Most Portuguese castles may not have the fairy tale look you’ll find in other European castles. That doesn’t mean they’re ugly. Far from it. Many Portuguese castles are made of beige-colored stone with brownish-orange accents, giving them a sun-kissed look. When the capital’s hubbub gets to you, a day trip to one of the fortresses and castles near Lisbon is a delightful way to recharge your senses.
If you visit Leiria, you’ll definitely see the town’s most visible landmark: a castle that sits atop a hill overlooking the city. The castle doesn’t resemble the fairy-tale castles you’ll find elsewhere in Europe, but then defensive fortifications don’t have to be glamorous. Still, there is a certain beauty in Leiria Castle, with its colored tile roof and arched windows. Inside this medieval walled castle complex, you’ll find the Church of Nossa Senhora de Pena and royal palaces. Constructed in 1135, it was destroyed by looters just five years later. Leiria Castle, about 1.5 hours by car away from Lisbon, underwent an extensive restoration in the 20th century.
The Castle of Evoramonte is an imposing structure that almost looks like it was built in layers. Construction of the castle began in the 14th century. The rectangular-shaped castle has circular towers and sits atop a hill, thus providing panoramic views of the village. Rope knots in the façade are symbols of the Bragança family as are sculptures outside of the fortress. The inside, with its vaulted ceilings, is supported with huge columns. The Castle of Evoramonte is famous as being the place where an 1834 treaty ending internal wars was signed. The quickest way to get there is on highways A2 and A6.
The Castle of the Moors, less than 30 km (20 miles) from Lisbon in Sintra, got its name because it was constructed by the Moors beginning in the eighth century. It was later captured by Christians during the Reconquista. The castle’s chapel was heavily damaged in the 1754 earthquake, with further disintegration in the decades to follow. The castle was eventually abandoned, with limited restoration taking place in the mid-19th century. In its glory days, the castle had fortified high stone walls, ramparts and huge battlements. Today, it’s reverted to mostly ruins, but if you climb to the battlements you’ll be rewarded with great views of Sintra.
The Castle of Almourol is believed to be sited on a Roman ruin, later renovations, but it’s unclear which invading force did what remodeling. In any case, the castle, is considered a prime example of medieval military monuments, particularly of the Knights Templar. The castle sits on a granite hill on a small island in the middle of the Tagus River, the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula. It was a major defensive fortress dividing the Christian and Moorish sections of Portugal. Heavily damaged in an 18th century earthquake, it was restored based on romantic notions of the time.
If you’ve seen a lot of pictures of Portugal, then you’ve likely seen the Belem Tower since the Lisbon landmark is used as a symbol of the country. This 16th century structure, with its intricate Moorish watch towers, sits in the Tagus River where it defended Lisbon’s harbor from seagoing raiders. As Portuguese explorers began to travel the world in the 16th century, it was the last thing they saw as they left and the first on their return. Located in the Belem district west of the city center, the tower is Lisbon’s most visited tourist attraction. FYI: Admission to the tower is free on Sundays until 2 p.m.
The village of Obidos predates the Romans, though the castle wasn’t constructed until the 12th century. The fortified settlement is nicknamed the “wedding present” because a king gave it to his bride in 1282. The medieval castle sits upon a hill, with its walls encircling the village as it was in olden times. It’s possible to walk on the wall around the village. The trapezoidal-shaped castle features high towers and enclose courtyards; it is considered a prime example of medieval architecture, because of its Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Baroque elements. Located an hour’s drive from Lisbon, Obidos Castle houses a luxury hotel today.
On a clear day, Lisbon tourists may think they’re seeing forever when they see Pena National Palace, which sits atop a hill in Sintra. Pena National Palace, which sits on the ruins of a monastery, is more fairy tale-like than other Portuguese castles. It is considered a great example of 19th century Romanticism architecture in Portugal. The palace sits amidst a park that is home to more than 500 tree species from around the world. Pena National Palace is one of Portugal’s most visited tourist attractions. A day trip here can easily be combined with a visit to the nearby Castle of the Moors.