Mafra is a 45 minute drive from Lisbon. This city is best known for the Royal Palace: Palácio Nacional e Convento de Mafra, one of the most beautiful Portuguese Baroque buildings. A visit to this palace is certainly worthwhile if you want to discover the surroundings of Lisbon.
The overwhelming palace is part of a large complex, which in addition to the palace also includes a basilica and a monastery.
Palace with enormous dimensions
Everything about this building is massive. If you walk into the square in front of the palace, you may feel very tiny. The square itself is gigantic, and then there is the palace with a facade of more than 230 meters! I find it very impressive to see the building up close. If you want to take a photo of the whole façade, you have to stand on the opposite side of the square, or even further on the street. That’s the only way it fits in one frame!
There’s a whole story behind the façade. This palace was the summer residence of the royal family and it reflects the great wealth of King João V. Originally, the building was intended as a monastery that the king was to build as soon as his wife gave birth to offspring.
But because more and more gold came in from the colony of Brazil (which made it possible to finance more and more), the king decided to build a palace and a cathedral in addition to a monastery. Thus Palácio Nacional e Novento de Mafra became the most important Portuguese baroque monument.
Buy a map: circuito integral
If you visit the Palácio Nacional e Convento de Mafra, be sure to purchase the so-called “Circuito integral”. With this card you can visit the monastery, the palace and the garden. In 2017 the card was €6 (children up to 12 years have free admission). That’s certainly not much for what you get in return.
The palace is so enormous you really have to lookhard to find the entrance. The glass door is to the left of the main stairs. At the facade the glass door is a little inconspicuous. One can begin the sightseeing tour in the interior garden, or walk up the stairs directly to the king and the queen’s residence .
The palace boasts a total of 1200 rooms, but not all of them can be visited. Through the 4500 windows and doors, you get a good impression of the size of the palace.
The king and queen each had their own wings with different rooms. One clearly sees which rooms belonged to the king, as they are a bit more sober than those of his wife.
Don’t forget to visit the bedrooms. Here you can easily tell in which wing you are: the queen’s bed is many times smaller than that of the king.
Basilica from above
If you walk through the long corridor that connects the king’s wing with the queen’s wing, don’t forget to have a look at the cathedral in the middle on the left side. It is nice to see the chapel from above. This was also the place where the king and queen followed the service – from the balcony on the 2nd floor.
The king loved Italian art and architecture, so the palace is full of them.
Don’t forget to visit the library. The 84 meter long library is located on the fourth floor and in the most elegant hall of the building. More than 38,000 books from the 18th century are on the high shelves in the library. The library is not just very impressive, it is also one of the most important royal collections in Portugal.
At the entrance you can visit a small part of the library, but (unfortunately) it is not allowed to walk any further.
During our last visit, a guide told us that there are bats in the library to catch the insects that can eat the historical books.
Around 300 Franciscan monks lived in the monastery. The Franciscans were known for their modest lifestyle. They believed that one could only devote oneself to the spiritual world after releasing material objects. Another famous Franciscan monastery is the Convento dos Capuchos in Sintra.
Don’t miss the monks’ infirmary! These small rooms were used to house diseased monks, separated from each other by azulejos (tiled) walls and a curtain.
From the outside, the wide steps lead to the basilica, which stands in the middle of the façade and is therefore also the centre of the palace.
From the square in front of the basilica, the 2 towers, each 68 metres high, are clearly visible. In each tower there is a glockenspiel with 114 bells – 98 of which work and are played by the glockenspielers during the summer months.
The basilica is largely decorated with white, pink and grey marble. The basilica is not overwhelmingly decorated, so it seems to be a harmoniously furnished church, but it is certainly not less impressive. In the niches and at the entrance there are large pictures of saints.
Don’t forget to look up when standing at the altar. The dome provides a mysterious influx of light in the basilica.
Taking your kids to the palace?
If you go to the palace with a buggy, you should prepare yourself for the fact that the building has no elevators. When visiting, you have to walk a couple of stairs. Of course, this is also possible with a buggy if you can carry it up a few stairs. We would however recommend a sling or rucksack for the little ones. You’ll feel a little more comfortable.
After visiting the palace, the basilica and the monastery, it is great for children to visit the adjacent park Tapada. It’s a park with deer, wild boar, vantage points and ponds. Part of the park is not open to the public because the military (who have a barracks next to the palace) uses part of the park.
How to get to the Palácio Nacional e Convento de Mafra
Address: Terreiro D. João V | 2640-492 Mafra
Opening hours: daily (except Tuesdays) from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.