Best seen early or late in the day to avoid the crowds, the sumptuous and wonderfully atmospheric Palácio Nacional largely dates from the reign of Dom João I (1385–1433), making it the oldest surviving palace in Portugal, though sadly, after the fall of the monarchy in 1910, most of the surrounding walls and medieval houses were destroyed. Embellished by a series of monarchs – notably Manuel I (1495–1521) – the palace displays a range of architectural styles from Moorish tiles to Manueline decorations and Gothic battlements.
On the lower floor of the palace, you’ll pass through the beautiful Sala dos Cisnes (Hall of Swans), a reception room named after the painted swans on its ceiling, and the Sala das Pegas (Hall of Magpies). The story goes that Dom João I had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women at court, implying that they were all magpie-like gossips after he was allegedly caught canoodling with one of the servants. Best of the upper floor is the gallery above the palace chapel. Beyond here, a succession of state rooms leads to the Sala das Brasões, a dazzling domed hall embellished with 72 coats of arms representing Portuguese nobility. Finally, back down on the ground floor, don’t miss the kitchens, whose roofs taper into the 33m-high chimneys which are the palace’s distinguishing features.