To the northeast of Lisbon and next to the ultramodern Parque das Nações, Sacavém is a former industrial parish by the Tagus Estuary. Many trades were based here, but one remembered most fondly was the ceramics industry. All but one kiln has disappeared now, and this is housed inside an absorbing museum about Sacavém’s old tile and crockery-making business.
Sacavém was the site of a mythical battle in 1147, and the parish church has an interesting relic claimed to be from that time. Your eyes will turn to the riverfront, where Europe’s longest bridge spans the estuary, and where you’ll find the world of attractions and spellbinding architecture created for Lisbon’s Expo ’98.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Sacavém:
You can roam the Portugal’s capital to your heart’s content from Sacavém.
One way to get to Lisbon’s waterfront is to catch the Linha Azambuja commuter train down to Santa Apolónia station.
From there you can trundle up the pretty, winding streets of the Alfama quarter, resting at scenic lookouts that make the climb worth every step.
Catch the tram here and visit the cathedral and the Castle of St George.
Another way to get into Lisbon is to catch the Metro Red Line from Oriente or Moscavide near Sacavém.
Within a matter of minutes you can get to the exceptional Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the distinguished Praça do Comércio and the National Museum of Ancient Art.
2. Museu de Cerâmica de Sacavém
Before it closed in 1994 the Fábrica de Loiça de Sacavém, the ceramics factory, was a big employer in the town.
It was shut for six years before the site was reconfigured into a visit attraction, receiving the Luigi Micheletti Award in 2002 for Best European Museum.
The centrepiece is the factory’s large kiln, which has been restored under an adapted glass roof and can be inspected from an elevated walkway.
You’ll be given the background about Sacavém’s 20th-century history and view the tiles, cookware and crockery produced by the factory.
3. Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Purificação
The first stone of Sacavém’s parish church was laid in 1596 by Miguel de Moura, who was the governor of the Kingdom of Portugal under King Philip II when the country was part of the Spanish Empire.
The church was built for the Convento de Nossa Senhora dos Mártires e da Conceição dos Milagres.
It still has its discreet Mannerist facade, with an image of the Virgin inside a niche halfway up the bell tower.
The baptismal font has a fanciful back-story; apparently it is the upturned dome of a lookout used by Sacavém’s Moorish warden in the Islamic period.
After defeat in the Battle of Sacavém he converted to Christianity and was the first hermit in the chapel that here before the convent.
4. Capela de Nossa Senhora da Saúde e de Santo André
This pretty chapel with blue and white walls, is on Largo Cinco de Outubro, which is the historical centre of the town.
The square is somewhere to stop for a few minutes, and has a couple of cafes that have outdoor seating, as well as local shops like a bakery and green grocer around the corner.
The current chapel is from the 16th century, but there would have been one here much earlier, attached to a hospital for pilgrims.
On the lintel reads an inscription commemorating the restoration work that took place in 1756, the year after Lisbon’s cataclysmic earthquake.
On the interior walls are green and white tiles in a diamond pattern, while the18th-centruy Baroque altar has five gilt-wood angels.
5. Ponte Vasco da Gama
The viaduct of this 12.3-kilometre bridge marks the southern boundary of Sacavém.
By any measure, this is a megastucture; it’s the longest bridge in Europe, curling across the Tagus Estuary to Montijo.
The project cost more than $1billion and was completed over three years in time for Expo ’98, Lisbon’s international exhibition that completely transformed the waterside in Northeast Lisbon.
The purpose of the bridge was to ease the traffic load on the iconic 25 de Abril Bridge and make it so that people travelling north to south through Portugal wouldn’t have to pass through the centre of Lisbon.
And by design, the Ponte Vasco da Gama opened on the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama discovering a passage to India.
6. Jardim do Passeio dos Heróis do Mar
If you can’t get enough of that record-breaking bridge there’s a park directly beneath it on the riverbank.
Looking out across the vast expanse of the estuary and seeing the bridge disappearing into distance you can truly comprehend the scale of this beast.
The park has walkways over the water, with benches where you can stare in awe at the mighty construction next to you, as well as a fishing pier pushing out into the Tagus.
7. Casa-Museu José Pedro
After investigating the ceramics factory you may be hungry to know more about this typically Portuguese craft.
In the old centre of Sacavém on Rua dos Combatentes da Guerra there’s another, smaller museum at the home of the man who was the factory’s chief ceramicist for 40 years.
José da Silva Pedro passed away in 1981 and had spent the last 20 years of his life building a miniature village of ceramic buildings and figures in his yard.
8. Parque das Nações
Directly south of the Jardim do Passeio dos Heróis do Mar and hardly five minutes from the centre of Sacavém, the Parque das Nações was the venue for Expo ’98. It turned a disused industrial site into a futuristic cityscape, with towers, exhibition halls, Portugal’s largest indoor arena, modern art installations and a mall.
There’s now a posh new marina to go with the scores of bars and restaurants, riverside paths and days out for all the family.
It’s highly recommended at night when everything is lit up and you can wander down along the river from Sacavém for a meal or drink.
9. Lisbon Oceanarium
The top attraction in the park is this sensational aquarium, stranded in the water and joined to the quay by a footbridge.
This is the most popular day out in Lisbon and the largest indoor aquarium in Europe.
There are loads of tanks and enclosures here, but the one that gives the attraction its name is the magnificent oceanarium, a 5,000-cubic-metre tank, seven metres deep and mimicking the ocean environment.
This tank alone has more than 100 different marine species, among them a whopping sunfish, sharks, barracudas and rays.
There’s much more besides, with penguins and otters, and reefs inhabited by starfish, seahorses and kaleidoscopic tropical fish.
10. Pavilhão do Conhecimento
After lunch you could make it an educational double-header, paying a visit to this kid-friendly science museum next door to the Oceanarium.
It’s one of a new generation of attractions that encourages children to learn through experimentation and interactivity.
It won’t feel like work to them, but they’ll be picking up insights about technology, mathematics, physics and the natural world.
You can ride a bike over a high wire, make huge soap bubbles, test your nerves on an electric shock roulette and build your own power station.
11. Teleférico da Expo
Get on the cable-car for a birds-eye view of the Parque das Nações and to see the estuary and bridge in all their majesty.
It’s the only way to get a panorama of the site since the observation deck on the sail-shaped Vasco da Gama Tower closed after the exhibition.
The cable-car crosses the marina and runs from the tower down to the Oceanarium.
A round trip is €5,90 and the attraction runs until 18:00 in winter, 19:00 in spring and autumn and 20:00 in summer.
12. MEO Arena
There’s always something going on at this 20,000-seater arena, whether it’s an international sporting event, a major conference of big name concert.
In the last 18 years dozens of popular acts like Lady Gaga, Shakira, Adele and Justin Bieber, as well as a whole catalogue of rock bands have played here.
But if you’re here at any other time it’s yet another of the Parque das Nações mind-blowing monuments.
The architect was Regino Cruz, and in line with the Expo’s theme he drew on the sea for inspiration, creating a roof made of wood rather than steel concrete, and designing it to resemble a carrack ship as a nod to the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
13. Parque Linear Ribeirinho Do Estuario Do Tejo
Away from the colossal bridge, the Tagus Estuary is also a natural treasure as a habitat for a multitude of birds, residing all year, stopping by while migrating or just spending their winters in warmer climes.
A few minutes up from Sacavém is a park that opened in 2013, allowing access to six kilometres of the riverside, much of which was impassable because of the wetlands.
A raised boardwalk carries you along much of the route and has interpretation boards telling you about the stilts, egrets and herons that thrive in the reeds and mudflats.
And if you just need somewhere for a morning jog the big skies of the estuary should energise you.
14. Quinta Municipal da Piedade
“Quintas”, country mansions with their own farmland, were once plentiful around Sacavém, but industrialisation and expanding residential areas accounted for most of them.
One survivor close by is the Quinta Municipal da Piedade, which as the name tells you is owned by the municipality, turning the 18th-century mansion into a venue for events, while the grounds are a public park.
The park is a real treat with little chapels and oratories, one, the Oratório de São Jerónimo coated with blue and white azulejos.
And you have little ones in tow you could bring them to meet the goats, donkeys and chickens at the educational farm amid olive groves and pine forest.
15. Centro Vasco da Gama
Opening in 1999, this shopping centre in Parque das Nações is your best local option if you want to do some mid-range high street shopping.
The centre is hardly five minutes by car from Sacavém and has Iberian brands like Oysho, Bershka, Mango and Zara, all now in almost every big town in Europe.
There’s also a food court with cafes and fast food joints like Subway and McDonalds, as well as a cinema where every Hollywood movie will be in English apart from kids’ films, which are usually dubbed.