One of the symbols of Porto is the Torre dos Clerigos, the bell tower adjoining the Clerigos Church, a baroque church built between 1732 and 1750. The church was one of the first Baroque churches in Portugal. Its Baroque adornments reflect the city’s seaside way of life, as its façade is carved with shells and garlands.
More iconic than the church however, is its bell tower. Standing at 75 m (245 ft) high, the tower offers an amazing, panoramic view of the city, the Duoro River and the Atlantic coast. Completed in 1763, this granite tower is based upon a Roman Baroque design scheme coupled with an unmistakably Tuscan bell tower design; visitors familiar with Italian architecture will be delighted to see a decidedly Roman Baroque masterpiece towering over a Portuguese port. Once you’ve ascended the 225 steps and reached the top of the sixth floor, the Torre dos Clerigos, you’ll be able to see the whole city.
Crouched over the River Tagus like a stick insect, the elegant spines of the Vasco da Gama Bridge unite Lisbon’s modernistic Parque das Nações with Samouco as it curves across 17.2 km (10.7 miles) east of the city center. This road bridge was constructed to ease commuter congestion when the 25th of April Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) was no longer able to cope with traffic volume. Costing nearly US $1 billion, it was designed by a consortium of architects and more than 3,000 workers were involved in its construction, which took 18 months. The bridge was completed in 1998 in the nick of time for Portugal’s Expo98.
Restauradores Square in Lisbon commemorates Portugal's liberation from Spanish rule. The Spaniards controlled Portugal for 60 years until Portuguese nobility started a revolt on Dec. 1, 1640, which began the 28-year Restoration War. In the center of the square is an obelisk that stands more than 98 feet tall and has two bronze figures on the pedestal representing Victory and Freedom. The monument was designed by artist and architect António Tomás da Fonseca and built in 1886. The bronze statues were created by sculptors Simões de Almeida and Alberto Nunes.
Several important buildings are located on Restauradores Square. The most prominent one is Foz Palace which was once the residence of the Marquis of Foz and now houses the national tourism office. The former Eden Theater, one of Lisbon's most beautiful art deco buildings, is also located here. The theater closed down in 1989 and became a hotel in 2001.
Estrela Basilica is a basilica and convent in Lisbon, Portugal that was built in the late 1700s to fulfill a vow by Queen Maria I after she gave birth to a son. The basilica has a huge white rococo dome and twin bell towers decorated with statues of saints and allegorical figures. It sits on top of a hill, so the basilica can be seen from quite a distance. One of the most impressive features inside the basilica is the Christmas manger created by sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro, which is made of cork and terra cotta and contains more than 500 figures.
The elaborate Empire-style tomb of Queen Maria I is also located inside the basilica. The interior of the basilica is decorated with pink and black marble. Another important feature is the altarpiece, which was created in 1870 by the Italian painter Pompeo Batoni. Visitors can go up to the top of the dome for views of the city.
The modern beating heart of Lisbon now lies in the Parque das Nacoes, the brainchild of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that was constructed for the 100th World Expo in 1998. Calatrava’s reshaping of the city’s formerly dilapidated waterfront into something resembling a mini-Dubai was one of the biggest redevelopment projects ever undertaken in Europe. Today the Parque das Nacoes serves as both smart residential area and playground for tourists, who come in hordes to wander around the marina and landscaped water-gardens.
Chief visitor attraction at the complex is the eco-friendly, waterfront Oceanário de Lisboa (Oceanarium Aquarium) designed by Peter Chermeyeff, which pulls in more than one million punters each year. It is dedicated to educating visitors as well as conserving our marine life and the aquarium offers four ocean-themed aquariums stuffed full of scary stingrays, menacing sharks and darting tropical fish in a medley of colors.
One of the defining characteristics of Portugal is its many masterful, colorful tiles (‘azulejo.’) Intricate tile work can be found all over the country in homes and churches, in streets, on walls — in all patterns, shapes, sizes, and colors. Some of the more delicate ceramic tiles are more like works of art, depicting Portuguese nature or historical events. Tiles are thought to have first been introduced into Portugal by the Moors, as early as the 14th century. They were imported from nearby Seville, until local production began to take place in the 16th century.
The National Tile Museum grew to become its own independent museum with an impressive display of tiles through the centuries, presented in chronological order. Visitors are able to get close up to the decorative tiles, and are able to see the incredible detail and craftsmanship in this cultural heritage of Portugal.
Jardim Da Estrela is one of the pretties parks in Lisbon. It is located across the street from Estrela Basilica and near the English Cemetery. The park has many exotic plants and trees, flowerbeds, cacti, a small lake with ducks, an animal-themed children's playground, and a wrought iron gazebo. The gazebo is a bandstand that was built in the late 1800s. Many locals come to this park to relax and enjoy nice weather as well as bring their families to enjoy a picnic. There is also a cafe next to the pond.
Visitors can see a variety of sculptures throughout the park. There is a statue of a farmer sculpted by Costa Mota in 1913, a female nude figure in marble called O Despertar which was sculpted by Simões de Almeida, a replica of Guardadora de Patos (keeper of the ducks) from 1914, a statue of poet João de Deus, and busts of actor Silva Taborda and poet Antero de Quental. There is also a fountain with a dog spraying water out of its mouth.
Cabo da Roca is considered by some as one of the most, if not the best, scenic coastal walks in Europe. Located on the westernmost point of mainland Portugal, it therefore acts as continental Europe and the Eurasian landmass’ westernmost point as well. Because of its outstanding natural beauty and historical significance, Cabo da Roca is part of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, one of 13 natural parks in Portugal. Tourists flock to the area to see the rugged Atlantic coast and its dramatic cliffs overlooking sandy beaches a dizzying 100 meters below. But there is more than meets the eye at these rocky precipices; the white-washed lighthouse, possibly one of the most photographed landmarks in Portugal, was part of a defensive line built in the 16th century as part of a fort that guarded the approach to the Portuguese capital.
The Douro is one of the Iberian Peninsula’s major rivers, flowing from Duruelo de la Sierra in northern Spain and emptying itself into the Atlantic at Porto. It has been shaping the harsh landscape of the Douro region since time immemorial, sculpting and irrigating its riverbanks to sustain the tradition of viniculture that has produced fine port wines for centuries.
On its 557-mile run through northern Spain and Portugal, the Douro meanders through steep-sided valleys laden with regimentally straight stripes of vines; the wine-growing region has been appointed a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural beauty. The hillsides, arid and barren further inland from the river, are scattered with low-lying quintas (wineries) where wines can be sampled and bought.
Located in the High Estremadura region of central Portugal, Batalha is an attractive town with plenty of excellent shops and restaurants surrounding one of Portugal’s most sacred sites. The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória was commissioned by Portugal’s King João I to commemorate the country’s independence from Spain after the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.
Some 200 years in its evolution, the Dominican monastery is UNESCO World Heritage-listed as it represents the very pinnacle of Portuguese Gothic and Manueline architecture; its chapter house in particular is an elaborate interweaving of pinnacles, gargoyles and rounded spires over two levels. The fine, lacy façade is studded with intricate stonework that resembles Indian temple carvings, and leads on to a surprisingly unembellished interior, with high Gothic vaulted roof over the nave and stained-glass windows through which sunlight dances on summer days.
Possibly one of the prettiest towns in Portugal, medieval Óbidos has existed for centuries tucked inside its fortified walls; a gleaming white-washed spider’s web of alleyways lined with squat houses, all adorned with flower-smothered balconies, vivid blue azulejo tiles and Gothic doorways.
Known as the ‘Wedding Present Town’ due to the tradition of Portuguese kings giving Óbidos to their wives as part of their dowry, the town has benefited from its royal patronage down the centuries. At its heart lies the cobbled main square of Praça de Santa Maria, home to the old town pillory, a majestic fountain and a tiny museum in the town hall. The cluster of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches around Santa Maria square were all founded by various monarchs, as was the Amoreira Aqueduct outside the town walls.
This charming melee of architectural styles is best seen from the vantage point of the vast defense walls encircling Óbidos.
One of the largest wine-producers in Portugal, Bacalhôa Wines is set in a 15th-century castle previously owned by the Portuguese Royal Family. Bacalhôa has a long tradition of winemaking—a family-owned company founded in the 1920s, their wines are made from grapes from seven different wine-regions in Portugal.
Bacalhôa offers tours, tastings, a museum and gardens for visitors to explore. The surrounding grounds include carefully manicured hedges among flowing fountains and reflecting pools. The museum houses the family’s private art collection, which contains pieces from Africa, South America, and Asia as well as stunning examples of Portugal’s traditional azuleijo tiles. A highlight of a visit to the estate is the atmospheric storeroom – where antique wine casks lay in a dark room, adorned with ancient Portuguese tiles.
The Estremadura town of Nazaré hugs the western Atlantic coast, a traditional Portuguese fishing village turned popular summer resort and surfer’s paradise. The long sweep of sandy beach is backed by a long esplanade and a cute white-washed, red-roofed town.
The protected harbor at the south end of Nazaré’s beach springs into life when the day’s catch comes in; fish such as lobster, sardines and mackerel are laid out to dry in the sun along the harbor walls and then sold from market stalls run by women swathed in the area’s traditional headscarves and seven layers of skirt. The waterfront bars and restaurants rightly have an excellent reputation for the spanking fresh seafood served daily; the fish stew caldeirada is a local specialty.
To the north of the coastal village, a funicular trundles 360 feet (110 m) up and down between the golden beach and the cliff-top Promontório do Sítio, famed for its far-reaching sea views and landmark shrines.
Alcobaça is a pleasant town with a jumble of medieval and modern architecture and a largely pedestrianized center, but its main attraction is undoubtedly Portugal’s first monastery, founded here by the country’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, in 1153. Today the magical Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria is UNESCO World Heritage-listed thanks to its peerless Gothic architecture – it was the first public building in Portugal to adopt the Gothic style.
Just to the left of the church doorway, the Hall of Kings is elaborately decorated with azulejo tiles depicting the history of the monastery up until the 18th century plus a cluster of royal statues in various states of repair. The massive Gothic church at the heart of the complex is an ocher-stone fantasia of flying buttresses, ornate roundels, lacy stone carving and statuary topped with two intricate bell towers.
Climb to the top of any of Lisbon’s seven hills and you’ll be rewarded with the sight of the Tagus River glistening in the distance. It is the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula, flowing 626 miles (1,007 km) from the Sierra de Albarracín in eastern Spain to empty itself into the Atlantic at Lisbon, and has been the focus of the city since ancient times. The Tagus has shaped Lisbon’s maritime glories in the past, and it continues to shape its future as well.
Great 15th-century adventurers Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama sailed the Tagus as they left on explorations across unknown seas, and the Monument to the Discoveries in waterfront Belèm honors their seafaring successes. Lisbon’s favorite landmark, the Belèm Tower, and its neighboring ornate Jerónimos Monastery stand on the banks of the Tagus, built with money raised from Portugal’s colonies.
One of the many elegant palaces of Sintra, just outside of Lisbon, Queluz Palace dates back to the 18th century and is considered an excellent example of Portugal’s Rococo architecture. Its sprawling gardens, fountains, and statues have earned it its nickname as the Versailles of Portugal.
Built as a summer retreat for Prince D. Pedro of Bragança, it later served as the official residence of the royal family following a fire that destroyed the Ajuda Palace in Lisbon. Today it hosts state events, as well as classic music concerts in the summer months. The ornate Throne Room is a highlight for many, with mirror-lined walls and glass chandeliers overhead. The Royal Bedroom has walls lined with murals of Don Quixote and an impressively domed ceiling. The palace gardens and tiled canal, with water flowing to the many lakes, are impressive enough to warrant their own visit.
Freeport Outlet just outside of Lisbon is the largest collection of outlet shops in Europe. With retail shops featuring everything from home decor and appliances to clothing and beauty, shoppers can find some of Europe’s best brands at lower than their original prices. Many of the shops offer up to 60 percent off what they would sell for in department stores. As discount shopping is generally not as widely available in Europe as it is in other parts of the world, this a shopping destination for many Europeans. There are both Spanish and Portuguese brands as well as international brands to select from.
Restaurants, coffee shops, an outdoor promenade, and frequent events for shoppers and families round out the experience. Much of the exterior is well-designed with artistic touches.
A traditional fishing village set between the Alvor River estuary and the sun-soaked Atlantic coast, Alvor offers a peaceful escape from neighboring Portimão. Despite being almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, strolling Alvor’s cobblestone streets still unveils a few historic gems, including the hilltop ruins of Alvor castle and the 16th-century Igreja Matriz church, and the pretty harbor is a popular starting point for boat tours along the coast.
Today the main draw is its sandy beach, Praia de Alvor, and coastal lagoon, while Rua Dr Frederico Romas Mendes is the main drag, crammed with bars, restaurants and souvenir stores, and the palm-fringed riverfront is dotted with terrace restaurants.
Standing at 666 meters (2,185 feet), the rocky peak of Montejunto sits north of Lisbon and is one of Portugal’s 30 protected landscapes; as the highest point on the horizon, it has unsurpassed views from the Salvé Rainha Viewpoint. When the weather permits, it is possible to see the Berlengas Islands floating out to the west in the Atlantic, the renowned surfers’ paradise of Nazaré, and the River Tagus flood plains unfolding to the south. The lower flanks of Montejunto are intensely farmed, while higher up the hill is swathed in pine, chestnut and oak trees; its upper reaches of limestone rock are pockmarked with gorges, caves and underground caverns. Evidence of ancient settlement on the slopes of the mountain includes several pre-historic necropolises and the countryside is also dotted with cheery white-and-blue windmills. It is a magnet for climbers, hikers, cyclists and twitchers, who come to see the 75 bird species – some endangered – identified in the area.
A tranquil alternative to the bustling resorts further along the coast, the small market town of Almancil is worth a detour if only to marvel at its landmark church. The exquisite baroque Church of St Lourenço dates back to the 17th century and is renowned for its intricate azulejo tilework, which details elaborate scenes from the life of St Lourenço.
Additional highlights of a visit to Almancil include the nearby Vale do Lobo (Valley of the Wolf) resort, where the golf course was famously designed by British champion Henry Cotton, and the glamorous Quinta do Lago, one of the Algarve’s most upmarket resorts and a favorite with visiting celebrities and politicians.