Have you heard about The 7 Wonders of Portugal (Sete Maravilhas de Portugal)? It’s the ultimate list of the most incredible national monuments and cultural highlights in the country. The Ministry of Culture and a team of experts had the tough task of narrowing down 800 stunning monuments to just 21. And then, it was all up to the Portuguese public to vote for their favourites. In other words, this is the official bucket list of must-see places in Portugal!
Back in 2006, this competition was part of the global “New Seven Wonders of the World” contest. Even though none of Portugal’s national monuments made it to the world finals, they are still spectacular cultural icons that you should not miss while visiting Portugal.
Here are the 7 wonders of Portugal (in no particular order)
1. Belém Tower, Lisbon
The Belém Tower, or Tower of Saint Vincent if you’re feeling fancy (Portuguese: Torre de Belém, Torre de São Vicente), has quite the history. This 16th-century fortress situated in Lisbon served as a ceremonial entrance to the city and a jump-off point for Portugal’s legendary explorers. It’s a stunning example of Manueline architecture, with just a hint of other styles thrown in there. And get this, it’s made from lioz limestone and boasts a 30-metre, four-story tower.
But that’s not even the half of it. The Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Jerónimos Monastery. This iconic structure stands as a powerful symbol of Portugal and Lisbon’s role in Europe’s Age of Discoveries. It’s wrongly believed that the tower was plopped in the middle of the Tagus, but it was actually built on a small island near the shore. Trust us, you don’t want to miss out on this piece of history.
The kids will love exploring the tower’s secret passages while you take in the stunning views of the surrounding water.
2. Jerónimos Monastery 15, Lisbon
Let me tell you about the incredible Jerónimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery (Portuguese: Mosteiro dos Jerónimos). This former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome near the Tagus river in the parish of Belém, in the Lisbon Municipality, Portugal has a fascinating history!
Did you know that it served as the necropolis of the Portuguese royal dynasty of Aviz in the 16th century? But wait, it gets even more interesting! It was secularised on 28 December 1833 by state decree and its ownership transferred to the charitable institution, Real Casa Pia de Lisboa.
The Jerónimos Monastery is certainly a masterpiece of the late Portuguese Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon. It was erected near the launch point of Vasco da Gama’s first journey in the early 1500s. And get this, its construction was funded by a tax on the profits of the yearly Portuguese India Armadas!
And there’s more! In 1880, da Gama’s remains and those of the poet Luís de Camões, who celebrated da Gama’s first voyage in his 1572 epic poem, The Lusiad, were moved to new carved tombs in the nave of the monastery’s church. These tombs were only a few meters away from the tombs of the kings Manuel I and John III, whom da Gama had served.
It’s no wonder that in 1983, the Jerónimos Monastery was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Tower of Belém.
Make sure to visit the cloister, where kids can spot exotic animals and mythical creatures in the elaborate stonework.
3. Pena Palace, Sintra
Have you ever heard of the Pena Palace? It’s a dreamy Romanticist castle nestled in São Pedro de Penaferrim on the Portuguese Riviera. Perched atop a hill in the stunning Sintra Mountains, the castle offers impressive views on a clear day from Lisbon and much of the metropolitan area. Not only is it a national monument, but it’s also one of the most significant expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world. Trust me, it’s definitely worth a visit!
The palace even has UNESCO World Heritage Site status. If that’s not enough, it’s also used for state occasions by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other esteemed government officials.
Kids will enjoy exploring the palace’s gardens, while parents can take in the breathtaking views of the valley.
4. Alcobaça Monastery, Alcobaça
Located approximately 120km for Lisbon, the Monastery of Alcobaça is a treasure trove of Portuguese history, folklores and love stories. Unlike its flamboyant counterpart, the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, this Gothic marvel is a contrast of simplicity and austerity that impresses in its own unique way. Imagine, the church tower has been looming large over the landscape for almost a millennium, serving as an anchor for the Cistercian monks who received this land following the eternal struggle against the Moors.
As you roam through the monastery, you can appreciate the incredible work done on the towering central nave which was completed in 1223, and also the elegant baroque style facade decorated with Sao Bento’s and Sao Bernardo’s marble statues. If that wasn’t impressive enough, subsequent kings added unique touches over the centuries like the Cloister of Silence, created in 1308 at the behest of King D. Dinis, and now a breathtaking place to explore.
However, what sets the Alcobaça Monastery apart are two of its most magnificent features – the tombs of King Pedro I and his beloved mistress Inês de Castro. The lovers lie buried across from each other in the Central Nave with their feet facing each other, eagerly waiting to reunite and face each other on Judgement day.
5. Óbidos Castle, Óbidos
Let’s take a trip back in time to explore the history behind Óbidos Castle. It all began in the mid-first century, when the Romans were top dogs. Fast forward to the Moors occupation, and the castle really came into its own. After being conquered by Portugal’s first king, Dom Afonso Henriques, in 1148, the castle has been restored and enlarged numerous times.
But, like most historical sites, Óbidos Castle’s been through some rough patches. The 1755 earthquake, in particular, left the castle and surrounding medieval buildings in shambles. Thankfully, the Portuguese State recognised its significance and restored it to its former glory in the 20th century, converting it into a gorgeous luxury hotel – the first of its kind.
If you’re looking to explore the interior of Óbidos Castle, just be sure to book at least one night in the hotel to secure your spot. But, don’t worry if you can’t do an overnight stay. You can still walk the ramparts and explore the exterior. The 1.5 km journey is well worth it.
But wait, there’s more to this charming village than the castle alone. Take a stroll through the citadel’s winding streets and admire the gorgeous white houses adorned with beautiful flowers. Trust us, even though it’s a bit touristy, you won’t regret the visit.
6. Guimarães Castle, Guimarães
Guimarães is a city brimming with history and is regarded as the birthplace of Portugal. Can you believe the first king, Afonso Henrique, was born inside the walls of its castle and later made it the nation’s capital? You can visit the tiny Romanesque chapel of Sao Miguel, where the very font Afonso was baptised with is kept.
But wait, there’s more! The Guimarães Castle is one of Portugal’s finest and most impressive castles. It was originally built in the 10th century as a refuge for the townsfolk living in constant fear of the Normans and Moors’ attacks. The castle was remodelled and expanded in the 13th and 14th centuries by King Dinis, and once boasted seven rectangular towers laid out in a shield shape. It must have been an imposing sight with its huge crenellated walls. You can still enjoy breathtaking views of the city from this castle today.
7. Batalha Monastery
Let me take you through a quick history lesson to talk about the Batalha Monastery, one of Portugal’s architectural gems. This piece of history was built following Portugal’s victory in the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota against the Castilians. Construction of the monastery, situated in a small town named after it, took over 200 years and it’s no wonder such an impressive building was erected with unlimited resources.
Now here’s the interesting bit; the monastery exudes both Gothic and Manueline styles and was started by master builder Afonso Domingues during King Joao I’s reign. Not to mention Catalan architect Master Huget’s part in creating the star-vaulted ceiling of the chapterhouse. As Portugal’s wealth grew, King Duarte ordered the monastery to become a royal pantheon which accurately reflects the Manueline style seen on the arches of the cloister and the Unfinished Chapels.
In the present day, the Batalha Monastery functions as both a museum and a national monument under state control. It even houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. It’s an absolute must-see for all art and history enthusiasts.
Exploring the 7 Wonders of Portugal with your family is truly an extraordinary experience, and offers something for everyone in your family. With breathtaking landscapes, elaborate architecture, and rich history, Portugal is a must-visit destination for family travellers. So start planning your next family vacation to Portugal and discover the magic of this unforgettable destination!