The Architectural Legacy of Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal is home to a wide variety of architectural styles which create the most impressive and unique buildings. For art lovers, the best thing about Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon is that art is available everywhere, and sometimes it costs absolutely nothing to get to discover and enjoy. Wherever you walk in Lisbon city, astonishing historical and modern buildings are scattered throughout every corner of this pretty Portuguese capital.
Lisbon was one of the few European capitals that escaped the bombings of World War II, which lead to the big push for the preservation of several architectural styles from this era, which you will see scattered throughout the city. The Pombaline and the Manueline are the most highlighted among the buildings' facade styles, but let’s not forget about the luxurious and rich Baroque interiors also on display in Lisbon.
Now, we will take you on an exciting virtual tour around Lisbon’s most impressive and dramatic buildings. Keep reading, and prepare for an amazing trip to the capital city of Lisbon, Portugal!
1. Praça do Comércio
Stroll around Praça do Comércio for a view of Tejo’s south margin and one of the best pieces of artwork in Portuguese history. This bright and yellow plaza is never completely empty, as there is always someone there, admiring its beauty and amazing architectural gems. After the royal family left the São Jorge Castle, a royal palace was built here at the Terreiro do Paço. However, it was sadly destroyed by the terrible 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which actually devastate the majority of the capital city of Lisbon.
The only way to get to know now how Lisbon, Portugal looked before this natural disaster is to visit its museums, which each provide a unique window into the city's past. After the earthquake, the old Praça do Comércio was crowded with people who thought an open space was the safest place to be, but they were surprised as the Tejo River charged the city to descend upon them and two raging tsunamis overtook the city.
Today’s Praça do Comércio is home to the incredible Rua Augusta Arch, a triumphal and glorious arch built as a commemoration to celebrate the city's fast recovery and reconstruction after the 1755 disastrous earthquake. The famed landmark features 6 columns (the highest of which is 11 meters tall) and several historical figures and statues, as well as some mythical figures which serve as a metaphor for the Portuguese people's strength, resilience, and achievements. You can climb to the top of it and have the wondrous experience of standing in a historical monument honoring the glory of the Portuguese, while also enjoying the best panoramic view over the entire Terreiro do Paço square and the river.
2. Gare do Oriente
It’s quite uncommon to find such a spectacular bus and train station as the Gare do Oriente, which was built in the newest area of the capital city of Lisbon, Portugal. It was totally renewed for the Expo 98 and has a maritime theme of design that is perfectly portrayed in the station’s wavy beams - the first thing you’ll probably notice at the entrance. Then, as you enter the gare, a pleasant mix of Gothic and Modern art creates an equally unique vibe.
While in Oriente, make sure you don’t skip the Parques das Nações area, one of Lisbon’s most modern and contemporary neighborhoods. Sit peacefully down by the riverside and enjoy the view overlooking the majesty of Europe’s longest bridge crossing the Tejo. The Parque das Nações is also home to some of the most noteworthy residential, leisure, and commercial hotspots in town.
3. Rossio Station
Visitors traveling to Lisbon, Portugal who are interested in design will surely want to check out Rossio Station to appreciate its magnificent Neo-Manueline architectural style, which was highly popular in the country in the mid-19th century and early 20th century. Pro tip: Pass by this stylish Lisbon, Portugal landmark at night so you can see the evening magic of the building when it's illuminated in its full splendor.
The Neo-Manueline style was the Portuguese version of Romantic European architecture, and in Portugal, its main feature was the fact that it assumed a nationalist purpose and attributed personality and great character to many public buildings. A stop at Rossio Station may also be one that's en route for you already if you’re planning on going from Lisbon, Portugal to Sintra by train, as this is exactly the station that will be the starting point of your journey. In fact, this would be an excellent idea, as Sintra, where you’ll find several Romantic-influenced palaces, is just a short train ride away from the capital city of Lisbon, making it perfect for a side trip.
4. Sé Cathedral
Lisbon’s Sé Cathedral, mostly known as just Sé or as Igreja de Santa Maria Maior, is a beautiful and powerfully emblematic Roman Catholic temple in Lisbon, Portugal, and the city's oldest church.
Built in the capital city of Lisbon in 1147 after the Christian reconquest, Sé has survived many earthquakes and has gone through several restoration works, which have led to its unique architectural signature: a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, and Modern styles. Make sure you stick around the area during dinnertime so you can experience one of Lisbon's world-famous fado shows in its very birthplace.
5. National Pantheon
The old Church of Santa Engrácia, now housing the National Pantheon, is an icon of the city's landscape due to its eye-catching dome. First constructed in Lisbon, Portugal the 16th century – and vandalized only 30 years later – the reconstruction process of the building took over 300 years to complete.
It is now hosting the country’s most prestigious figures and should be a can't-miss stop to be visited by avid art lovers especially. Visitors to this treasure in the capital city of Lisbon will find its Baroque architecture paired with Greek-inspired decor absolutely stunning. After all, it is indeed one of Lisbon, Portugal’s most impressive and important architectural works of art itself.
6. Church and Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
Along with the ancient Church of Santa Engrácia, the Church of São Vicente is one of Lisbon city's most eye-catching buildings. This marvel was originally built in the 16th century by King Philip II of Spain, who had become King of Portugal as well at the time.
After an immense period of extensive renovations, the new features of this beautiful building include: a façade that follows the later Renaissance style (or Mannerism), several statues of saints, two towers, Baroque altarpieces, and portals sculpted by the best Portuguese sculpture, an entrance decorated with some unique 18th-century tiles, and much, much more. While this Lisbon, Portugal church can be seen spotted from afar, nothing beats actually going there and taking a closer look at its unmatched beauty.
7. MAAT - Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology
MAAT, one of Lisbon’s newer buildings and most-visited museums, is located along the northern section of the Tejo River and features a whole new era of architecture. Within MAAT's walls is a new cultural center primed for the lively discussion of art, but what really amazes visitors to this Lisbon, Portugal museum is its fascinating wavy-shaped roof that is covered with gorgeous white tiles, easily one of the coolest rooftops – and viewpoints – in the entire capital city of Lisbon.
8. Champalimaud Center Research for the Unknown
Made possible by the Champalimaud Foundation – which is always on the cutting edge of science and modern architecture as well – this Lisbon, Portugal gem is a true marvel. Designed by architect Charles Correa, this capital city project returned a part of the important riverside area of Pedrouços, located next to Belem, to the public. Veering away from the trend of the nationalist Manueline buildings so popular in its surroundings, the Research Center instead houses the lines and features of 21st-century architecture, thus blending itself seemly with the Lisbon, Portugal buildings paying homage to the Discoveries Age.
9. 25th April Bridge
The 25th April bridge is definitely one of Lisbon’s main landmarks, which should come as no surprise as it spans the famed Tejo River and unites its two sides. A fun fact about this Lisbon, Portugal place of interest is that its main inspiration was San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, a likeness which you will easily see right away when traveling to Lisbon and seeing it in person for yourself.
Built by the same bridge engineer that created the Golden Gate, Lisbon's version was inaugurated in 1966 under the name of Portugal’s dictator at the time. As the bridge stands well above the River Tejo, allowing cruise and container ships to pass easily beneath and enter the docks of Lisbon, a popular pastime is enjoying riverside views of the capital city while passing beneath this beautiful – and now iconic – Lisbon bridge.
10. Vasco da Gama Bridge
The Vasco da Gama Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge that spans the river over the Parque das Nações and is also Europe’s longest bridge over an expanse of water. As was the whole Park, the Vasco da Gama Bridge was actually built specifically for an unveiling at Expo 98.
The bridge is said to have resisted an earthquake four times stronger than the one which devastated the city back in 1755, and it’s also the bridge that all visitors enjoying a road trip to Lisbon, Portugal will cross when entering this gem of a capital city that, according to the World Travel Awards (2019) is the ‘’best city break destination’’ in Europe!
UNESCO Sites in Lisbon
Note: The following UNESCO sites are located in the center region of Portugal, but are not a part of the district of Lisbon. As they’re not too far from Lisbon, and also relate to our illustration of the rich UNESCO architectural heritage that thrives in the region, we’ve decided to include them to offer you a better outlook on all that is offered for your travel to Lisbon and its surrounds.
Head to the Belém neighborhood of Lisbon, Portugal to return to a time when the nation was one of the most important seafaring countries in the world, as it is the key neighborhood of the capital city linked to its Age of Discoveries maritime achievements. The Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 1502 on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Harry the Navigator and is the locale where Vasco da Gama and brave men crew spent their last night in their homeland before heading to India.
To honor their trip – which was a rousing success – King Manuel I ordered the construction of this luxurious monastery. Its style perfectly portrays the grandiosity of Portugal during that time, as aside from leading the Discoveries, the nation was also benefiting from its access to Brazilian gold. The Jerónimos Monastery is often considered the ex libris of Manueline architecture.
This eye-popping Manueline building located in one of Lisbon city's most famous areas is the ex libris of the Age of Discoveries in Portugal. The Belém Tower functioned as a fortress of protection and security and was strategically placed to monitor the entrance to Lisbon’s coveted harbor. The historic landmark is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the city's Jerónimos Monastery, and is a major symbol of Lisbon’s rich cultural heritage.
As is typical of the Manueline architecture style, the Belém Tower features many stonework motifs depicting discoveries throughout time, as well as several sculptures of important historical figures. Arcaded windows face the river, and visitors can also look forward to seeing Venetian-style loggias and a statue of Our Lady of Safe Homecoming, which was the last thing navigators would see before making their way down the river towards the sea, and then the big, wide and brave new world.
Monastery of Alcobaça
Built in the 12th century by King Afonso I, the Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça is a masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art that more than deserved its UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition. It was built as a gift to Bernard of Clairvaux after D. Afonso Henriques – Portugal’s first king – captured Santarém from the Moors in a historical process known as the ‘’Christian Reconquer’’. The incredible Alcobaça Monastery was built following an early Gothic style – marking the official arrival of this style to Portugal – and has a lovely church marking the middle of the building.
The architectural features of the monastery are impressive, but it’s not all that attracts visitors, as the tombs of D. Pedro and Inês de Castro – the lovers and real-life Portuguese versions of Shakespeare's famed Romeo and Juliet – can also be found here. As the story goes, despite being married to D. Constança Manuel, D. Pedro kept a secret relationship with his true love, Inês de Castro. Following the death of Constança, Pedro and Inês started living together, which really disgusted King Afonso IV, his father. The King ordered the killing of Inês, something for which his son never forgot or forgave him.
When Pedro became king in 1357, his first order was to kill the three men who had committed the murder of Inez, and then tear their hearts from their chests. Later, he revealed that he had secretly married Inês de Castro and ordered her claimed as the Queen of Portugal, upon which her body was moved to the Alcobaça Monastery – a gorgeous honor only worthy of a queen. He then ordered the construction of two of the most amazing tombs – side by side – in the monastery, where after she was placed in the one, he joined her when he passed away in 1367. Later, in 1956, the tombs were moved and placed one in front of the other, so that, according to the myth, “they could face each other in the eyes on the day they woke up to dispute the Last Judgement Day’’.
Convent of Christ
While many visitors to Lisbon, Portugal think that the nearby town of Tomar is a mere momentary getaway from the tourism furor found in the bustling capital city, this Portuguese village really does surprise you. Both the Tomar Templar Castle and the Convent of Christ - headquarters for the religious and military orders of the Temple and of Christ - were awarded the UNESCO Heritage of Mankind classification and enrolled in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in 1983. And once again, the Manueline architectural style is dominant here but exists in harmony with other equally astonishing and awe-inspiring architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance. The convent was founded by the Order of Poor Knights of the Temple (or Templar Knights) in 1118.
Its construction evolution continued until the final part of the 12th century when the construction of the oratory took place. Then, during the second quarter of the 13th century, Tomar was transferred into the control of the Templars, thus becoming its temple center. The castle became an integral part of the defense system that the Templars created to secure the border of the young Christian Kingdom against the Moors, which at the time occupied the area that spanned all the way to the Tagus River. Because of this rich and intriguing history, the city of Tomar is sought out as a must-see destination for those interested in learning more about – and visiting the old stomping ground of – the Order of Templars.
The Monastery of the Dominicans of Batalha was built to pay homage to the victory of the Portuguese over the Castilians at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. It immediately became the main architectural project of the Portuguese monarchy for the next two centuries and ended up being one of its greatest accomplishments and sources of pride. The monastery features a highly original, Gothic style, yet one still profoundly influenced by Manueline art, as we can see through its masterpiece, the Royal Cloister.
The standards of the country's national art were established during the monastery's construction, seen by the Gothic and Renaissance styles that were heavy influences at the time. Batalha is home to several privileged expressions of Portuguese, including the stupendous nave of the abbatial, of which the two-story elevation, along with its broad arcades and high windows, renders the most impressive to behold.
Also of interest is the exuberant aesthetic of the capelas imperfeitas, the flamboyant arcades embroidered in a lace-work of stone, and finally, the hybrid style of João de Castilho, architect of the loggia constructed under João III (1521-1557).
Our expert travel planners and specialists can help you create the most excellent and customized Lisbon travel itinerary, so you can use your time to simply sit back and enjoy. We even have many Lisbon travel package specials to choose from that highlight what we have found to be the most popular and well-received itineraries for travelers to Lisbon with a variety of specific interests.