Located between Lisbon and Sintra, Queluz is a city in the Lisbon metropolitan area. These western suburbs are mostly residential, but new residential areas are dotted with royal and aristocratic palaces. Queluz has one, and several within a 15-minute radius. That’s before we mentioned Sintra, which is a breeze by road or public transport.
Just south of Cruz is where the Tagus flows into the Atlantic Ocean. On the estuary side is Belém and its amazing wonders, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while on the seafront are beaches such as Carcavelos. This is a surf paradise in winter and one of Lisbon’s top places to decompress in summer.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Quelez:
1. Palais de Cluz
An unquestionable must-do in Cluse is the Royal Palace, built in the second half of the 18th century.
The man behind it was Dom Pedro of Braganza, who later became the consort of the king, and in 1815 his niece, Maria, became queen. There are no charges, both inside and out. Outside, you’ll be struck by the baroque grandeur of the Robillon wing, named after the French architect.
Inside are tile-covered galleries, gilded plaster halls, palatial chapels with carved gilded wood and intimate private apartments.
Both the king’s bedroom and the queen’s boudoir are striking, the former with mirrored columns and the latter with inlaid floors.
2. Kluz Garden Palace
The palace grounds need another leg as they are as luxurious as anywhere you come across in Portugal.
In front of the “ceremonial façade” and Robillon’s ornate staircase, there is a French formal garden with boxwood hedges, fountains, vases and sculptures centered on the Palladian garden temple “Portico dos Cavalinhos”.
There is also a grotto with a waterfall further away from the palace.
But the most spectacular element has to be the Dutch-designed canal, which is more than 100 meters long and has walls lined with tile panels depicting sea views.
3. Museu da Polvora Negra
Once you know where to find it, you won’t want to miss this historic ensemble just minutes from the Palais de Clouz.
Among these mustard-colored Baroque buildings is a gunpowder factory that operated from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
In 1994, the factory was acquired by the city government and became a museum and cultural space for outdoor concerts in the summer courtyard.
Exhibits delve into the composition and invention of gunpowder, and how the material was made here.
There is a short film based on the accounts of the last generation of workers in the factory.
4. Aquário Vasco da Gama
If the traffic on the CREL (Ring Road of Lisbon) is good, you can quickly reach this aquarium from Queluz.
It was born in the last years of the 19th century at the behest of King Carlos I, who was passionate about oceanography. The first exhibits were specimens collected by the king himself on his yacht (you can still see these today). There are now 90 tanks containing around 300 species in an impressive historical setting, and thousands of well-preserved specimens in the museum.
For the kids, however, all the excitement will be sea lions, turtles and brightly colored tropical fish.
5. Tower of Belém
The monument-packed Belém neighborhood is a few kilometers west of Lisbon, so you’ll have two UNESCO sites and a Portuguese national treasure within a short drive.
The first of these is a defensive tower on the island of Tagus.
There’s a lot to know about the Portuguese identity on this monument: first of all, thanks to its location at the entrance to the harbour, it became a symbol of the Age of Navigation.
But its early 16th-century buildings are also the epitome of Manuel architecture, blending late Gothic, Slab and Renaissance designs into a unique style.
See the carved domes on the bartizans, the Venetian loggias and the ribbed vaults in the turrets.
6. Jeronimos Monastery
The architect who helped introduce the Manuel style was Diogo de Boitaca, a 16th-century monastery that is one of its vantage points and another cherished Portuguese monument.
Boitaca was given freedom and a lot of time to express himself, and spent 14 years making elements such as the columns and vaults inside the church and the stunning decorations in the cloister arches.
His successor, João de Castilho, sculpted the ornate South Gate, so rich in sculpture you’ll need to stop for a few minutes to see it all.
7. Marinha Museum
This maritime museum is located in a wing of the monastery.
It makes sense that a landmark funded by expeditions from the Great Age of Navigation should show off Portugal’s historic seafaring treasures.
The most fascinating exhibits here depict a period in which figures such as the navigator Prince Henry spread Portuguese influence to new parts of the globe.
There are navigational instruments, golems, weapons, charts and a whole fleet of historic ship models.
The adjoining Pavilhão das Galeotas has a very ornate brig launched in 1780.
8. Palace of the Marquis of Pombal
There’s a different kind of court life in this lavish estate designed for Pombal Marquis.
It was built in the Baroque and Rococo styles in the second half of the 18th century by architect Carlos Mardel, who was also involved in the aqueduct of Águas Livres.
There’s not much furniture inside, but that’s okay, as nearly every room is beautifully glazed, and there are magnificent west and south façades on the outside.
There is a huge grotto in the garden, as well as agricultural facilities such as wineries, fishing and olive mills that were part of the old estate.
Check the calendar in summer, as the venue is a venue for classical music and dance performances, just like in the Marquis days.
9. Jardins da Quinta Real de Caxias
Near the water, 15 minutes south of Queluz, is an exquisite Royal Pleasure Garden, now in a state of graceful decay.
Built in the 1700s, the gardens are set on parterres surrounded by pavilions and decorated with a statue of the famous 18th-century sculptor Machado de Castro.
It is a garden of geometric forms, with various oddly shaped boxwood hedges.
You can get a bird’s-eye view of these arrangements from the elevated platform that leads to the main monument, a grotto with a waterfall topped by another elaborate pavilion.
10. Forte de São Bruno de Caxias
During the Portuguese Restoration Wars in the mid-17th century, a complete network of maritime fortifications was built from Cabo da Roca (the westernmost point of mainland Portugal) to the Tower of Belém.
This is known as the Barra do Tejo fortification line, and the Forte de São Bruno de Caxias is the largest of these buildings.
Unlike the Tower of Belém, it was designed to be functional rather than aesthetic, but anyone interested in the period can take the time to examine this star-shaped fortress.
It’s free to enter, but even if you come outside of opening hours, you can still watch the Tagus flow on the battery.
11. Playa de Cabelos
Starlight on the Atlantic coast is almost just south of Queluz, next to another coastal fort.
As the first suitable beach, Praia de Carcavelos attracts a large number of tourists, both in winter and summer.
During the cooler months, the waves are high, fast-moving, and tubular, which is exactly what surfers like.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to surf, this beach has several schools to get you started, and you’ll follow in the footsteps of some of Portugal’s most famous surfers.
In summer, the waves are calmer, and Lisbon’s residents take the commuter train to spend peaceful weekends on golden sands.
12. Dolce Vita Tejo
In neighbouring Amadora you will have the largest shopping centre in Portugal.
It is safe to say that it has almost every major Portuguese or international fashion brand.
If you are in a hurry, you can take a flight visit and continue your vacation.
But you can also spend the day, especially if you have young children, as the children’s facilities are top-notch.
In addition to more than 300 stores, there is a multiplex theater and more than 30 restaurants.
You might also want to keep Dolce Vita Tejo in the plans for this kids-oriented mini theme park.
It is one of several branches around the world and the concept is that children (up to around 12 years old) will try real work.
Therefore, they can become occupations such as doctors, firefighters, journalists, cooks, etc. and perform tasks associated with these roles.
During this time, they will earn money that can be used for leisure or to buy what they want.
Needless to say, there is a powerful educational thread that kids may not realize is that they understand what real-life jobs entail and how to manage their money, all in a lighthearted world.
From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, Portugal’s kings and queens spent their summers in Sintra, just a 15-minute drive from Queluz.
It’s just a small town in the shadow of towering hills, but many of those peaks are home to palaces and castles.
Four wonderful estates await you, as well as Castelo dos Mouros, built by the Moors in the early Middle Ages.
Sintra isn’t a destination you can get to in one day, but if you had to choose a palace, go to Quinta da Regaleira.
This World Heritage site was developed by an eccentric businessman who furnishes the site with tunnels and mysterious Masonic monuments, like two huge “wells of initiation” used for rituals.
For a day in the capital, it’s best to throw the car away and either take the commuter train directly or change to the Metro Blue Line after a few stops at Queluz in Reboleira.
After that, the whole city is within easy reach, especially the attractions in the west, such as the Lisbon Zoo, Frontera Palace, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the stadiums of Benfica and Sporting Lisbon, and the Águas Livres Aqueduct.
But that’s just a beginner in this one-of-a-kind city.
Maybe you have a specific neighborhood in mind, like Alfama, which still has a Moorish touch, or Bairro Alto for its nightlife and bohemian spirit.
Alternatively, you might want to take some funiculars in this hilly city, visit the iconic São Jorge Castle, or stroll through the Baixa and Rossio districts of the plantation.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Cruz, Portugal
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