood and roast lamb, dining on local cuisine is bound to be a memorable highlight of your visit to Odeceixe too.

Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork

Head to Malbork to explore the largest castle in the world built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13 th century. The site will allow you to expand your knowledge of medieval history, gothic architecture as well as conservation and restoration techniques (as the castle suffered major damage during conflicts, most recently during the Second World War). Nearly half a million tourists visit Malbork each year. Cross to the opposite bank of the Nogat River, which surrounds the castle, for the best views and a great spot for taking pictures.

Malbork Castle|© Arian Zwegers / Flickr

Exploring the Past in Portugal

Portugal is the westernmost sovereign state on mainland Europe, with two archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean &ndash the Azores and Madeira. Having being established early in the Christian Reconquista, Portugal is one of the oldest nation states in the world. Certainly it is the oldest on the Iberian Peninsular. The name Portugal comes from the Roman name for what is today Vila Nova de Gaia, then Portus Cale. The country has an impressive although little explored prehistory, from the Stone Age art in the Côa Valley and the intriguing megalithic sites throughout Portugal to the impressive hill-forts of the Iron Age. Since these early times Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians have all left their mark on an enormously diverse landscape.

Visiting Sites and Museums in Portugal in 2021

The Portuguese Tourist Board have instituted a &lsquoClean & Safe&rsquo label for tourism companies. These stamps of approval are only awarded to businesses who provide anything from activities to accommodation and have demonstrated that they are compliant with hygiene and cleaning requirements set out by the health authorities in Portugal. For your own assurances, you can read more about the scheme here. The tourism board in Portugal also has pages that have more specific information and FAQs about regulations and measures for travelling to Portugal and health advice while in Portugal as a visitor.

As sites and museums re-open many are doing so with new measures and regulations in place. These are designed to protect both staff and visitors. Read more on the Guidelines for Visiting Sites and Museums in 2021 >>

7. Praça do Giraldo

Source: flickr Praça do Giraldo

Évora’s main square was laid out in the 16th century, and at this time it was the scene of the Spanish Inquisition court, which handed out thousands of brutal sentences here.

On a lighter note it also boasts the marble Fonte Henrique, at the same location as an earlier, 16th-century fountain built to commemorate the Agua Prata aqueduct.

There are eight spouts in the fountain, each for one of the streets branching off the square.

The north side is taken up by the striking facade of the Church of Santo Antão, while all down the east side there’s a continuous arcade, hiding cafes and specialty shops.

10. Alcobaca Monastery – Religious Landmarks Portugal

The Alcobaca Monastery is a 12th century Roman Catholic building founded by the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques. Located in Alcobaça, Portugal, it was the first-ever Gothic building in the country.

The facade has impressive stone detailing and features a mix of styles. The portal and the circular rose window were part of the original church. At the beginning of the 18th century, statues and the two towers were added.

As required in Cistercian churches, the interior walls and columns of the church lack any sort of decoration. There are rows of windows that give the building plenty of light. This over 800-year-old monastery is very well maintained and a true gem of Portugees architecture.

Tip: Combine a visit to Alcobaça together with Batalha and Tomar which together form what is known as the ‘Monastic Triangle of Portugal’, a great day trip from Lisbon.

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