From flamboyant summer escapes to opulent inner-city residences, these palaces in Lisbon are telling reminders of times past
For nearly 800 years, Portugal was a monarchy and Lisbon was the home of its Kings and Queens. In such extravagant times, a simple palace wasn’t an adequate display of wealth and importance, and the ruling families built magnificent residences that pushed the boundaries of Portuguese architecture. From the imperial hilltop National Palace of Pena and the presidential Belém Palace, to the last royal residence, Ajuda National Palace, Portugal’s hilly capital is full of beautiful buildings – many of which are open to the public. Next time you visit, walk in the footsteps of royalty by taking a tour of the most beautiful palaces in Lisbon.
The National Palace of Pena is the stuff of fairy tales. Perched atop a hill in the Sintra Mountains on the outskirts of Lisbon, this castle is both flamboyant and opulent. Vivid coloured turrets rise from the green forest, the architecture displaying a captivating mix of styles including Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Manueline. The palace, also known as Feather Palace, was used as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family, and is so striking that it’s widely believed to have inspired Walt Disney’s iconic Disneyland castle. Visitors are welcome to tour the palace and its surrounding lands, where they’ll discover the captivating history and heritage of the region.
The nearby National Palace of Sintra is one of the oldest palaces in Portugal. It stands proudly in the centre of Sintra and is instantly recognisable by its giant conical chimneys. The iconic medieval building was built in the 9th century as a palatial residence for Moorish governors, and during Portugal’s monarchy era, it became the royal residence of King John I of Portugal. Nowadays, visitors can explore the palace’s beautiful rooms, such as Sala dos Brasões, a space famed for its extraordinary tile panels depicting scenes of historical imperial life.
Located between Sintra and Lisbon city centre, the National Palace of Queluz is one of the most romantic palaces in Portugal. An 18th century building with strong Portuguese influences, the palace was the summer home of King Pedro III of Portugal and Queen Maria I. It’s acclaimed for its palatial architecture and landscaped gardens, both of which illustrate the evolution of the Court’s tastes, with hints of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical design. Visitors are free to explore the grounds and catch a glimpse of life as an 18th century royal.
Once the royal family moved into Ajuda National Palace in the mid-1800s, they never left. From first glance, there’s no doubting why this particular palace held such great imperial appeal. Built after an earthquake destroyed the former official residence, Ribeira Palace, Ajuda National Palace is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. An early Neoclassical exterior encases lavish Baroque interiors and emblematic rooms, which visitors can explore during a guided tour. Making full use of the striking building, the palace is now a museum that displays important collections of decorative arts dating as far back as the 15th century.
A short walk away is Belém Palace, the former residence of royals like John V of Portugal and Joseph I of Portugal. The building’s striking pink façade catches the eye of every passer-by, while its manicured gardens and opulent interiors continue its grandeur. The palace has been used as the official residence of the President of the Republic since the monarchy was abolished in 1910. As it’s a working residence, opening times are limited, but visitors can book a tour on Saturdays, or visit the Presidency Museum, which is open every day except Monday.