The captivating town of Óbidos became home to Portugal’s queens after Afonso II gifted it to his wife Urraca of León in the 1200s. Many of the buildings and monuments in were founded or funded by a queen. On a narrow ridge, the town’s weaving, carless streets are contained by the dominant walls of a medieval castle.
You can saunter along these alleys, calling in at museums and churches and browsing artisan shops. And then you have to scale the walls to watch over the fertile valley of vines and cherry orchards as a guard might have done hundreds of years ago.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Óbidos:
1. Historic Óbidos
Pass through the Porta da Vila and you’re met with a historic townscape that could be a movie set.
The difference here is that these houses are authentic, and have whitewashed walls trimmed with blue or yellow borders and with bougainvillea creeping up the sides.
As you make your way along Rua Direita you’ll be tempted to explore the side streets and stairways beckoning you to hidden corners of the town.
If you want to beat the crowds aim to get to Óbidos or later in the evening.
But if you don’t mind the bustle you can idle along, popping into souvenir shops and picking a restaurant or ice cream parlour that catches your eye.
2. Óbidos Castle
Reigning over Óbidos to the north, the castle was founded by the Moors as early as the 700s, and they also plotted the course of those daunting city walls.
The building was reworked in the 1200s, and its interior was gradually made more habitable for the succession of queens who lived here.
Now it’s a pousada (heritage hotel) so the only way to appreciate the inside is to book a room.
But you can access the battlements and walk the perimeter of the walls that defend Óbidos.
This is an experience not to be missed, particularly on the west wall, where the vistas of the town, castle and the countryside of vineyards and orchards are sensational.
3. Igreja de Santa Maria
No sooner had Óbidos been recaptured from the Moors by Kind Afonso Henriques in 1148 than this church was founded on the main square.
There isn’t much left of the medieval building, and this is down to seismic events, quite literally: Following an earthquake in the 15oos the first of a few reconstruction campaigns gave the church its present Mannerist design.
Almost every inch of the interior walls is clad with tiles from the 1600s and 1700s, and there’s a marvellous retable from the same period.
But the thing you have to see is the Renaissance tomb of João de Noronha in the Chapel of our Lady of Mercy, fashioned by French sculptors Jean de Rouen and Nicolas Chantereine.
4. Praça de Santa Maria
Allow some time to potter around the square in front of the church, as there are some neat things if you know where to find them.
One is the pillory, a monument to the town’s autonomy and a place to punish criminals.
This is from the 1400s and bears the coat of arms of Eleanor of Viseu.
A poignant detail on the crest is a net, which symbolises the fisherman’s net that her infant son was wrapped in after he drowned in the Tagus.
Beneath this is a 16th-century fountain once fed by the town’s aqueduct.
Up on the north side is the Telheiro, a building easy to recognise for its portico with six columns, and housing the town’s indoor market until the 1900s.
5. Santuário do Senhor Jesus da Pedra
This hexagonal sanctuary to the north of Óbidos merits a detour for the stone cross in its altar, etched with a primitive image of the crucifixion.
One glance will tell you that the cross is extremely old, and it has been dated to the 2nd or 3rd centuries.
It has been at this place since long before this Baroque church.
The story goes that Queen Eleanor of Viseu placed the cross nearby in the 1500s to indicate the route to Caldas da Rainha, hot springs that she founded.
It was forgotten until being rediscovered by a farmer in 1730 gaining a new generation of devotees and resulting in the church that was finished in 1737.
6. Museu Municipal de Óbidos
Where there was royalty there was also culture and art, and a lot of this has ended up at the town’s municipal museum.
There’s a collection of painting from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries by artists like the Mannerists Diogo Texeira and Belchior de Matos.
The Spanish Baroque painter Josefa de Óbidos is also represented and she was a favourite of Queen Maria Francisca of Savoy in the 1600s.
The museum also has weapons from the Peninsular War, a chronology of Óbidos through the centuries and a room with finds from the excavated Roman city of Eurobrittium.
7. Lagoa de Óbidos
A little way west of Óbidos is the lagoon of the same name, which fills a depression for four kilometres or so before it empties in the ocean.
The body of water a beautiful sight along the pine-edged roads of its shores, but for tourists the attraction is on the coast.
Here there are two long sandy spits that don’t quite meet in the middle.
On the north side is the resort of Foz do Arelho and on the south is a more discreet community of old fishing cottages and newer holiday villas.
At Praia do Bom Sucesso and Praia do Mar, you can choose between the lagoon’s glistening, shallow waters and the invigorating power of the Atlantic on the ocean side.
8. Porta da Vila
The southern gate to Óbidos contains a small Baroque chapel.
The roots of this building descend to 1246 as a small oratory was founded at this spot.
This was placed here after the town repelled a siege by the forces of Sancho II against his own brother, Afonso III. But the chapel as we see it today dates to 1727 when its altar, chancel and choir were installed; the walls were coated with azulejos and its ceiling was painted with filigrees.
These works were funded by Bernardo de Palma, a magistrate based in India, and whose daughter is claimed to have died from a broken heart due to unrequited love for a man from Óbidos.
9. Igreja Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Óbidos
This church was founded by Eleanor of Viseu herself at the end of the 15th century and is replete with art and precious fittings.
One that greets you right above the entrance is a ceramic image of the Virgin and Child.
This was produced by a Lisbon workshop between 1665 and 1680, while the wooden doors below were carved in 1623. The single nave is adorned with blue and yellow geometric tiles that were painted in the 1620s, and around the tribune there’s an ensemble of Mannerist carving from the same period.
It’s worth taking a moment to study the two paintings here by Baroque master André Reinoso in the retable: The Visitation of the Virgin to Saint Elizabeth, and the Pentecost.
10. Caldas da Rainha
This town and Óbidos go hand-in-hand and you can catch a train from Óbidos and be there in five minutes.
Caldas da Rainha (Springs of the Queen) was born in the 1400s when Eleanor of Viseu set up a church and hospital beside its hot springs.
These are still frequented today for their pungent but therapeutic sulphurous water.
But for a day-tripper, the sophisticated 19th-century park laid out next to the spa is the first thing to see.
There’s an excellent museum for the naturalist painter José Malhoa, while Caldas da Rainha’s clay-rich soils have been exploited for pottery since Neolithic times.
This craft is still in rude health, and there are dozens of workshops, and a museum boasting pieces by the 19th-century master potter Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro.
11. Aqueduto de Óbidos
Catherine of Austria ordered this aqueduct in the 1570s, and it delivered water from a source about six kilometres to the south in Usseira.
The aqueduct’s destination was the Chafariz Real (Royal Fountain) on Praça de Santa Maria, and for half of its length it travelled underground.
As the main supply of water to the town, this structure served its purpose for well over 200 years, and its high arches were repaired twice, at the end of the 1600s and again a century later.
The most impressive stretch is just at the southern entrance to Óbidos.
12. Igreja de São Pedro
Another church with medieval origins, St Peter’s was consecrated at the start of the 14th century.
Unfortunately the building was toppled by the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake that wreaked havoc across the country.
The one piece of decoration to standing in the wreckage was the dainty gilt-wood altar, which has a majestic throne flanked by angels and was completed in 1705, while the tower and its spiral stairway is also from the original building.
The remainder is rather bare, except for the tall painting in the chancel of St Peter receiving the Keys of Heaven from Jesus.
13. Mercado Medieval de Óbidos
The home of queens is just the place for a medieval market and fair.
This is an epic event that begins sometime in the middle of July, running into August.
The stalls are laid out in the upper part of town in a very atmospheric setting beside the castle’s west wall.
Along with freshly prepared food you can buy handicrafts like jewellery, scarves, pottery and even novelty weapons, all in the presence of jesters, dancers and minstrels.
A space is also cleared for re-enactments and jousts with convincing choreography and trained stuntmen.
Óbidos is rammed with souvenir shops, many of which are on Rua Direita.
If you’re going to buy something here it might as well be something that has genuine ties to the city, namely the sour cherry liqueur ginja.
This drink is produced all around the Lisbon area, but in Óbidos there’s a distinct way of making it: The cherries are picked at the orchards in the town’s countryside and macerate for at least one year.
When the liqueur is extracted it has an intense ruby tone, and doesn’t require any dyes or preservatives.
It goes without saying that ginja and dark chocolate is a match made in heaven, and is normally served in an edible chocolate cup.
15. Festival Internacional de Chocolate de Óbidos
For about three weeks from mid-March to early-April a chocolate festival takes over the streets and restaurants of Óbidos.
Each year there’s a different theme; in 2017 this was “music”, so for example on Praça da Tablete there was a tent filled with chocolate sculptures by master chocolatiers depicting famous artists like Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, James Brown and Madonna.
In this square there’s also live entertainment, workshops, demonstrations and tasting events, when chefs and confectioners from far and wide arrive to show off their skills.