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The Most Beautiful Castles to Visit Near Lisbon


Pena Palace

The Portuguese capital of Lisbon is an enchanting city with gorgeous architecture, beautiful scenery and one of my favorite treats (pasteis de nata). While the city itself boasts incredible landmarks like Jerónimos Monastery, and picturesque neighborhoods such as Alfama, there are also breathtaking medieval fortresses, characteristic castles and impressive palaces just a short drive away. Here is a list of some of the best Portuguese castles to visit just outside of Lisbon, along with how to get there and tips for your visit. I am using the term "castle" loosely here and bunching castles, palaces and fortresses together. 


If castles are what you are after, before you leave Lisbon make sure to visit São Jorge castle, or St. George castle. This castle is located at the highest part of the Alfama neighborhood, giving a wonderful panoramic view of Lisbon.  The first fortifications in this area appeared in the 1st century BC. Extensive renovations occurred during the middle ages, at the beginning of the 14th century when this castle became a royal palace. You can wander the grounds and the castle on your own or join a guided tour. The entrance fee is 10 EURO. 


San Jorge castle Lisbon

Belem tower is an iconic Portuguese symbol located just outside the historic centre of Lisbon, in the Belem district. Built in the early 16th century, this small fortress sits on the Tagus river and protected Lisbon's harbour from raiders. It was part of a larger string of fortresses along the river. Belem tower was the last thing Portuguese explorers would see as they set off and the first thing they would see then they returned from their adventures. Tickets to the Belem tower cost 8 EURO. While you are in Belem district make sure to also stop at the Monastery of Jeronimo as well as Pasties de Belem for the world famous pasteis de nata.


Belem tower

Once you have seen the castles of Lisbon, you still have many amazing choices close by. Here are some of the best palaces and castles near Lisbon.


Castelo de Óbidos (Obidos Castle)


Óbidos castle

Set on top of a hill overlooking the picturesque town of Óbidos, this medieval castle is a must see. Dating back to the twelfth century when the first King of Portugal captured Obidos from the Moors, the Castelo de Óbidos has an impressive array of towers, ramparts, and fortified walls. The main building of the castle is now a luxury hotel. The stone walls of the castle actually surround the entirety of the town. You can walk all the way around them, which provides great views of the historic center of Obidos as well as the surrounding countryside including an impressive aqueduct. Just be careful as the walls don't have railings on one side. After walking the walls, wander through the narrow, cobblestone streets contained within the castle walls. The whitewashed houses adorned with vibrant bougainvillea and traditional azulejo tiles are perfect for exploring and taking pictures. 


Getting to Obidos from Lisbon is simple. If you have a car, it is an easy hour drive. I would suggest parking in the large parking lot outside of the town and then walking in. There is a direct bus to Obidos from the Lisbon Campo Grande bus station to the Rua de Praca stop in Obidos. They run multiple times a day and take about an hour.  There is a direct train from Lisbon to Obidos that runs from Santa Apolonia station in Lisbon to the Obidos train station. This option takes the longest at around two and a half hours. 


Obidos


Sintra

The historic town of Sintra has multiple castles and palaces to explore. Sintra is located an hour outside of Lisbon and makes for an easy day trip. This UNESCO world heritage site was once a city retreat for royalty and nobility. Getting to Sintra is simple. There are multiple trains that run between Lisbon and Sintra. Even if you have a car I would suggest leaving it in /Lisbon and taking the train out to Sintra as it can get very congested making it difficult to drive and park. Here are some of castles and palaces available to visit in Sintra.


Castelo dos Mouros


Castle of the Moors

Set in the lush Sintra Mountains, the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) is an awe-inspiring example of Moorish architecture. Placed on the top of the hill, this imposing military fortification dates back to the 8th century and was once a formidable stronghold during the Moorish rule of the Iberian Peninsula. As you approach the castle, you'll be struck by its impressive walls that snake along the mountainous terrain, blending seamlessly with the natural landscape. Although this moorish castle is partly in ruins, it is still wonderful to explore the winding paths, turrets, and battlements, and marvel at the breathtaking vistas of the surrounding landscape. If you are afraid of heights this might bother you a bit as there are not railings. My husband had to stay on the ground and walk away as the kids and I were climbing and exploring. This really is one of the best places for incredible views though. On a clear day you can see for miles. If you are there on a misty day however, it can be even more magical with the clouds adding to the atmosphere and mystery of the castle.  Tickets are around 12 EURO.


Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace)


Pena Palace

The Palácio Nacional da Pena, or Pena Palace in Sintra is an absolute must-visit for anyone exploring the region's castles. This stunning 19th-century Romanticist castle is a true feast for the eyes, with its vibrant colors, intricate stonework, and whimsical architectural styles. Set against the backdrop of the Sintra Mountains, the palace and its lush gardens offer a truly enchanting experience. Palácio da pena looks like it is straight out of a fairy tale. Built in the 19th century, It was used as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.


Pena palace can get extremely busy as it is the most popular tourist attraction in Sintra. The best time to go is first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon. Make sure you get timed tickets ahead of time. Your tickets can include a shuttle bus up the hill but it is a little confusing to find where to pick it up. I find it better to just pay any of the drivers in front of the train station to take you up the hill. It is around 10 EURO. You can purchase tickets for the outside of the palace and the grounds for 15 EURO. If you would like to go in the palace as well it will cost 20 EURO. Make sure you visit the gardens which are a short walk from the palace. They are very charming and the perfect way to relax and enjoy nature. 


Pena palace gardens

The National Palace of Sintra


The national Palace is the best preserved medieval royal residence in the country. It has been almost continuously occupied from the 15th century to the 19th century. The abundant hunting in the region, a need to take refuge during plagues and a desire to escape the hot Lisbon summers all contributed to the national Palace remaining a favorite of Portugal's palaces for the royal family. The palace architecture has been shaped and influenced by many different periods and styles throughout the centuries resulting in a blend of architectural styles. Its distinctive tall cones placed above the royal kitchens can be seen from all over the area. Today it is a historic house museum open to the public. Tickets for the palace are 13 EURO. The gardens are free. 


National Palace of Sintra

I just want to quickly mention a couple other stops in Sintra. Although they are not royal palaces or castles, there are a number of beautiful estates that belonged to the wealthy and the nobility. 


Quinta da Regaleira is a gorgeous estate that was built in the late 1800. You can tour the villa but the real jewel of the property are its grounds, filled with monuments, gardens and grottos. Make sure you climb down the well and through the underground tunnels. Monserrate palace is another wonderful option with its opulent design and exotic gardens. 


Sintra

Castelo de Palmela


Located atop a hill in the charming town of Palmela, this impressive castle dates back to the 9th century and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. The castle's imposing walls and towers show its strategic importance throughout history. Visitors can explore the castle's grounds, including the keep, cisterns, and the remnants of ancient houses and churches. Don't miss the opportunity to climb to the top of the castle's tower for stunning vistas of the Arrábida Natural Park. Palmela's castle is just a 40 minute drive south east of Lisbon. It is a little trickier to get to by public transportation so if you don't have a car I would suggest booking an organized tour.


Palmelo's castle

All of these castles, palaces, estates and fortresses are within an hour drive of Lisbon. If you are willing to drive a bit farther there will be even more options. Within 2 hours of Lisbon there are many more wonderful possibilities. Consider the magical Almourol castle which sits on an island in the middle of the Tagus river. A Knights templar castle, access to the castle of Almourol is by boat. Tickets cost 10 EURO but you have to pre-book. Leiria castle is another option. Built by King Afonso Henriques in the 12th century, this castle has been used for defense as well as a royal residence. It cost under 3 EURO to enter. The Castle of Evoramonte, is another alternative as well as the characteristic town of Evora with its Royal Palace. Of course, don't forget the town of Tomar with its spectacular Convent of Christ, a Knights of the Templar castle stronghold.


Portugal castle

Whether you stay right in Lisbon, close by or travel a bit farther out, you will have many beautiful options to visit historic castles, opulent palaces or formidable fortresses. 


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