– Oceanário de Lisboa, Lisbon
Arguably Portugal’s most popular and family-friendly visitor attraction, Lisbon’s oceanarium is brilliantly conceived to highlight the world’s diverse ocean habitats. This is one of Europe’s best and largest oceanariums, containing a vast array of fish and marine animals. Four separate sea- and landscapes recreate the ecosystems of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic oceans. A huge central tank, visible from different levels, teems with shark, ray, and many other finned wonders and denizens of the deep. The transparent plexiglass design is such that smaller tropical species housed in separate aquaria set around the main tank appear to be swimming with their larger cousins. Complementing this amazing spectacle are the open-air landscapes where penguins, sea otters, and other cute and cuddly birds and mammals co-exist in carefree harmony.
– Torre de Belém, Lisbon
One of Portugal’s best-loved historic monuments and a Lisbon icon, the Torre de Belém stands as a symbol of the Age of Discovery and the voyages of exploration undertaken in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Completed in 1521 as a fortress to defend the approaches to the River Tagus, the tower is regarded as a masterpiece of military architecture. Designed in the Manueline style by Francisco de Arruda, the façade is a confection of beautifully carved stone, typified by maritime motifs such as twisted rope and the armillary sphere. An impressive Renaissance loggia heightens the decoration. The tower’s cultural significance is such that UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site.
– Silves Castle
As Xelb, Silves was once the capital city of Moorish Algarve, and the Arabs named the region al-Gharb. During the early 12th century, the town was renowned as a center of learning, a place where Islamic writers, philosophers, and geographers gathered. To protect the inhabitants, the Moors built a mighty castle on an elevated position overlooking the town. Captured later by Crusaders, the fortress stands today as a permanent reminder of Moorish domination and Christian Reconquest. It is the most impressive historic monument in the Algarve, and its huge walls of red sandstone color the pleasant riverside town of Silves below with an inviting ochre glow. Visit during early August and revel in the annual Medieval Festival set outside the sturdy battlements.
– Castelo de Guimarães
he birthplace of the nation and where Portugal’s first monarch, Dom Afonso Henriques, was born in 1110, Guimarães was once the capital of the kingdom of “Portucale.” Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its collection of historic monuments grouped in and around the old town center, it is the Castelo de Guimarães that best symbolizes the role played by the town in defining the nation’s culture and tradition – it even appears on the Portuguese coat of arms.
Originally built in the 10th century, but substantially extended by Henry of Burgundy two centuries later, the stronghold, on an elevated outcrop of granite, comprises a central keep – the Torre de Menagem - surrounded by massive battlements and fortified towers. Dom Afonso was baptized in the tiny Romanesque chapel of São Miguel, located just outside the castle walls, and visitors can peek inside the diminutive space to see the font. A walk along the ramparts is inspiring, but for the best views, climb the keep.