Portugal is a charming country, full of beautiful landscapes, incredible beaches, and historic cities to explore. It is also a destination with fabulous monuments, which further elevate the country’s beauty.
Many of Portugal’s most famous landmarks are historic buildings that reflect the country’s long history and different artistic currents. But we will also include some more recent and even natural landmarks. After all, Portugal is more than ancient history; nature has created unforgettable places throughout Portugal too.
So, we decided to compile a list of the monuments you can’t miss in Portugal! They are well known for us Portuguese, but have you heard about these 20 famous Portuguese landmarks?
Historic Landmarks in Portugal
This isn’t listed by importance, but if we had to choose the most impressive monument in Portugal, we would probably say the Jerónimos Monastery. Visited by more than 1 million people annually, it is the most popular Landmark in Portugal and a symbol of Portugal’s golden age, the age of discoveries.
Constructed from 1502 and for about 100 years, Jerónimos Monastery is the maximum exponent of Manueline Art and possibly the most beautiful monastic building in Portugal. It has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1983 and it was naturally chosen as one of the wonders of Portugal.
Located in Belém, Lisbon, on the Tagus banks close to the spot where the Portuguese ships departed, the Jerónimos Monastery contributes hugely to the historical and monumental setting of the area. The imposing façade of more than 300 meters is one of this monument’s attractions. Still, a visit to Jerónimos must include a tour where you can see the Manueline church, the 16th-century cloister, the old bookstore, and even the monks’ refectory.
Curiosities: The official name of this monument is Santa Maria de Belém Monastery; the famous pastel de Belém was created here.
Next to Jerónimos, we have another landmark famous for its beauty and historical importance, the Belém Tower. Built almost at the same time as the Jerónimos Tower of Belém, it initially had a defensive utility, protecting Lisbon and controlling the entry of boats in the Tagus.
Similar to Jerónimos, the Tower of Belém was built in an obvious Manueline Gothic style, with a huge nationalist decorative charge as it is surrounded by coats of arms of Portugal and crosses of the order of Christ. In addition to national motives, we also find others such as ropes, knots, animals, and a few elements of Moorish allusion.
Curiosity: At the time of construction and for many years, the Belém tower was located within the Tagus, completely surrounded by water.
Located on the top of the Sintra mountains, a few kilometers from Lisbon, the Pena Palace is like the Crown Jewel, awakening feelings of mystery, discovery and charm. One of its most striking features is the colorful tones that contrast with the green of the mountains.
Built in the 19th century, it was a vision of D. Fernando II (the king-artist). It is considered the greatest example of romanticism in Portugal and one of the most important in the world in the 19th century. The mix of styles (neo-Gothic, neo-Manueline, neo-Islamic, neo-Renaissance) is typical in modernist palaces. In this sense, Pena Palace is the first modernist palace in Europe, preceding Neuschwanstein by about 30 years.
It has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1995 and one of the most visited monuments in the country, but it is still a destination that makes you dream.
Luiz I Bridge
Connecting Porto to Gaia, Luiz I Bridge is one of the city’s signature images and a mandatory landmarks for tourists and locals. The iron structure made up of straight and parabolic beams quickly became one of the city’s symbols.
Built in the late 19th century by Théophile Seyrig, the bridge has 2 trays with different heights and lengths taking advantage of the deep valley in which it is inserted. The upper tray currently serves the metro, while the lower serves pedestrian and motor vehicles.
In addition to the monument itself, the bridge is located in a fabulous location and works both as a viewpoint for the city and as an object of admiration for those in the Ribeira neighborhood. It is naturally part of the “Historic Center of Porto”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
Clerigos Church and Tower
The architectural ensemble of the Clerigos church and tower is the other ex-libris of Porto. Built between 1732 and 1763, it rises 75 meters high, and climbing up the 225 steps, we have access to a viewpoint with panoramic views over the city and the Douro river.
Clérigos Tower is considered one of the most notable examples of the late Baroque style in Portugal and the most emblematic work of Nicolau Nasoni. This architectural ensemble is marked by the irregular forms that generate a surprising scenic effect, as well as by the rich and detailed way the stone was worked. This is a monument that stands out for itself, for the beauty it brings to the city and the significance it has gained over time.
Curiosity: Initially the Clérigos Church was designed with 2 towers and not only one.
Paço das Escolas
Paço das Escolas is the historic center of the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest in Europe and the world still in operation. But it is also one of the most famous images of the city because besides being architecturally beautiful, it also offers fantastic views over the city and the Mondego.
Built over centuries, the Paço das Escolas was the alcáçova in the 10th century (a fortified palace where the governor lived), later becoming the royal Palace of Afonso Henriques and his descendants until the 16th century. Eventually, Lisbon became the Capital, with the royal palace losing some of its importance until the University moved there definitively in 1544. In 2013 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In Paço das Escolas we can find several monuments worthy of note such as S. Miguel Chapel, the University Tower, Via Latina, the Iron Door, and of course, the spectacular 18th-century Joanina Library. However, it is the ensemble that makes the University and Paço das Escolas a Landmark that you must visit in Portugal.
In the small town of Alcobaça less than 100km from Lisbon we have one of the most important landmarks in Portugal, the Monastery of Alcobaça. Considered the first Gothic work erected in Portugal, it started to be built in 1178 and it was only completed almost 100 years later. However, on the façade only the Gothic portico is original, and the bell towers are from the 18th century. It has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1983, and one of the largest buildings of the important Cistercian Order.
In the interior, well-preserved medieval quarters such as the refectory, the dormitory, the Chapter Room, the impressive cloisters, and the church’s magnificence are some of the main points of this monument. Also noteworthy is the central nave, whose absence of adornments gives us a feeling of elevation and peace. In the transept, we can see two masterpieces of Portuguese Gothic and a source of immense popular legends, the tombs of Pedro and Inês.
Convent of Christ in Tomar
In Tomar, 130km north of Lisbon, we have another fundamental monument in Portugal’s history, the Templar Castle and convent of the Order of Christ. UNESCO Heritage since 1983, it includes some of the most important chapters of Portuguese architecture, such as the cloister of D. João III, the Romanesque Charola of the church, and the famous Manueline window of the Chapter Room.
Built between the 12th and 17th centuries, this is a monument that follows the history of Portugal. Its foundation dates back to the donation of land by Afonso Henriques to the Templars, who then established a castle there. Later, with the extinction of the order of the templars, the Templar Castle became the Convent of the Order of Christ. King Dinis founded the Militia of the Knights of Christ with the assets and privileges of the Templars. This new order would come to accompany and support Portuguese maritime exploration.
As a whole, the Convent of Christ contains details of Romanesque art, from the time of the Templars, Gothic and Manueline discoveries, the art of the Renaissance, and even Mannerism and Baroque! It’s truly an astonishing landmark.
Still in the center of Portugal, a few kilometers from Leiria and relatively close to Tomar and Alcobaça, we find a third religious and historical building of great importance, the Monastery of Batalha official name is Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória. A human heritage site since 2007, this Monastery was constructed over 2 centuries to celebrate the decisive victory against Castile in the Battle of Aljubarrota.
This is yet another work of incredible beauty that brings together several architectural styles, the predominant Gothic, the evolution to Manueline, and even some Renaissance details. The monastery of Batalha is also considered one of the national pantheons, with the tombs of several Portuguese kings and queens, namely that of João I, master of Avis, and founder of this Monastery.
Palace-Convent of Mafra
The National Palace of Mafra is a baroque and neoclassical building with Roman and German influence built during the 18th century by João V following a promise made to Maria Ana of Austria, his wife.
Occupying about 4 hectares, with a facade of 220 meters and a turret at each end, this is obviously an impressive building, both for its size, exterior beauty, and luxurious rooms. The 1200 rooms, more than 4700 doors and windows, 156 staircases, and 29 patios, are not all visitable, but some of them are incredible with the impressive Joanina library at the top.
A UNESCO heritage site since 2018, Mafra Palace is very easy to visit as it is conveniently located only about 30 km from Lisbon.
The close relationship between the Castle of Guimaraes and the foundation of Portugal makes it one of the most important Portuguese landmarks. Founded in the 9th century, it was vitally important during the existence of the Portucalense county and in the battle of S. Mamede. Guimarães was the capital of the Portucalense county, and it was in his castle that Count D. Henrique and D. Teresa lived.
Despite being an imposing and fascinating castle, many other castles around Portugal could also fit on this list. The walls, dimensions, and beauty are similar (if not better), but there is something absolutely legendary about the Castle of Guimarães, and that makes it a destination not to be missed in Portugal.
Bom Jesus do Monte
Continuing in Minho, we have the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga. Although there have been signs of occupation since the 14th century, this is a 19th-century monument, as its main features were created at that time. In 2019 it was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site.
The main image of Bom Jesus de Braga is undoubtedly the impressive staircase with 17 levels symbolically decorated with themes such as the Via Sacra, the 5 senses, the virtues, and, at the top, the eight figures who participated in the Condemnation of Jesus. Note that the best way to appreciate the staircase is from the bottom to the top because this way you’ll have a nice perspective of the granite fountains, the stairs, the levels, the white walls, and even the church at the top.
Chapel of Bones in Évora
Évora is a phenomenal city with several monuments that could also be on this list, such as the Cathedral or the Roman temple of Diana. We chose Capela dos Ossos because besides being well-known, it is really a very different tourist attraction and a monument you can’t miss in Portugal.
Built in the 17th century by 3 Franciscan monks, the Chapel of Bones is an attempt to convey the message of the transience of life. For this, its walls and the eight pillars are “decorated” with bones and skulls creating a… different… environment. It’s certainly bizarre. At the entrance, we have the famous warning: “We bones that are here, for yours to wait”, while at the exit we have a more recent tile panel, by Siza Vieira.
Recent Portugal moments
25 de Abril Bridge
Inaugurated in 1966, the 25 de Abril Bridge is a suspension bridge that connects Lisbon and Almada. It was the first bridge over the Tagus in the Lisbon area, and its size and typical red mark the horizon.
Despite crossing the Tagus estuary in its narrowest part, it has a span of more than 1013 meters and a total of 2,277 meters in length. More than a monument and a tourist attraction, the 25 de Abril bridge completely changed Lisbon’s daily life, bringing it closer to the other bank.
Curiosity: Originally the 25 de Abril Bridge was called Ponte Salazar, having its name changed after the carnation revolution.
Casa de Música in Porto
Built for the Porto, European Capital of Culture in 2001 event, Casa da Música was only completed in 2005. Still, it quickly became one of the city’s icons and one of Portugal’s most famous monuments. It was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and is considered one of the most important concert halls built in the last 100 years.
A little like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, due to its unique geometric shape, the construction of the Casa da Musica was problematic. However, it is exactly this bold architecture that brings it fame and makes it a reference space for culture in Porto and Europe.
At its maximum level, the Alqueva dam reaches 250 km², about 1100 km of banks, forming the largest artificial lake in Europe. Located in Alentejo, it covers 5 counties Portel, Moura, Reguengos de Monsaraz, Alandroal and Moura. The construction process was troubled, to say the least. Between the study phases and the construction, it took about 50 years, making Alqueva an almost legendary project in which it seemed that it would never be built.
Alqueva has triple importance for the entire region, functioning as the main source of water for irrigation in Alentejo, producing electricity, and developing tourism through the exploration of its huge lake. It is thus a monument not to be missed in Portugal.
Natural Landmarks Portugal
The Algarve is famous for its beaches, cliffs, and stunning landscapes, but none is as well known and popular as the Benagil caves, also known as Algar de Benagil. It is a Portuguese natural monument and a geological wonder.
Due to its arched shape, the Benagil cave is often called the Benagil Cathedral. The interior walls oscillate between orange, yellow, and white while the sea turns turquoise creating an even more beautiful environment. The only way to access this Natural Landmark is by sea, from one of the neighboring beaches. If you leave Benagil or Marinha beach, you can get there by kayak or SUP, but if you come from further afield it is best to take one of the boats that make organized tours.
We placed the Douro valley as a natural monument, but the reality is that it is more a mixed landmark than purely a natural one. The Douro Valley is naturally beautiful, with a river meandering through the mountains forming undulating valleys covered in green. But what makes this landscape really unique are the terraces and the ones built over hundreds of years, creating an almost unique scenario.
UNESCO recognized this relationship between man and nature and made it a human heritage site in 2001, considering that “the long tradition of winemaking has produced a landscape of great beauty that reflects economic, social and technological developments.”
Pico Mountain, Azores
The Pico mountain on the Azores’ with the same name is the highest point in Portugal with 2 351. This stratovolcano completely marks the island’s landscape with its size, geological richness, and exceptional vegetation, and it’s undoubtedly one of Portugal’s natural wonders. From its top you can admire the immensity of the Atlantic Ocean and see the other 4 islands of the central group of the Azores: Faial, S. Jorge, Graciosa, and Terceira.
As in the Douro valley, the natural landscape of the peak is elevated by human action, through the typical walls of the vineyard corrals, which were declared a protected landscape by UNESCO in 2004.
Curiosity: If we measure it from the peak to its base at the bottom of the ocean, the volcano is about 5000 meters high – almost half is submerged.
Lagoa das 7 Cidades
Lagoa das 7 Cidades on the island of S. Miguel in the Azores is a freshwater lake (the largest in the Azores), occupying almost 4.5 km2 and about 30 meters deep. Its main feature is the double color of the water.
The lagoon is only one, but it is divided by a shallow channel crossed by a low bridge. On one side of the pond the water mirror is green, while on the other it is blue, so it is often mentioned “the green lagoon” and “the blue lagoon.”
These characteristics of the lagoon and the surrounding landscape’s beauty have made it one of the most popular places in the Azores and one of the most incredible natural landmarks in Portugal.
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