5 Reasons to Visit the Basílica da Estrela
The many hills that makeup Lisbon’s main city center are found throughout the north of the city right through to the south on the edge of the Alfama. In Lisbon west there is a hillside that starts next to Lisbon’s Botanical Gardens, at the summit you’ll find the most beautiful church in Lisbon (Read more about Discover walking tours).
To the Portuguese, Basílica da Estrela is known as the Royal Basilica and Convent of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s a ancient carmelite convent that was completed in 1790.
For anyone with an interest in foreign clergy or late Baroque/neoclassical architecture the Basílica da Estrela is an unmissable landmark in the Portuguese capital. I’ll give you five more reasons to ad it to your list of excursions.
ADDRESS: Praça da Estrela, 1200-667 Lisboa, Portugal
STATION: Tram 28 to Estrela
1. It is One of the Most Ornate Churches in Lisbon
The Basílica da Estrela was built under the order of Queen Maria I of Portugal. It was a fulfillment of a Promise made to herself that she would gift the city of Lisbon this church should she successfully conceive and give birth to a son.
The construction began in 1779 and was only completed in 1790; the son in question lost his life to smallpox two years before the church was ready.
The church is unique as it was constructed using two main bell towers instead of one. The exterior is a design masterpiece — fit for a queen, after all.
Inside is simply a work of art. High ceilings, detailed murals, geometric marble floors, gold balustrades and a teal colored organ, one of the only of its kind.
The famous nativity scene displayed in the church is the work of sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro. There are over 300 characters depicted in this scene, all made by hand.
Queen Maria I’s tomb is located in the right transept.
To visit the church is free to all. Like most churches in Europe, they do not close their doors and one is welcome to sit in solitude in the space even in the middle of the night.
2. There is a Park In Front of the Basílica da Estrela in Lisbon
The church is built just behind the beautiful Jardim da Estrela. Visitors to the church in summer are always over the moon to find this tree filled park to offer an hour or two of shade from the sweltering heat.
The park has ample grass space for lounging, greenhouses, waterfalls and even a children’s play area.
Since the Basílica da Estrela isn’t the most interesting of adventures for small children, most families will settle in the Jardim da Estrela and take turns going to see the landmark. This was the children can play safely in the park while mommy and daddy, or mommy and mommy, or daddy and daddy (it’s 2019) marvel at the Basilica.
On weekends in the summer the Jardim da Estrela holds antique markets and free jazz concerts. Follow their social media to keep up with the pending events!
3. The View From the Rooftop of the Basílica da Estrela in Lisbon
In addition to the two bell towers the church also features a massive dome overhead. Up here one finds an array of statues depicting saints throughout the history of Lisbon.
You’ll have to brave the many flights of stairs to get you into the bell towers and dome. The rooftop view over Lisbon is one of the best money can buy. The dome is in high demand and planning your venture to fall over sunset would be ideal, but isn’t always logistically possible.
The ground level of the Basílica da Estrela is free for all to enter. The towers and dome require payment of €4 to gain access. Small price to pay once you see the city from up there.
Note that the towers are not recommended for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia; the stairwells that take you up are tiny and dark.
4. There are Great Restaurants Surrounding the Basílica da Estrela in Lisbon
Free guided walking tours through Lisbon give you the best of both worlds: you’re walked between the most iconic of attractions while great restaurant and entertainment spots are pointed out along the way for you to enjoy afterwards.
The summit of the hill where we find the Basílica da Estrela isn’t something many people want to rush down from right away. Most want to linger in on of the nearby coffee shops or restaurants.
Right across the road from the church is a small cafe called Quiosque da Burra. Hot Portuguese coffee and pastel de natas baked to perfection; the perfect way to follow any viewing of a Lisbon landmark.
Just behind the coffee shop there’s a Portuguese cafe called Pastelaria Cintilante. They are open early, from 7am all the way through until midnight. The perfect pairing to your visit to the church no matter the time of day.
5. It is One of the Least Crowded Churches in Lisbon
You’d be surprised at how many people this is the selling point for.
Despite being possibly the most beautiful church in Lisbon, the Basílica da Estrela remains largely overshadowed by the Church of Sao Roque and National Pantheon. Travelers to Lisbon make these two the priority, giving little regard to the lesser known gems that the city may hold.
The perk of this is that the Basílica da Estrela is one of the least crowded tourist attractions in Lisbon. A church in which you can actually enjoy a moment of peace if you arrive early, or late enough.
Because of the rooftop view and bell towers, sunset is the only truly chaotic time for the church. Everyone wants to get to the top to bid the day goodbye.
I find the Basílica da Estrela is best explored in the morning in Lisbon. It’s quiet and almost meditative, especially if you go alone.