Lisbon’s Versailles

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Lisbon is now an extremely popular travel destination for many Americans. While that’s wonderful, Lisbon’s tourist attractions can be overrun during peak periods. Ask anyone who has stood in line to tour the palaces at Sintra, west of the city center. Sintra is a must-see if you are visiting Lisbon. But the crowds…

The Palácio da Pena is one of Sintra’s crown jewels.

While others queued up at Sintra, we waltzed through Lisbon’s version of Versailles – the amazingly ornate Palácio de Queluz located just outside the city.

Versailles Hall of Mirrors? Guess again.

Like its French counterpart, the Palace of Queluz is in a suburb of a capital city. The story of Queluz is relatively obscure, especially for visiting Americans. Lisbon didn’t have a resident Louis XIV Sun King or let-them-eat-cake Marie Antonette.

But there are certainly stylistic echoes here. Queluz Palace is Versailles-ornate, although on a smaller scale, with mirrored ballrooms and opulent royal bedrooms overlooking impressive formal gardens. What Quelez doesn’t have is massive crowds of visitors, at least compared to Sintra.

The formal gardens at Queluz Palace.

How did Portugal afford to build its own mini Versailles? Gold. Brazilian gold. Starting in the late 17th century the riches of the South American colony financed a building boom by the Portuguese upper class.

Queluz Palace served as a fanciful royal country retreat. It eventually became the opulent rest home for elderly (and allegedly insane) Queen Maria. The Palace housed members of the Portuguese royal family until, ironically, they were run out of the country by French invaders in 1807. After a few years in exile, the royals returned and Queluz Palace saw limited use until the curtain fell on the Portuguese monarchy in 1910.

Inside the onion-domed palace chapel.

The Palace’s Robillon Wing.

Are we promising a palace experience in Lisbon with no crowds? Not completely. But this spring, the lines to visit Sintra have been described by some as “hellish.” Queluz Palace is off the beaten tourist track and a visit here makes a wonderful day trip alternative. And minus huge crowds, there is time and space to immerse yourself in the world of this opulent palace.



  • Deb and David White

    Deb Hosey White is an executive management consultant with over thirty years experience working for Fortune 1000 companies. She is the author of Pink Slips and Parting Gifts, a workplace novel based upon those experiences. With English ancestors on both sides of her family, Deb is a serious Anglophile and an avid traveler. David Stewart White began his adventures in family travel as a child when he lived in Paris and traveled throughout Europe. He is the author of Let's Take the Kids to London His travel articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the Charlotte Observer,, AAA World Magazine, and in numerous travel websites and online magazines. Beyond Downton Abbey — A Guide to 25 Great Houses was their first collaborative travel writing effort. They followed up with Beyond Downton Abbey Volume 2 to tell the stories of another group of great homes in Britain.

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