The town of Abrantes is commanded by a medieval castle on the right bank of the Tagus, which winds its way from below. The townscape is hilly, but the surrounding countryside is flat, and Abrantes has several lookouts where you can overlook river plains for miles. There are social squares in the old town, connected by slender cobblestone streets.
National churches and many undiscovered wonders await in this beautiful but unknown town. Just next door is the lovely village of Constantia and another magnificent castle. The Tagus and dammed Zêzere rivers, north of Abrantes, have small beaches, and their slow-moving waters are safe to sail by kayak or canoe in summer.
Let’s explore the best things to do at Abrantes:
1. Castelo de Abrantes
On the town’s 200-meter plateau, Abrante’s castle is one of Linha do Tejo, a series of 12th-century fortifications against the Tagus River in northern Portugal.
This was enacted by the Knights Templar, and the castle would see action over the next hundred years as the Moors tried to retake the town.
Almost all of the buildings today date back to renovations during the Portuguese Restoration Wars in the 17th century, when walls were lowered and fortified, while forts were added in time for the Peninsular War in the 18th century.
To learn about the remains of the original medieval castle, see the restored castle center and battlements section with panoramic views of the Tagus Valley in the distance.
2. Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo
Inside the city walls, standing proudly next to the castle is this Gothic church dating from the 1400s.
There may be a Roman-era temple on this space, as a marble statue was discovered during excavations (you can see this inside). The church is no longer a place of worship as it has been transformed into a small archaeological site, with rotating exhibits of Islamic ceramics, Roman stonework and prehistoric hand axes unearthed on site.
The church is also the pantheon of the noble Almeida family, so there are some very ornate tombs to see, with Manuel masonry from the 1500s.
3. Use the square in the old town
The historic center of Abrantes is a rather chaotic mix of streets and sloping squares.
Many buildings are listed and many old-school family businesses have been passed down for generations.
Praça Barão da Batalha, the former site of the Straw Market, was a meeting point and place of relaxation, completely pedestrian at the end of the 20th century.
At this time, a group of bronze sculptures of people of different ages were installed on the terrace to represent the joyous atmosphere of the square.
High up south of the old center is the municipal library of Abrantes.
Take a look, as it is located in a converted 16th-century Dominican monastery, where the old cloister with Doric columns has been incorporated into the building.
4. Church of San Vicente
This wonderful national monument was built by the Order of Christ and replaces the earlier church that has been in the town since the Reconquista.
The design is Mannerist, with classical columns, gables, niches and balustrades forming portals, as well as a similar format used for interior solemn altars.
The church has a total of nine altars, one in each of the three side chapels and three at the end of each nave.
There is a wealth of precious liturgical sculptures, a fine pulpit and two beautiful tiled panels documenting the life of St Vincent.
Also see the Tuscan columns separating the nave and the lavish 18th century Baroque organ.
5. Praia Fluvial Aldeia do Mato
Just 10 km north of Abrantes is the Fort de Albufeira, a reservoir filling the Zezer valley and built in the 1950s by the Fort de Fort Dam.
If you’re looking for a place to cool off on a hot summer day, look no further.
The beach has a designated swimming area, and in a green environment dominated by the scent of pine trees, the nautical center offers water sports such as boating, canoeing and windsurfing, and even occasional boat trips to the reservoir.
See the dam coming to the village of Castelo do Bode, the giant building that dominates the valley.
6. Igreja de São João Baptista
Another national monument in Abrantes is this cultural Mannerist church built in the 16th century.
At this time, the original 12th-century building had been completely remodeled and extended, with the addition of two naves on either side of the original central building.
Check out the wood panels on the ceiling and the 17th-century Mannerist altar by master carver Dionisio Rodrigues.
In the 1700s they were also decorated with baroque gilded wood.
7. Jardim da República
The best place to store your books is Jardim da República, located on a hill in the old town, next to the Municipal Library.
Until 1940, it was an ordinary square, but to beautify the 1940s town, lawns and flower beds were laid out, and various trees such as chestnuts and cedars were planted, earning it the popular label “Jardim”. There is a small café with outdoor seating, and the garden is paved with patterned calçada portuguesa (Portuguese sidewalk). At the center is a monument built in 1940 to commemorate the war dead at the Battle of Lys in 1918. It is the first sculpture made of reinforced concrete in Portugal.
8. Outeiro de São Pedro
Tall hills protect Abrantes, the Tagus River winds around the town, and there’s no shortage of walk-to or drive-able viewing platforms for exhilarating views of the water, town or countryside.
The choice is Outeiro de São Pedro, on the top of the eastern hill, with panoramic views of the Tagus River.
The place has been used for various purposes over the centuries, as the remains of a medieval church and a small fortress in the early 19th century.
There is a local legend that the great general Nuno Álvares Pereira camped here in 1385 while leading Portugal to victory over Spain at the Battle of Aljubarrota , and a monument was erected to commemorate this in 1968.
9. Coleção Visitável da Cavalaria Portuguesa
Abrantes still has a military presence thanks to RAME (Military Emergency Support Corps). Their headquarters in Avenida de Aljubarrota is actually open to the public on Fridays, weekends and holidays, and tours are available by appointment the rest of the week.
In a beautifully presented space is an exhibition of the history of the Portuguese cavalry, arranged in chronological order.
You’ll learn the full history of the major conflicts that unfolded in Portugal, as well as a general description of the military’s use of horses from prehistoric times to the end of international peacekeeping.
On the left bank of the Tagus is a river, where you can look back at the city.
The location also has a touch of mystery thanks to the Mourões, a row of stone piles.
By the 20th century, their purpose had been completely forgotten, and one theory was that they belonged to a lost Roman bridge.
In fact, they were the supports for military piers in the early 19th century.
Classified as “property of public interest”, the piles create a picturesque backdrop against the city and river.
11. Núcleo Museológico da Quinta das Sentieiras
Just minutes from Abrantes, Quinta das Sentieras is a gorgeous 18th century manor house turned into an upscale resort and museum.
There are 55 hectares of land and a lovely mansion that has hosted kings, queens, barons and baronesses.
The museum space is located within the quinta’s converted stables and exhibits antique agricultural equipment and tools used in various estate-based industries.
There are plows, sickles, rakes, forks, buckets, balers, gourds, and vintage glassware, with concise descriptions of each item and its purpose.
Drive 10 minutes west to Constância, a very pretty village with a labyrinth of winding streets at the confluence of the Tagus and Zezer rivers.
It’s all old whitewashed houses with brightly coloured borders, cobblestone alleys beckoning you, quiet squares with fountains.
The river banks are lined with gardens filled with willow trees, and water activities such as canoeing are also available in summer.
A figure forever associated with Constancia is Luís de Camões, the 16th-century Portuguese poet who lived here and is known for a large bronze bust.
13. Centro Ciência Viva de Constância
There is an astronomical park on the hills above Constancia, just 10 minutes from Abrantes.
The attraction opened in 2004 and features exhibits and programs to keep children and adults engaged.
The park’s interactive exhibits are all open-air and surrounded by pine trees.
These include a movable solar system model and a large celestial sphere that lets you stand inside.
There’s also a planetarium, an auditorium with telescopes live, and if you’re from a big city, you should come back at night to watch the stars because the sky is so spectacular.
14. Castelo de Almourol
Defending a small rocky island on the Tagus River, this mighty castle was built and administered by the Knights Templar.
It was part of a defensive line along the river designed during the 12th-century reconquest, although the site was also used by the Moors, Visigoths and Romans.
You can reach it by boat across the river, which is certainly an epic way to approach the castle.
Considering its rich history, the castle is basically just a shell, with jagged walls around the towers, but lots of information boards and fantastic views from the roof.
If you’re looking for something quintessential to take home, Abrantes has made a range of jams, jams and preserves since monastic days.
Honey has been grown here since the 12th century and is part of the Ribatejo appellation of origin.
There are different types, from dark eucalyptus honey to lighter varieties that use rosemary and heather pollen.
Also look out for the local olive oil, various cured sausages and brejo da Gaia goat cheese.
Classic dishes in traditional restaurants are cabbage bean soup, roasted cod, braised eel, roasted goat, lamprey rice and mignon steak: these are leftover bread crumbs soaked in water, olive oil and garlic and then deep-fried.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Abrantes, Portugal
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