Medieval Charm in Óbidos, Portugal

A charming medieval town on the way from Lisbon to Porto, Óbidos is worth a long visit to truly soak in its atmosphere long after the other tourists are gone…

We stopped by Óbidos, Portugal on our way from Sintra to Porto. Having left Sintra a little late, we almost decided to skip it, but are very glad we didn’t. A nominee for a UNESCO Heritage Site, this charming fortress town is full of history, and a perfect prototype of a medieval city.

Castle walls and towers in Óbidos, Estremadura area, Portugal
The imposing castle walls of Óbidos, Portugal towering high above the walled town

Things to do in Óbidos

We were, sadly, only in Óbidos for a day trip, like many others. We definitely wished we’d booked at least a night, to fully soak in the wonderful atmosphere of this quaint town!

Medieval rooftops in the Portuguese town of Óbidos
The stacked rooftops of Óbidos give a sense of its old world charm

Enter the City Through the Senhora da Graça Chapel

Truly impressive, the main entrance into the city is a patchwork of exquisitely painted tiles. This archway “hides” an artfully decorated door, which is part of the adjoining Senhora da Graça Chapel. The elaborate decoration dates back to the 1700’s. It is a great example of “Azulejos”, the glazed blue ceramic tiles typical of Portugal.

An elaborate door with blue and white Portuguese tiles referred to as Azulejos
The elaborate archway of the Senhora da Graça Chapel. This archway also connects to the main entrance into the city

Walk through the ancient, winding streets of Óbidos

Inside its thick stone walls are quaint white washed houses, with terracotta tiled roofs that jostle each other alongside narrow, winding roads.

People sitting outside the Igreja de Santa Maria church, Óbidos, Portugal
Vendors and local elders sitting outside the Igreja de Santa Maria in Óbidos

Semi-permanent market stalls line the entrance to the fortress, selling everything from natural soaps to Portuguese pastries and cakes – certainly some of the best in the world. We entered the town by its main thoroughfare, cutting straight to the castle that dominates it. Along this street are lovely shops selling hand made Portuguese crafts and (you guessed it) more pastries and cakes. In Portugal, you can live by one rule – if it looks good, eat it.

Shop selling clothing in Óbidos, Portugal
Shop selling clothing made with beautiful Portuguese fabrics

Treat Yourself to a Pão de Ló

We found a no frills pastry shop that looked like it had been there for decades, which sold a traditional Portuguese cake called the Pão de Ló. The Pão de Ló is a type of custard sponge cake that is still molten in the center. We got a chocolate flavoured one covered with chocolate cream – simple, yet absolutely exquisite. It was one of the highlights of the visit and we ended up eating the cake even before we left the shop.

Cobblestoned alleys of Óbidos, lined with whitewashed houses adorned with yellow and blue motifs
Beautiful cobblestoned alleys of Óbidos, lined with whitewashed houses adorned with yellow and blue motifs

Cobblestoned alleys of Óbidos, lined with whitewashed houses adorned with yellow and blue motifs
Cobblestoned alleys of Óbidos, lined with whitewashed houses adorned with yellow and blue motifs
Cobblestoned alleys of Óbidos, lined with whitewashed houses adorned with yellow and blue motifs
Cobblestoned alleys of Óbidos, lined with whitewashed houses adorned with yellow and blue motifs

Visit the Mercado Biológico de Óbidos,

There was an impressive bookshop, Mercado Biológico de Óbidos, that occupied the first floor of a few narrow houses, with books that lined the walls floor to ceiling. The refurbishment of this former organic market was done by Ler Devagar, a bookseller from Lisbon, who transforms spaces of historical importance into book havens. It was the sort of a place anyone with a book fetish would immediately feel drawn to.

The Mercado Biológico de Óbidos, a former organic market transformed into a bookstore
The Mercado Biológico de Óbidos, a former organic market transformed into a bookstore

What was even more cool about this place was the fresh fruit and vegetable stand at the end of the store, in the cooking and gardening section. This place took the book café concept to a whole new level!

Narrow houses seen from the high point of Óbidos, Portugal
Narrow houses seen from the high point of Óbidos

Visit the Óbidos Castle

After all these wonderful distractions, we finally made it to the end of the thoroughfare, and reached the entrance to the castle’s keep. Inside the keep, there were market stalls and a restaurant, which were unfortunately closed when we were there. Nevertheless, it did provide a good impression of how daily life was structured within the castle keep during medieval times.

The walls of the Castle Keep in Óbidos, Portugal
The walls of the Castle Keep, constructed in the 14th century, and refurbished in the 1950s

Inside the keep was a lovely leisure garden full of pink blossoms in full bloom, overlooking the surrounding lands. It was trussed up against the high stone walls of the keep, and was an interesting feature of the castle’s overall architecture. From here, you could also look down onto the town of Óbidos.

The Castle Wall Walk

It’s worth mentioning here that you can walk on the walls of the Óbidos Castle. This will will provide you stunning views of the town on one side, and the beautiful Portuguese countryside on the other. There are a number of entry points to start the walk on the walls. On your way up to the castle’s market square, you’ll encounter a sign which will show you where you can being your walk.

The walk is a great way to get your bearings within the town itself. It was also interesting to see the wall standing as a division between the ancient core of Óbidos and the new houses which were outside the castle walls.

Do be cautious though! There are no handrails, and the path can be quite narrow and definitely not suitable for walking in groups.

House covered in wisteria vines
Many houses in Óbidos are covered in old wisteria wines

Ending a Day Trip to Óbidos

We ended our day in Óbidos in a little pub restaurant just off the main street, which served traditional Portuguese food. We had grilled sardines and fried squid, all fresh from the sea and very tasty. Óbidos was definitely a great stop and if we had the chance to do it all again, we’d definitely choose to spend a night in one of the apartments for rent in the town. That way, we would have gotten to see the sun set over castle keep and stroll its winding streets without other tourists in the way.

Hawk with a mouse in its beak, flying by the castle walls
A hawk living in the walls of the keep, with a mouse in her beak, taking it back to her nest

FAQs for Óbidos, Portugal

Why visit Óbidos?

Óbidos is an incredible little medieval town with quaint winding streets and a slow pace of life. Little has changed here since its heyday in the 15th Century. Visit to get a sense of what life was like in medieval Portugal.

When was Óbidos castle built?

Most of the castle was built in 713 by the Moors. However, its history and that of the town goes back to Roman times. Parts of the castle might have been around since the Visigoths conquered Óbidos in the 5th Century.

What to visit in Óbidos?

The main reason to visit Óbidos, is the city’s heart itself. It’s a charming medieval town with cobblestone streets. We spent hours walking around and visiting is many quirky shops. You should also visit the Óbidos castle.

How to get to Óbidos from Lisbon?

If you don’t have a private car, the easiest way to get to Óbidos is by bus. The Rodotejo bus company does a route to Óbidos from Lisbon which takes an hour, and there are 32 departures every weekday and 13 departures on weekends and holidays.