Lovely Lisbon has two UNESCO World Heritage listed sights; the landmark Belém Tower is the symbol of Portugal’s 16th-century maritime power and perches on the Tagus River. It was completed in 1519 to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India.
Also inspired by Da Gama’s navigational successes, the Monastery of St Jerome (he is patron saint of sailors) is also UNESCO listed; it once stood on the river side but the course of the Tagus has changed. The monastery is a paean to the elaborate Gothic architecture of the Portuguese Golden Age and its beautiful cloisters are covered with maritime carvings and motifs.
Around Lisbon there are many attractions of great international significance; the entire hill town of Sintra is designated a UNESCO site. Its red-roofed, white-washed National Palace dates from the 14th century and has one of the world’s most important collections of azulejo tiles decorating its flamboyant paneled and gilded apartments. Even this looks dowdy next to Sintra’s Pena Palace, a brightly painted mock-medieval castle dating from the 1840s and towering over the town. The palace exterior is encrusted with faux turrets and ramparts while the interior is stuffed with priceless artwork and porcelain and decorated in a clash of styles from pseudo-Moorish to Edwardian.
The monasteries at Alcobaca and Batalha are UNESCO listed for their peerless Gothic architecture. Both are within easy reach of Lisbon and make fascinating days out when combined with trips to the surfers paradise of Nazaré or the Sanctuary of Fátima.
The walled city of Évora in the Alentejo wine-growing region is UNESCO-listed for its feast of different architectural styles; it showcases Portugal’s rich heritage from Roman times to 16th-century Golden Age. Venturing further back in time, Évora is also famous for its mysterious Almendres Cromlech, one of Europe’s largest groups of menhirs (standing stones), thought to predate the UK’s Stonehenge by 2,000 years.
See the UNESCO World Heritage sights of Lisbon on a walking or e-biking tour, from on board the famous Tram 28 or a hop-on, hop-off bus. Guided day trips are the easiest way to see the UNESCO destinations around the city. Alternatively a grand tour lasting six days takes in all the premier attractions between Lisbon and northern Portugal, including Batalha monastery and the UNESCO-listed town of Guimarães close to Porto.