Side Trip from Lisbon: Queluz Palace

A lavish royal palace and garden is just a quick train ride from Lisbon

Formal garden at Queluz Palace (photo: Brent Petersen)

Queluz National Palace Origin Story

Following the discovery of gold in the Portuguese colony of Brazil, the ruling royal family of Portugal became obscenely wealthy. Extravagant palaces were built including the famous Pena Palace and the Mafra National Palace.

One of my favorite Portuguese palaces to visit is the Queluz National Palace.

Construction of the palace in Queluz, just a few kilometers from Lisbon, began in 1747 and continued until 1755 when it was interrupted by the massive earthquake that leveled much of Lisbon and nearby areas. Workers from Queluz were dispatched to Lisbon to help rebuild the city.

Work restarted in 1758 with a new plan for a low slung palace that would better withstand future tremors.

Statue outside Queluz Palace (photo: Brent Petersen)

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marquis of Pombal, was, in effect, the real ruler of Portugal after the earthquake. He was bestowed all encompassing powers by King Joseph I, allowing the Marquis to become a de factor dictator. As such, he encouraged the royals to defer to him in the uninteresting affairs of state and retreat to palaces like Queluz for rest and relaxation.

After King Joseph died, his daughter Maria took the throne and immediately dismissed the Marquis of Pombal, whom she despised. By 1786, all the work on the interior of the palace was completed. The queen was mentally unstable and after the death of her husband she descended into a spiral of madness at Queluz.

Then, the royal family fled to Brazil when Napoleon’s army invaded Portugal. From this time on, even after the royals returned from exile in 1821, the palace was infrequently used.

The Queluz Palace became the property of state in 1908. Much of the palace was damaged by a fire in 1934 including the extension of the Robillon wing which was completely destroyed. The palace was restored and opened as a public museum in 1940. However, the State Guest House still serves as a place to house visiting dignitaries and is not open to the public.

Rape of the Sabines statue in the gardens of the Queluz Palace (photo: Brent Petersen)

What to see at the Queluz Palace

You can buy a ticket at the entrance of the Queluz Palace to gain admission to both the interior of the palace and the expansive gardens. Budget at least two hours for the palace and grounds, four hours would not be excessive if you want to sit and relax in the gardens.

Queluz Palace interior

With the exception of the state apartments, much of the Queluz National Palace is available for visiting. You’ll wind through a seemingly endless maze of rooms, many which have very specific or esoteric purposes.

Some of the highlights include the Hall of Ambassadors, a huge room with floor to ceiling window and a magnificent painted ceiling and the Chapel which was the first thing built at that palace and consecrated in 1752.

Fans of Portuguese tile work shouldn’t miss the Sala das Mangas (Hall of Sleeves). Murals of colored tile decorate the walls of the corridor. Each work depicts a Portuguese colony and, taken as a whole, represents the incredible wealth Portugal obtained by exploiting these lands and the people of the Americas, Asia, and Africa.

Queluz Palace gardens

As much as I like the interior of the Queluz Palace, I enjoy spending time in the gardens even more.

The Canal dos Azulejos is simply stunning. Dutchman Gerald van der Kolk created the canal which is lined with Portuguese tile work. Along the canal is more tile murals, decorative urns, and observation points. Today, the canal is dry, but every May, the gates that hold back the water are opening and water once again flows, recreating the atmosphere of when Portuguese royalty lived here and water flowed freely while shallow bottomed boats floated on the canal.

There are several formal gardens surrounding the palace. They often have a fountain as their centerpiece and are surrounded by statuary.

At the far end of the grounds is a Botanical Garden with hot houses and raised planters.

Getting to the Queluz Palace

If you have a car, the Queluz National Palace is about a half hour drive from Lisbon.

But, since I don’t recommend driving in Lisbon, taking the train is a much better option. Queluz is about halfway between Lisbon and Sintra.

Take the Sintra line from Rossio to Queluz-Belas. It only takes 15-20 minutes. From there it’s about a 10 minute walk to the palace.

About the Author

Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lisbon, PortoSintraMonsaraz, and Evora in Portugal. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.

Author: Brent