Set atop the city’s highest hill, Castelo de São Jorge has been presiding over Lisbon since the mid-11th century and has stood watch as Romans fell to the Visigoths and through the back and forth occupations of the Arabic Moors and the Catholic Christians. It survived Castilian sieges and was a welcome sight for returning explorers during the Age of Exploration when Portugal was a world power.
The Castelo was restored and enhanced in the 1940s. The ramparts were completely rebuilt, gardens were added to courtyards and the watchtowers were embellished. The castle was presented to the English bride of King Alfonso Enriques as a wedding gift in 1387. It is that connection that led to the castle being dedicated to the Patron Saint of England, Saint George.
Admission is 10 Euros for adults and can be purchased at the gates or online. It is open every day, except public holidays, staying open into the evening during the summer season. Guided tours are available but we chose to wander about on our own. There are many different parts including the castle & ramparts, an archeological site (restricted), the ruins of a former royal palace, gardens, the Black Chamber with a camera obscura, the permanent museum exhibits and a lovely patio garden area to enjoy lunch with roaming peacocks.
Since it was at the top of a hill (as is everything in Lisbon), we knew there would be steep hills and lots of stairs. lots of uneven, slippery, marble stairs and steep roads with more slippery marble cobbles but we got there, eventually. We purchased our tickets just inside the gate.
The first area was the Romantic gardens, full of ancient olive trees. I have no idea how these trees continue to live for centuries. Some are almost completely hollow.
Next to the gardens is the Palace, which is in ruins. The entire castle experience is an outdoor experience, so be prepared for the elements and with good walking shoes. There are no lusciously decorated interior rooms here.
Long before we saw them, we knew we were going to see more peacocks. These beautiful birds have an awful sound, much like a screeching cat. We were delighted to see more peacocks. We saw more peacocks in Portugal than anywhere else in our travels. They really are magnificent birds. I kept looking for a stray feather... with all those peacocks around, I really thought I would find one. No luck.
This beauty was sitting high above us in a tree. The colour pattern in the peacocks here was very different than the ones we had seen in Porto and Faro. I think this one is quite beautiful.
These peacocks are obviously very used to tourists and are looking for some form of Instagram fame. They insist on having their photo taken... make sure you get their best angle.
Unlike most European castles, São Jorge was never originally intended to be a residence. It's purpose was to house military troops and to protect the elite who lived in the Alcacova (citadel). The Royal Palace came later. The castle was originally built with 18 towers. Eleven towers remain.
We began with walking along the promenade to get to the walls and ramparts.
There were stairs going up
and many more stairs down to Lisbon below
Some of the walkways were very open and allowed for wonderful views of the city.
The archeological dig site at the castle has restricted entrance. There was no one working there in the full heat of the day.
We returned to the plaza area to grab something to eat and drink and to enjoy the shade while people-watching.
I had help finishing my sandwich.
Inside the castle, there is a permanent exhibit of various artifacts mainly found on site. It was air-conditioned. We really appreciated that.
The guide books suggested a visit would take about 2 hours. We were there for at least 5 hours before we decided it was time to head back to the city to figure out a place to sit and enjoy an afternoon beverage before making the incredibly difficult decision as to where we would eat.
Tips for visiting the Castle:
Wear comfortable shoes.
Bring plenty of water
Be prepared for stairs and rough surfaces
Tell me about your trip to Lisbon, share your tips, thoughts, and ideas. Send the link to someone you thing should be following this blog. Become a member to get notified of new content, access to our members' only forum, and a monthly newsletter full of chatty behind-the-scenes news, useful travel hints and links, plus more.