The Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon was the first vision I had of the city on my first trip to Portugal. From the plane window, at 6 am on a day in March 2014, just before landing at Lisbon International Airport. Shining with the first morning light. For over 8 centuries being one of the most striking points of the Portuguese capital. Since then I have returned numerous times to Lisbon and I have never stopped admiring the beauty of the São Jorge Castle.
One of the most visited places in Lisbon, the Castelo de São Jorge was built to protect the city from Roman invaders when Coimbra was the capital of the Portuguese kingdom. When Lisbon became the capital in 1255, the castle gained more importance as Paço Real, Palácio dos Bispos and of course a military fort.
But everything changed in 1755, with the great earthquake that devastated Lisbon. The royal residence went down the hills of Alfama towards Ribeira and the castle was abandoned. And believe me, it was only in 1990 that the Castle was completely restored and opened to visitors.
Today we can glimpse all its strength, just cross the imposing Arco do Castelo on Rua Chão de Freira to enter a universe of more than 800 years. The immense courtyard where soldiers once guarded the Tagus, today offers visitors the best view of Lisbon.
At the Castelo de São Jorge viewpoint, we can see the whole of Baixa, Bairro Alto, Praça do Comércio, the 25 de Abril Bridge and if our eyes strain a little, we can see up to Belém. It is definitely the best view of the Portuguese capital.
Further on, we cross the Arco de São Jorge and enter the stone fortress. A huge complex of medieval walls, towers, courtyards and rooms that kept the treasures of Portugal. Go up to the highest tower, 110 meters high, where the Portuguese Crown jewels were. For being the highest point of the castle and the most inaccessible to the invaders.
In the center of the castle, a group of actors stage a medieval battle, all dressed in character, of course. The walk through the walls is the highlight of the visit and in each corner a more beautiful view. Look through the stone cracks that were once the target of Muslim attacks that devastated Lisbon between 1179 and 1183.
If you feel hungry, inside the castle walls there is a great restaurant, Casa do Leão, the food is good and the drinks are even better. The price? Well, as expected, more salty than raw cod! It is worth the experience of dining inside a castle as the food from the various taverns down the street is much better.
How to get to São Jorge Castle in Lisbon
There is no exact way to get there and I think it is in this inaccuracy that the best part of the tour is. You can take a taxi, an Uber or a tuk-tuk to take you through the alleys, but what’s so funny?
The starting point is Madalena’s Street, from which several small alleys start, one more beautiful, colorful and even mysterious than the other. But there is not much mystery, up and always. Getting lost in these alleys is also an encounter with the past, being dazzled by the tiles that cover all the facades and being watched all the time by the ladies at their windows.
Follow Costa do Castelo Street to Bartolomeu de Gusmão Street, turn into Chão de Freira and that’s it, you’ve arrived at São Jorge Castle
When to visit São Jorge Castle
The Castelo de São Jorge is open every day from 10 am to 8 pm (spring and summer) and from 9 am to 6 pm (autumn and winter). The last entry is 30 minutes before closing time. Entrance costs 10 Euros and can be purchased on the official website.