The heartbreaking tale of Pedro and Inês, Portugal’s famously ill-fated lovers inspired me to visit Alcobaça, a pretty town in the Silver Coast of Central Portugal.
The theme of love is a strong part of Alcobaça’s identity and you’ll see it reflected throughout the town, which is also known for cakes, ceramics, fruit and chalets. If you have limited time, a quick stop to visit the monastery is worth doing but I’d encourage you to stay a while longer, if possible, and get to know more about the local culture.
To that end, this article gives you more information about things to do In Alcobaça, as well as the monastery.
But first, some practicalities…
Getting to Alcobaça
It’s only a slight detour to reach Alcobaça on the route from Lisbon to Porto so if you have a car, you could include a stop here. Or try this Central Portugal road trip.
If you haven’t got a car (see this post for tips on renting a car in Portugal), you could take the bus from Lisbon (just under 2 hours). However, taking a private or small group tour would enable you to visit nearby places in the Silver Coast and maximise your time.
I’m not that keen on visiting Fátima so I’d be inclined to go for one that takes you to Alcobaça, the beach at Nazaré, and the nearby medieval village of Óbidos. This would be a good option: Óbidos, Nazaré & Alcobaça: Private Trip by Car
If you do fancy visiting the famous pilgrim city of Fátima, you might prefer this Fátima, Batalha, Alcobaça, and Óbidos Full Day Private Tour from Lisbon
Or you could stay overnight. We stayed at Challet Fonte Nova, a boutique hotel in a historical mansion with attractive grounds, and loved it.
Things to do in Alcobaça…
1. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Alcobaça Monastery
King Pedro I’s unwavering love for his forbidden sweetheart, Inês, who was murdered by his father’s henchmen, led to the exhumation of her body and posthumous coronation when he became king. He also ordered matching tombs to be built in Alcobaça monastery for their bodies.
These magnificently carved stone coffins lie opposite each other in the transept of Alcobaça monastery, feet facing. The notion being that when Pedro and Inês wake up in the afterlife, the first thing they will each see is their beloved.
The monastery itself is an impressive example of Cistercian and Gothic architecture with plenty of interesting features and additions over the centuries. Even without the draw of the famous tombs it’s worth visiting, especially if you’re a fan of stonework.
The church nave is simple yet dramatic with incredibly high columns supporting a vaulted ceiling.
The rest of the building contains several surprises, starting with the Room of the Kings. Standing on stone shelves high on the walls, above the hand painted azulejos depicting the history of Alcobaça monastery, statues of Portuguese kings provide a glimpse into changing royal fashions over the centuries.
This room leads onto the cloisters where you’ll find all manner of stone carvings, sculptures and inscriptions as well as a beautiful Gothic fountain.
Some of the rooms around the cloisters are open to the public, including one which is home to several angels and priests.
The refectory has a tall thin door on one wall which the monks apparently had to fit through in order to gain access to the dining room. If they were too fat for the door, they couldn’t eat. I wasn’t about to humiliate myself by standing anywhere near it so I got Mike to do the honours.
Bear in mind that he is exceedingly slim (some might say skinny) and even he’d have to approach the door sideways on to get through it!
The kitchen is impressive to say the least. Built in the 18th century, it features a gigantic tiled chimney which dominates the centre of the room.
Upstairs, the vast monks’ dormitory features a magnificent vaulted ceiling plus a viewing pane which looks down on the church so you can see the tombs of Pedro and Inês, as well as the congregation, during services.
The upper cloisters are fun for gargoyle spotters. I saw crocodiles, monkeys and strange species of cat eagles poised to dispose of rainwater.
Practicalities for visiting Alcobaça Monastery
A standard adult ticket is 6 euros. If you’re visiting other monuments in the area, you can buy a combined ticket which will also allow you to visit two other UNESCO sites, i.e. Batalha Monastery and the Convent of Christ in Tomar, for 15 euros.
Opening hours are: October to March, 9 am to 5 pm; April to September, 9 am to 7 pm (closed 1st Jan, 1st May, 25th December and Easter Sunday). Website: Mosteiro de Alcobaça
I love this place so much that I’ve included it as a stop in two of my Fully Managed Portugal Tours
2. See the Pedro and Inês story in ceramics
Alongside the Alcoa River, you’ll find a series of modern ceramic art pieces, housed in glass display cases and forming an open air art gallery.
Each one is a representation of the love story between Pedro and Inês as written by Luís Vaz de Camôes (Portugal’s version of Shakespeare) in the 16th century and a sonnet by the renowned 20th century author, Miguel Torga. The pieces are designed and created by local ceramics factories and artists.
3. Check out the street art around town
Contemporary urban art is not confined to ceramics; there are some fine examples of street art dotted around the town centre. You’ll see this if you follow the Pedro and Inês ceramic route.
This one is on the corner of Rua Alexandre Herculano.
4. Get romantic in the Garden of Love
Alcobaça is named for the two rivers which converge in its centre, the Alcoa and the Baça. At the place where they intertwine, there is a small garden dedicated to Pedro and Inês, with thrones carved from local limestone and a metal heart behind it.
The wall alongside the Jardim do Amor is full of small “love vaults” where local sweethearts can lock away their promises to each other.
5. Go souvenir shopping in Alcobaça
Again, the heavy tourist traffic means souvenirs galore. Every other shop on the main square and the streets leading to it has colourful ceramics, patterned shawls, cork handbags and other typical keepsakes. As well as cakes, there’s also ginja, the delicious cherry liqueur.
It’s not all tourist tat, though. Some of the shops sell original, quality crafts and quirky nik-naks.
There’s a delightful shop called Copo da Praia on Rua Dr. José Nascimento e Sousa, selling handmade crafts with a sea theme, where we bought a beautiful glass and driftwood piece.
Alcobaça was an important ceramic-producing town and has its own distinctive style. Look out for colourful decorative pieces with yellow, green, violet and red as well as traditional blue like these plates.
The colourful patterned fabrics that you’ll see in certain shops is called chita, and the Portuguese merchants who travelled to India in the 15th century brought it back to Portugal with them. Alcobaça chita typically has large stripes and lots of motifs. The Made in Alcobaça shop, opposite the monastery, has fabric by the metre or ready-made garments and household items.
If second hand and antiques are more your style, there’s an outdoor antiques and flea market in front of the monastery on Sunday mornings.
6. Shop for local produce at Alcobaça market
The local market is a hive of activity and colour and the perfect place to buy local produce such as Alcobaça apples as well as other goodies. There’s also a beautiful ceramic piece near the entrance which gives you an idea of how it might have looked a few decades ago..
7. Marvel at the grandeur of Alcobaça’s town hall
This romantic pink and white building, influenced by Swiss architecture, was originally built in the late 19th century as a family home. The owner, Francisco Oriol Pena, was friends with King Carlos and a nobleman.
When he died without heirs, the property was aquired by the local council and transformed into the city hall.
8. See the machinery at the former power station
The Alcoa and Baça rivers used to flow much more strongly than they do now. So much that the city built a power station at the point where they converged, harnessing the natural force of the water to generate electricity.
The building has been cleaned up and you can see some of the machinery that was used in this hydroelectric facility, which started producing power back in 1896!
9. Enjoy the views from Alcobaça Castle
Very little remains of the castle, which was reportedly built by the Goths. As well as its role in the defence of Alcobaça, it has also served as a prison and abbot’s residence. It’s not worth going up the hill to see the castle as such but the views are good.
10. Check out the wine museum
I still haven’t made time to do this but the Museu do Vinho (Wine Museum) is supposed to be excellent and offers guided visits from Tuesday to Sunday at 11 am and 3 pm for 4 euros. It’s a little way out of the centre so you may prefer to drive.
11. Indulge your sweet tooth at the International Convent Cakes and Liqueurs Fair
If you’re in the area mid-November, and have a sweet tooth, this is the place to be. Each November, Alcobaça hosts an international exhibition of pastries and liqueurs that originated in convents, like the ones below. Check the Facebook page for more information.
For other events throughout the year, including classical music and jazz concerts as well as art exhibitions and conferences, check out the official Alcobaça Monastery website. The Portuguese version of the agenda is more up to date and detailed than the English one and with the help of Google Translate, you should be able to work out whether anything coincides with your visit.
Eating and drinking in Alcobaça
People come to Alcobaça by the coachload to visit the monastery and have a little wander around the historical town centre so there are perhaps more eateries here than you would normally expect in a town this size.
One dish that we didn’t try, but is typical from Alcobaça is frango na púcara, i.e. chicken in a clay pot.
As for restaurants, I suggest you try Pratu’s for tapas and full meals or Taberna Sem Regras. If you have a car, it’s well worth the wiggly drive to Restaurant O Cabeço.
For a café with history and style head to Opera Café in the Cistercian archway just off Praça da República.
There are plenty of cafés opposite the monastery but if you want something more ‘local’, head to the town hall, where you’ll find Esplanada do Artur, ideal for a warm day.
Convent cakes rich in eggs, sugar and almonds are a speciality in Alcobaça. I sampled a few of the award-winning cakes from Alcoa bakery and this is my favourite, which I think is called the delicia do convento.
Where to stay in Alcobaça
If you decide to stay overnight, you have several accommodation options.
Challet Fonte Nova is romantic, stylish and delightful and a great example of what a small luxury hotel should be. There are rooms in the historical chalet and a new wing. Free parking, charming gardens and an onsite spa add to the appeal. See photos and check availability.
Vale d’Azenha Rural Hotel is midway between Alcobaça town and Nazaré. If you prefer a modern hotel in a rural setting with an outdoor pool, mountain views, this is ideal. Choose a room with balcony or private villa.
See other Alcobaça hotels and accommodation options
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This is one of my target places to move, and this tour definitely gave me a good feel for the place!
I really liked the feel of Alcobaça as a place to live.
We were there in June on our honeymoon and happened to wander through as Joao was singing at the Opera Cafe. He has the most magnificent contra-tenor voice and was on both Portugal Has Got Talent and Spain Has Got Talent. We also visited the Conventual Sweets shop. We enjoyed Alcobaca and would recommend it to anyone as a destination.
So glad you enjoyed it and what a treat to hear such a talented singer!
We were there on a damp day in July, Julie and it was remarkably peaceful. I quite liked what I saw but we were just passing through and didn’t see much more than the monastery.
We got there on a Sunday in August, just before lunch, so it was a bit busier. I imagine it’s fairly quiet throughout the off-peak periods, i.e. most of the year!
I was completely ignorant of the story of Pedro and Ines until I came to live in Extremadura, right against the Portuguese border.A local town, Alburquerque, holds a medieval festival every year which is centred around the marriage of Ines and Pedro,which they insist happened in secret during her time in exile there. The unlikely story is that the townspeople kept their secret for ten years, until the couple were “shopped” by an outsider who stumbled across the secret whilst staying in Alberquerque.This all sounds a little far fetched when copmpared to known historical fact, but it provides a great basis to turn the clock back for 4 days. It is made even more improbable when the nuptials are always attended with great pomp by the King of Portugal!
It did lead to me researching the real life Pedro and Ines, I had no idea that the story was so famous, so it filled a huge gap in my education
Like you, I had no idea how important Pedro and Inês are to Portugal’s history and how close to Portuguese hearts. It’s a fascinating, if tragic, story and as you already know, there are several versions and claims on the truth. I must visit Albuquerque during the festival one year and see it for myself.
The festival is usually around the middle of August. I am very often the only non Iberian there! But I am used to that.