UNESCO World Heritage Sites Portugal includes 17 places in total, 16 designated as cultural and 1 natural. There are a further 19 names on the tentative list. There are 14 on mainland Portugal, two in the Azores, and one in Madeira. Portugal is recognized for its fascinating history, lively culture, and stunning metropolitan environments. Magnificent monasteries, enormous ancient cityscapes, and prehistoric rock art are among Portugal’s interesting UNESCO sites.
UNESCO sites in Portugal
The famed Douro Valley and the majestic Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte are among them, as are Madeira’s far-flung laurisilva and Sintra’s stunning setting. The topic of culture runs through all seventeen of these locations. There is, however, one spot that exemplifies Portugal’s great natural heritage. Some of these locations are well-known in Portugal, but others are less well-known and perhaps only recognized by the most dedicated tourists.
UNESCO world heritage sites Portugal
So, on your next trip to Portugal, why not visit one or more of these places? Check out our comprehensive list of UNESCO sites in Portugal to see which areas speak to you personally, from spectacular natural beauty to astounding achievements in human engineering. You may then use them as a road plan for your once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Alto Douro Wine Region (2001)
A visit to the Douro Valley, a lovely UNESCO World Heritage Site replete with gorgeous landscapes and great wine, is a must for anybody visiting Porto or the north of Portugal. For almost 2,000 years, traditional landowners in the Alto Douro region have been producing wine.
Since the 18th century, the area’s major export, port wine, has been famous for its consistency and quality. This lengthy history of viticulture has resulted in a stunning cultural environment that depicts the technical, social, and economic progression of port wine production. There is jaw-dropping scenery wherever you look here.
I would recommend a friendly and uncomplicated day tour from Porto that will normally ensure you visit all of the Douro Valley’s greatest features, two wineries, and a river boat. There are several alternatives, but I really liked My Porto’s personal touches and reasonable cost. They provide personalized trips at the same cost as larger group tour firms.
Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores (1983)
The lovely Terceira Island’s capital is Angra do Heroismo. It’s one of the Azores archipelago’s nine volcanic islands in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean. It is without a doubt one of Portugal’s most beautiful cities. Its cobblestone lanes are lined with colourful antique buildings and churches. The settlement is towered over by a volcanic peak.
It is easily accessible from downtown and provides breathtaking vistas. Aside from it, two strongholds from the 17th century bear witness to the Spanish dominion over the Azores. You will be enchanted by its magnificent subtropical garden, which is brimming with luxuriant exotic flora. Angra do Heroismo was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1983 because it is an exceptional example of a seaside town involved in centuries of intercontinental trade.
It’s also an excellent illustration of how architecture and urban design respond to the local terrain and climate. For almost 500 years, Angra’s centre area has remained essentially unchanged. Its 15th-century urban layout, which includes streets and squares, is still in use today.
After the major earthquake of 1980, however, most houses and churches were renovated using the most stringent conservation procedures. The city is very breathtaking. Angra do Heroismo is easily accessible. Flying from Lisbon, Porto, London, Boston, and Toronto is the quickest option. There are additional flights from the other islands in the archipelago.
The city’s international airport, Lajes International Airport, lies about 20 kilometres northwest of the city and is adjacent to Praia da Vitória. You may take a local bus from the airport to Praia and then an intercity bus to Angra. Taxis in Terceira, on the other hand, are cheap and trustworthy. You may also take a boat if you’re coming from one of the surrounding islands. Because the port is at Praia da Vitória, you’ll have to take another bus to Angra.
Convent of Christ in Tomar (1983)
The Convento de Cristo, or Mosteiro de Cristo in Portuguese, is the name of the Christ Convent in Tomar. It is a twelfth-century bastion of the Knights Templar, a famous military organization. It’s wonderful to wander around the gardens and halls of Tomar and think about how different their religious life would have been here, looming enormous in myth, possibly even greater than in actual life. The castle and convent were given to the Knights of the Order of Christ after the Templars were abolished.
The most prominent rulers of Portugal invested in new works of art and architecture here over the years, resulting in the gorgeous, although slightly eccentric, stately monastery you see today. If you like Game of Thrones, you’ll enjoy Tomar. From its round church to The Keep, the town has a King’s Landing feel about it. It’s lovely and peaceful, yet there’s also a sense of mischief and danger. In 1983, the property was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as a prominent example of the period’s architectural styles.
The site’s numerous components were created in various styles throughout the course of 500 years, exemplifying the changing times: Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, Mannerism, and Baroque. Driving away and viewing the aqueduct was my personal favourite thing to do here. It transported water to the castle and provided a magnificent panoramic view of the entire site. It’s a vast complex, and you’ll get a better sense of it when you’re able to take it all in at once.
Cultural Landscape of Sintra (1995)
In the nineteenth century, Sintra became the first center of European Romantic architectural architecture. The employment of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish, and Renaissance elements, as well as the formation of a park blending indigenous and exotic tree species, underlined Ferdinand II’s new style as he rebuilt a damaged monastery into a castle.
Other spectacular homes in the surrounding mountains, largely built in a similar style, resulted in a unique mix of parks and gardens. It has aided in the establishment of innovative landscape architectural concepts throughout Europe. Time and time again, it’s been described as a storybook setting. Tourists can’t resist taking the 40-minute drive from Lisbon to this beautiful village nestled in the Sintra Mountains’ foothills.
The physical environment exudes a mysterious aura, as deep green trees appear to conceal magical mysteries. A UNESCO World Heritage-listed town center with vibrantly colored palaces and villas lies hidden within. The palaces’ turrets, domes, and spires are detailed and exact.
You truly feel as though you’re in a Disney castle, with the crockery ready to spring to life at any minute. Wear your best walking shoes because there’s a lot to see here. The romanticist Pena National Palace on top of the hill is conspicuous with its yellow and red walls. Explore the historic Moorish Castle and learn more at the Sintra National Palace’s museum.
Allow plenty of time to roam among the foliage and alongside lakes straight out of a fantasy story, in addition to gazing at these architectural marvels. Every stone has a story, so take in the unique atmosphere of Sintra. You may take a day tour of Sintra to learn more about it. It is more comfortable and soothing in many respects.
However, for those who like to travel alone, I propose taking the train from Rossio station in Lisbon to Sintra station, then wandering through the lovely town center. At Casa Piriquita, sample local specialties such as Travesseiros and Queijadas.
Then see the magnificent Pena Palace and the neighboring Quinta da Regaleira. Take the bus from Sintra to Cabo da Roca and pause for the stunning views before continuing on to Cascais. It is a seaside resort town where you can unwind before taking the train back to Lisbon after a perfect day!
Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (2012)
Elvas is notable for its spectacular zig-zagging walls and defenses and is located near the border with Spain and the town of Badajoz across the Guadiana River. Elvas’ star-shaped walls were designed in the 16th century by Cosmander, a Flemish Jesuit engineer, along with Correia Lucas and Nicolau de Langres, and the city is still entered through their impressive gates: the Olivenca Gate in the south, the Esquina Gate in the west, and the Sao Vincente Gate in the north.
Elvas is also home to two outlying forts: the Forte de Graça to the north and the magnificent Forte de Santa Luzia to the south. The views from Santa Luzia are spectacular, and entrance is free. Elvas’s Castelo de Elvas was built on Roman and Moorish ruins, and tourists can stroll the battlements with a view of Forte de Graça for a modest admission charge.
The location, which was heavily fortified from the 17th through the 19th centuries, is home to the world’s biggest bulwarked dry-ditch system. The town’s walls house barracks and other military structures, as well as churches and monasteries. While Elvas has ruins dating back to the 10th century, the fortification of the city began when Portugal regained independence in 1640.
The Dutch Jesuit padre, Cosmander’s defenses, are the greatest remaining example of the Dutch school of fortifications worldwide. The Amoreira aqueduct was also erected on the site to help the fortress endure long sieges.
Historic Centre of Évora (1986)
Evora is a lovely city, approximately an hour and a half’s drive from Lisbon. It is easily accessible by train from the capital. Evora is famed for its cuisine, wine, and cork manufacturing and is located in the center of the Alentejo area. UNESCO inscribed the city in 1986, and it serves as a time capsule.
Portugal’s rich history is reflected in its cobblestone streets and buildings. From 4000-6000 BC, people lived in the region around Evora. This is visible in the neighboring megalithic structures, but it was the Romans who established Evora as an important town in Iberia. The ruins of the Temple of Diana provide a look into Portuguese history during that time period. Although Evora thrived throughout Portugal’s golden period.
The Portuguese rulers settled in Evora in the 15th century. They inspired the construction of royal residences, colleges, and religious structures around the city. Evora’s expansion continued, and while the great earthquake of 1755 wrecked Lisbon and many other towns in Portugal, Evora was spared. Its survival is a blessing.
Evora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is a superb presentation of Portugal’s rich history, particularly during the “golden period” of the Portuguese kings. Evora also demonstrates the importance of Portuguese architecture in Brazil. Its impact may be seen in the colonial architecture of Brazilian cities like Salvador de Bahia.
But Evora isn’t only about history; I fell in love with the charming streets, delectable food, and breathtaking views from the cathedral roof. The Bone Chapel is one of the most popular things to do in Evora. The chapel is ornamented with the bones of Franciscan monks who lived at the monastery, which is both horrific and oddly beautiful. If you don’t want to do that, merely strolling around Evora’s gorgeous streets can gratify any tourist!
Historic Centre of Guimarães (2001)
Guimaraes is a historic town that is strongly involved in the creation of Portuguese national identity in the twelfth century. It is an unusually well-preserved and authentic representation of the transformation of a mediaeval town into a bustling contemporary metropolis.
Guimaraes’ lively building taxonomy depicts the specific evolution of Portuguese design architecture from the 15th to the 19th centuries via the accurate use of traditional construction materials and processes. A particular style of architecture developed here in the Middle Ages and spread across the Portuguese possessions in Africa and the New World, becoming a defining characteristic. It included a granite ground floor with a half-timbered building above.
The Guimaraes world heritage site is especially intriguing because of the historical authenticity of its architectural environment. The two important locations in Guimaraes were built originally between 950 and 1498, centred on the north’s Castelo de Guimaraes (Guimaraes Castle) and the monastery complex to the south. From 1498 to 1693, as Portugal expanded in power, noble homes and the creation of town centres, city squares, and other amenities altered the city.
Although certain alterations have occurred throughout the contemporary period, the historic heart of Guimaraes has retained its mediaeval urban design. The continuation of new inventions as well as the preservation and ongoing enhancement of existing ones. That has resulted in an extraordinarily harmonious urban environment. Guimaraes, also known as the birthplace of Portugal, is just around 50 kilometres from Porto. The train is usually the cheapest and most convenient method to get here.
Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar (1996)
Porto is a unique urban setting with 2,000 years of history, situated on a rocky peninsula at the entrance of the Douro River. The various and different landmarks, ranging from the massive Romanesque Porto Cathedral to the neoclassical Stock Exchange (Palácio da Bolsa) and the mediaeval Portuguese Church of Santa Clara, attest to its long-term prosperity.
The joy of visiting Porto is that there is always something new to uncover. It’s a walking city, despite the high hills that may make you believe differently! Strolling through the cobblestone streets. It’s about winding your way through tight alleys and across iconic bridges. Taking a breather at one of the awe-inspiring miradouros overlooks. These are the memories you’ll have and the occasions when you’ll get to the heart of Porto. Porto, like Lagos, is a city full of heart and charm.
You can sense it in the way its people are kind, the calm pace of life, and the pride they have in both Porto’s past and present. I was astonished to learn that Porto isn’t only beautiful old structures and tiled churches. Despite the fact that there are many of them, the city nevertheless has an edgy side. The urban basis of old Porto, as well as its numerous iconic structures, bear witness to the European city’s outstanding growth. This has occurred throughout the millennia as a result of leaning outward to the sea for social and economic relations.
Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture (2004)
Pico is a Portuguese island that is part of the Azores archipelago. It has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its distinctive grape culture. Because of the strong winds, ocean, and challenging volcanic soil on Pico, winemakers have traditionally built tiny rectangular plots encircled by protective lava rock heaps.
This not only provides wine with distinct flavors, but it has also resulted in a distinctive cultural landscape. These walled-off parcels cover much of the western part of the island in a checkerboard pattern. Some are still abandoned and overgrown. Since the wine-making sector had some setbacks in the previous century. But it has fortunately returned in recent decades.
The Cooperativa Vitivinicola Da Ilha Do Pico produces predominantly white Verdelho wines, which you may try. It is a public wine-making cooperative in the area. Pico has been producing wine since the 15th century. A local expression has emerged as a result of the tough growth circumstances. To create wine from lava.
The Pico Wine Museum, located near the town of Madalena, can teach you more about the particular wine-making process. To go to Pico, you must first travel to the Azores. Get flights from Portugal’s mainland and overseas to the adjacent islands of Terceira and Sao Miguel. It’s another boat or local flight to Pico from there. If you’re riding the boat, Terceira is the closest stop.
Although it still takes more than 5 hours, booking a local connecting flight with SATA Airlines is the best option. I enjoyed learning about the grape culture on Pico, but it’s far from the sole reason to visit. The island is particularly well-known for its traditional structures made of black lava stone.
It stands out against the windowsills and doors, which are usually bright red. Among the vines, you may see brilliant red windmills built in the traditional Portuguese manner. Aside from wine tasting, Pico has a plethora of other activities. Such as whale watching, cave exploring, trekking to Portugal’s highest point, Mount Pico, and enjoying the delicious fresh seafood available anywhere on the island. The entire island is indeed one of Portugal’s hidden treasures!
Monastery of Alcobaça (1989)
The magnificent white marble walls of the Alcobaca Monastery’s cloister courtyard will stay with you for a long time. The interiors are equally spectacular. The refectory, in particular, with its elegant arches and pillars, frames the stairs going up to the pulpit.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its remarkable Cistercian Gothic architecture as well as its historical significance. The monastery was closely associated with the Portuguese monarchy for centuries, beginning with the first king, Afonso Henriques. The monarch most intimately linked with the monastery, however, is Pedro I, who is buried here beside his lover, Ines de Castro.
Theirs is a sad love tale that is sometimes referred to as the Portuguese version of Romeo and Juliet, made all the more terrible by the fact that it is genuine. Seeing their finely carved graves and effigies lying side by side brought the narrative to life for me, and it was this aspect of the monastery that I found most poignant.
Alcobaça is around midway between Lisbon and Coimbra. It’s near to the historic village of Obidos, as well as Batalha and Tomar, which are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal. Rather than trying to see all of these things in one day from Lisbon, I recommend staying in Obidos for a night or two and seeing the three UNESCO sites from there.
Obidos has a lot more to offer than most people think. So it’s worthwhile to stay the night. Visiting the monasteries from here is easier with a car, although public transportation is also an option. To get between the three UNESCO sites, you’ll probably need to change buses at Caldas da Rainha from Obidos and then use a mix of trains and buses.
Monastery of Batalha (1983)
The Batalha Monastery is one of the most exquisite architectural features in Portugal and a Unesco World Heritage Site that should not be missed. It was originally erected in the 14th century in the Gothic style, but it was renovated in the 16th century to incorporate Manueline art.
The initial ideas, however, have not been altered. As a result, it has retained its authenticity. When you enter the church, you will be captivated by the nave’s proportions: lofty but narrow, emphasising the height. The monastery was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for its spectacular Gothic art and its history as the Portuguese monarchy’s national art center.
The exquisite detailing in the sculptures is what you will admire the most about this edifice. The angels and the twelve apostles around the gateway, as well as the carvings in the arches of the Royal cloister, produced magnificent light plays—but starkly contrasted with the Gothic architecture of the other cloister.
Visitors will, of course, appreciate the whole walls of the incomplete churches. You might not know where to search during that last portion, which was built in the Manueline style but never finished. The carving work is superb. Batalha is located north of Lisbon and can be reached in under two hours by car. It is simple to use.
Allow 2 hours to finish the tour and have your ticket with you at all times as you will need it to visit the various parts. This excursion may be combined with a visit to the picturesque walled settlement of Obidos, the Alcobaça Monastery, and the Cristo de Tomar Convent. If you don’t want to drive, there are day tours accessible from Lisbon.
Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon (1983)
As beautiful as Lisbon is, there aren’t many readily recognisable landmarks. In any case, not in the manner that the Eiffel Tower represents Paris or Westminster Abbey represents London. This 16th-century tower on the Tagus River’s bank is the city’s closest thing to a landmark.
During the Age of Discoveries, it was built to safeguard the shore from invaders. The façade of this World Heritage Site is adorned with dozens of beautiful sculptures, featuring exotic creatures, nautical symbols, and spheres. It’s so elaborate that tourists spend hours spotting the many features of the design, especially the faded carving of a renowned rhinoceros. To really appreciate the design, take a boat trip and look all the way around.
In comparison, the inside is quite empty, so if there are lengthy lines, I wouldn’t advocate standing in line for hours. The top level offers spectacular views of the lake and hills, and you may purchase a Belém Tower fast track access ticket in advance. This stunning monastery, which is part of the same UNESCO site as Belem, is one of the must-see things to do in Lisbon.
It’s hard to think it started out as a modest chapel where monks assisted seamen preparing to depart the harbour by giving them a space for prayer and confession. When Vasco de Gama returned triumphant after finding India, King Manuel had the monastery built on the spot where he had spent his final night. As a result, this massive structure exists not just as a reminder of the Age of Discoveries. In addition, it is a superb example of late Gothic architecture.
Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde (1998, 2010)
The Foz Coa Valley and the Archaeological Park are open-air Paleolithic archaeological sites with over a thousand engravings scattered around the Coa Valley. The Coa Valley is located in northern Portugal, near the Douro Valley and 200 kilometres from Porto.
The archaeological site was uncovered while building a dam on the Coa River. As a result, building was halted, and the site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and 2010 owing to its historical significance. It was the quickest classification process in history.
This is a one-of-a-kind location on the globe, with an open-air museum with breathtaking views of the valley, vineyards, and rivers Douro and Coa. Besides, the park has considerable historic importance, enlightening our knowledge about life during the palaeolithic age.
To visit the engravings, you need to book a tour with the guides of the park, which can be done through the site of the archaeological museum. During the tour, you will see several engraved rock drawings of horses, bovines, and other animals, as well as human and abstract figures, dated from 22,000 to 10,000 years B.C.
You may also go to the museum, which is around 3 kilometers from Foz Coa hamlet. Here you will find engravings from Foz Coa as well as other locations throughout the world. It is also a good place to learn about the palaeolithic age. Because the Coa Valley is inaccessible by public transportation, it is better to visit by automobile or on a tour. It is also a wonderful chance to stop by the Alto Douro Valley, which is on your path.
Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden and Hunting Park (Tapada) (2019)
This magnificent world heritage monument in Portugal was envisioned and created by King Joao V in 1711 as the physical representation of his concept of the monarchy and the Portuguese State. It is located about 30 kilometres northwest of Lisbon.
This remarkable quadrangular structure houses the king’s and queen’s apartments, a Franciscan convent, a large library with over 36,000 books, and the regal Roman baroque chapel. It has 1,200 rooms in all, making it one of the biggest buildings in the world at the time of its construction—though the largest palace now is the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest.
The famed Cerco garden, with its geometric layout, and the royal hunting park (Tapada), encircle the Royal Building of Mafra. The palace is one of King Joao V’s most amazing achievements, displaying the Portuguese Empire’s might and influence. Joao V included Roman and Italian Baroque compositional and aesthetic aspects, as well as unique artworks, to elevate Mafra to the status of a prominent icon of the Italian Baroque style. Buses from Lisbon arrive here often and take about an hour.
Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga (2019)
Tenoes, located outside of Braga, is home to the Bom Jesus do Monte, a Catholic shrine. One of the most prominent pilgrimage sites in northern Portugal, the UNESCO-protected monument is one of the most important. Every year, thousands of dedicated pilgrims travel here.
Along with the hundreds of visitors that come to Braga simply to see the Bom Jesus do Monte. On their knees, pilgrims used to crawl up the 529 stairs to the sanctuary. They demonstrate their devotion to God by doing so. The design of the Bom Jesus do Monte is remarkable in that it incorporates a variety of architectural styles. The church itself was constructed in the neoclassical style in 1834.
The church’s construction was significant in the community since it was one of the country’s earliest neoclassical structures. In July of this year, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Baroque-style zigzagging staircase that leads to the main church was constructed.
Keep a watch out for the strange water fountains that spit water into men’s eyes, lips, and nostrils. The five senses are said to be represented by these. From the Braga train station and the city center, a direct bus operates to Bom Jesus do Monte. Take the No.2 bus and get off when you see a towering staircase’s entrance.
There is a water-powered funicular that will take you to the summit if you don’t want to hike the stairs. The sanctuary is encircled by beautiful grounds that provide a great setting for a picnic. During the summer, visitors may rent boats and cruise over the park’s gorgeous boating lake.
University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (2013)
The regal University of Coimbra, with its related colleges, evolved and flourished over seven centuries atop a great hill overlooking the city below. The magnificent Cathedral of Santa Cruz, which dates back to the 12th century, and a number of minor colleges from the 16th century are among the university’s notable landmarks.
The Royal Palace of Alcacova, which has housed the University of Coimbra since 1527. The outstanding Joanine Library, with its magnificent baroque décor, the lush 18th-century Botanical Garden, the University Press, and the more contemporary “University City,” designed in the 1940s, are all housed here.
The splendid structures here became a source of jealousy and inspiration, especially for the expansion of other higher education institutions across the Portuguese-speaking world, from Macau to Brazil. The University of Coimbra had a tremendous impact on education and literature in this region as well.
As a result, Coimbra was designated a World Heritage Site in Portugal as an exemplary model of urban integrated university city development, as well as in acknowledgment of the unique ceremonial and educational traditions that have been preserved here. Coimbra is conveniently placed in central Portugal and can be reached by train in around one hour from Porto and approximately one hour and 45 minutes from Lisbon. So there’s really no reason not to go have a look.
Laurisilva of Madeira (1999)
The laurisilva, or laurel forest, was a tens of millions of year old tropical forest that formerly covered most of southern Europe. Almost all of it has since been destroyed, but when explorers traveled to Madeira, they discovered a little enclave that had not been touched by man.
This is why UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site: to safeguard the only remaining area of this unique environment. It’s not very interesting to tourists in some aspects, since it appears like any other forest, yet there are at least 76 different varieties of native flora here, as well as endemic creatures that rely on them.
However, when you explore Madeira’s laurisilva, you’ll notice a difference in the scenery at different heights. Smaller and harder species cling to the cliff sides higher up, while old trees and enormous ferns flourish lower down. The laurel forest covers around 20% of the island, so you’re certain to come across it if you go on a walk.
The Ribeiro Frio is the easiest way to get there and the most popular with visitors who don’t want to do any exercise. I would recommend hiring a local guide to show you the amazing irrigation system known as the levadas, many of which also run through the laurisilva.
That’s all there is to it—all of Portugal’s world heritage sites. Hopefully, these resources have already taught you something about the history of this country. Perhaps some of them have even influenced your future journeys. While overtourism is undoubtedly a problem, Portugal has recognised it and is making efforts to address it.
Please make decisions that promote the preservation of these precious locations for future generations while you have the opportunity to visit. For those of you with wanderlust who haven’t had enough, Portugal additionally has provisional UNESCO sites that it has nominated but has yet to be confirmed.
These may or may not be included at a later point, but they are extremely significant in that they constitute what each country regards as its cultural and/or natural legacy of high universal worth.
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