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Best Places to Visit in Portugal, Top Attractions
Even though it’s one of Europe’s smaller countries, there is a deceptively long list of places to visit in Portugal. Portugal’s major cities and quaint towns are known around the globe for their high-end food and beguiling nightlife. One of Europe’s most desired and popular destinations, Portugal boasts an intriguing history alongside stunning landscapes, volcanic islands, glorious beaches, fascinating museums, and exquisite cuisine. But it has some hidden wonders, too- natural mineral springs, a village built from boulders, a chapel made of human skeletons, and much more. For such a small country, Portugal packs a punch. From cosmopolitan cities and out-of-the-way towns and villages, to lively beach resorts and spectacular national parks, this diminutive nation offers an incredibly diverse range of visitor attractions. Occupying a wedge of Iberia and sharing a border with Spain and a fantastic coastline with the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal's location in this sun-kissed corner of Western Europe lends it a singular appeal. Its southern reaches remain a compelling vacation destination, renowned for gloriously sandy beaches and world-class golf courses. The country's interior, meanwhile, offers a wealth of contrast: rolling plains; broad rivers; deep, verdant valleys; and remote mountain ranges. Defining Portugal's history is an amazing collection of monuments and historic buildings, many of them recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. And underpinning the country's personality is its people - open, friendly, and hospitable. Spend some time traveling the country, and you'll be enamored by the color, flavor, and warmth of its character. There are various places to Visit in Portugal including churches, cathedrals, museums, palaces, and much more. Some of the most important cathedrals that are not only important places of worship but also have deep historical significance include the Lisbon Cathedral, the Porto Cathedral, and the Basílica da Estrela. The National Pantheon can also be visited for its spiritual value as it was once a church but today houses the tombs of famous personalities.
#1- Basílica da Estrela
This is a massive structure that comprises an impressive pink and black interior and is one of the most iconic landmark buildings of the city. It was constructed in the 18th century in the neoclassical style of architecture with a huge rococo dome and a façade with twin bell towers that has been decorated with an array of statues of saints and allegorical figures. According to legend the basilica was commissioned by Queen Maria I in keeping with her vow after she gave birth to her son and heir. The queen’s tomb lies within the walls of the building. You can also go up to the dome to catch breathtaking sights of the surrounding city.
#2- Carmo Convent
Once the largest church of Lisbon, this Gothic structure was destroyed during the 1755 earthquake and today lies in a state of ruin. You can explore the small archaeological museum that is now housed where the altar once was and admire the eclectic collection of artifacts preserved here. There are several tombs including that of King Ferdinand I statue, ceramics, and mosaics. You can also see the remnant of a Visigothic pillar and a Roman tomb that has been carved with motifs that depict the Muses. Some of the other pieces of interest include South American mummies, shrunken heads, a jasper sculpture of the Virgin Mary, Visigothic artifacts, ancient tombstones, and coins that go back to the 13th century.
#3- Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
Take a tour of one of the most important museums in the country that has been set up within a 16th century convent of which only a Baroque chapel remains today. The magnificent gardens surrounding the building and overlooking the River Tagus is an important feature here. The museum houses some remarkable paintings from the Portuguese school. These include Nuno Gonçalves, Frei Carlos, Vasco Fernandes, Cristóvão Figueiredo, Gregório Lopes among several others.
#4- Monument Church Of St Francis
This is a famous church in Portugal that was originally built by the Franciscans in the 13th century but was later reformed into a prominent Gothic style of architecture. It is said that more than 300 kilos of gold dust was used in order to decorate the interiors of this church. You can see three of its naves even today that are covered in gold carvings. According to history, the extravagance of the church was such a contrast with the poverty around, that it was closed down for several years.
#5- Clerigos Church
This is the tallest campanile in the country that stands at a height of almost 76 meters and by climbing around 200 steps to the very top you can enjoy some of the most breathtaking views of the city of Porto from the observation deck here. It was built in the eighth century by the Brotherhood of the Clérigos in the old town on the “hill of the hanged men”, a notorious site where all executed prisoners were brought in to be buried. Once at the top of the building, you will come across 49 bells which, when rung together, make a formidable sound. The oval shaped dark granite church is perched atop a high ground and has an elaborate façade with garlands, festoons, and spiral scrolls.
#6- National Pantheon
Originally the Church of Santa Engrácia, this monument was converted into the National Pantheon where several eminent personalities of the state have been buried. Built in the 17th century, this building is among the best places to visit in Portugal as well as the one that took the longest to complete. The dome of the edifice was completed only in the middle of the 20th century. While this building is an example of Portugal’s first baroque monument, it does not feature all the golden ornamentation and blue-and-white tile panels which are so typical of this style.
#7- Lisbon Zoo
Visit the Lisbon Zoological Garden that boasts more than 2000 inhabitants and is one of the most important zoos in the whole of Europe You can witness animals from over 350 different species here such as elephants, lynxes, hippos, crocodiles, tigers, lions, dolphins, giraffes, vultures, and ostriches, among several others. It is one of the best places in Portugal to visit especially if you are with small kids as you can keep them engaged and entertained for several hours here. There are a variety of activities and attractions that are organized at the park including live shows as well as a fun train ride that covers the entire park.
#8- MAAT Museum
One of the newest cultural centers of Lisbon, the MAAT museum focuses on three main areas, art, architecture, and technology. These three areas are brought together here through debates, exhibitions, discovery, and international dialogue. You can see a prime example of Portugal’s most prominent industrial architecture from the early 20th century. It is also one of the most visited museums in the country and among the best places in Portugal to witness international exhibitions by contemporary artists and thinkers. Located by the banks of a river, this majestic futuristic building is known for its contemporary art and unlike anything you have seen in Portugal.
#9- Belem Tower
Originally built as a defense for the city, the Belem Tower was later transformed into a lighthouse and then a customs center. It is also one of the best places to visit in Portugal to witness the incredible Manuelino style of architecture by famous architect and sculptor Francisco de Arruda. Built between the years 1514 and 1520, it has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
#10- Sintra National Palace
Explore this well preserved medieval royal palace that is also one of the best places to visit in Portugal for its beautiful architecture and stunning interiors. While the exterior has been created in minimalistic Gothic style, the interiors of the palace are quite grand with decorative state rooms. This has also been home to the ruling nobility of the country from the early 15th to the late 19th centuries thus making the palace the country’s most lived in palaces. Located in the very heart of Sintra, the palace is also popularly referred to as the Town Palace and the two massive chimneys that protrude from the palace kitchens have come to become symbolic of this town.
#11- Pena Palace
This vibrant palace is located in the town of Sintra and is also classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The spectacular beauty of the palace had made it one of the seven wonders of the country. You can witness a distinct blend of different styles of architecture including the Neo-Gothic to Neo-Manueline and the Neo-Moorish. All these styles had gained much prominence during the middle of the 19th century. The brightly colored terraces and decorative battlements make the palace quite unique and easy to notice.
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