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The Ultimate Guide to Things to Do in Óbidos, Portugal
The medieval walled town of Óbidos, Portugal is a delightful place to visit. There are many things to do in Óbidos, and the town has a long and illustrious history dating back more than 2,000 years.
It’s been ruled by Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and finally by the Kings and Queens of Portugal. In fact, in the year 1210, King Afonso II gave the town to his queen as a wedding present.
That started a tradition that continued right up until the 19th century. Óbidos is often referred to as the Vila das Rainhas, or “Town of the Queens”.
Thanks to this royal patronage by the queens, Óbidos is blessed with an impressive architectural heritage that has thankfully been well preserved. If you’re wondering what to do in Óbidos, look no further!
Most visitors just take a quick stroll along the Rua Direita, and maybe along the town walls if they dare. But there’s so much more to see! Since moving to Lisbon in 2017, I’ve been to Óbidos several times and have thoroughly explored the town.
In this article, I’m going to share with you all my favorite Óbidos things to do, including attractions that very few people know about!
Things to Do in Óbidos
These Óbidos Portugal attractions are listed in the order in which you will come across them, if starting from the bus stop or the car park.
When arriving by bus or car, you’ll see the imposing city walls on one side of you and the arches of the aqueduct snaking off into the distance in the other direction. Take a moment to admire the aqueduct before heading up into the town.
In total it’s six kilometers long, although only three kilometers are above ground. Its construction was funded by the queen in the 16th century to provide the town with a reliable water supply.
She even sold some of her own lands around Óbidos to pay for it. This is one of many examples of how Óbidos benefited from the patronage of the queens over the centuries.
Igreja de São João Baptista (Church of St. John the Baptist)
Almost directly across the street from the aqueduct is this small church, now converted into a museum. It was first founded in 1309, again by one of Portugal’s queens.
The church building now houses the parochial museum of Óbidos, which holds temporary exhibits. Just behind the church is the peaceful, contemplative cemetery where the town’s former residents are buried.
Cruzeiro da Memória (Memorial Cross)
We’ve got one more thing to see before heading inside the town walls. Continue along Rua da Porta da Vila, away from the town, and at the intersection with Estrada da Capeleira you’ll come to a tiny chapel of sorts.
This Manueline chapel was erected to commemorate Afonso Henriques’ defeat of the Moors in 1148. It’s said to be built right on the spot where his soldiers camped before laying siege to the town.
The miniature chapel is just large enough for a stone cross to fit inside, which you can see if you peek through the window.
On one side of the cross is the figure of Jesus crucified, and on the other is the scene of the Pietà, with a grieving Mary holding her son’s dead body.
Porta da Vila (Town Gate)
OK, now it’s finally time to turn back around and head through the town’s main gate, known as the Porta da Vila. It’s not only the main gate leading into the walled town, but it also doubles as a chapel. The blue and white azulejo tiles decorating the upper story are from the 17th century and depict scenes from the passion of Christ.
You’ll sometimes see buskers or other street performers here. I once saw a man doing a very convincing impersonation of Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings.
But even more entertaining is when tourists unknowingly attempt to drive their rental car through the gate. Don’t try this! The two openings on either side are catty-corner, forcing anyone who enters to make a zigzag maneuver.
This was intended to make it difficult for attacking troops to get through, but it’s equally effective against cars!
These imposing, crenelated fortifications completely surround the town. You’ll see a staircase near the Porta da Vila, where you can climb up on the walls and walk all the way around them.
I highly recommend doing this, as it offers unparalleled views of the red roofs and whitewashed houses of the town. And you can also look out at the countryside dotted with dilapidated windmills.
Be warned, though, that there are no handrails, and climbing the walls is at your own risk. If you have a fear of heights, you may want to think twice about this one.
Once you enter the Porta da Vila, straight ahead of you is Rua Direita, the main street of Óbidos. It’s filled with souvenir shops selling all kinds of trinkets. You’ll also find plenty of bars and cafés serving the famous ginjinha de Óbidos (more about that below).
While certainly worth walking down at least once, Rua Direita can get rather congested with crowds, especially in the middle of the day. So don’t forget to explore the quieter side streets too. You’ll probably find this more rewarding, unless you’re just here for the shopping.
Ginja de Obidos
This liqueur is made from a type of sour cherry called “ginja” in Portuguese. The liqueur is also known as ginja, or sometimes in the diminutive form as ginjinha. To make this drink, the cherries are infused with alcohol for several months.
Even though the ginja cherries themselves are sour, the resulting drink is quite sweet, as plenty of sugar is added. A more modern twist, which has become really popular, is to drink the ginjinha from a small, edible chocolate cup. The dark chocolate variety is the most common and is usually vegan (I’ve never come across one that wasn’t).
Ginjinha actually originated in Lisbon, but it’s strongly associated with Óbidos as well. So much so, that just about everyone who visits Óbidos tries at least one shot of ginjinha while they’re here. Take your pick from the bars and stalls lining Rua Direita.
Pilar Camoneano (Camões Pillar)
You’ll find this commemorative pillar just inside the Porta da Vila on the righthand side of Rua Direita. It was designed by architect Raúl Lino in 1932 to honor Luís de Camões, Portugal’s greatest literary figure.
You can think of Camões as the Portuguese equivalent of Shakespeare in Anglophone societies, though he is arguably even more highly revered than the Bard of Avon.
Mercado Biológico de Óbidos (Organic Market)
The most surprising thing about this organic market is that it sells more books than produce. In this large space, three of the four walls are covered by bookshelves, with just a small area at the front for a few food items.
Still, it’s a good place to stock up on snacks. You can find chocolate bars and other vegan treats here, as well as jams, oils, natural cosmetics, etc.
So why all the books? Well, Óbidos is quite the literary town, and in fact, this is just 1 of 14 bookstores here! Under an initiative called “Óbidos, Literary Town”, old buildings that had fallen into disrepair were refurbished and turned into bookstores.
I’ll tell you where one more is if you keep reading, and then you can do some exploring to hunt down the rest.
Igreja de São Pedro (Church of St. Peter)
Dedicated to St. Peter, this church was heavily damaged in the notorious 1755 earthquake that destroyed Lisbon and the surrounding areas. It was subsequently rebuilt, and now only a few vestiges of its original Gothic façade remain.
Josefa de Óbidos, the town’s most famous local artist, is buried inside this church. She asked for her tomb to be placed here so that she could be close to the image of Our Lady of the Rosary, which she viewed as a kind of spiritual godmother.
The church is free to enter; just remember that it closes from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm.
Capela de São Martinho (St. Martin’s Chapel)
Directly opposite the Igreja de São Pedro is this small, family burial chapel founded in 1331. It’s a simple structure with a lovely vaulted ceiling. You’ll find three tombs lining the walls in niches on the inside, and two more medieval tombs on the outside.
Entry is free, and there are no set opening hours.
Museu Municipal de Óbidos (Municipal Museum)
This small museum is free to enter and is worth a quick look for its collection of 16th and 17th-century paintings. Highlights include works by André Reinoso, Portugal’s first Baroque painter, and Josefa de Óbidos, the town’s most famous resident.
Josefa was born in Spain but moved to Óbidos when she was four years old. A prolific artist, she created more than 150 pieces of art in her lifetime. In addition to painting, Josefa also experimented with printing, engraving and clay sculpture.
This stone column stands in front of the Igreja de Santa Maria on the righthand side of Rua Direita. In Portuguese, a “pelourinho” is a pillory or whipping post, where criminals were publicly humiliated and beaten.
You can see these stone columns in many cities around Portugal and parts of the former Portuguese empire. The pelourinho in front of the Porto cathedral, for example, is a beautiful twisted column, and few visitors suspect that it had such a sinister purpose.
And in Salvador, Brazil, the word “Pelourinho” has become synonymous with the whole colonial district of the town, centered around the Largo do Pelourinho or “Whipping Post Square”.
Igreja de Santa Maria (Church of St. Mary)
This is the most important church in Óbidos and has a rich and complicated history. Originally a Visigothic church stood on this spot, then the Moors converted it into a mosque when they took over.
When Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, reconquered the town, he destroyed the mosque and ordered that a church be built on top of its remains.
This was a common practice among victorious Christian armies, just like when Ivan the Terrible destroyed the mosque of Kazan in 1552. Except that in that case, a new mosque was eventually rebuilt on the same spot in 2005.
The church façade was under scaffolding last time I visited, but hopefully by the time you read this it will be visible in all its glory once again. Its standout feature is the image of Saint Mary above the doorway.
On the inside, 17th-century azulejos adorn the walls. Don’t miss the painting of the Mystic Betrothal of Saint Catherine, the most famous work by Josefa de Óbidos.
The church is open to the public and entry is free, but like other churches, it closes midday from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm.
Museu Abílio de Mattos e Silva
This charming museum is located inside what used to be the town prison. Abílio de Mattos e Silva was an artist born in 1908 who lived most of his life in Óbidos. He was interested in all kinds of arts, not just painting but also theater, opera and even puppetry.
This quote by Abílio beautifully explains why he loved Óbidos so much (and why I think you will too):
“Here it is, the Óbidos where I lived, a little irregular, but that is the Óbidos I perceived.
There is no order in this display. There is, however, the urge to see everything at the same time, here, there, not having seen this, but wanting to see that; to walk, to turn right, to turn left, to leave one corner and enter where we have just left; to have no method, to just look and live; to slip on the small cobbled stones, suddenly finding picturesque corners, a portal here, a window there, the colorful vegetation that falls from each wall.
To climb the castle walls, to look from above at the streets that we had seen before, but that now offer us an unexpected view, the roofs that are uneven, the Moorish roof tiles, aged, with red patchwork, different chimneys; backyards pretending to be gardens, old trees pretending to be orchards, grapevines wishing to become vineyards … the churches, the chapels … all carefully adorned with valuable silvers, preciously brocaded garments, beautiful blue tiles and some paintings by Josefa de Óbidos, mixed with other equally beautiful ones.
Surrounding this Óbidos, hugging it, and embracing it like a mother who defends a dear daughter, we find the old black castle walls, which contrast with the white-washed houses and marry with the fierce and sinister castle, an old guardian, but also a caring father, always alert with everything that is around him.
I leave you with my beautiful Óbidos. Here, you will find some of the things that no longer exist, but that I still found, and wish to show you.”
Entry to the museum is free.
Wine Bar Arco da Cadeia
Hidden underneath the arch next to the Abílio de Mattos e Silva museum, this is my favorite place to stop in for a drink. It’s not the cheapest bar in town, but it’s worth the extra euro or two for the fantastic medieval atmosphere.
Suits of armor and other historic artifacts decorate the walls, and stepping through the arched doorway feels like stepping back in time.
Igreja de São Tiago (Church of St. James)
Located right next to the castle entrance, at one time this church was directly connected to the inside of the castle. It was a private chapel for the exclusive use of the royal family when they visited Óbidos.
If you think you’ve seen enough churches already, take a look inside this one anyway. Surprise! It’s now one of the 14 bookstores of Óbidos.
Most of the books are in Portuguese, but they do carry a few English titles. And it’s definitely worth popping in just to see all the books displayed amid the stained-glass windows and the marble altarpiece.
Castelo de Óbidos (Obidos Castle)
By far the most impressive structure in Óbidos, a fortification of some sort has stood here since ancient Roman times. The castle we see today was built by the Moors when they ruled the Iberian Peninsula. It was then taken over by the Christians who defeated them in 1148 and created the kingdom of Portugal.
After that, it became not just a defensive fortress but a castle for the royal family. The castle was badly damaged during the 1755 earthquake and lay in ruins until the 20th century, when it was converted into a pousada.
Similar to paradores in Spain, pousadas in Portugal are government-run luxury hotels. This was the first one to be established inside a historic building.
In 2007, Óbidos Castle was chosen as one of the seven wonders of Portugal. It holds this title alongside world-famous buildings like the Tower of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery, both in Lisbon.
Santuário do Senhor Jesus da Pedra (Sanctuary of the Stone Jesus)
Now that you’ve explored the walled town, take a short walk down to the road that connects Óbidos with Caldas da Rainha. You can’t miss this huge Baroque sanctuary, built in 1747.
On display above the high altar is a stone cross with a very unusual image of the crucified Christ carved into it. This cross is an object of immense popular devotion among the local people.
It was previously housed in a nearby hermitage and had been all but forgotten. But, in the 18th century when the image was credited with miraculously ending a drought, this huge sanctuary was built especially as a place for it to be venerated.
The hexagonal shape of the sanctuary’s interior makes it one of the most interesting Baroque buildings in the country. It’s also unusual that such a monumental building is isolated in the countryside, without any other buildings around it.
Events in Óbidos
Óbidos hosts several interesting festivals throughout the year. The castle grounds make the perfect venue, especially for the medieval fair.
Óbidos Medieval Festival
The Medieval Fair is held for 16 days sometime in July and August. On the agenda are historical reenactments, dancers, and musicians dressed in medieval garb. It’s good fun, although vegans and vegetarians might be put off by the sight of the pig being roasted on a spit.
Chocolate Festival (Feira do Chocolate Óbidos)
A more veg-friendly option is the Chocolate Festival, held sometime between March and May each year. All kinds of chocolate treats are sold, some of which are dairy-free. Culinary workshops are also scheduled, along with various types of entertainment.
Vila Natal (Christmas Town)
As you would expect, this one is held in December and January and is aimed mostly at young children. It’s a fun day out for the whole family, though, and will get you in the Christmas spirit!
Bookloving Óbidos naturally has a literary festival too. It’s typically held in October of each year.
Want to see more of Portugal? Be sure to check out all my other guides and travel tips for the country.
- The Best and Worst Museums in Porto
- The Incredible Street Art of Quinta do Mocho in Lisbon
- Top Vegan and Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in Porto
- How Porto Inspired the Harry Potter Books
- Surviving Portugal's Hunting Capital as a Vegan
- 25 Awesome Things to Do in Braga
- Where to Find the Best Street Art in Braga
- Top Vegan Restaurants in Lisbon as Picked By a Local
- Restaurants in Lisbon that Both Vegans and Non-Vegans Will Love
- Top 7 Experiences in Lisbon to Put on Your Bucket List
- Where to Eat as a Vegan in Évora, Portugal
- Vegan Eating Guide to Faro, Portugal
- Going on Retreat in Northern Portugal
Apart from the ginja, Óbidos is not really the place to come for culinary tourism, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan. In the past, I’ve had a tough time finding a decent meal in this town. A new restaurant has opened recently, though, which I’m excited to try next time!
Avocado Coffee & Healthy Food
This is the healthy, veg-friendly dining option that Óbidos so desperately needed. I was looking forward to eating here on my vegan tour of Portugal in March 2020, but of course, that tour was canceled because of the pandemic.
So, while I’ve not yet had a chance to eat here myself, it definitely seems like the best available option. Prices are quite affordable, and you can dine in the courtyard to the sounds of soothing jazz music.
Vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters are all catered for. Avocado is located just outside the town walls, near the Igreja de São João Baptista and the cemetery.
If Avocado is closed, then this would probably be my next choice. It’s an Italian restaurant with a few veg pasta options, and of course, the pizza can always be ordered without cheese.
The first time I ate here, I was really stoked to find out that their spaghetti with pesto is cheese-free. But then I brought a vegan group here, and the woman running the place was extremely rude when I tried to confirm which dishes were vegan.
Even though the food is not bad, I personally won’t eat here again because of the rude reception our group was given.
Óbidos Portugal Hotels
Most people visit Óbidos on a day trip from Lisbon, but I recommend staying here overnight if possible. As you can see from the list of things to do in Óbidos above, there’s plenty to keep you entertained!
And you’ll also be able to enjoy the town peacefully in the early morning and late evening, when all the daytrippers have disappeared.
Since I now live nearby in Lisbon, I haven’t had the occasion to stay overnight in Óbidos recently. But there’s one Óbidos hotel where I would really love to stay one day. Actually, make that two Óbidos hotels.
The Literary Man Óbidos
Originally a convent, this historic building has been converted into the largest literary hotel in the world.
Bibliophiles won’t want to miss this chance to be surrounded by books for a night. There’s also a gin bar and a lounge with an antique fireplace.
Pousada Castelo de Óbidos (Obidos Castle Hotel)
Have you ever dreamed about spending the night in a castle? Well, you can make your fairytale dreams come true in Óbidos.
The famous castle has now been converted into a luxury hotel with 14 rooms and suites. Each room is named after a king or queen who stayed in the town. Just be aware when booking that only about half the rooms are actually inside the castle, while the rest are located in a newer wing.
Map of Things to Do in Óbidos Portugal
The below map includes all the things to do in Óbidos, hotels in Óbidos and restaurants in Óbidos mentioned in this guide. To add it to your Google Maps account, just click on the star next to the title.
Places to Visit as an Óbidos Day Trip
While most people visit Óbidos on a day trip from Lisbon, there are actually several nearby sights that are worth visiting as a day trip from Óbidos. This is yet another reason to base yourself here for at least one night.
Nazaré is a beach town that’s known for its gigantic waves. It draws in surfers who want to challenge themselves on the biggest waves in the world. If you just want to see the waves crashing against the cliffs, the lighthouse is a good viewing spot.
It’s also worth taking the tram up to O Sítio, a hilltop with lovely views of the beach.
Caldas da Rainha
This town’s name means “hot springs of the queen”, so you can see that the historical connection with the queens of Portugal is strong here too. It’s the home of the oldest thermal springs hospital in the world, where water treatments are combined with modern medicine treatments. You can visit the old swimming pool where Queen Leonor used to bathe.
Caldas a Rainha is famous not just for wellness but also for ceramics. Follow the Rota Bordalliana route around the town to walk in the footsteps of Portugal’s famous ceramic artist, Bordallo Pinheiro.
Not far from the town of Óbidos is Óbidos Lagoon, the largest saltwater lagoon in Portugal. It’s a good place to try your hand at windsurfing or kitesurfing, and there are also some lovely beaches around the town of Foz do Arelho.
Despite its natural beauty, this area is still largely undeveloped and is frequented mostly by local tourists.
How to Get to Óbidos from Lisbon
Buses from Lisbon to Óbidos
I recommend taking the bus to Óbidos, as it’s much faster than the train and also leaves more frequently. The Lisbon to Óbidos bus route is called Rapida Verde operated by a company called Rodotejo.
It leaves from the Campo Grande station in Lisbon, which is connected to both the yellow and green lines of the metro (subway). Allow yourself some time to find the right bus stop, as it’s not that obvious.
You’ll find the stop on the street called Rua Actor Antonio Silva. Note that Caldas da Rainha is the final stop on this line, so that’s probably the name that will be displayed at the front of the bus.
Check here for the latest schedule, and note that buses are much less frequent on the weekends than on weekdays. Tickets are purchased from the driver and cost 7.95 euros each way. The journey takes about one hour.
Lisbon to Óbidos Train
You’ll save both time and money by taking the bus, but if you really want to take the Lisbon to Óbidos train, it’s technically possible. You can catch the train from the Santa Apolónia, Rossio or Sete Rios stations in Lisbon.But check the schedule carefully, as not all trains stop at all stations! The journey takes more than two hours and costs about nine euros each way.