São Jorge Castle, Lisbon

When we were researching things to see and do in Lisbon, we heard much about the famous miradouros, or viewpoints. Lisbon is a city built on seven hills — really tall hills, just ask my glutes! — and there are numerous terraced viewpoints on the hills with magnificent vistas over different sections of the city below. One of the most talked about is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara in the central Bairro Alto neighborhood. We set out to find this miradouro on one of our first evening walks in the city. About 30 minutes, one long down hill, and one LONG uphill from our apartment in the Lapa neighborhood, following the path laid out on Google maps the whole way, we stumbled on a gorgeous park complete with café and — as promised — an incredibly expansive view across the city. The pictures we’d seen online (and the ones we’d take ourselves) totally didn’t do it justice. What an amazing introduction to our new city! And what an amazing view of São Jorge Castle! (And yes, an amazing glass of wine at the café, too.)

A couple of days later, we put on our tourist hats and set off across the city again on foot to explore the castle. A little (very little) background info according to Wiki: the hill upon which São Jorge Castle sits has been occupied by humans since at least the 8th century BC; the first fortifications on the hill date to the 1st century BC. Since then, the hill has seen fortifications occupied by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors, with the Portuguese taking control during the 1147 Siege of Lisbon. When we arrived in 2021, the São Jorge Castle was happily occupied by just a few other tourists — we really couldn’t believe how few people were there. As horrible as living through a global pandemic has been, we do have to selfishly admit that fewer tourists at most of the sights we visited in Portugal was a bonus.

Having wandered our way through Lisbon over to the Alfama neighborhood, we entered the castle grounds through the main gates. We were met with a giant courtyard, complete with a café (there are cafés in pretty much every outdoor space in Lisbon) and several food stands. And another amazing view over the city — this time looking out over the Tagus river and the Praça do Comércio, the city’s main waterfront square. Also a very cool statue, though I have to confess I’m not sure who the statue is of — best guess St. Jorge!

From this main courtyard we wandered around the grounds to the west, collecting more beautiful views of the city over the walls (and yes, taking selfies!).

From here, we walked through the arches and saw the castle proper to our right. Back in the day there was a moat. With so few people around, it felt like we practically had the place to ourselves as we wandered over the walls, in and out through the ruins, and along the long walkways. It was unbelievably impressive and still so incredibly solid after all these years. As I walked through the ruins, I looked down and imagined all the people who’s feet had worn down the stones through the centuries. All the women who looked out the windows (I’m sure that isn’t the historically accurate term) watching for their men to come back from war. All the men, women, and children who climbed the same stairs, looked up at the same sky, tripped over the same stones. It was a truly humbling experience.

After descending a long staircase that we thought would lead us to a back way out of the castle — and then ascending them again when it didn’t — we made our way toward the main entry courtyard via a charming smaller courtyard where a flock of peacocks had made their home. We found peacocks all over the city, but these were by far the most photogenic. They must be used to posing for all the tourists! (And maybe they put a little extra wiggle in their steps when it was just us :).

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