UNESCO Heritage Sites in Portugal
Portugal is home to some of the world’s most beautiful sites, and its Unesco heritage sites are no exception. The country also boasts stunning cities and historic cityscapes, as well as prehistoric rock art. Its history is full of ancient tales, and UNESCO has inscribed seventeen places in Portugal as World Heritage sites.
Here is the list of all 17 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Portugal:
1. Alto Douro Wine Region
Located upstream of the River Douro, the Alto Douro Wine Region has a history of producing wine for two thousand years. The region is known for its Port wine, which is internationally renowned for its quality. It is also a region of breathtaking beauty, with sweeping vineyards and enchanted valley slopes.
Visitors can visit the region by train or river cruise, or even drive from Porto. The Alto Douro Wine Region is considered one of the most traditional European wine regions. The region is rich in historical and cultural significance. The ruins of ancient civilizations, including the Romans, are dotted throughout the landscape.
The Douro valley is also home to the Coa Valley Archaeological Park, the largest open air museum in the world. There are several accommodation options in the area, including the Hotel Rural Casa dos Viscondes da Varzea. Other popular wine estates include Casa dos Ruis and Quinta da Pacheca. The Miradouro da Senhora da Piedade is a beautiful location to take in the scenery.
Other attractions in the region include the historic Jewish quarter and the Salzedas monastery. The Alto Douro Wine Region is known for its Port wine, but there are many other varieties to explore. For example, the perfumed whites of the region are known as Moscatel and Rabigato, while the rich reds are made with Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional.
2. Angra Do Heroismo in the Azores
The town of Angra do Heroismo in Portugal is a well-preserved example of a traditional urban model adapted to its climate and geography. This town was originally built around two natural basins and protected by a series of hills. As a result, the city was built with a defensive system of fortresses.
While the majority of the Central Zone of Angra do Heroismo is privately owned, the historic center has been given special protection zone and national monument status. A regional planning authority has been established, and the town has developed a Detailed Plan for the Protection and Enhancement of Angra do Heroismo.
This document sets out how the town is to be preserved, and what changes can be made to enhance it. The town is home to several historic sites, including the Porto de Pipas, a famous spot because of its historical connection with caravels and galleons.
The town is surrounded by several natural harbours, including the famous Ancoragem bay, which gave it its name. One of the oldest buildings in the town, the Se Cathedral, dominates the cityscape. It is home to an impressive collection of sixteenth century paintings. Also close by is the Igreja do Colegio, a seventeenth century Jesuit church with beautiful Dutch tiles.
Another building worth a visit is the Museu de Angra do Heroismo, housed in a former convent. Finally, the Sao Joao Baptista Fortress, built during the Spanish occupation of Portugal, overlooks the city on its western side. The fortress is home to the Governor’s palace and is a historical site.
3. The Convent of Christ in Tomar
The Convent of Christ in Tomar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church’s architecture is reminiscent of Manueline style and includes a famous Chapter Window. The convent is located just half an hour from Alcobaca and Lisbon. To visit the Convent, plan on spending about two hours.
The Convent of Christ in Tomar was built as the headquarters of the Order of the Knights Templar in the 12th century. Its medieval architecture was built to represent the Reconquista, a Christian resurgence of Portugal. UNESCO designated the Convent of Christ as a World Heritage Site in 1983.
One of the oldest structures in the monument, the Charola of the Convent of Christ was originally a castle. It was inspired by the Temple in Jerusalem and features rich iconographic decoration, including wall paintings depicting biblical scenes and polychrome wood sculpture. The chapels contain many images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and the apostles.
The Convent of Christ is a significant artistic and historical monument in Portugal. It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. Wandering through its ancient corridors can help you imagine the lives of Templars and Knights of the Order of Christ. While you’re exploring this historical building, be sure to visit the Manueline Window and admire the artwork on the walls and ceiling.
If you have a car, the Convent of Christ is easily accessible. Parking is inexpensive and available outside the walls of the castle. You can find a café nearby to enjoy a cup of coffee or a snack while you’re on your trip.
4. Cultural Landscape of Sintra
The Cultural Landscape of Sintra is a mountainous strip of Portuguese countryside that is filled with parks, gardens, and monuments. It was once the home of a Portuguese royal family and became an epicenter of European Romantic architectural design in the 19th century. Its most iconic monument is the Pena Palace.
The Palace of Pena is a great example of exemplary Portuguese Romanticism. It was begun by King-Consort Ferdinand, the German-born husband of Queen Maria II, and built on the site of a 16th-century monastery.
The palace contains many relics of the monastery, including the cloister and church. It is a prime example of the artistic and architectural influences that shaped Portuguese culture during the Romantic era.
5. The Garrison Border Town of Elvas and Its Fortifications
Elvas is an example of a fortified town that has stood the test of time. Its ancient bulwarked defense system was the result of the power imbalances that plagued seventeenth-century Europe. As such, it stands as a symbol of the aspiration for autonomy shared by many nation states of Europe during this period.
Located in northern Spain, Elvas is a charming town to visit. The garrison border town of Elvas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a collection of seven structures and is one of the world’s largest bulwarked dry-ditch systems. The complex features the fascinating Fort of Santa Luzia and the fortified Star-shaped defense system. UNESCO recognized Elvas as a World Heritage Site in 2012.
Its historic center includes the fortifications of Elvas, three fortlets, and the Amoreira Aqueduct. The town also represents a milestone in railway history, as it marks the first rail border in this area. The fortified town of Elvas was heavily fortified during the seventeenth-century Portuguese War of Independence. Its two main forts, the Fort of Graca and the Fort of Santa Luzia, were built to withstand a high-intensity bombardment.
They were considered an exemplary example of military engineering, and they saw action during the Napoleonic Wars. The border town of Elvas and its Fortifications is located approximately 200 kilometers from Lisbon.
The town is linked to the Spanish side by a toll-free autovia. This highway serves Badajoz and Madrid. Spain and Portugal are both in the Schengen zone, and this makes it possible to travel between the two countries.
6. The Historic Centre of Evora
The museum-city’s roots date back to Roman times. It reached its peak in the 15th century when it was made the home of Portuguese kings.
Its uniqueness stems from its whitewashed houses with Azulejos and wrought iron balconies that date back to the 16th through the 18th centuries. Brazil’s Portuguese architecture was greatly influenced by its monuments.
Guimaraes is a medieval city that has kept its medieval walls. You can still see the remains of them at the end of Rua Santa Maria. At this square, you can find an image of the Virgin Mary, brought to the city by the Apostle James.
Also, you can find a shell engraving and the first words of a letter written from the island of Fuero in the St. Tiago’s Square, which is between the two main squares. The castle of Guimares, built around the 10th century, was a major landmark in the city. It is said to be the birthplace of Portugal’s first king.
Though it was abandoned for a period, it was later restored to its original splendour. A walk along the top of the defensive walls will reveal great views of Guimaraes. The castle also houses a small exhibition with informational boards. Guimaraes’s history is associated with the formation of the Portuguese national identity.
Its Historic Centre was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2011. The town is known for its medieval urban fabric and its many built structures, which display the traditional building techniques of the past. The cathedral, which is the city’s largest, is also an important landmark.
Its richly decorated facade contains a statue of St. Clare, the first woman to follow the Franciscan order and to write guidelines for monastic life. Its surrounding grounds are filled with allegorical fountains and interesting gardens.
8. The Historic Centre of Oporto
The Historic Centre of Oporto comprises the Luiz I Bridge, Monastery of Serra do Pilaar, and the surrounding urban fabric. These monuments bear witness to the city’s development over the past several thousand years. The city has a long history of commercial and cultural links with the sea.
During your visit, be sure to stop by the Luis I Bridge, which is a stunning icon of the city. This bridge spans the River Douro, connecting the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The bridge was built between 1881 and 1886 and replaced the old bridge. The original bridge’s granite pillars still stand on the Ribeira.
The National Palace of Mafra, which was the summer residence of the royal family, is one of Portugal’s most important sites. It covers almost four hectares, and is one of the most important Baroque buildings in the country. It contains nearly one thousand rooms, four hundred and fifty doors, 156 stairways, 29 inner courtyards, and a library.
The National Library is a unique architectural highlight of the city, with wooden Roco bookhelves and a collection of over 36,000 books. After the bridge, you should take a stroll up the hillside. You can enjoy the picturesque riverside while sipping on the famous Port wine. Next, climb to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, an 11th century Renaissance church with a beautiful round cloister.
9. The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture in Portugal
The Pico Island Vineyard Culture is a unique combination of ancient practices and volcanic nature, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This unique landscape is divided into plots, separated by walls made of basalt blocks, which have been weathered and broken and stacked without mortar.
The walled areas protect the grapes from the sea wind, allowing them to mature. The Pico Island Vineyard Culture is comprised of 987 ha of land and a 1,924 ha buffer zone, and includes an extensive network of enclosed stone-walled fields, abandoned buildings, pathways, wells, ports, and other structures.
This landscape is protected by legislation and management plans at various levels, including island, regional, and municipal levels. The island is accessible by air. Its airport is located about 8km east of the island’s main town, Madalena. The ferry takes about five hours. Vineyards have been growing on this volcanic island since the fifteenth century.
There are two vineyards located on the island, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Wine-growing has been an important industry on Pico Island since the 15th century. The Pico people were determined to make a living, and were successful in cultivating thriving vineyards. The island’s people built stone-walled vineyards known as currais, which look like patchwork quilts.
10. The Monastery of Alcobaca
Located 100 kilometers north of Lisbon, the Monastery of Alcobaca is a beautiful gothic structure. Officially known as the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaca, the monastery is open to the public every day. From October to March, it is open from 9 am to 6 pm. However, it is closed on Easter Sunday, May 1st, August 20th and December 25.
The church contains the Royal Tombs and the Royal Pantheon. The kitchen of the monastery was constructed in the mid-18th century. It has an enormous chimney supported by eight iron columns. This chimney was used to cook and store food. The monastery also had an agricultural school.
The Monastery of Alcobaca was founded during the 12th century and was given to the Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux. The name Bernard of Clairvaux comes from the patron saint of the Cistercian Order, Saint Bernard. In 1178, the first stone was laid for the building. By 1223, the first monks were living in the monastery. In 1989, the monastery was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Monastery of Alcobaca is also home to the Church of Saint Mary. The church is composed of three naves and is in Portuguese. The church was consecrated on October 20, 1253. Its architecture is austere and represents the style of Cistercian abbeys.
11. The Monastery of Batalha
The Monastery of Batalha is an architectural marvel in central Portugal. It was designed by English architect Master Huguet and features an abundance of sculptures. These include figures of the twelve apostles and a number of Saints. The interior is also adorned with beautiful stained glass.
The interior of the monastery is impressive, with seven dormitories and a library. There are also several beautiful cloister rooms that are open to the public. One of the most striking features of the church is the star vault, which stretches for 19 meters on its side. It is said that condemned prisoners worked on the star vault, which was eventually finished after two failed attempts.
The tomb of Dom Joao I is located in one of the bays of the chapel’s walls. The Batalha Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site. The main entrance is on the west facade. The facade is decorated with exquisite sculptures, and the chapel contains the tomb of Dom Joao I and his two children. In addition to Batalha, there is also the UNESCO-listed Alcobaca Monastery.
Visiting both sites requires a day or two. The Monastery of Batalha was founded in 1385 by King Joao I of Portugal. This Cistercian abbey is an architectural masterpiece. Added in the 18th century are twin towers. The monastery is now a museum and is open to the public.
12. Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Ca Valley and Siega Verde in Portugal
The Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Ca valley and Siega Verde in Portugal are among the most impressive prehistoric rock art sites in Europe. Located in Portugal and Spain, they reveal the lifestyle and history of a population that lived in the ice age. These ancient sites reveal how a hunter-gather society survived in an area where food and water were plentiful.
The prehistoric rock art sites also provide information about the cultural practices of these early humans. The Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Ca valley and Siega Verde include three rock engraving and nine rock painting sites. The artworks of the Tanum Rock Carvings are extraordinary works of art and are representative of an ancient culture.
They depict humans and animals, ships, weapons, and a variety of Bronze Age symbols and motifs. In addition to the rock carvings, there are also a large number of archaeological features and inscriptions at the Ca Valley. The Coa Valley and Siega Verde are part of a World Heritage Site, as it is home to over five thousand examples of prehistoric rock art.
This area had been threatened with submergence by a proposed dam, which would have flooded the valley and ruined much of the rock art. But in 1988, conservationists and archaeologists began studying the drawings, which led to the area’s designation as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Since then, great efforts have been made to preserve the art, both in situ and in museums.
13. Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belm in Lisbon
The tower of Belm and monastery were constructed in the 15th century. They were designed by Joao de Castilho. The tower has a limestone facade and stretches over 300 metres. Its main entrance is 12 metres wide and 32 metres high. The building is filled with maritime motifs. It also contains a statue of Henry the Navigator.
From Lisbon, a 20-minute tram ride will take you to Belem. You can also take a cab or an Uber. The tram is recommended. The fare is about the same as the cost of a bus. Once you’re in Belem, take a bus or tram to the monastery. If you have to take the tram, buy a Viva Viagem card (which is equivalent to the cost of a bus ride). Trams are crowded and jerky, so plan your time accordingly.
Located in Belem, the Monastery of the Hieronymites is an early 16th-century structure that represents Portuguese art at its finest. Visitors should also visit the Tower of Belem, which was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s expedition. These two monuments serve as a reminder of some of the great maritime discoveries that Portugal has made throughout the centuries.
Near the monastery, the tower overlooks the Tagus River. The tower was built between 1514 and 1520 and was designed by Francisco de Arruda. Its location was strategically advantageous for defense of the city. Near the tower, you can also visit the Pasteis de Belm, which has been producing famous Belem custard tarts since 1837.
14. The Royal Building of Mafra Palace Basilica Convent Cerco Garden and Hunti in Portugal
The Royal Building of Mafra Palace Basilic Convent and Hunti was built in the early nineteenth century. This building has many impressive features, such as a magnificent choir with a giant candleholder and lamps sprouting from snake mouths. The basilica is also home to a magnificent collection of incunabula, which are rare and precious books.
Other important works include the first edition of Gil Vicente’s Comedies, and the first Encyclopedia. Its cupola over the crossing was inspired by the cupola of Sant’Agnese in Agone and has four sculpted arcs carrying it. The Royal Building of Mafra is one of the most important Portuguese architectural sites. It contains a palace, basilica, convent, Cerco Garden, and hunting park. It was constructed in the 18th century and was a magnificent example of Italian Baroque architecture.
The building is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The royal works at Mafra were directed by Joao Frederico Ludovice, who studied architecture in Rome and was knowledgeable about contemporary Italian art. He worked with several other architects, including his son. However, the uniformity of the architectural style indicates that Ludwig was the architect in charge of the Royal Office of Works.
The Royal Building of Mafra Palace Basilic Convent Cerco Garden and Hunti boasts an extensive collection of paintings. Among them are works by famous Italian masters like Lironi and Monaldi. Several paintings also hang on the walls of the refectory. These artists were commissioned by Dom D. Joao V to decorate the interiors of the royal palace. They also created numerous religious paintings for the refectory and chapels.
15. The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus Do Monte in Braga is a Unesco Heritage Site
The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is a Portuguese Catholic shrine, located outside of the city of Braga in the town of Tenes. The name means “Good Jesus of the Mount” in Portuguese. The Sanctuary is an important place of worship for Portuguese Catholics. Located on a hilltop, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus is a beautiful spot to take in the city.
Visitors can take a short funicular from Braga to the basilica on top. It runs twice an hour. The sanctuary also has beautiful gardens and grottos. The statues lining the pathways look out onto a beautiful view of Braga.
Visiting the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte requires some planning. If you are a fast and organised person, you can fit everything in during one to two hours. However, if you are a slow and cautious traveler, it could take you up to three hours to complete your tour. The cost for the trip is EUR1, and parking is limited during the day.
The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus is located on a hill and is accessible by foot, car, or funicular. It was the first of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula and is still in use today. The funicular was built in 1882 to allow visitors to get to the top of the hill. It was re-qualified in 2015 and continues to operate.
16. Laurisilva of Madeira
The Laurisilva of Madeira is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is the largest Laurisilva forest in the Mediterranean, and is home to numerous endemic species. The nature park is managed by the Regional Directorate of Forests, which is part of the Regional Secretariat for Agriculture, Forests and Fish.
Its management plan includes general guidelines on planning and protecting the natural heritage. It is also guided by annual operational plans. The town is located in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains and is considered a fairytale town. It was once the main link between the ‘New World’ and Europe.
The landscape is beautiful and the town is surrounded by thick forests. It is also famous for its UNESCO-designated medieval castle. Laurisilva of Madeira contains 150 species of plants, of which 66 are endemic. This makes the island a cosmopolitan centre of plant and animal biodiversity. It has an exceptional suite of endemic flora and fauna, including several species of ferns and endemic bryophytes.
This forest is so rare that UNESCO has inscribed it on the World Heritage List. It is the only natural UNESCO site in Portugal. It contains the largest surviving laurel forest in the world. It was once prevalent throughout southern Europe but was nearly eradicated. The laurisilva of Madeira is one of only a few pockets in the world that still retain some of this forest.
17. The University of Coimbra Alta and Sofia
There is a lot of history at the University of Coimbra, which was founded by King D. Joo V, a great patron of science, art, and culture. The campus is housed on the site of a medieval prison, and today, 60 thousand volumes have been preserved in the campus’s library. The university’s library is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful libraries.
Alongside the library, you can visit the chapel of Sao Miguel, a former private oratory in the old Royal Pacao. The chapel was built to honor the archangel Sao Miguel, the protector of D. Afonso Henriques. The university has an active student union. The Associacao Academica de Coimbra (AAC) was founded on 3 November 1887, and is the oldest student union in Portugal.
It has many autonomous organizations and sports sections, and has a long history of combating unpopular state policies. It is also a central structure in the extracurricular formation of Coimbra students. Activities are organized for students of all levels. Students’ traditions are important to Coimbra’s culture and history.
The university’s Queima das Fitas, or the graduation ceremony, is one of the largest student celebrations in Europe. It lasts eight days, and each faculty has its own. The city turns into a vibrant place during this time.