On the left bank of the Tagus, the town of Montijo is minutes from Lisbon, but with a character that will make the capital feel a lifetime away. Few tourists make it to Montijo; it’s just a placid, village-like community with bars where you can get a bico for 50 cents.
There’s a charming old church in the centre, and as the town’s old industry’s have disappeared they’ve been replaced by museums that show how people made a living from the water and land. Lisbon remains just a few minutes across the river, either via the record-breaking Vasco da Gama bridge or the ferry service, for a sightseeing voyage you won’t soon forget.
Lets explore the best things to do in Montijo:
This is the first thing you should do in Montijo, because it’s a glorious ride across the Tagus.
The journey time to the Terreiro do Paço is approximately 30 minutes via a fast catamaran, and there are 22 crossings a day, either on the hour or half hour.
You’ll envy the people who get to make this crossing every day as the Alfama and Baia quarters hove into view.
There are photo opportunities at all angles, towards the immense Vasco da Gama and 25 de Abril Bridge or back at the statue of the Christ the King on the left bank at Lamada.
2. Ponte Vasco da Gama
The definition of a megaproject, the Vasco da Gama bridge is the longest in Europe if you include its viaducts.
It adds up to 12.3 kilometres It was begun in 1995 and opened for Lisbon’s Expo ’98, costing just over $1 billion.
When it was completed it transformed Lisbon, not just because it became a visual reference to the east over the Tagus, but because it helped funnel road traffic heading to the north or south of Portugal away from the city.
When you’re crossing you can’t even see to the other end of the structure, while the Lisbon cityscape is a wonder to behold, especially if you’re heading north.
3. Igreja Matriz de Montijo
The main monument on Praça da República, this church goes as far back as the start of the 1400s.
In the first decades of the 16th century it was remodelled in the Manueline style, and stonework from this phase can be seen in the vault of the main chapel, where the keystones have dainty flower motifs.
There were more changes ahead in the 1600s and 1700s, when the church’s second tower was added and the inside of the nave was coated with atapete (carpet-style) tiles, and then large tile panels that tell the story of the life of Mary, intervention of the Holy Spirit and the Eucharistic prefigurations.
4. Museu Municipal
If you need a reason to visit Montijo’s municipal museum it’s to see Casa Mora, the building that houses it.
This gorgeous palace was completed in 1875 for Domingos Tavares and Margarida Inácia dos Anjos who were a local power couple, owning big parcels of land in the area.
It has a long balcony reinforced by pretty corbels, and on the roof, enclosed by a balustrade, is a lantern with multicoloured glass.
The interior has a lavish, Beaux-Arts feel, with frescos and gilded stucco.
The galleries have archive photos of the town, tools for traditional local crafts and also an interesting little exhibition on tiles.
5. Moinho de Maré
An interesting fragment of Montijo’s waterfront industry was restored and opened to the public in 2005. Next to the old Cais das Faluas is a tidal mill that was first mentioned in 1646, but the cross of the Order of Santiago that you can see in the lintel of the door suggests that it is far older than that.
All the way up to the 1900s cereals were ground in this building by harnessing the ebb and flow of the Tagus River.
There are two rooms; one with the grinding stones, and the other storing the water that powered these mechanisms.
6. Praia Fluvial Samouco
In an unexpected spot there’s a beach right on the estuary.
It’s just a few moments up from Montijo and merits a visit even if you only want to savour the panoramas of Lisbon across the water and the Ponte Vasco da Gama meandering into the distance.
There’s a surprising range of amenities here, with parasols, sun loungers, wooden walkways crossing the sand, playground, swimming pool and table tennis tables.
Whether you want to wade into the Tagus is another matter, but the beach is fine for lounging in the sun and looking across to Lisbon.
7. Museu Agrícola da Atalaia
A couple of minutes on the road and you’re in the Setúbal district’s countryside.
The Quinta Nova da Atalaia, fronting an orchard, is a farming estate founded in 1875. It’s now the stage for a museum that will take you back to Montijo’s agricultural roots.
All of the old-time knowhow and equipment for making olive oil and wine is presented here, with two oil presses, four fermentation tanks, as well as a distillery for making brandy.
This entails a boiler, furnace and copper still.
The property is integral to the exhibition, as you can saunter through the orange and lemon orchard and note the traditional irrigation system.
8. Museu do Pescador
Needless to say that as a riverside community fishing is in Montijo’s blood.
And in 2014 a new museum opened in the former Conde Ferreira school building, painted an arresting shade of blue.
It is run by the regional fishing union (SCUPA), and its 80 or so exhibits are broken down into distinct sections, covering the tools of the trade, with nets, rigging and navigational equipment, but also the home and spiritual lives of the fishermen, represented by domestic utensils and tile panels of the Virgin.
There’s one full-sized fishing boat, an array of model vessels and plenty of archive illustrations and photographs.
9. Cinema-Teatro Joaquim d’ Almeida
There’s an undeniable charm to this cinema and performing arts venue.
It went up in 1957 during the Salazar regime.
It has the sober lines that were typical of buildings from this period and is embellished with sculpture by a couple of prominent artists of the era, Martins Correia and José Farinha.
It’s no exaggeration to say that there’s always something going on at this venue, whether it’s arty cinema (English language movies aren’t dubbed), dance, theatre, comedy, live fado, jazz or classical music.
10. Forum Montijo
If you fancy some clothes shopping or need to kill time on a rainy day you could do a lot worse that this new-ish mall in Montijo.
With brands like H&M, Zara, Foot Locker and Lacoste, it’s reassuring that you don’t have to trail into Lisbon for a shopping trip.
And if you’re renting accommodation in Montijo there’s also a branch of the Continente hypermarket.
There’s free wi-fi, playgrounds for little ones, a broad selection of eateries and a cinema with most films in English with Portuguese subtitles.
11. Parque das Nações
In the build-up to Expo ’98 the whole of the northeast of Lisbon was revitalised with a mall, viewing tower, marina and modern residential buildings.
It was the largest urban redevelopment project in Europe.
Depending on traffic you can reach this development in about 15 minutes.
It’s a visit to make at night as the neighbourhood has metropolitan feel when the office towers are lit up.
You can scale the Vasco da Gama tower for an unbroken view of the river and bridge, take a trip on the cable car, amble through the water gardens or pick from a multitude of restaurants and bars.
12. Lisbon Oceanarium
The star attraction of Expo ’98 and the Parque das Nações is this world-class aquarium, and it’s an obligatory day out if you’re here with children.
There are more than 16,000 animals in these beautifully-lit tanks.
The centrepiece is a massive aquarium, seven metres deep, simulating an ocean environment with rays, sharks and giant sunfish, as well as bottom-feeders in the sand below.
The other enclosures mimic natural environments across the planet, whether it’s tropical reefs in the Indian Ocean or an Antarctic zone housing penguins.
13. Pavilhão do Conhecimento
You could make it a double-header for little ones at this interactive science museum just by the Oceanarium.
There are big-scale exhibitions on different fields of science, as well as permanent modules that encourage kids to explore mathematics, physics, the human body and technology in active, hands-on ways.
You can build electric circuits and marble runs, ride a bike on a high-wire, construct your own house, make paper planes, learn how bacteria spreads, become an astronaut and much more.
All of the activities are assisted by a small army of staff, helping children get up to speed straight away.
14. Praça do Comércio
After landing at the Terreiro do Paço ferry terminal you’ll be in Lisbon’s elegant riverside quarter, which was first developed in the 1500s when a palace was built here by King Manuel I. It was lost in the 1755 earthquake and replaced by this fine square, bounded by the Rua Augusta Triumphal Arch and looking out onto the Tagus.
You could hardly ask for a better place to begin a tour of the city, as there are some blockbuster attractions like the Alfama Quarter, the São Jorge Castle, and a profusion of museums within minutes.
A new culinary attraction is the Time Out Market, where there are dozens of street food stalls and pop-up restaurants showing off the best of Portuguese and international cuisine.
And from there Portugal’s capital is your oyster.
If you use the Metro to get around, no sight will be out of reach.
Something that every visitor should do is head west to the Belém quarter, where two of Portugal’s seven wonders are found.
The Torre de Belém is a 16th-century fort, but wrought with astonishing workmanship.
The same applies to the Jerónimos Monastery, which has masterful Manueline and Renaissance stonework.
After that there’s no limit to the things you can do, whether it’s riding the antique funiculars and trams in Alfama, catching some fado in the Bairra Alta or getting in touch with Portugal’s azulejo craft at the National Tile Museum.