On the River Tagus, Póvoa de Santa Iria is a municipality edged by wetlands around 20 minutes on the train from the centre of Lisbon. The waterside, once a hive of fishing and industry, has been reclaimed with a “linear park”, transporting you over the marshes via a boardwalk for dreamlike views of the estuary and its rich birdlife.
Póvoa de Santa Iria is a mostly residential city, but has the mysterious ruins of a castle and an exquisite Renaissance palace. The hills to the west have vineyards and stables for the lusitano horse breed, while in neighbouring municipalities you can see how people navigated the river or crafted Portugal’s signature ceramics in old times.
Lets explore the best things to do in Póvoa de Santa Iria:
1. Parque Ribeirinha
The Tagus riverside in Póvoa was almost inaccessible until a project to plot eight kilometres of trails through the marshes and the old fishing docks.
This has been done with a raised boardwalk, which gives joggers, walkers and cyclists privileged views of the wetlands, the river and the wildlife that is returning to the banks.
The project was unveiled in 2013 with an eye on sustainability; even the interpretation centre is housed in repurposed shipping containers.
This recounts the riverside’s fishing history and the wooden “Varino” sailboats that were used for freight.
2. Quinta Municipal da Piedade
This lovely 18th-century estate is owned by the town and has a surprising amount going for it.
The property itself merits a peel if you get a chance, as the rooms, used for functions are lined with period tiles.
The estate’s grounds have been converted in to a public park and they’re scattered with little chapels and oratories.
There’s a pine forest to amble through, while kids will be chuffed with the animal park.
This has domestic breeds like cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and poultry kept in healthy, spacious enclosures.
3. Castelo de Pirescoxe
On a rise a short way in from the Tagus are the ruins of a castle amid the modern housing developments.
Despite the tough appearance of these walls, the building was more of a manor house than a fortress.
It was constructed for nobility in 1422, but when their line died out in the 17th century the property was abandoned and has been decaying for hundreds of years.
The ruins are a national “property of public interest” and there’s a lot of detail for enthusiasts to pore over, with crenellations and towers, while you can still make out the remnants of a chimney where the great hall used to be.
4. Palácio de Valflores
At the time of writing, this sublime 16th-century palace is in scaffolding and efforts are underway to restore it.
In 2015 the building had been named as one of Europe’s threatened historical treasures, so if you’re in the neighbourhood it’s worth seeing what the state of play is.
Because there’s no denying the building’s beauty or significance.
It was commissioned by João de Barros, a steward to King John III, and the man in charge of Portugal’s trading post in Flanders.
With a wonderful loggia, it is also one of the few pieces of Renaissance residential architecture remaining in Portugal.
The site is currently owned by the Loures municipality and is another property of public interest.
It’s a 15-minute train ride to Estação do Oriente, and from there you can hop on the Lisbon Metro’s Red Line and have complete access to the city.
Or you could stay on the train and continue on down to Santa Apolónia where Alfama’s enchanting maze of old streets, and a multitude of attractions and sights will be in your grasp.
There’s far more than can be summed up in a paragraph, but you have to see the stately Praça do Comércio and compare it to the youthful and chaotic Bairro Alto.
Also be sure to take in some fado, ride at least one tram or funicular, and head for one of the world-class museums.
For one that cuts to the core of Portuguese design and culture, try the National Tile Museum.
6. Parque das Nações
Expo ’98 furnished Lisbon with a whole new neighbourhood in a part of the city that was in decline after the riverfront industry had moved on.
The Parque das Nações was the crowning glory of the project, a dynamic urban environment with towers, a mall and visitor attractions.
At night it feels very metropolitan here, and being just 15 minutes from Póvoa de Santa Iria it’s the ideal choice for evening meals.
During the day you should take the riverside walk, take a scenic trip on the cable car and check out a couple of the attraction, one of which is covered next.
7. Lisbon Oceanarium
The second largest aquarium in Europe is in the Parque das Nações and was one of the showpieces of Expo ’98. Simply entering the attraction is an epic experience as the building is actually in the Tagus and links with the riverside by a bridge.
The star of the show is an awesome ocean tank seven metres deep, where eels, barracudas, sharks and rays all coexist.
But this is one of a host of environments, which in total contain 16,000 animals from 450 species.
Spider crabs, seahorses, jellyfish are all here, along with numerous amphibians, penguins and sea otters.
8. Museu de Cerâmica de Sacavém
A brief drive or train ride south of Póvoa de Santa Iria, this museum opened in 2000 to great acclaim.
In 2002 won the Luigi Micheletti Award for its innovation.
The museum was purpose -built on the site of Sacavém’s legendary crockery factory, which in its day was one of the reference points on Eastern Lisbon’s industrial belt.
The factory shut down in 1994, but Sacavém’s pottery heritage lives on in the museum’s galleries.
You’ll get personal insights about the people who worked at the factory, peruse the fine ceramics it produced and admire the impressive kiln that has been preserved at the centre of the museum.
9. Ponte Vasco da Gama
An ever-present on the river to the south, the Ponte Vasco da Gama is the longest bridge in Europe if you include the viaducts that continue onto the banks.
It winds out over the Tagus estuary for 12.3 kilometres, and took just over three years and nigh on a billion dollars to complete.
It was ready in time for Expo ’98, which transformed Lisbon’s northeastern quarters.
If you don’t mind paying the toll on the way back, you could drive across to Alcochete and Montijo on the opposite bank and then return to see Lisbon’s skyline in a whole new way.
10. Museu do Neo-Realismo
One for the academics, this museum about Portugal’s 20th-century Neorealist movement is around ten minutes on the Linha da Azambuja train.
Neo-realismo started in the 1930s, just before Salazar rose to power, and continued through to the 1960s.
It was a kind of left-wing social realism, and many of its writers, like Alexandre Pinheiro Torres, were forced into exile during the regime.
The museum began as a simple archive but flourished into an important attraction, with first editions, works of art, iconographic collections and a big library of printed and audiovisual material.
11. River Trip on the “Liberdade” Varino
The municipal museum at Vila Franca de Xira has restored an old wooden Varino and organises voyages on the Tagus from May to October.
Boats like the “Liberdade” used to be a feature of the Tagus estuary, and the flat hull and high prow allowed the vessels to navigate the shallower sections of the river safely.
You’ll get a closer view of the uninhabited river islands, see beautiful waterfowl and get a feel for what river life would have been like until the 20th century.
The boat docks at the pier at Póvoa de Santa Iria, so you can get the train up to Vila Franca de Xira and then use this unique mode of transport to return.
The sweeping marshlands on the opposite bank of the Tagus became the breeding ground for both fighting bulls and the nimble Lusitano horse.
This breed is pivotal to the region’s identity, and if you’d like to see it in action you can make the short drive to the Lezíria Grande Riding Centre.
Here riders and horses and trained to take part in several international shows a year, and stages historically-themed equestrian demonstrations at the centre.
And if you’d like to ride a Lusitano and take an equestrianism lesson there are stables within ten minutes of Póvoa de Santa Iria.
13. Local Festivals
Póvoa de Santa Iria’s main annual festival is in honour of Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady of Mercy) and happens on the first weekend of September.
There are lots of little rituals that are still observed, like a flag-raising ceremony, sardine grills and solemn processions.
These are interspersed with parties, rock and electronic concerts, as well as fado performances.
The whole festival is then brought to a close with a fireworks display at midnight on the Sunday.
14. Wine Tourism
Despite being in touching distance of Lisbon there’s an array of rural activities available within minutes of Póvoa de Santa Iria.
One of these is winery tours, as the hills inland are decked with vineyards growing tempranillo and touriga nacional grapes for reds, and the arinto variety for whites.
And even if you’re not a wine connoisseur it’s enough just to be able to tour some of these old properties, dating back to the 1700s or earlier.
The Quinta das Carrafouchas, and its tiled courtyard, and the Quinta de São Sebastião are both Baroque treasures.
15. Centro Vasco da Gama
Also 15 minutes on the train is this colossal shopping centre by the Tagus in the Parque das Nações.
If you need a rainy day activity or just feel like browsing some high street shops you’ll have all you could hope for at this airy modern mall.
In addition to the 170 stores there are 33 restaurants, and a multi-screen cinema.
If you’re at a loose end in the evening this most movies in Portugal use subtitles instead of dubbing.