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17 Amazing World Heritage Sites in Portugal (UNESCO) – A Friendly Guide (with images)

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Are you ready to explore some of the Portugal’s most spectacular sites? Whether you are looking for an adventure or seeking out cultural history, a stop in Portugal is filled with wonders that will open your eyes and stir your soul. 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal – all with captivating stories and jaw-dropping beauty – Portugal offers unforgettable experiences that will certainly become the highlight of any traveller’s journey!

From ancient cityscapes to lush forests, unspoiled meadows, and stunning cliffside fortresses – prepare yourself for an awe-inspiring time as we take you on an epic tour through 17 must-see historic attractions in Portugal, starting in Northern Portugal and working our way down!

World Heritage Sites in Portugal

1. Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monto (2019)

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monto
Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monto in the evening

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is a stunning architectural feat that is more than just a tourist destination. Perched on a hill overlooking the city of Braga in Portugal, this beautiful 18th-century church and its surrounding gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Portugal that showcases Baroque and Rococo styles. But more than just its impressive beauty, it serves as a pilgrimage site for Christians who flock here to pay homage to Christ’s Passion. For those seeking a spiritual experience or architectural wonders, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is an unforgettable destination that will leave you feeling awe-inspired and humbled.

2. Guimarães (2001)

Guimarães, northern Portugal
Colourful facades of houses in Guimarães, Portugal

Guimarães, Portugal is a city brimming with history, culture and beauty. Named a world heritage site in 2001, it is no surprise that this city has drawn people from all around the world to explore and take in its wonder. The historic centre of Guimarães, from the medieval castle to the charming streets lined with traditional Portuguese houses, this city has so much to offer. But what truly makes Guimarães one-of-a-kind are the locals who take pride in their heritage and welcome visitors with open arms. It is a place where you can truly escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and immerse yourself in the rich history and warm culture that Portugal has to offer.

3. Douro Wine Region (1996)

Douro wine region, portugal
View of the terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley near the village of Pinhao, in Portugal

The Douro Valley in Portugal is a true gem of this world, known for its breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and fine wines. Its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996 only confirms its importance for the cultural heritage of humanity. Stepping into this region is like entering a different world, where ancient terraced hillsides and traditional vineyards coexist with modern wine cellars and thriving tourism.

The Douro Valley is not just about wine, although it boasts some of the most iconic wine-producing estates in the world. It’s also a place of unique cuisine, music, and art, where people have managed to preserve their traditions while embracing progress. A visit to the Douro Valley is a journey worth taking, as it will awaken your senses and inspire you to see the world in a different light.

4. The City of OPorto or Porto (1996)

The Ribeira, Porto World Heritage site
The Ribeira, Porto

Porto, a charming coastal city in Portugal, has made its mark as a world heritage site since 1996. The city’s historical centre, Ribeira, is a bustling district that houses some of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Visitors are enchanted by the colourful streets, baroque churches, and vibrant cafes that adorn the cobblestone alleys. To truly immerse in the local culture, one must taste the famous Porto wine, which is made from grapes grown in the Douro Valley. Check our our post here about the top 15 reasons to visit Porto with kids

5. Côa Valley (1998) (also shared with Spain)

Prehistoric Rock-Art Site of the Coa Valley in Portugal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Prehistoric Rock Art Sites of the Coa Valley in Portugal

Welcome to the fascinating world of the Côa Valley! Showing signs of human presence as early as 22,000 years ago, this prehistoric rock-art site is a feast for the eyes and a treasure trove of history. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the Côa Valley boasts of a collection of over 80 open-air sites showcasing rock art that takes you on a journey through time. As you walk through the valley, you can’t help but be awed by the intricacy and detail of these engravings that showcase animals, people, hunting, and rituals. Truly a sight to behold, the Côa Valley is a must-see for anyone who wants to experience and appreciate the richness of human history.

6. University of Coimbra (2013)

View of the Patio das Escolas of the Coimbra University
View of the Patio das Escolas of the Coimbra University

The world-renowned University of Coimbra, one of the oldest and most distinguished universities in Europe. Since 2013, this magnificent institution has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Portugal, recognition of its historical, cultural and scientific significance. With roots dating back to 1290 in Lisbon, the University of Coimbra has a prestigious history filled with distinguished alumni. After several relocations, the university permanently settled in Coimbra in 1537.

From Portuguese royalty to distinguished leaders in science, literature, and politics, the University of Coimbra has a long-standing tradition of producing exceptional graduates, Today, this prestigious university continues its proud tradition of excellence, attracting students from all over the world and leading the way in groundbreaking research and innovation.

7. Monastery of Batalha (1983)

Cloisters in the Monastery of Batalha
Cloisters in the Monastery of Batalha

The Cloisters in the Monastery of Batalha have been captivating visitors with their breathtaking beauty for over 500 years. Named a world heritage site in 1983, their intricate design and expert craftsmanship leave a lasting impression.

Picture this: you’re wandering through a stunning medieval monastery in Portugal, admiring the intricate stonework and lofty ceilings. Suddenly, you turn a corner and find yourself faced with a serene cloister, where the hustle and bustle of everyday life seems far away. It’s easy to see why: the cloister’s peaceful atmosphere and stunning Gothic architecture are enough to make anyone feel calm and revitalised. If you’re looking for a place to inspire some deep thinking or simply take a break from the rush of modern life, there’s no better destination than the Cloisters of Batalha.

8. Convent of Christ in Tomar (1983)

Knights of the Templar (Convents of Christ) in Tomar
Knights of the Templar (Convents of Christ) in Tomar

Experience the collision of history and spirituality at the Convents of Christ in Tomar, a designated world heritage site since 1983. Once the headquarters of the Knights Templar during the Crusades, these stunning structures on a hilltop in Portugal offer magnificent medieval architecture and a deeply spiritual atmosphere. Step back in time and immerse yourself in the beauty and spiritual richness of this iconic site.

9. Alcobaça Monastery (1989)

Alcobaça Monastery, Portugal
Alcobaça Monastery, masterpiece in Gothic Architecture

Alcobaça Monastery, a world heritage site since 1989 and a true gem of Portugal. This remarkable structure is the epitome of Gothic architecture, with its intricate details and soaring heights. As soon as you step foot on its grounds, you can feel the weight of history and the sheer importance of this place. For centuries, the monks who called this monastery home dedicated their lives to prayer and reflection, creating an aura of peace and serenity that still lingers today. But the Alcobaça Monastery is more than just a religious site; it’s a testament to the power of human creativity and ingenuity, a monument to the eternal quest for knowledge and beauty.

10. The Palace of Mafra (2019)

Palace of Mafra
Aerial View of the Palace of Mafra

The Palace of Mafra is one of the most impressive and grandiose palaces in Europe. Now granted the honour of being a world heritage site in 2019, its exquisite beauty and remarkable history are finally being recognised on a global scale. This incredible structure, originally built in the 18th century by King João V, was designed to be a symbol of the wealth and power of Portugal at the time. With its massive dome, ornate decorations, and impressive library, it is truly a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. The Palace of Mafra is a place that will leave you in awe and wonder, and transport you back to an era of opulence and extravagance.

11. The Palace of Pena of Sintra (2019)

palace of sintra - different styles of architecture
The Palace of Pena in Sintra, is a colourful mix of Gothic, Moorish, and Renaissance architecture

The Palace of Pena in Sintra, Portugal is a true wonder. It is part of the cultural site of Sintra City, which earned the title of a world heritage site in 1995. What makes this palace even more impressive is the fact that it was built in the 19th century as a summer residence for the royal family. The architecture is a colorful mix of Gothic, Moorish, and Renaissance styles, making it a breathtaking sight to behold. Visitors can wander through the palace’s ornate rooms, gardens, and terraces, which offer stunning views over the surrounding hills and valleys. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the stunning architecture and history, the Palace of Pena is an absolute must-see.

12. Elvas (2012)

Panoramic landscape of fortress of Nossa Senhora da Graca in Elvas, Portugal
Panoramic landscape of the fortress of Nossa Senhora da Graca in Elvas, Portugal

As the Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortification, Elvas boasts exceptional military architecture in the form of intricate star forts known as ‘trace italienne’, a signature of the 17th century. The stunning designs and intelligent usage of space in these forts, coupled with the meticulously crafted walls and ditches, create an impenetrable fortress. Such impressive engineering has rightfully earned Elvas its place among the finest examples of military architecture. It is no wonder that Elvas has been inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2012.

How many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in Lisbon?
Answer: 2. See them below.

13. The Jeronimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos), Lisbon (1983)

The Jeronimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos)
The Jeronimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos) is a former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome near the Tagus river in the parish of Belem in Lisbon

When it comes to world heritage sites, few are as awe-inspiring and impressive as the Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal. This beautiful structure has been a destination for tourists and history lovers since it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Walking through its grand halls and intricately designed archways, it’s easy to feel the weight of history and the sheer magnitude of the craftsmanship that went into creating such a stunning monument.

14. Belém Tower, Lisbon (1983)

Belem Tower, historic building in Lisbon on the Tagus River
Belem Tower, historic building in Lisbon on the Tagus River

The Belem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal is more than just a historic building. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and the power of determination. Built in the 16th century, this tower was designed to protect the city from invading armies and has since become a symbol of Portuguese exploration and empire. Today, this tower stands proudly on the banks of the Tagus River, reminding us of a bygone era of adventure and discovery. But it’s not just a relic of the past – the Belem Tower is still very much alive, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to marvel at its beauty and learn about its fascinating history.

15. Évora (1986)

Place de Praça do Giraldo à Evora Portugal
Place de Praça do Giraldo à Evora Portugal

Évora, Portugal is a true gem that has been recognised as a World Heritage Site since 1986. Once the home of royalty after the devastating 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, Évora boasts a rich history that is waiting to be discovered. But Évora is more than just a historical site – it is also a city full of charm and beauty. With its narrow streets, picturesque houses, and lovely plazas, you can’t help but be enchanted by the city’s old-world charm. And, of course, the city’s crown jewel is its stunning Roman Temple, which has stood the test of time and remains a testament to the city’s rich history.

Fun fact: The remarkable monuments of Évora have even inspired the distinct colonial architecture of Brazil.

16. The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture, Azores (2004)

Image of mountain pico with houses and vineyard on the island of pico azores
Image of the mountain Pico with houses and vineyard on the island of Pico, Azures

Pico Island, located in the heart of the Azores archipelago, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, a recognition of its outstanding natural beauty and cultural significance. Emerging from the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic, this volcanic island boasts breathtaking geological formations, perfect for exploring and hiking. The island’s unique wine culture is also a major draw for visitors, with vineyards ranging from the coastal plains to the mountainous slopes.

17. Angra do Heroísmo is a city and municipality on Terceira Island (1983)

Angra do Heroísmo town on Terceria, Azores
Angra do Heroísmo town on Terceria, Azores

Angra do Heroísmo is a charming city tucked away on Terceira Island, and it’s no wonder it’s been declared a UNESCO world heritage site since 1983. This picturesque location boasts stunningly preserved historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and a vibrant culture that’s sure to captivate you. But what truly sets Angra do Heroísmo apart is its sense of community and spirit of tradition. From its bustling markets to its lively festivals and events, this destination feels like home even to first-time visitors.

Hopefully, after reading through this compilation of 17 World Heritage sites in Portugal, you should now have a good starting point for your next holiday. Don’t forget to try the many local dishes and delicacies while you’re there as well. With such an impressive history and a number of beautiful monuments, palaces, churches, and artworks to take in, Portugal has so much to offer both locals and tourists alike.

Read: 5 reasons to visit Portugal
Read: 7 Wonders of Portugal
Read: Best times of year to visit Portugal
Read: 10 Natural Wonders of Portugal
Read: Where to eat and drink in Lisbon with kids

Frequently Asked Questions about UNESCO & Portugal World Heritage sites

What does it mean to be part of UNESCO?

Being part of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) means a site has been recognized for its outstanding universal value. These areas are preserved for their cultural, historical, or scientific significance, and they must meet specific criteria set by UNESCO. Think of it as a big stamp of approval from the global community, saying, “Hey, this place is worth preserving for future generations!”

When was UNESCO established?

UNESCO was established on November 16, 1945, in the aftermath of World War II to promote peace and security through international cooperation. It’s like the cool kid in school who brings everyone together for a project that really matters.

Who established UNESCO?

UNESCO was founded by the United Nations. Countries came together with the idea that education, science, and culture could help build lasting peace. You can just imagine the brainstorming session—lots of coffee, passionate debates, and maybe a few too many pastries!

How many world heritage sites are in Portugal?

Portugal boasts a delightful total of 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all of which are listed here. That’s a lot of history and culture wrapped up in beautiful landscapes and stunning architecture.

What does Portugal offer aside from its heritage sites?

Oh, where do we start? Portugal has stunning beaches, delectable cuisine (hello, pastéis de nata!), vibrant festivals, and friendly locals. You can hike in the beautiful national parks, surf on world-class waves, or just sip wine in a charming little bistro. There’s something for everyone!

Have you visited any of these sites? If so let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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4 Responses

  1. I always wanted to visit Portugal. It’s one of the destinations I will definitely go to in the future. All these colorful buildings look very attractive to me. Thanks for sharing this useful post.

  2. I’ve been dreaming of visiting Portugal for a long time, experiencing the rich history and breathtaking architecture that these sites embody. Your article has heightened my curiosity and enthusiasm for this country even more. I look forward to utilizing your recommendations when I finally get the opportunity to travel to Portugal. Thank you once again for your outstanding work and for sharing the invaluable insights with us. Keep up the fantastic job!
    Warm regards,
    Sandra Pergola

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