Lisbon’s Most Magical Architectural Attractions

by Jules on July 25, 2012

Thinking of going on holiday to Portugal this year? Chances are you’re at least considering paying a visit to the capital, Lisbon, if not basing yourself there for your whole holiday. Like most major European cities, there is buckets to see and do here, but I reckon the architecture has to be up there among the most exciting. If you fancy checking some out during your trip, read on to learn which sites you shouldn’t miss.

Monastery of Jeronimos

Lisbon’s got a really rich maritime history. Built next to the River Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean, it cemented these ties during what is known as the Age of Discoveries, when Europeans set about exploring the world by sea. There are a couple of fantastic monuments to this period in Belem – a riverside precinct in the city – in particular.

Probably the most famous and impressive of these is the Monastery of Jeronimos. If this is where you choose to start your architectural adventure in Lisbon, this will probably the first time you come across Manueline – a style that, over time, has become synonymous with the Age of Discoveries. You can spot buildings in that style since they’re usually European Gothic, and have maritime motifs and lots of sculptural detail.

The Monastery of Jeronimos definitely fits into that box. In fact, I reckon visiting here is going to be one of the most exciting architectural experiences you have in Lisbon – it feels a bit like stepping into some kind of Gothic fairytale. It’s so striking – and so important historically, being a symbol of the country’s power and wealth during the period – that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tower of Belem

As you’ve probably guessed from its name, our next attraction is also in Belem. It’s another great example of the Manueline style, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed in the early 16th century, it had two key purposes: to act as a defence for the Tagus River, and to serve as an impressive gateway to the city. These days, it’s a top tourist attraction and a real symbol of the Age of Discoveries.

Padrao dos Descobrimentos

Next on the must-see list is another maritime attraction in Belem (I promise not all of these will have a nautical theme!), Padrao dos Descobrimentos. At 52 m high, it’s pretty hard to miss, and it sits right next to the river. Designed to look like a sailing ship frozen on the waves, it marks the anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death. Look carefully and you’ll see him on the prow, with around 30 other explorers behind him.

Plus, you can climb to the top for amazing views over the river. There are 267 steps, though, so you might prefer to take the lift!

Igreja de Sao Vicente de For a

Ok, leaving the maritime theme behind now, the next building to add to your to-do list is Igreja de Sao Vicente de Fora. This dates way back to the 12th century but, bearing in mind it was revamped in the 16th century and devastated by the 1755 earthquake, what you see today will be pretty different to the original.

As well as checking it out from the outside, it’s well worth ducking inside. You can climb up the tower for some really fantastic views over the city, while back on the ground you can see loads of blue and white azulejos. These are painted tiles, and you’ll notice them all over Lisbon – even in metro stations!

Gare do Oriente

It’s not all historical architecture in Lisbon – you can also see some pretty amazing modern buildings. Gare do Oriente (the main station in Lisbon, and one of the largest in the world) is one of the most striking. Actually, it looks a bit like something from the space age, with its concertina roof and skinny columns. Well worth a look!

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