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Discover Mafra National Palace
A quick overview
What to see? Mafra Palace is a stunning 18th-century monument which offers a fascinating journey into Portugal’s past.
Costs? € 6,00 for adults.
Where? In Mafra, a 45-minute drive north of Lisbon.
Worth it? Yes! It’s a bit of a hidden gem and much quieter than the Palaces in Sintra. Plus, the palace is enormous and beautifully decorated.
As you explore Portugal’s rich architectural history, one gem you’ll undoubtedly come across is the National Palace of Mafra. Situated in the picturesque town of Mafra, around 40 kilometres northwest of Lisbon, this 18th-century monument boasts a blend of Baroque, Italianised Neoclassical and Rococo styles that capture the opulence and grandeur of the time.
You’ll uncover impressive details at the National Palace, from the 200-metre long façade to the awe-inspiring main basilica. As you roam the spacious halls and countless rooms, you’ll gain insights into the lives of the Portuguese royal family and admire a vast collection of sculptures, paintings, and precious artefacts from around the world.
The history of National Palace Mafra
The National Palace of Mafra (Palácio de Mafra) was built during the 18th century by King João V. When you explore its beautiful halls and rooms, you’ll learn that the original purpose of the National Palace was to serve as a royal palace and a grand symbol of the wealth and power of Portugal during the reign of King João V. Designed by the German architect Johann Friedrich Ludwig, the palace is an exquisite example of the Baroque style that he and other European architects used in that period.
Construction began in 1717 and took over 20 years to complete, with the palace finally being inaugurated in 1735. During your visit, you’ll notice that the palace is divided into several sections, each with its own unique design and decoration. As you walk through the Basilica, the Convent, and the Royal Palace itself, watch for the intricate sculptures, paintings, and other astounding features that make the National Palace Mafra an important cultural heritage site.
Palace of Mafra today
Over the centuries, the National Palace Mafra has undergone several changes to accommodate the Portuguese royalty’s various residential and administrative needs. Although it no longer serves as a royal residence, it has become an important historical landmark and a cultural symbol signifying the grandeur of Portugal’s past.
In 2019, this architectural masterpiece was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, reinforcing its importance as a significant cultural and historical treasure. When you visit the National Palace Mafra, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the country’s rich heritage and appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of the Baroque era that still captivates visitors today.
The façade of Mafra Palace
As you approach Mafra Palace, the grand façade immediately catches your eye! The symmetrical design, adorned with turrets, detailed relief work, and gorgeous sculptural elements, offers a majestic sight and valuable insight into the period’s architectural style.
You’ll notice the Portuguese limestone that coats the exterior, emphasising the monumental nature of the palace. The façade is a whopping 220 meters long and faces the town of Mafra. A standout feature of the façade is the impressive stairways that flank the main entrance. You have a stunning view from the steps, and with clear weather, you can easily see the coastal town of Ericeira.
The rooms in National Palace Mafra
There are several remarkable rooms at National Palace Mafra that you should be sure to explore. These include the Throne Room, the Monastery, a sculpture room, a kitchen, an infirmary, and the king’s bed chamber.
The infirmary and convent
The convent consists of friars’ cells for the nursing brothers. Meals were prepared in the infirmary kitchen, and the infirmary itself was for the seriously ill. At the head of each bed was a tile panel of Christ, and at the foot end, one of the Virgin Mary. On Sundays, all beds were placed in the middle of the room so everyone could attend mass. The steps at the back of the room lead straight to the cemetery.
The decoration on the ceiling was made by Cirilo Volkmar Machado in 1800 and depicted Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, and her nymphs. Belgian master Jan Leyniers made the tapestry and represented Alexander the Great, receiving Queen Thalestris of the Amazons.
The Throne Hall
The Throne Hall, or Audience Hall, was used for royal audiences. In 1860, King D. Pedro V abolished this ritual as he deemed it outdated. Cirilo Volkmar Machado also painted this ceiling, showing an angel surrounded by sages. The wall frescos represent the eight royal virtues: perfection, tranquillity, kindness, knowledge, generosity, peace, perseverance, and diligence. The two chairs were used for the inauguration in 1775.
The Royal Rooms
In the north tower, you’ll discover the royal apartments of the Palace of Mafra. These rooms were used by the King and consisted of private apartments such as bedrooms, a receiving room, and a family room. You’ll see beautifully decorated furniture, such as beds, a buffet table and cabinets.
National Palace Mafra Basilica
As you explore the National Palace Mafra, you’ll find the Basilica standing proudly as the centrepiece of this majestic complex. This Franciscan church is more than just a place of worship; its architecture, artwork, and symbolic elements reflect the grandiosity of King João V’s reign. Another unique feature you’ll discover within the Basilica is the presence of six organs – a rare sight in any church. Each organ has intricate carvings, and they were built in the 18th century.
The towers of the Basilica contain a unique set of 119 cast bronze bells, making them the most significant historical carillons in the world. The bells are divided into carillon, liturgical and hour bells. The bells have a distinct charm, and even today, they continue to chime harmoniously across the town of Mafra, just as they have done for centuries. They’ve recently been restored, and the carillons were listed among Europe’s 7 Most Endangered heritage assets in 2014.
Mafra Palace Library
The Mafra Palace Library was built during the reign of King João V and later served as a retreat for King Manuel II, the last monarch of Portugal. As you enter the library, you are greeted by stunning floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books that date back as far as the 15th century. You’ll find yourself amazed by the collection of more than 36,000 books, some of which are rare incunabula. These are books printed before the year 1500, making them some of the earliest examples of printed literature worldwide.
The library was used for reading and as a place for intellectual and cultural pursuits. A unique yet essential aspect of the library attracts everyone’s curiosity – the bats! Yes, you heard it right. A small colony of bats calls the Mafra Palace Library their home. These bats are important in the library’s preservation, as they eat insects that could potentially damage precious books.
National Palace Mafra opening hours
The palace is open from Wednesday to Monday and closed on Tuesdays and certain holidays. You can explore the palace from 9:30 AM to 5.30 PM. The last admission is at 16h45, so make sure you arrive with enough time to enjoy the palace.
Mafra Palace is closed on Tuesdays and 1st January, Easter Sunday, 1st May and 25th December.
National Palace Mafra tickets
Tickets can be bought at the entrance, but purchasing them online beforehand might save you some time if you want to ensure a hassle-free visit. Tickets to Mafra Palace cost €6.00 per person (13+). Children under 13 can enter for free but must be accompanied by an adult.
How to get from Lisbon to Mafra by car?
To get from Lisbon to Mafra by car, you can follow the A8 motorway (Autoestrada do Oeste) for approximately 30 kilometres (19 miles) until you reach the exit for Mafra (Exit 5). Take this exit, and after exiting the A8, follow the signs towards Mafra on the A21. From the A21, take exit 3 to join the N9 road, and the N116 will lead you directly to Mafra. Continue on this road for about 10 kilometres (6 miles). Once you reach Mafra, you can use GPS or follow local signs to navigate to your specific destination within the town. Mafra Palace is signposted, and it’s easy to reach.
It’s important to note that traffic conditions may vary, so checking for any road closures, construction, or traffic updates before your journey is advisable. Additionally, having a GPS device or a navigation app on your smartphone can be helpful for real-time directions. Discover Cars are fantastic for renting your car in Portugal. Click here to learn more about car rental in Portugal, or check the prices below.
Mafra National Palace parking
Right next to the Mafra National Palace is a large car park where you can park. Follow the designated parking area, which is within walking distance of the palace entrance. You’ll have to pay for parking, so bring some coins for the parking meter. It’s important to note that the availability of parking spaces may vary depending on the time of day and the season, especially during peak tourist periods. It’s advisable to arrive early or plan your visit accordingly to secure a parking spot.
If the parking lot at the palace is full or you prefer to explore alternative parking options, you might find street parking in the surrounding areas of Mafra. However, observing parking regulations and restrictions is crucial, such as parking duration limits or designated paid parking zones.
How to get from Lisbon to Mafra by bus?
Currently, there is no direct train connection from Lisbon to Mafra. However, you can take a bus to reach Mafra from Lisbon. You can use the service between Lisbon and Ericeira from the Campo Grande bus station in Lisbon. The service between Lisbon and Mafra is operated by Carris Metropolitana and a single journey to Mafra costs € 4.50 only. Click here to check the current timetable.
Enjoy an organised tour to Mafra
If you don’t want to rent a car and want peace of mind, a day tour from Lisbon is perfect for enjoying the beauty of Mafra. Besides, you’ll get to visit more stunning places along the way!
Other sights to see in and around Mafra
Mafra is a small town, but wandering around after visiting the palace is lovely. Next door you can see a stunning garden, for example. It’s called Jardim do Cerco, and it’s free to enter. Or grab a nice lunch before you leave Mafra. Sempre Quente offers tasty sandwiches and great coffee!
Close to Mafra are several other places you can visit. Visit the nearby coastal town Ericeira, famous for its surf and stunning beaches. If you want to return to Lisbon, you can also follow the beautiful coastal road towards Azenhas do Mar, Cabo da Roca and Cascais.
Hotels in Mafra
The atmosphere in Mafra is very relaxed, and if you need a break from the bustling cities, staying overnight in Mafra is a great idea! Enjoy a relaxing stay at Quinta dos Machados Countryside Hotel & Spa or the countryside at the nearby Aldeia da Mata Pequena. Ericeira boasts many more guesthouses and hotels, and you´ll be within walking distance from the ocean!
Undoubtedly, a visit to the National Palace of Mafra offers a fascinating journey into Portugal’s past. Its eye-catching design and rich historical significance will leave you deep in admiration and appreciation for the captivating heritage etched into its walls. Especially if you like to travel off the beaten path, you will appreciate visiting the palace. You’ll need about 90 minutes to 2 hours to explore all rooms without rushing. The building covers an area of almost four hectares! And even though you can only visit parts of all 1.200 rooms, there is a lot to see here! If you like architecture and history, you’ll love it here!