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Obidos Portugal things to do - the ultimate travel guide


Obidos

The beautiful small town of óbidos, is located in central Portugal about an hour north of Lisbon. It's known for its incredibly well-preserved medieval architecture and white houses trimmed with blue or yellow. The historic castle and city walls surrounding the entire town center add to the charm of this village while the narrow cobblestone streets and historic churches make you feel like you've stepped back in time. In 1951 the entire village including the castle was classified as a  national monument and in 2007 it was voted as one of Portugal's seven wonders. This is the perfect place to get a break from the bustling city of Lisbon and enjoy Portuguese culture at a more relaxed pace.  In this travel guide we will go over the best things to do, when to go, how to get there and more.


​A little history:


óbidos view

The history of Obidos dates back to Portugal's Celtic period before the town was taken over by the Romans where it was known as Eburopitesca. There have even been discoveries of Roman baths and forum nearby. However, the town really flourished after the Moors conquered the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century AD. Under Moorish rule, Obidos became a prosperous commercial center. During this period, the white-washed houses and azulejo tilework that give it so much character emerged. 


houses in obidos

In 1148, the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, captured Obidos from the Moors after a lengthy siege. In the 13th century, King Dinis gifted Obidos to his wife, Queen Isabel. This tradition of gifting Obidos continued for centuries with Portuguese queens and nobility receiving the town and its profits as part of a royal dowry. Because of this, Obidos remained in the care and attention of the monarchy, which helped drive the town's growth and also helped preserve its beauty and charm. Obidos's iconic medieval architecture emerged under royal patronage during this period between the 12 century and the 17th century when it transformed into one of Portugal's most fortified and enchanting towns.


Today about 3000 people still live within its walls. Many of them are dedicated to continuing the legacy of traditional goods and handicrafts. Ceramics, hand-woven rugs, leather, hand-made bags and lace are just some of the good produced and sold by the locals in the shops in town. 


town of obidos

How much time to spend in Obidos

Obidos is a popular day trip from Lisbon. While you can certainly see the sights in a day, the best way to experience this historic town is to stay the night. That way you get to experience the town when most of the tourists leave. I always think the best time to wander the narrow streets and picturesque lanes of a European small village is in the evening or first thing in the morning when you have the place to yourself.


Top things to do


óbidos walls

Castle of óbidos (Castelo de óbidos)

One of the first things to do when you visit this medieval city is to explore the iconic óbidos castle and town walls, which date back to the 12th century. Although the first castle was built here during the Roman times, the medieval castle you see today was started during the Morrish occupation beginning in 1148 with renovations and revisions by Portuguese kings throughout the years. The main towers were built in the late 14th century. The castle served both as a defensive structure as well as a Royal palace. The main building is now a luxury hotel


Obidos castle

The city walls

Walking the 40 foot high medieval walls of óbidos is a unique experience. The stone walls completely surround the entire town. This is a great place to get an overview of the town and have beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Beware though, while parts of the wall butt up against houses, much of the walls do not have any type of hand rail and the path can be uneven. If you are afraid of heights or have little children be very cautious. 


Obidos walls

Inside the walls

The Rua Direita  is the main street running through the heart of the old town inside the castle walls. It runs from the main gateway up to the castle. The street is lined with whitewashed houses trimmed with blue or yellow. It is said that the thick white walls help to keep the heat out and the blue and yellow trim is to represent the colors of the royal coat of arms.


Obidos street

Also along this main street are souvenir shops, restaurants, and other historic buildings. This is the place to find traditional handicrafts and other gifts or mementos. It's delightful to wander along and soak in the medieval atmosphere. Make sure to explore the side streets and back alleys as well to find all the best photo spots and hidden gems. 


shop in obidos

Porta da Vila

This iconic arched city gate dates back to the 16th century. It is the main entrance to the town and leads into the old town center. This town gate is made up of two staggered archways that helped prevent a cavalry charge. Between the two arches is a balcony decorated with gorgeous 18th century blue and white azulejo tiles that show the Passion of Christ. The painted ceiling above the tiles show the crown of thorns. 


Obidos gate

Church of Saint Mary (Igreja de Santa Maria)

The church of Santa Maria is the main church in Obidos. It was originally a Visigothic temple, then a mosque before it became a church again. It was heavily damaged in an earthquake so much of the current church dates to the 1600s. The wooden ceiling is beautifully painted and the walls are covered in blue and white tiles. This church was the location of a very important event in the history of Portugal. In 1411, it hosted the wedding of the 10-year-old King Alfonso and his 8-year-old cousin Isabella. Outside of the church is Praça de Santa Maria which is the main square of the town. 


The Church of St. James

The Church of St. James, also called the church of Santiago, is a unique attraction in the town. This church was commissioned in 1186 and led directly into the castle. The royal family would use this chapel when visiting the town and many pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela would stop here. Today, however, it is a bookstore selling books mostly in Portugeuse, although you can find some in English.  


The church of St. Peter (Igreja de São Pedro)

Originally Gothic, this church was heavily damaged in the earthquakes in 1521 and 1755. Most of the church that stands today is from the 18th century. The gold covered alterpiece inside is a beautiful example of Portuguese Baroque. One interesting facts about this church is that one of the world's most famous women artists is buried here. Josefa De Óbidos (sometimes spelled “Josefa D’Óbidos”), was a 17th century artist who moved to Obidos when she was 4. Raised by an artist father, she became a famous artist in her own right with works found in many of the churches in the town as well as museums throughout the world, including the Louvre. It was extremely rare to be a female artist in the 17th century so the fact that she was quite prestigious is remarkable. 


church of St Peter obidos

Óbidos Aqueduct

This aqueduct was commissioned by Queen Catherine of Austria in 1573 to bring water to Obidos from a nearby spring. The queen paid for the aqueduct herself by selling some of her lands. The aqueduct spans almost 2 miles. You will see it as soon as you are close to Obidos. The town parking lot is right beside it.


Obidos aqueduct

Obidos Ginja

Famous in Obidos is the liqueur made from the local sour cherries called ginja. It originated with monks in the 17th century who mixed brandy with Marello cherries. It is usually served at room temperature and sometimes it is flavored with vanilla or cinnamon. It is commonly served in an edible chocolate cup. There are multiple bars on the main street where you can try a shot or you can buy a bottle at the shops. 


Besides Ginja, make sure to sample some other local cuisine. Obidos has some great restaurants serving traditional Portuguese dishes. Arroz de marisco, for example, consists of seafood such as prawns mussels or squid in a broth served over rice. Another traditional Portuguese dish to try is Brisas do lis. This is a dessert using egg yolks, sugar and ground almonds then baked into a cake and served in paper cups. Sardines are also very popular in Portugal and are eaten in many different ways and used in a variety of dishes. There are whole stores dedicated only to sardines. Of course, make sure to also try the Pastel de natas. These egg tarts in a flaky crust are found all over Portugal and are absolutely delicious. It is common do dust them with powdered sugar or cinnamon. 


Obidos food

Festivals

Obidos is host to four famous festivals throughout the year attracting thousands of visitors. The international chocolate festival is held for a week every Spring. There is always a different theme inspiring the chocolate sculptures that are on display. There is chocolate tasting from all over the world. There are also chocolate workshops and classes as well as competitions, live music and concerts. A ticket is needed to enter the festival, which is in the center of the walls. If you are staying in town, however, you are already inside the walls so you don't have to buy a ticket. This is what happened to us when we were staying there. We didn't know it was during the chocolate festival. The town was very busy with a fun, lively atmosphere. It seemed like most of the participants were local families out enjoying the festival, not tourists. It was a great experience to be able to participate in a local festival. Of course, if you are looking for a more relaxed time, try to avoid the festival times as they are extremely busy. It did make it a little difficult to see some things. There was a huge tent in front of St. Mary's church, for example, so we couldn't see it or go in.


chocolate festival obidos

The Medieval festival is held every July for a few weeks. The festival recreates the middle ages in Obidos. There is a medieval market as well as knights, fortune tellers, musicians and performers such as jugglers and jesters. Medieval food such as hog roasted on a pit, rabbit and quail is available at several stalls. Medieval weapons and tools are on display and a costumed parade winds its way through the streets. You can also watch jousting knights and there are even live animals such as donkeys, falcons and snakes. This festival is held on the large terrace behind the castle. There is an extra cost to enter. 


The literary festival (FOLIO) began in 2015. It takes place over 11 days in late September or early October and features exhibits, masterclasses, book presentations, concerts, seminars and more. There is an annual theme and events take place in different locations throughout town such as book stores and galleries. Óbidos has a rich literary history with UNESCO even naming it a literary city in 2015. Besides the bookstore located in the church of St. James, there are other numerous bookstores in town, many in unique and interesting locations such as an old wine cellar, a market, or the Literary man hotel which features over 40,000 books.


bookstore obidos

The Christmas festival, or Vila Natal, runs every December often through the first week in January (but dates vary). During this time the whole town of Obidos transforms into a Christmas theme park with decorations, shows and events. There is a Santa Claus house, elves, many Christmas trees and thousands of lights. Although the whole town decorates, the official festival takes place on the castle grounds located behind the castle. There is an additional cost to enter the festival.  There are magic shows, concerts, puppet shows and performances of "The Nutcracker".


Getting to Obidos


parking lot obidos

Transportation Options

By car:

Obidos is an hour drive from from via the A8 highway. There is a parking lot located outside of the city walls. If you are visiting during the summer months arrive early to find closer parking as it can get very busy. 


Public transportation:

If taking public transport, you can catch a direct bus to Obidos from the Lisbon Campo Grande bus station to the Rua de Praca stop in Obidos. Buses run multiple times a day and take just over an hour. The prices are very reasonable as well. 


There is a direct train from Lisbon to Obidos as well. It runs from Santa Apolonia station in Lisbon to the Obidos train station. It does take quite a bit longer though at almost two and a half hours. 


Taxis and ride shares are an option as well. They will be more expensive but very convenient. 


óbidos street

Many visitors choose to visit Obidos as part of an organized half or full-day guided tour from Lisbon. This allows you to sit back and have transportation and sometimes a guide included. Popular tours combine Obidos with stops in nearby Nazare, Batalha or other destinations.


Best Times to Visit


house in obidos

The best times to visit Obidos are spring (March-May) and fall (September-October). You'll encounter mild temperatures in the 60s-70s, lower crowds, and you may catch local festivals and events.


Summers can be hot and crowded, especially in July and August when temperatures soar into the 80s-90s. Winters are quite rainy, though crowds are at their lowest if you don't mind potential showers. 


No matter when you go, try to arrive earlier in the morning before tour bus crowds arrive. This allows you to wander the picturesque medieval streets in relative peace before day trippers descend. Or, as mentioned earlier, try to stay overnight. This gives you the best opportunity to see the town without as many tourists around. 


view of obidos

The medieval town of Obidos is one of the best places to experience Portuguese history and culture. Whether you are exploring Obidos castle, enjoying the gorgeous view from the city walls, wandering the quaint streets or participating in one of their many festivals, you will love your time in this charming and historic town. 


Ready to go to Obidos? Contact us at eurotravelsbydesign@gmail.com and we will custom design the perfect itinerary for you!




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