5 famous castles to visit in Portugal

Marvão Castle / Wikimedia commons
Marvão Castle / Wikimedia commons
29 September 2020, Redaction

Autumn 2020 is just around the corner and there is no better time than this time of year to discover the history of Portugal. The cool weather and the bare ground create the perfect setting to visit the ancient architectural wonders on offer in the country. If you are looking for original destinations this autumn, where you can enjoy the best of Portugal in peace and in safe conditions, then this list of the most beautiful and impressive castles in Portugal is perfect for you.

You may have already heard of Guimarães castle, one of Portugal's best known fortresses, but here are 5 other must-visit Portuguese castles, so that you can plan your next holiday in Portugal around the fascinating history of this country.

Arraiolos Castle

Façade of the Castelo de Arroiolos / Wikimedia commons
Façade of the Castelo de Arroiolos / Wikimedia commons

On the outskirts of Évora, in the heart of the Alentejo region of Portugal, is a tiny village called Arraiolos. This village is famous for its gastronomy and handmade carpets, but also presents visitors with an unusual monument, a castle.

The Castle of Arraiolos is one of the few circular castles in the world. It is located at the top of the São Pedro hill and at 410 metres high, it has a 360-degree view of the Alentejo horizon. Inside the castle is the Igreja Matriz do Salvador church, which has decoration consisting mainly of frescoes.

In the same region you can also visit the castles of Évora Monte, Viana do Alentejo and Monsaraz. If you're planning to visit the best Portuguese castles, then these three aren't to be missed.

Leiria Castle

The Castelo de Leiria seen from Encarnação / Wikimedia commons
The Castelo de Leiria seen from Encarnação / Wikimedia commons

When it comes to history, Leiria is full of surprises. Not only because of the hydrographical basin of the Lis River, which is one of the areas with the highest density of archaeological finds in the country, but also because of its medieval history.

Leiria Castle is the city's main attraction. Its history tells of numerous battles that have defined the Portuguese borders over the years, and its architecture continues to be the studied by historians to this day. The castle is currently undergoing restoration work and full tours are not available, however, a programme of guided visits, such as an exhibition and the possibility of going on a 3D visit to the castle are some of the initiatives on offer.

Elsewhere in the district of Leiria, Óbidos also deserves a special mention and is fully open for visits. Protected by the ancestral walls of the local castle, this picturesque town is well worth a visit to discover its amazing history, and you can stop for a delicious glass of ginjinha liqueur while you’re there, or head to its famous chocolate festival.

Marvão Castle

Castle gardens / Wikimedia commons
Castle gardens / Wikimedia commons

The historical importance of the village of Marvão is mostly due to its impressive rocks, and since the Roman era it has been considered an essential strategic point.

This imposing castle is found in the Serra de São Mamede Natural Park. In an area of unparalleled beauty, the real attraction is the spectacular medieval village surrounded by its walls.

Relatively close to Marvão is the parish of Alter do Chão, which also has another castle worth visiting that shares the same name.

Tomar Castle

Castle of the Knights Templar and the Convento de Cristo / Wikimedia commons
Castle of the Knights Templar and the Convento de Cristo / Wikimedia commons

For a castle in Portugal near Lisbon, you need to visit the town of Tomar where you can visit one of the most impressive monuments in the country.  Here, you can visit this Templar castle, as well as the most famous convent in the country, a must-see destination for any history lover.

Construction of Tomar Castle began in 1160 and has stood out since then thanks to architectural innovations by the Templars. At the same time, they built the Convent of Christ, considered a masterpiece in terms of the Manueline style of Portuguese late Gothic architecture.

This castle is just one of the many that were built on the Tagus Line during the period of the Reconquista. Of the remaining castles that are still standing today, Almourol castle stands out. It was built on an island in the Tagus River, creating a breathtaking image that you can’t afford to miss.

São Jorge Castle

Façade of the Castle of St. George, Lisbon / Wikimedia commons
Façade of the Castle of St. George, Lisbon / Wikimedia commons

While it is a cosmopolitan city, Lisbon has lot of history to tell and the Castelo de São Jorge, or Saint George’s Castle, represents the medieval past of the capital. This castle, named in honour of the patron saint of knights and crusaders, Saint George (also the patron saint of England), stands at the top of the city's hills and delights its visitors with the best views of the city.

Conquered by Don Afonso Henriques in the 12th century, it become the royal residence a century later, in turn becoming one of the most important monuments in Lisbon. When planning your visit to the Portuguese capital, don't miss out on what is possibly the most famous and historically important castle in Portugal.

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