Strongholds are not just pieces of remarkable architecture and during your Portugal trip, these 11 castles capture the character of each town and reflect the cultural changes brought by time.
From fairytale designs to colorful facades, rugged defenses to timeless histories, rising over the plains or towering over the riverbanks, the castles that speckle Portugal’s landscape make the stories of the past tangible and serve as monuments of a different age.
With stories of conquest and invasion, when visiting the castles of Portugal, you have the chance to step into the storybook and discover where fascinating landscapes and heritage meet.
The National Palace of Pena is colorful, vibrant, and crowns an imposing mountain peak to make it one of Portugal’s most famous castles. Rising above the charming town of Sintra, the UNESCO Heritage Site dates back to the Middle Ages and burrows into the hillside with elaborate architectural details that combine Manueline and Moorish aesthetics to make the gardens and forests visible from anywhere in the grounds. With vivid terraces, decorative battlements, and mythological statues, you can experience the elaborate castle as it contrasts the surrounding forest and gives way to a breathtaking panoramic view.
The iconic image of a defensive stronghold emerges from the islet on the Tagus River, in the form of Castelo de Almourol. The evocative design features a narrow keep and a tall keep, with ramparts feeding the powerful towers to capture the drama of medieval Portugal. With foundations that date back to the Roman empire and extensive growth under the Knights Templar, the small, rocky island has maintained strategic importance for millennia. Whether approached during the day or witnessed illuminated against the dark backdrop of night, Castelo de Almourol makes the robust history of Portugal tangible.
Castelo de Marvão surpasses the splendor of the other palaces and strongholds that speckle Portugal’s Alentejo region. A remote and tranquil medieval hamlet sits beneath the preserved walls of the 13th-century Spanish fortress and original Moorish foundations. The towers offer a view over the extensive and empty plains, as they sit high above the granite escarpment. From 14th-century walls to 17th-century buttresses, lush almond blossoms in the spring to whitewashed cottages below, when visiting Castelo de Marvão, you may feel as though you have traveled back in time.
The Castle of the Moors has shaped Portuguese history and played an instrumental role in the road to independence to create an air of majesty and ancient glamour around the grounds. Built on an exposed rocky outcrop overlooking Sintra, the vantage point continues to offer a strategic view over the coastline and surrounding landscape, but was left to the dense forest after the Christian Crusaders stormed the castle nearly a millennium ago. The serene landscape only enhances the ambiance of prestige that derives from the ancient battlements and defensive towers that you can climb to bring the past back to life.
The stunning walls and powerful reinforcements of Guimarães Castle rise out of the 10th-century foundations that embody the cultural and historical significance of the entire UNESCO World Heritage town. Crenelated towers and deep walls, a central keep and sturdy ramparts provide the thick medieval ambiance. With spectacular surrounding views and a soft-spoken Romanesque chapel, Guimarães Castle is not just the birthplace of an independent Portugal, but a surprising personification of Portugal itself.
Sao Jorge Castle is an impressive stronghold that looms over Lisbon as a monument to the city and nation’s history. Its 12th-century foundations and defensive position date back to the Iron Age, occupied by Moors and Christian forces alike. The exceptional battlements and ramparts lead to scenic towers from which you can view the shining city, visit the famous camera obscura, or enjoy the sweeping panorama across the Tagus River. With a connection to the traditional Alfama neighborhood, Sao Jorge Castle typifies the beauty of Lisbon, the opulence of the landscape, and the former power of the Portuguese empire.
Grandiose and historical define the majestic Obidos Castle, whose Roman foundations helped establish the unique contours of the cylindrical and square design. Limestone and marble helped the castle escape ruin as it shines like a beacon over the exuberant greenery and serene town at the western edge of the European continent. With narrow cobblestone streets, hidden alleyways, and an open plaza that continues to host local celebrations, the castle is inextricably linked with the town and Portuguese heritage.
Leiria exemplifies tradition in Portugal with quiet charm, rich character, and the resplendent ambiance of Leiria Castle. Standing at the top of the hill in the center of the city, the foundations date back nearly 1,000 years and acted as the royal retreat of the king. The elevated defenses, from the Albacara Gateway to the elegant apartments, immediately immerse you in the past. The neighboring pine forests contrast the terra-cotta rooftops and lead to views of the Gothic church’s remains for an easy look at the layers of progressive history.
The Algarve is known mainly for its pristine sunkissed beaches, but the charming village of Alcoutim along the Guadiana River rests beneath the ancient walls of the Alcoutim castle. The 14th-century walls overtook an older, abandoned Moorish stronghold to defend the kingdom against Spain and control trade on the busy waterway. Only a small portion of the wall remains, but the castle scale and connection to the village, as well as the river, create a captivating perspective. The main gates outline the castle’s rich past, while the walls offer fabulous views across the border into Spain for unique insight into the local cultural history.
The castle and convent broke from tradition in the 12th century when it incorporated rounded towers in its mission to defend the lands against Moorish intrusion, but has since been recognized for its connection to the Order of the Knights Templar. As one of Portugal’s most important historical buildings, the mixture of monastic architecture and Manueline decorations provides a distinct view of time’s shifting aesthetics. The complex beauty of the dimensions includes a convent, original Templar church, and monastic center for an experience that literally immerses you in a cross design noticeable from the sky.
The hexagonal profile of Penedono Castle creates a solitary figure perched on an outcrop above the town and surrounding region. Elegant towers with dramatic battlements soar above the foundations laid in the 10th century. The isolated town provides the perfect landscape and ambiance for the solid fortress that looks as though it was carved from a single boulder. Castellated walls with pyramidal tops overlook the town’s main plaza, while the battlements offer an unforgettable view of the surrounding landscape that features expansive vineyards and lush rolling hills.
As one of Europe’s oldest nations, Portugal’s traditions and heritage are intertwined with the influence of dramatic castles. Whether shaped into the landscape or crowning the mountaintops, the historical architecture remains an evocative part of the national culture, accentuated by a timeless romantic charm. Whether traveling as a family ready to explore medieval history or a couple interested in an enchanting castle visit, you can find more personalized excursions with our Portugal Travel Guide. Speak with an expert Portugal travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.