Dive into wonders of Portugal, a small yet culturally and historically very rich country known for its beautiful coast, delicious cuisine, friendly people and fantastic sites. If you want to go deeper into this charming country’s roots, you should definitely explore its sites of extreme importance – so check out our list and organize a UNESCO World Heritage tour of Portugal for yourself!
1) Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower
Dating back to the 16th century, the Jeronimos Monastery nestled by the Tagus River in Lisbon, took over a century to be completed, but that has definitely paid out – today the monastery is one of the most recognisable symbols of the Portuguese capital. Visit the museum inside and witness one of the largest legacies from the Portuguese empire, but don’t forget the cloisters as well, considered one of the best parts of the monastery. When you’re visiting Jeronimos Monastery, you will notice the nearby Tower of Belém, built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s expedition (and those of other mariners as well), right on the spot where they departed for their voyages of discovery. Finally, in the 16th century, details and shields of the Templar Cross were carved in the tower.
2) Historic centre of Porto
Second largest city in Portugal with a history dating back to Roman era, Porto is clustered on the hills around the Douro River. Porto’s Old Town has many medieval streets and extraordinary buildings of historic importance, including the 12th-century Sé (cathedral) with a beautiful Gothic cloister with azulejos as ornaments, the Manueline-style Church of Santa Clara from the 15th century known for its wooden choir stalls, the baroque Igeja São Lourenço and the abundant Palácio de Bolsa. Developed thanks to ship building and wine trade, the city still has a strong relationship with its river and its urban side, all contributed by different periods and cultures living in one modern, yet still so traditional city.
3) Cultural landscape of Sintra
A place unlike any other in the world, Sintra is only 32 km away from Lisbon. Having become the centre of European Romantic architecture when king Ferdinand II decided to convert a ruined monastery into a royal palace today known to all of us as the Palácio Nacional decorated with Moorish windows, Gothic-style arches and wonderfully exotic landscape gardens. Sintra earned its UNESCO title thanks to its influence in the progress of landscape architecture all across Europe. The magical ambient in Sintra is not all just about the spectacular palace – other remarkable buildings such as the colorful Pena Palace and the medieval Castle situated on top of a hill just add to this unique atmosphere.
4) Historic Centre of Évora
After the devastating earthquake of 1755 which destroyed most of the country’s architectural legacy, the undamaged Évora remains the finest example of Portugal’s ‘Golden Age’ till this day. The city reached its peak in the 15th century when Évora was the residence of Portuguese royals. The city is centered around the 13th-century cathedral, but the Roman Temple of Évora and well-preserved bath complex are also worth visiting. The city’s architecture had a great impact on later Portuguese buildings in Brazil, but what stands out are the charming whitewashed houses covered with azulejos and iron balconies originating from the period between the 16th and the 18th century.
5) Monastery of Alcobaça
Fully named the Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça, situated north of the capital, the site was founded in the 12th century by Alfonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king. This masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art will not just blow you away with its exterior and internal beauty, but also with an epic medieval story. The monastery’s interior contains the magnificent tombs of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines, lying foot to foot and waiting for the Judgement Day to rise. Dom Pedro’s father ordered the murder of Dona Ines for her Spanish connections, and Dom Pedro, after having assumed the throne, killed and ate the hearts of two of his love’s murderers. The beautiful twin towers were added to the monastery in 18th century, so only the main entrance and rose window have survived of the original structure.
6) Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley
Located on the banks of the rivers Agueda, the Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley, documents constant human occupation from the end of the Paleolithic Era. The engravings found on the site (several thousands of them!) are ‘the most outstanding example of early human artistic activity anywhere in the world’, if you ask UNESCO. The engravings include animals, like ibex and horses, and some human shapes and abstract figures as well, all dating from 22 000 BC to 10 000 BC. The most remarkable open-air museum of Paleolithic art of the Iberian Peninsula provides a unique site which makes a perfect destination for anyone who is into history and art (especially combined).
7) Monastery of Batalha
Having become a UNESCO site in 1983, the Monastery of Batalha, known also as Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, was built for over 2 centuries (from the 14th to the 16th century) to commemorate the Portuguese victory over the Castilians at the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. The limestone masterpiece in Gothic-Manueline art looks over the small town of Batalha and is considered to be one of the best examples of Late Gothic architecture in Portugal. Together with the Convent of Christ and the Monastery of Alcobaca, the Batalha monastery makes the most significant monastic triangle in Portugal. The original Gothic cloisters, later enriched by Manueline additions, are one of the highlights of the site, just as Sala do Capitulo, a 15th-century chapterhouse with exquisite windows, is.
8) University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia
With more than 7 centuries of existence and constant operation, the University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in the world. Founded in 1290, the university has made a major impact both on Portuguese learning and literature and provides a fantastic example of Coimbra as a university city with its own cultural traditions that have been kept alive through centuries. The university’s buildings overlook the city from their hilltop position and include a number of 16th-century colleges, such as the Royal Palace of Alcáçova housing the university ever since 1537, the Joanine Library, the University City created in the 1940s, the Botanical Garden and University Press.
9) Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture
Pico, the second largest among the islands of the Azores archipelago, is home to a one-of-a-kind scenery on its volcanic coast. We’re talking about an almost 1 000 hectare site of protective dry-stone walls, built for the purpose of protecting thousands of tiny plots of land known as currais from wind and sea water. These protected plots have been used since the 15th century to grow vines in order to produce the island’s very famous Pico Wine (Vinho do Pico). The vineyard itself was designated a UNESCO site for its breathtaking man made landscape and the viniculture tradition kept running for centuries.
10) Convent of Christ in Tomar
Originally named the Convent of the Knights Templar of Tomar and designed as a monument symbolizing the Reconquest, during the Manueline period came to symbolize a total opposite of its original meaning, and ever since then the convent marks the opening up of Portugal to rest of the Europe (and world). The convent itself is famous for its round church (rotunda) built in the 12th century based on the model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is set in wooded hills and includes seven cloisters, four of which are open to the public, while the building make an interesting maze of staircases and passages. The site is considered a Manueline masterpiece dedicated to Portugal’s well-known nautical ‘Age of Discoveries’.