Charity De Souza is a Florida native and travel enthusiast. Traveling to over 50 countries abroad and residing in 6, she has a passion for exploring new cultures. While Central Florida is where she calls home, her favorite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland and watching the sunset in Morocco.
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Portugal’s dramatic coastlines, rocky hills and green meadows are dotted with a collection of fairytale-like castles that offer insight into the country’s rich history. You can go on a castle-hopping adventure to admire ancient architecture at medieval castles and fortresses, then marvel at the iconic Pena Palace with its colorful facade. Read on to discover the fairytale castles you can explore in Portugal.
You simply can’t visit Portugal without seeing the National Palace of Pena in person. This famous castle is popular for its colorful facade and location at the peak of the highest hill above Sintra. Its vibrant colors set the tone for 19th-century romanticism and the castle is surrounded by a lush park where you can marvel at its fairytale architecture. This UNESCO-listed monument dates back to the Middle Ages and boasts elaborate Manueline and Moorish architectural details.
Perched atop Lisbon’s highest hill in Alfama, São Jorge Castle is a great place to soak up nearly 1,000 years of Lisbon’s history. Serving as a fortification site for the Romans, Visigoths and the Moors, you can explore relics that remain intact, including cannons, underground chambers and 18 towers, one of which houses a camera obscura. Take a break with a glass of wine at the restaurant on-site or wander through the gardens to spot local wildlife.
A white-washed tower located on the harbor in Lisbon, Belem Tower was once used as a fortress and guarded Portugal’s capital city. Dating back to 1515, you’ll find stonework motifs built in the Manueline style and a four-story limestone tower with a bastion connected to it and space for 17 cannons that could fire long-range shots. It now serves as a reminder of the power Portugal had on land and sea.
Built during the 8th and 9th centuries, the Castle of the Moors is considered one of the oldest preserved fortresses in Portugal. It sits high up in the Serra de Sintra hills, which means you can walk its walls to discover ancient battlements and UNESCO-listed landmarks. The most striking aspect of this castle is its impressive view that opens onto the lush valleys that stretch to the Atlantic Ocean, where you can marvel at the mountain ridges and cities below.
One of the most important medieval fortresses in Portugal, the Guimarães Castle features walls in the shape of a pentagram and eight rectangular towers. Built in the 10th century, it later became the official residence of the father of the first king of Portugal and withstood the Battle of São Mamede in 1128. It’s now celebrated as the birthplace of the nation, where you can walk the ramparts and soak up the medieval ambiance.
Located on the banks of the Tagus River on top of a small rocky island, the Almourol Castle is a sandstone castle that dates back almost 2,000 years. Once a military base for the Knights Templar, it was revitalized in the 19th century and offers a spectacular setting with its pocket-sized islet. The embodiment of medieval Portugal, it is best seen at sunset when the ancient walls are illuminated with floodlight.
Once belonging to the Knights Templar, the Tomar Castle was built in the 12th century and includes a unique rounded tower. A former residence for the King Manuel of Portugal, it is a picturesque place to explore, as it overlooks the central town of Tomar and River Nabao. Step inside to explore the ancient landmark and discover the UNESCO-listed Convent of Christ, a former Roman Catholic convent and monastery with a grand Rotunda.
Set within a beautiful village, the Óbidos Castle was a wedding gift from King Dinis to Dona Isabel. A treasure trove of medieval design, you’ll immediately notice its well-preserved limestone and marble details that add to its grand facade, which also includes towers in a cylinder and square shape. Admire its intricate details and meander through the rooms to learn more about the past rules of the region. If you really want to feel like royalty, stay overnight in the castle’s on-site boutique hotel.
Originally built to prevent access to the River Tagus, Belver Castle was transferred to the Order of the Hospitallers after the defeat of King Sancho in the 12th century. Feel its history that dates back to the Middle Ages by exploring its interior, which features a small chapel built in the 16th century. Make sure to spend time meandering through the village of Belver and admiring the landscapes dotted with historic olive trees and hilly landscapes next to the Tagus river.
Once a medieval fortress, Leiria Castle changed hands between the Moors and Christians a couple of times, then it was turned into a royal palace. Visitors come here to admire its beautiful Gothic arches that lead to a balcony with views of the city and countryside below. Its off-the-grid location makes it appealing for adventurous travelers who want to soak up the traditional charm and character of the Estremadura region.
Attached to the walled medieval town of Monsaraz, the Monsaraz Castle is one of the most recognized castles in Portugal. Built from schist and limestone in the 13th century, it was designed to play a role in a network of border defenses against Spanish attack. It’s perched on a hill at the end of a picturesque cobbled road that winds through town next to white terraced houses that line its side alleys. Its remote location offers beautiful views of Barragem de Alqueva, Europe’s largest man-made reservoir in addition to the rolling countryside.
Sitting on the central border of Portugal and Spain, Marvão Castle is perched on one of the highest points in the Serra de São Mamede. While it served as a natural defense against enemies in the 12th century, it now offers visitors a chance to walk around the preserved walls and take in beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and empty plains towards Spain. See its battlements and impressive cisterna, then admire its picturesque almond blossoms and whitewashed cottages that line the 600-year-old cobblestone lanes.