One Day in Lisbon: Exploring Lisbon Castle
Towering over the city of Lisbon, Portugal, Castelo São Jorge is hard to miss, and is surely the most strategically significant of all Portuguese castles.
Perched on top of a hill to the north of the city centre, with views over the Portuguese capital to the south and the historic Alfama district to the east, the defensive position of the castle is hard to beat. Lying today in ruins, albeit substantial ones, the castle is now firmly one of the Lisbon top 10 sights. Discover all you need to plan your visit to this must-see historic site.
History of São Jorge Castle
There have been fortifications on this site since the 1st or 2nd century before Christ, during the Roman occupation of the Lisbon area. But the existing building really took shape in the 10th century AD when the castle was rebuilt by the Moors, and then again around 1300 when King Denis I converted the Moorish structure into a Portuguese royal palace.
The castle was dedicated to St George (São Jorge) in the late 14 century by King John I, who had married an English bride. St George was believed to be a warrior, and was popular in both England and Portugal.
Among the many notable events which took place here was the royal reception of famed Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498 when he returned from discovering a sea route to India. The castle was severely damaged during an earthquake in 1755, and has been largely in ruins ever since, although extensive restoration work was undertaken in the first half of the 20th century.
Alternatively known as Castelo de Sao Jorge or St George Castle Lisbon, a visit to the castle is well worth the effort, whether you are looking to explore Lisbon in a day or as part of a longer trip.
How to get here
There are two main methods of getting up to the castle, depending on your level of fitness. The castle does sit on top of a significant hill, and streets are cobbled; however, if you are of basic fitness it is quite possible to make the climb. Footwear with good grip is essential.
Tram 28 runs the route from Campo Ourique to Martim Moriz; from here it is a short walk up to the castle, although you won’t avoid a climb entirely!
From Praça do Comercio, head along Rua da Alfândega then left into Rua da Madalena. From there, you will see brown signs pointing the way to the castle (castelo). Walking time is around 20 minutes from Praça do Comercio.
By hop-on, hop-off bus
Lisbon’s tourist bus stops at Miradouro das Portas do Sol, from where it is a 5-10 minute uphill walk to the castle.
Lisbon has many 6-seater tuk-tuks which ply the tourist area and which can take you close to the castle. However, this is the priciest way to get there!
Sé (Lisbon Cathedral)
Your walk up to the castle will take you straight past Lisbon’s cathedral, or Sé in Portuguese, and this magnificent building is well worth the stop-off to admire the many stained-glass windows and beautiful side chapels. No entrance fee.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol viewpoint
Also on your route up to the castle, this viewpoint gives a gorgeous view over the Alfama district below you, and the River Tejo beyond. The viewpoint is slightly beyond the turnoff for the castle – walk on another 50m to reach it, then double back.
Entry to the castle
From the viewpoint, backtrack to the marked route up to the castle. Climb upwards for another 5-10 minutes and you will come to the ticket office for the castle. To go any further, you will need to pay the entrance fee; in April 2019 this was €10 for adults and €5 for children; other discounts available.
Miradouro do Castelo São Jorge viewpoint
Turning right out of the ticket office, enter the castle grounds via the turnstiles. The first place you will come to is a wide open area ending in the Miradouro do Castelo São Jorge, probably the most spectacular viewpoint in the city. Gaze across the rooftops of the downtown area, with clear views of the river, Praça do Comercio, the San Justa Elevator and Parque Eduardo VII. The battlements here are lined with cannon which provide unique photographic shots across the city.
The castle keep
Approaching the castle keep is a walk back to medieval times. Solid stone walls rise to crenellated towers far above, and the entrance to the keep itself is over a curving stone bridge which easily evokes the drawbridge of days gone by.
Although only the walls remain, it is easy to imagine the interior of the keep as it once was – where royal life was played out behind high walls which must have felt invincible.
From the keep, there are several steep staircases leading up to the battlements. Take care as the steps are uneven, and they are not recommended for small children or those with mobility issues. But if you can make it up there, the views over the city are to die for; climb one of the many towers for even more panoramic views, or peer down through arrow slits and imagine firing on enemies below.
Allow approximately 30-45 minutes for the visit to the keep and ramparts.
Behind the keep to the north, archaeological work is still ongoing. This area is not currently open to the public.
Museum and café
Once you have finished exploring the castle itself, make your way to the museum for a more in-depth look at castle life through the ages. There is a café next door, as well as a gift shop. There is a camera obscura in the Tower of Ulysses, offering magical live views of the city below.
Sao Jorge Castle Lisbon is open from 9am to 9pm March to October, and 9am to 6pm November to February. The castle is closed on December 24, 25 and January 1.
Map of São Jorge Castle in Lisbon Portugal
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