Ajuda Palace, the last residence of the Portuguese royal family
Built in 1795, this was Portugal’s last royal palace. When the royal residence in what is now Praça do Comércio on the waterfront was completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, the king decided that it was safer to live up on a hill. The chosen location was Ajuda, just above Belém, which had been less affected by the disaster.
The Banquet Room, where official dinners are still often held
It was meant to be one of the largest palaces in Europe, with gardens cascading down to the river, but only about one fifth of the original project was completed. When Napoleon’s army invaded Portugal, the royal family fled to Brazil (and actually reigned from the colony for several years), so the construction was interrupted. By the time the royals returned, many prefered that the country become a republic, which ended up happening in 1910. That meant that the royal palace was no longer royal, so the neoclassical building was left unfinished, and turned into a museum. It also occasionally hosts official ceremonies, but is generally open to the public.
The future museum displaying the Crown Jewels and other pieces from the royal collection
The back, which looks like a ruin but is actually the uncompleted part, is currently being given a modern extension, in order to become a museum displaying the Royal Treasure and the Crown Jewels, which is one of the world’s largest collections of its kind. It’s scheduled to open in the summer of 2021, but in the meantime, the interior remains open for visits and occasionally adds temporary exhibits of contemporary art.
The Throne Room is one of the highlights of the interior
It’s quite a sumptuous interior, with an ostentatious décor in several magnificent rooms. The highlights are the Throne Room, the Banquet Room, and the Audience Room, decorated with pieces from the 15th to the early 20th centuries. Those include a remarkable collection of clocks, and a dinner service that’s one of the few in Europe that remains completely intact.
King João IV Room, painted from floor to ceiling
The King João IV Room is completely covered with paintings added in 1823, including a ceiling by Domingos Sequeira, one of Portugal’s leading artists of that period.
In the chapel is an El Greco painting, depicting the “Holy Face” of Christ.
An El Greco painting hangs in the palace's chapel
By the entrance is a number of neoclassical sculptures, while in front of the building is a statue of Carlos I, the last king to live in the palace.
Neoclassical sculptures welcome visitors to the palace
A few steps across the street from behind the palace is the Royal Botanical Garden of Ajuda, laid out in 1768. It was Portugal’s first botanical garden, and while it has since lost a great number of its 5000 species of plants (thanks to the French invasion in 1808 and a tornado in 1941), a restoration in 1993 tried to recreate the original garden. Today, it’s a wonderful place to relax after a visit to the palace, in the company of roaming peacocks. From its two levels is a view of the river and 25 de Abril Bridge, and the shade of several tropical trees. Some of those trees and plants are hundreds of years old, and surround a beautiful 18th-century fountain adorned with mythological figures, serpents, fish, and seahorses.
The garden can be visited independently from the palace, and requires a separate ticket.
The Royal Botanical Garden, down the road from the palace
How to Get to Ajuda Palace
Tram 18, which departs from outside the Cais do Sodré train station normally goes up to the palace, but due to construction work on the roads surrounding the monument, its route has been shortened to Belém, by the Jerónimos Monastery, until further notice.
At the moment, you’ll have to take the train from Cais do Sodré to Belém (it departs every 20 minutes and takes just 7 minutes to reach Belém), and then walk up Calçada da Ajuda, across from the Coaches Museum. It’s quite a long, sloping street -- it takes about 15 minutes to reach the top, where the palace is located.
Bus 760 stops right in front of the palace, but it takes about 30 minutes from its stop downtown, in Praça da Figueira. Bus 732 also takes about 30 minutes, and stops by the botanical garden, a few feet from the palace.
You may also take bus 714 or tram 15 to Belém, both departing from Praça da Figueira, but those are usually too crowded and therefore uncomfortable, and are slower than the train.
You may ride the train, trams and buses for free with the Lisboa Card.
Admission and Tickets to Ajuda Palace
It's closed on Thursdays
In addition to the botanical garden, you should visit the Coaches Museum, down the hill from the palace, which houses a unique collection of royal coaches.