North of Lisbon, Loures is close enough to the capital that you can pop into the city to visit a museum, go for dinner or potter around the alleys of an enchanting old neighbourhood.
But it’s also far enough away that there’s open countryside around, laid with vineyards making Becelas DOC wine.
And there’s plenty of heritage to keep your attention on the Loures municipality, whether it’s the Baroque complex at Santo Antão do Tojal, the converted ceramics factory in Sacavém or the 16th-century convent that now houses Loures’ town museum.
On the northern cusp of the city you’re also near the modern projects for Lisbon’s Expo ’98, like the Parque das Nações and the Ponte Vasco da Gama, which have become treasured landmarks.
Lets explore the best things to do in Loures:
1. Quinta do Conventinho
For anybody who wants to dig deeper into Loures’ local history, the municipal museum is in this former Franciscan convent that had been established in the 1570s.
It was shut down in 1834, when religious orders were abolished in Portugal and after being nationalised and sold off it had a number of wealthy owners before falling into disrepair until 1998 when the museum opened.
It presents the discoveries from Loures’ archaeological sites, as well as the realities of farm life for the area’s rural inhabitants in the 19th and 20th centuries.
There’s a lovely vestige of the convent too, at the cloister with Doric columns, and the Capela do Espírito Santo, which has blue and white azulejos on its walls.
2. Parque da Cidade
If you’re in need of some exercise or a moment of repose the city park has lush lawns, including a designated picnic park, as well as a range of sports facilities.
There are two playgrounds for youngsters, and a small complex with a clutch of restaurants and cafes so on a sunny day you may spend longer than you expect.
This is attached to the Pavilhão de Macau, also housing the municipal gallery, which we’ll come to later.
Another of the municipal buildings in the park is the Palácio dos Marqueses da Praia e Monforte, an elegant estate with a modern extension housing Loures’ local assembly.
3. Igreja de Santa Maria
The “Igreja Matriz” in Loures is from the middle of the 15th century, although archaeology has shown that it replaced a medieval Knights Templar chapel.
The bell-tower dates to the last years of the Philippine dynasty in the 1630s.
Most of the art in the three naves is from the second half of the 18th century, as the church took serious damage in the 1755 earthquake and was abandoned for a number of years before a big restoration.
Things to look out for are the exquisite 16th-century frescos in the ceiling of the naves, the coffered vaulted ceiling above the altar and the paintings in the panels of the side altars.
4. Museu do Vinho e da Vinha
In the village of Bucelas, part of the Loures municipality, is an up-to-date museum for the Bucelas DOC. The Museu do Vinho e da Vinha has curated a lot of the area’s old wine-making infrastructure and put it on show to demonstrate the location’s connection to wine, and production techniques over the centuries.
You’ll learn about the make-up of the soil, the various grapes suitable for these soils, and see all sorts of vintage tools used for cultivating vines and pressing wine.
If this has tickled your taste buds there’s also a shop at the museum, or you could head for one of the estates nearby.
5. Quinta Das Carrafouchas
About five minutes into the countryside from Loures is this wine estate commanded by a venerable mansion.
This is the closest private vineyard to the centre of Lisbon.
The property is from the 17th century and is worth seeing even if wine isn’t your forte; it has a mix of Mannerist and Baroque design, and the loveliest bit is a courtyard with calçada Portuguesa paving and glazed tile panels on the walls.
For a lot of the 20th century wine was produced in bulk here, before attention was turned to quality, and getting the best out of the tempranillo and touriga nacional grapes to craft full-bodied reds, and arinto for sharp, crisp whites.
6. Galeria Municipal Vieira da Silva
In Parque da Cidade is the former Pavilhão de Macau, a pavilion built for Expo ’98 and moved here after the event.
The facade is a replica of the ruins of the Igreja de São Paulo, Macau’s emblematic church that was destroyed by fire in 1835. This stylish modern space has two rooms, one for short-term contemporary art exhibitions and the other for gatherings.
Exhibitions are held for local, national and international artists so the gallery is worth a browse if you’re in the area.
7. Museu de Cerâmica de Sacavém
Right to the end of the 20th century the Tagus riverside at Sacavém was a forest of kilns for the pottery industry.
The largest factory finally closed in 1994, and in its place the Loures municipality decided to establish a museum dedicated to the ceramic craft.
This opened in 2000, garnering lots of awards in its first few years.
One of the cool things is the way it incorporates an original kiln into the building (you’ll be impressed by the scale of this furnace), while the various crockery and tiles manufactured here are all on display.
Also, as the remaining, vestige of Sacavém’s industry the museum holds the archives for all the factories that used to be based in this town.
8. Castelo de Pirescoxe
In 1442 the nobleman Nuno Vasques de Castelo Branco built this striking residence for his family on a hill looking out on the Tagus.
The structure is known as a castle, but it’s really more of a palace, with a few defensive elements, as was the fashion in Portugal in the Late Gothic period.
When the line died out the castle was abandoned and slowly fell to ruin.
But in 2001 the municipality intervened, restoring the ruins without rebuilding the palace, and adding a small gallery for up-and-coming local artists to hang their work in a very solemn location.
9. Santo Antão do Tojal
The wider Loures area has a lot of history, and many minor monuments with interesting back-stories.
The Palácio da Mitra is a former summer residence for Lisbon’s archbishops and patriarchs, built in 1554. In the 18th century its monumental Baroque fountain was connected to an aqueduct, which is still mostly intact and channelled water for two kilometres.
The palace, fountain, aqueduct and the town’s Baroque church all form a wonderful ensemble at the Praça Monumental.
The spot looks like it could be the setting for a period drama.
10. Parque Ribeirinho
East of Loures is the Tagus Estuary, a marshy haven for waterfowl, with a few islands in the river and traces of fishing and old riverside industry.
At Póvoa de Santa Iria there’s a wonderful park that was inaugurated in 2013. Well, it’s more of a walkway than a park; this 5.6-kilometre boardwalk has been laid over the marshes, helping pedestrians, joggers and cyclists get to some previously inaccessible parts of the riverbank.
The project also restored an old fishing wharf and the wooden houses attached to it, and also features and interpretation centre about the wetlands, a playground and a cafe.
11. Mosteiro de São Dinis
Ten minutes or so towards Lisbon is this royal monastery housing the tomb of King Denis I who reigned in the 13th and 14th centuries.
The story goes that he was out hunting in Beja when he was unhorsed by a bear.
During the ensuing fight he swore to build a monastery if he survived.
When it was founded, this Cistercian monastery was far from anywhere but was frequented by royalty, including the 18th-century King John V who had an affair with the abbess.
A mixture of 16th-century updates and the earthquake in 1755 mean that only the apse and three chapels are still Gothic.
But the cloister is lovely, with ribbed vaulting and Maueline arches, and you can see the Denis I’s marvellous tomb, as well as that of his daughter Maria Afonso.
12. Parque das Nações
The site of Expo ’98 turned a disused riverside quarter into a dynamic urban environment.
In the best way you’ll feel like you could be in Hong Kong or Singapore for a moment.
There’s plenty to keep you here for more than a day as well, with the Lisbon Oceanarium, the second largest aquarium in Europe, as well as a capacious mall, observation tower, science museum, cable car and profusion of bars and restaurants.
Come by after dark when the quarter’s towers and exhibition halls are illuminated.
13. Ponte Vasco da Gama
It will be impossible to ignore the immense bridge that pushes out from the right bank of the river near Sacavém.
The Ponte Vasco da Gama is the definition of a megastructure; it’s the largest bridge in Europe if you take its viaducts into a account, curving over the Tagus Estuary for 12.3 kilometres and linking eastern Lisbon with the Setúbal district.
This giant was also completed in time for Expo ’98, at staggering expense, costing just over a billion dollars.
One of the many useful consequences of the bridge is that it eased traffic in the congested capital, funnelling cross-country traffic away from the centre.
If you don’t mind paying the toll, the sight of the capital on the way back towards Lisbon is one you won’t forget.
For all the things you can do in Loures and its countryside, Portugal’s capital remains temptingly close.
The Metro’s yellow line will eventually serve the centre of Loures, but for now you can head to Odivela a few minutes to the south and board it there.
After that you’re free to go pick from any number of famous sights, atmospheric neighbourhoods and riveting museums.
In a matter of moments you can be at the attractions in the northern outskirts, like the Zoo, the world-class Calouste Gulbenkian Art Museum and the home grounds of S. L. Benfica and Sporting Lisbon.
And there’s simply no visiting Lisbon without exploring the Alfama or Bairro Alto quarters, or the stupendous Baroque cityscape around the Praça do Comércio.
The upland outskirts north and west of Lisbon are scattered with handsome estates that used to belong to royalty or nobility.
Monteiro-Mor in Lumiar is one, commissioned in the 1700s by the Royal High Huntsman and a Portuguese National Monument.
This one spot has a lot going on, with two museums at the property, as well as a botanical garden in its 11-hectare grounds.
The National Costume Museum and the National Theatre Museum merit a peek, even more if you have special interest in women’s fashion from the 1700s or set design.
And the garden is magical, going back to 1793 and blending woodland full of exotic species with more formal terraces, hedges, sculpture garden and flowerbeds.