If you’re looking for a quaint medieval town that’s not too far from Lisbon, try Óbidos. The various things to do in Óbidos itself include tasting the lip-smackingly good ginjinha de Obidos and exploring the pretty cobbled streets.
Most people visit Obidos as part of a day trip but I also enjoy the peaceful experience of staying overnight.
If you do stay longer, there are other attractions in this part of the Silver Coast, including the gorgeous beaches at Foz do Arelho lagoon and the pretty town of Caldas da Rainha.
1. Wander and marvel at medieval cottages
One of the greatest pleasures of visiting Óbidos is wandering around its cobbled lanes, especially away from the main thoroughfare that is Rua Direita.
Venture along any lane to find tiny whitewashed cottages trimmed with blue and yellow paint, often with low arched doorways or stone ledges and steps that have been there for centuries. Some have been here since the Moorish occupation which ended in the 12th century.
Tip: Look out for the sign off Rua do Facho pointing up a set of steps to the Miradouro (viewing terrace). As an incentive, Esplanada Miradouro café bar awaits you at the top.
Learn local medieval history as you explore the ancient streets on a 2-hour guided tour that starts and end in Óbidos – book this tour online.
2. Discover Obidos Castle and walk the walls
Unless you’re staying at the luxury Pousada inside the castle, you’ll only be able to admire this medieval fortification from the outside.
The Obidos Castle grounds are the site of many of the town’s annual events (see below), during which you’ll need to pay to enter. Otherwise, you should be able to go through the grand arched gateway and walk around the gardens.
If the weather or lack of safety rails don’t put you off, you can walk the castle walls at any time of year but be careful! The full circuit is 1.5 km and offers fabulous views of the cute historical centre and surrounding countryside.
3. Experience a themed festival in Óbidos
As if the charms of this pretty town weren’t enough to attract visitors, Óbidos knows how to host a good festival. Every year, you’ll find the castle grounds and public squares are taken over by fun events such as the Chocolate Festival, Opera Festival, Medieval Fair, or Christmas Village (Vila Natal).
It can get a little crowded when these events are on, especially at weekends, but even then it’s possible to find quiet cobbled backstreets if you can’t cope with the sea of people on Rua Direita.
Tip: If you can go to these festivals on a Friday instead of Saturday or Sunday it should be calmer but check the programmes and schedules first to make sure you don’t miss anything.
4. Appreciate the 16th century aqueduct
One of the first things you’ll see as soon as you arrive in Óbidos is the aqueduct. It was a gift from Queen Catherine of Austria, (wife of Portugal’s King João III) and commissioned in 1573.
She very kindly sold much of her land around Óbidos to pay for it and it supplied drinking water to the town, even surviving the great earthquake of 1755. That’s quite something considering it’s 3 km long and is still intact.
Its splendour is a little diminished these days as the area in front is used as a huge car park.
Tip: If you have a meal or drink at Jamón Jamón, you’ll get great views of the aqueduct from the outdoor seating area.
5. Enter the old town via Porta da Vila
Porta da Vila is the double-arched main entrance to the old town and is richly decorated with 18th century tiles and a painted ceiling. There’s often an elderly lady sitting here doing and selling embroidery.
6. Peek inside the charming Capela de Sao Martinho
This small gothic chapel was built in 1331 and is Óbidos’ only surviving completely medieval building. It is usually empty but you may find something displayed there during special occassions such as this sculpture.
7. See azulejos at Igreja Santa Maria
The parish church of Santa Maria is in the square just below Rua Direita. This is where the young King Afonso V and his child bride and cousin Isabel I were married in the mid 15th century. (When I tried to check ages and dates, I found so much conflicting information that I’m reluctant to pick any numbers.)
What’s indisputable is the quality of the painted barrel ceilings and the blue and white painted azulejos that decorate the walls.
Before leaving the square, take a moment to notice the 15th century pillory to which wrongdoers would be tied naked for public humiliation and punishment.
8. Enjoy the patterns at Igreja da Misercordia
The street that leads off to the right of the square holds the 16th century Igreja da Misericordia, also worth a look for its tiles and painted columns. The adjacent 16th century tower was originally part of the castle but now offers accommodation.
9. Seek sanctuary near Óbidos
The massive Baroque church you can see from the town walls is actually a sanctuary, namely Senhor Jesus da Pedra. The name stems from the legendary stone cross bearing a sculpture of Jesus which is located near the altar.
According to the most popular version of the story, during severe droughts in the 1730s the long-lost 15th century cross was rediscovered by a local farmworker. The cross “demanded” that he worship it and as soon as the labourer obliged, the long-awaited rains came.
When I visited, the doors were closed so I was only able to admire the building from the outside. In theory, its open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 to 12:30 and 2:30 to either 5 or 7 pm, depending on the time of year.
10. Travel back in time at the Municipal Museum
Located on Rua Direita, Óbidos’ main street, this museum displays the town’s artistic heritage from many centuries. The highlights are paintings by the great Josefa de Óbidos, one of the most prolific Baroque artists in Portugal, and André Reinoso, both painters from the 1600s.
You’ll find all kinds of pieces of sacred art previously displayed in the town’s churches. Besides Roman artefacts and baroque furniture, look out for French and English weapons from the Napoleonic Wars. A battle ensued a few kilometres from Óbidos and you can see more of its collection here.
Opening hours: 9:30am to 1:00om – 2:00pm to 5:30pm.
Closed on Monday.
11. Understand why Óbidos is a UNESCO Creative City
As you wander around Óbidos one of the things you may notice are books. For such a small town, population 3,100, you’ll find half a million books within its walls. You can see them in a church, an old fire department, and an old wine cellar as well as the Mercado Biologico de Obidos, an organic grocery store with shelves full of books.
And don’t forget, The Literary Man Hotel is the only literary hotel in Portugal and one of the few in the world.
In 2015, Óbidos was classified by UNESCO as a Creative City of Literature, the only one in Portugal. Since then an annual FOLIO International Literature Festival takes place, attracting the likes of Salman Rushdie and other literary figures.
For details of times and dates, check here.
12. Drink the famous Ginjinha de Óbidos
One of my favourite Portuguese liqueurs is the cherry brandy called ginjinha and the one from Óbidos is renowned for its quality.
Ginjinha bars may be popular in Lisbon but there’s no escaping them in Óbidos, especially during festival periods. If you buy it from a streetside stall, you can either have it served in a chocolate cup which you get to eat or in a plastic or ceramic keepsake cup.
The atmospheric Bar Ibn Errik Rex on Rua Direita serves a generous glassful of ginjinha. It’s also a good place to try flame-grilled chouriço.
13. Go souvenir shopping in Óbidos
Among the general tourist tat, you’ll find some excellent quality crafts and souvenirs in Óbidos, especially on and around Rua Direita.
One of my all time favourite craft shops is Olaria de Obidos, which sells modern ceramics and quirky artworks. Ana Alpoim’s is another great find for fashion and unusual accessories – it usually has a decorated bicycle outside.
Book and healthy food lovers should head for Mercado Biológico de Óbidos, which sells organic produce in a book-lined store.
If you don’t have room in your luggage for gifts, find out which Portuguese souvenirs you can also buy online.
14. Explore the beaches near Óbidos
The lagoon-side beach at Foz do Arelho is possibly one of my favourite beaches in Portugal. Unlike the waves on the windy ocean beach next to it, the water in the lagoon is calm and slightly warmer than the sea. It’s still patrolled by lifeguards in summer and is understandably popular with families.
If you’re hungry, there are several beachfront bars. I’ve eaten twice at the glass-fronted Cais do Praia and would go back.
Baleal beach, near Peniche, is another good option, especially if you like interesting rock formations. See this post for more information.
15. Use Óbidos as a base for exploring close by
There are many places to explore in this part of the silver coast and using Óbidos as a base is a great idea. The spa town of Caldas da Rainha is only 7 km away and just a 23 minute drive will get you to the coast at Peniche.
With a car you could try this 10 day Central Portugal road trip and really get to know the region.
Staying overnight in Óbidos
While it’s possible to ‘do’ Óbidos in a couple of hours, I’m all for slow travel. I’ve stayed overnight a few times, mainly because of the festivals, and the atmosphere changes at night.
During events, the streets and bars are still lively but during the week, it’s almost deserted. If that appeals to you, consider staying inside the ancient walls.
There are plenty of accommodation options in and around Óbidos.
Getting to Óbidos
Óbidos is about an hour north of Lisbon, depending on how you travel. If you are driving, don’t bother trying to drive into the old part of town inside the citadel walls.
You’ll find several parking areas just outside the walls.
Public transport from Lisbon to Óbidos
There is a train station but if you’re coming from Lisbon, it’s quicker and easier to take the bus unless you’re driving or coming on an organised tour.
The Rodo Tejo Verde (Green) bus from Campo Grande station takes just over an hour.
Organised tours that include Óbidos
There are several tours from Lisbon that include a couple of hours in Obidos as well as tours of nearby towns and sights.
Try this private tour, which also includes time in Fatima, Batalha and Nazare.
If you want to avoid Fatima this Óbidos historic village and Mafra Palace Private Tour gives you your own professional guide.
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