Óbidos is probably the best known medieval town in Portugal. No one can resist it. It’s undoubtedly the best-preserved and the one that most dynamizes its space.
For those who don’t know this village, just over an hour from Lisbon, Óbidos has a history that dates back to the times of the Celts, Romans, and Moors, it was the gift of several queens (see box below) and today it’s known for its bookstores.
But if you’ve already been there and, like me, you haven’t gone far beyond Rua Direita, know that there are countless activities you can do, and that will present you with an entirely different medieval village. It was like that on my last visit.
Do you know that…
Óbidos is called the “Queens Village” because it was given by D. Dinis to Queen Isabel as a wedding gift. From then on, the medieval village became part of the dowry of all Portuguese queens until 1834.
What to see and do in Óbidos
1. Go to Óbidos Castle
When we pass the highway and reach the edge of the medieval village, Óbidos Castle is the first to attract attention.
This is unquestionably the most obvious place to go and also one of the most compelling.
The fortress dates from the 12th century and mixes several styles, from Gothic to Manueline, Romanesque and Baroque. This Portuguese national monument, which has been elected one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal, is in perfect condition.
Stage of several events in the village is a pleasure to climb the castle walls and go through them for more than 1 km, taking a look at Óbidos.
2. Enter churches and chapels
Óbidos is defined by several churches and chapels, both inside and outside the wall. The best known is the Church of Santa Maria, located in the village center, in the square where locals came to sell their products. The interior is beautiful, both for the tiles’ works, as for Josefa de Óbidos’ paintings (see box below).
But if you enter the inner streets, you’ll find other temples, such as the Church of Misericórdia, the Church of São Pedro, or the Chapel of São Martinho, which is used today for the purpose of exhibition.
Already outside the castle wall, just at the village entrance, you’ll find the Church of São João Baptista, which was once a hospital, and, a little further away, the imposing Sanctuary of Senhor Jesus da Pedra.
Who was Josefa de Óbidos?
Josefa de Óbidos was a painter, daughter of a Portuguese father and a Spanish mother, who lived her life at Quinta da Capeleira, in Óbidos, where she also produced much of her work and who elevated her as one of the great artists of the Baroque. She was known for her still life paintings, but also for her religious works.
3. Visit the village bookstores
Not long ago, Óbidos assumed the trademark of a “literary village.” Since 2013, it has implemented a project to rehabilitate buildings and public spaces, transforming the place into a cultural and literary hub.
Thus a series of bookstores and literary-inspired spaces were born, which brought a completely different dynamic to the village. In addition to selling books, various art exhibitions, concerts, conferences and shows are often held. Two major events take place annually under the label Óbidos Vila Literária: Latitudes, a festival dedicated to travel literature, and FOLIO – International Literary Festival, one of the most important held in Portugal.
Being that said, visiting Óbidos bookstores is one of the highlights of a trip here. The ones that I highlight and advise without a doubt are the Mercado Biológico bookshop and the Santiago Bookshop.
The first is in the middle of Rua Direita and occupies the former fire station. This is a space for second-hand booksellers and books, displayed in fruit boxes as a tribute to local agriculture. Its name comes from the fact that it shares the area with a market where you can find the best organic products in the region.
Then follow Rua Direita until the end and find Santiago Bookshop. Inside one of the most emblematic churches in the village, dating from the 12th century, the religious service gave way to the exhibition and sale of literary works, film screenings, debates, or a simple place to drink coffee while reading a book.
4. Go for a carriage ride through Óbidos
Visiting Óbidos is in itself a journey through time. Even sharing the streets with a lot of visitors, we cannot abstract from the history that emanates from this place.
On my last visit to the medieval village, however, I had a new experience that further intensified that feeling. I had the opportunity to travel the streets on a carriage.
Guided by Mr. Zé and two beautiful (and well-treated) horses — Bo and Dark — from Charretes do Oeste by Green Services, I walked the streets and alleys of Óbidos, stopping at the most emblematic places.
In fact, I had the privilege of boarding vintage vehicle, the “Mylord,” a vis-a-vis carriage (so-called because the occupants travel face to face) that was built in 1845 in Paris, by the hands of Portuguese artisans who emigrated because they were experts in the construction technique of this type of transport.
A unique experience!
5. Get lost in photographing medieval streets
If there is a photogenic place in Portugal, this is Óbidos. Wherever we look, we can’t resist pulling the camera — or the cell phone — and taking incredible images.
From the typical and colorful commerce found on the main street to the houses surrounded by flowers, from the ancient access doors to the village or the panoramic views from the top of the walls, we can spend hours on this and bring home visual memories that remain forever.
6. Take a guided tour
For a few years now, and as I travel more, I have learned that if we really want to learn about a place, a monument or a museum, it’s best to opt for a guided tour. We can do this with an audio guide, as happened when I visited the Vatican museums or accompanied by a specialist. Of course, this last option is the best, because we can always ask questions and learn so much more.
It was like that in Óbidos! With Ivo Soares, from Silver Coast Traveling, I covered some of the village’s main historical points and many less obvious paths. This company’s idea is to leave the usual route, immersing ourselves in what I believe to be the real Óbidos.
Then, Ivo is a real well of knowledge, telling us many historical facts and curiosities that help us get to know the village even better.
7. Have a picnic on the castle walls
Now here’s an activity you probably never thought to do in Óbidos: a picnic on the castle walls!
Yes, the village is full of excellent places to eat (we’ll get there in a second), but in good weather, why not have a meal looking at Óbidos from above? That’s what Capinha D’Óbidos proposes!
Let’s start by introducing you to this establishment that has already become an icon of Rua Direita. If you are looking for freshly baked bread and divine cakes, this is the place to go.
The recipes here have been shared from generation to generation since 1883, and the business remains in the family.
Adapting to modern times, Capinha D’Óbidos is now preparing picnics and breakfasts that can be picked up and eaten at one of the beautiful observation points in the village. Colorful baskets are full of good things that make the Portuguese medieval village visit even more special.
Do you know that…
The “C” of the Capinha D’Óbidos logo comes from the shape of the horseshoe cake, the ex-libris of this establishment. Tradition says that this was the bride’s cake, the remembrance of the wedding. After offering it to the guests, the bride kept one for herself until it lasted… and it lasts a long time!
8. Tasting the famous Ginjinha de Óbidos
Going to Óbidos and not trying the ginjinha is like… well, I don’t even know what it is because that is unthinkable to happen!
The Ginjinha de Óbidos is a landmark in this village in the West of Portugal. They say it was not born here, but it was undoubtedly adopted as the drink par excellence of this place.
This liqueur liquid, with the right amount of alcohol and sweet, leaves no one indifferent and if tasted in a chocolate cup… speechless!
Virtually all commercial spaces, restaurants, bars, and hotels have this liquor to taste, so it’s not difficult to find. It will be difficult, however, to drink only one…
9. Eat at the best restaurants in Óbidos
There’s so much to see and do in Óbidos that the time will surely come when hunger strikes. And where to go? The village already has a great offer when it comes to restaurants, but three places won me over on my last visit, and I highly recommend them.
The first is Avocado. If you choose vegetarian or are a fan of healthy food, this is the place to go. It will be challenging to decide what to eat since the offer is vast and varied. From hamburgers to wraps and bowls, everything looks and tastes fantastic. And if you want, you can always opt for a brunch.
The other suggestion is the Lounge Restaurant. This is where good Portuguese food can be found, were it not for the owner, a cooking teacher. Honest food, made with the right ingredients and full of flavor, at a fair price and with fantastic service.
Finally, Jamon Jamon. It started out as a small place for tapas, and today it has become one of the must-go restaurants in Óbidos. The tapas are still on the menu, which now opens to other fantastic meat and fish dishes. Ask to stay on the terrace if the weather is good or choose one of the cozy rooms inside.
10. Waking up right next to the castle wall
If you think you can visit Óbidos in a single day, you may be right, but I guarantee that you’ll leave many things to see and do. I suggest that you remain for the night in the village and take the tour more calmly.
On my visit, I stayed at the Josefa D’Óbidos Hotel, right next to the castle wall. It’s ideal for escaping the village center’s hustle and bustle and very close to everything that matters. Just park your car, and you can then do everything on foot.
The hotel, which was born in 1986, is now completely renovated and offers excellent service, without ever losing family care.
And outside Óbidos?
There are also fantastic things to do! Here are three extra tips for you:
Visit Bacalhôa Buddha Eden
At Bombarral, just a 15-minute drive from Óbidos, you’ll find Bacalhôa Buddha Eden. This is the largest oriental garden in Europe and a fantastic place to visit.
There are about 40 hectares with hundreds of sculptures, including 600 hand-painted terracotta soldiers and over a thousand palm trees.
There’s also a space devoted to Modern and Contemporary Sculpture and a Garden of African Sculpture Art, dedicated to the Shona people of Zimbabwe, who have been sculpting stone by hand for over a thousand years.
Surfing Foz do Arelho
You know that traveling with me almost always has to have a bit of surfing, and it’s not because I’m visiting Óbidos that this has to be left out. 😉
From the medieval village to Foz do Arelho it’s only 25 minutes, and this beach is fantastic for putting your surfboard in the water.
If you like to surf on sandbanks and swell with some energy, this is the spot, especially if it’s summer and the waves are small.
Take a kayak trip at the Óbidos Lagoon
And since we are in Foz do Arelho, and talking about Óbidos, how about a nautical activity in what’s the most famous lagoon in the West?
On this trip, I had the opportunity to take a kayak experience with Intertidal, an outdoor adventure company. But this was not just any tour. On the contrary, I was accompanied by Miguel Castro. He’s a super kayak expert and a biologist and showed me the lagoon in a way I’d never imagined before.
I learned to recognize clams and cockles, just by looking at the holes they make in the sand surface, I discovered salicornia and even tasted edible seaweed.
Also, the tradition of the people who made the Óbidos Lagoon their way of life wasn’t left out. I spoke with the seafood gatherers and learned more about the boats that travel through this saltwater lake that once reached the gates of the Óbidos Castle.
Other times I had gone to Óbidos, but I was far from knowing that the village has so much to offer. I hope this little guide will help you make the most of a visit, and if you have other suggestions for activities or places to visit, don’t hesitate to share in the comment box below.
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A note from Marlene …This trip through Óbidos had the support of several partners, to whom I would like to thank all the sympathy and hospitality with which I was received. But, as always, all the photos and opinions expressed are mine, honestly reflecting the experience.