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In all my travels through Portugal, few places compare with the visual splendour that you find when visiting Obidos. A small town in central Portugal, Óbidos is a delightfully scenic town wrapped up in ribbon-like walls. Positioned on a slight hill, it still hides behind its medieval fortifications, forcing the modern world to wait at its gates. Inside, you’re treated to quaint cobblestone streets and historic houses that have stood the test of time.
Fast becoming one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon, Óbidos seems to fluctuate between busy and empty in a single day. What’s more, even with its minute size, as soon as you move away from its central streets you find things quiet down. The many things to do in Obidos will lead you down random alleys, into small gardens and up onto the walls looking out over the town. If you’re thinking of a day trip to Obidos from Lisbon, this is what you have to look forward to.
Centre of Obidos
Once you’ve arrived in Obidos and passed through one of its gates, it doesn’t take long to reach the town’s centre. Limited for space, you’re unlikely to find too many squares, instead finding long cobblestone streets. In these narrow streets, you find humble homes awash with white paint and bold stripes of yellow and blue. But it’s truly the plant life that brings Óbidos to life. From green creeping vines to gardens bursting with roses and calla lillies, Obidos can feel like one great big garden at times.
The look and shape of the town is certainly influenced by the landscape, but clearly also by its past. Although its story stretches back to the Romans, it’s really Obidos’ Moorish influences that have made it what it is today.
After all, it was the Moors who fortified the town and the colour palette of Obidos clearly mirrors that of Andalusia and it’s Moorish character. However quite a few spots, like the Rua Direita and main gate date from later in the 14th century. Still, you can definitely appreciate Obidos without knowing any of that context, that’s for sure.
With a strong focus on tourism now and an ever-growing market, it’s no surprise that there are lots of souvenir shops here. Thankfully, they’re contained to the main pedestrian streets and honestly blend in with the town far better than most places. During your visit you may notice that there are a number of book shops here, which I’ll explain a little later.
If there’s a great big landmark in Óbidos, then the big sight to see is Obidos Castle. Sitting up one end of Obidos, this medieval castle still bears its Moorish influences and you may see the similarites with Sintra’s Moorish Castle in fact.
The most inviting fact about the castle is that you can actually stay there! Hosting the Obidos Pousada, it was the first state-run inn to be housed in a historical building. Now quite a high-end hotel, staying here is undeniably cool but it will set you back.
Exploring the Outer Streets
Once you deviate from the busy central streets of Obidos, you start to find other sides of this historic town. Home to a little over 3000 people, you start to come across the modest homes of locals when you walk the outer edges. While the central streets are dedicated to tourism, this is where local life resides. Here the paint is a little more faded on the homes and washing hangs on lines out windows.
Tucked into the various nooks and corners of the town walls, you find surprisingly dense gardens and greenery. You’re definitely in for a surprise if you pop your head out the western gate, assaulted by bright pink flowers of local Judas trees. Speaking of gates, while you’ll likely enter through the main town gate in the south, there are actually several gates, including one ever big enough for cars.
Climbing up and down all the staircases that link up the different levels of Óbidos, you get to see plenty of the town’s backstreets. One in particular worth finding above the central streets is an alley covered in blue graffiti. I never actually found any information on the how and why, but it’s a strong contrast to the rest of the town. I guess one quick coat of white paint and it’s all gone anyway.
UNESCO City of Literature
Now I mentioned earlier that there was a link between Obidos and books. This link takes its most extreme form when you visit the St James Church and find a bookshop inside. Not just a cool idea, the church/library represents a commitment by Obidos to harness literature and creativity as useful cultural and social drivers. This dedication earned Óbidos recognition by UNESCO as a Creative City of Literature in 2015, in coordination with the town’s first International Literary Festival. It’s an admirable initiative and adds to the character of Obidos greatly.
If there’s one local custom worth trying on your Obidos day trip then it’s a shot of the local ginja. A Portuguese cherry liquor, you also find ginja in Lisbon, but not like this. No here in Obidos, they don’t use something as pedestrian as a shot glass. Instead, the ginja comes in an edible chocolate cup and of course the two flavours go together perfectly. Obidos is actually surrounded by quite a lot of cherry trees I believe so the ginja is locally made. So, if you like liquor, cherry and chocolate, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Obidos.
Views from Atop the Walls
At some point when visiting Obidos, it’s time to climb up onto the town walls. By most gates you’ll find stairs leading up onto the walls. Now fair warning, there are no handrails and at points narrow walkways, that are often only a little more than one person wide. That being said, it’s the only way to fully appreciate Obidos as a whole. Walk to the very southern end and climb the tower and you’ll see just how small Obidos really is.
The walls are actually further than they seem, so it can take a while to get around. The drop from the walls varies as you go around from a long fall to a little jump onto people’s rooftops. While there were kids up there with their parents, you definitely want to keep a close eye on them here. The walls are open well into the early evening so if you’re staying overnight in Obidos, you can watch both the city and surrounding landscape change colours.
Outside the Town Walls and Countryside
Given the time, it pays to explore a little beyond Obidos’ walls as well. Firstly there’s the section of the city that lies beyond the walls and it too has some charming streets. Still, there’s also a lot of hotels and restaurants out here and frankly, they’re easier to get to. One I just have to mention is the The Literary Man, a hotel with a library, bookshop and shelves of books in its restaurant.
Also just beyond the town walls you’ll find the local cemetery, a long aqueduct and abandoned remains of a wind mill. There are also walking trails leading through the nature that runs all along the western side of Obidos.
A decent ways away from the town centre past farmland you find the Santuario do Senhor Jesus da Pedra. This church features an unusual shape, looking more like a castle keep than that of a typical place of worship. It doesn’t help that up close, the church looks as if it’s been abandoned.
And lastly, there’s the town’s tiny old train station down below its walls. A lone building surrounded by trees and farmland, standing at the station feels like you’re off in the countryside somewhere which I guess you are.
Travel Tips for Visiting Obidos
A trip to Obidos is clearly worth your precious time while in Portugal and not all that hard either. As mentioned, visiting as a day tour from Lisbon is a very common approach but not the only one. Obidos is connected by train with Lisbon, but buses also run to places like Nazare. Another choice entirely is to drive yourself around this part of Portugal, giving you the freedom to go where you want and when.
Besides the accommodation choices above, you’ll find more reasonably priced options of hotel and guesthouse as well. I opted to stay at Happy Days Guesthouse out by the station and while a little remote, was a great place to stay with a really kind Scottish owner.
Have you had the chance to visit Obidos Portugal before? Would you like to include this scenic town on your next trip to Portugal? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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