15 Best things to do in Leiria (Portugal)

An hour’s drive north of Lisbon, Leiria is a university town on the slopes of a medieval castle. King John I and Dennis I lived here, turning it from a fortified fortress into a luxurious palace. King John also left his mark at the nearby Batalha Monastery, a UNESCO site and an important Portuguese heritage site.

Around Leiria, you’ll pass your time in vibrant town squares and historic churches, and browse museums dedicated to the ancient printing and glass-making industries. When the summer mercury rises, the coast, with its wide sandy beaches and cool Atlantic air, is just a short scenic drive west.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Leiria:

1. Leiria Castle

Leiria Castle

Few medieval castles have been transformed into palaces like the majestic Leiria Castle, one of the most outstanding in the country.

There are three construction phases, each giving the castle a different look and character.

The original construction was during the reconquest of Portugal from the Moors by the first king, Afonso Henriques.

Later Gothic extensions were carried out under Denis I (14th century) and John I (15th century), adding an elegant palace connected to the castle as the royal residence.

One of the many delightful elements here is the loggia, completed by King John in the early 15th century.

2. Museu da Imagem em Movimento

Video Museum

Inside the city walls is the Moving Image Museum, established in 1996 in the former stables.

This date is not random, as it marks a century of Portuguese cinema.

The museum was created to preserve and display recording, editing and presentation equipment from various periods: film lovers will love vintage cameras, lights and projectors, as well as more original gear such as diorama.

There are also pianos from silent cinemas, antique cinema ticket machines, vintage reel cans and some interactive games for children.

3. Leiria Museum

Leiria Museum

The attraction is now a century old and has moved through many venues in the city, recently finding a permanent home in the defunct Sant’Agostinho Convent.

The exhibits are arranged in chronological order, with the prehistoric exhibit particularly fascinating; fossils of animals dating back 150 million years were found in Guimarota, and Menino do Lapedo, the remains of a late Paleolithic child found in the Lapedo Valley.

There are also Iron Age ceramics, handicrafts from the Roman city of Colipo, and religious art from defunct monasteries and churches.

4. Leiria Cathedral

Cathedral of Leiria

The Cathedral is a Portuguese National Monument, dating back to the 16th century, with a Mannerist shell and classical and baroque interiors.

Like many buildings in Leiria, it nearly collapsed in the 1755 earthquake.

This explains the building’s strong, supportive appearance after reconstruction, making it resilient.

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In 1810, a fire destroyed the interior during the Peninsular War with the French, and more troubles were encountered along the way.

As such, it’s more of an interesting testament to the challenges Leiria faced than a dazzling monument, although the gilded Baroque altar inside is rather ornate.

5. Moinho do Papel

paper money

This medieval paper mill on the banks of the River Lys dates back to 1411, when it was mentioned in the Royal Charter of King John I.

It was the first recorded paper mill in the country, and in 1496 Almanach Perpetuum, a Hebrew scholar, became one of the first printed books in Portugal, which had an impact on the local printing industry.

Until then, mills have been used to grind grain and produce oil.

When the interior was restored in 2009, each of these old applications was restored, but the best part was watching the pulp and fabric turn to paper before your eyes.

6. Praça Rodrigues Lobo

Rodriguez Lubo Plaza

This central square is the heart of Leiria’s nightlife and a place to socialize, just a few minutes away from losing weight and grabbing a coffee or a cold drink.

The views are also helpful, as the walls of the Castle of Leiria can be seen from above the buildings to the north.

The square is named in honor of one of Leiria’s most famous figures, the early 17th century poet Rodriguez Lobo.

He came from wealthy backgrounds but chose to write about the humble peasants who worked along the Lena and Lys rivers.

In 1923, a statue was erected in the southwest corner in honor of Lobo.

7. San Pedro Church

San Pedro Church

There is a charming little Romanesque church near the castle, built in the same period.

For a short time this was the cathedral of Leiria, but after the 17th century it was abandoned and repurposed as a theatre, barn and even a prison.

Even more amazing is that so many 12th and 13th century carvings are still here.

Your attention will be on the main portal, topped with an image of an animal carved into the corbel supporting the cornice.

The underside of the archive is decorated with botanical patterns and human faces.

8. Museu Escolar

Escola Museum

Just a few minutes east of Leiria city center, Marrazes is a museum that showcases Portuguese school life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It started as a project at a local school, led by teachers, to show students what the school used to be like.

But soon enough valuable material was available to open a museum in a separate building.

The classroom has furniture, antique toys, books and everyday items (slates, blackboards, erasers, clocks, crosses).

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The museum is divided into eight different rooms based on themes such as carpentry and geology or periods such as the end of the monarchy, the First Republic and dictatorships.

9. Pinhal de Leiria

Pihar De Leiria

As you leave the western edge of Leiria for the villages of Marinha Grande and Vieira Leiria, the peaceful wooded landscape may seem completely natural, but humans play an important role in the environment.

Pinhal de Leiria is 11,000 hectares of stone pine forest planted in the 13th century during the reign of King Alfonso III. This is to protect Leiria and its agriculture from the sand dunes blowing from the coast, which you can visit on the edge of the forest.

The forest also played a role in the Age of Voyages, supplying a great deal of pine and resin to the Portuguese fleet of world conquests.

There are viewing platforms, forest glades with picnic benches, bike paths and restored banks of the River Moor.

10. Batalha Monastery

Batalha Monastery

Just 15 minutes south of Leiria is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country’s most precious monuments.

It was commissioned by King John I to commemorate the Christian victory over the Moors at the Battle of Aljubarrotta in 1385. Chapels, royal cloisters, unfinished chapels and chapter halls are all worth as much time as possible.

This is because of the richness and complexity of the carvings, done in Gothic and early 15th century Manueline styles, blending High Gothic, Spanish Plate and Moorish architecture to create a unique Portuguese style.

In any case, the Chapel of the Founders is a section you can’t miss, which includes the tombs of John I and his wife Philippa, as well as the 15th century explorer Henry the Navigator.

11. Video Museum

video museum

On the way to the coast, a few minutes west of Leiria is the town of Marinha Grande, set among fragrant pine forests and using its rich sand to make glass.

The town remains the largest glass manufacturer in Portugal, and the time-honored methods have been replaced by modern molding facilities.

The museum is housed in an 18th-century palace belonging to William Stephens, an English immigrant who was in charge of the Royal Glassworks in Marinha Grande in the 1770s.

In the showroom, you can marvel at art glass, antique glass and vases dating back to the 18th century, as well as objects produced in other glass-making centres in Portugal since the 1600s.

12. Playa de San Pedro de Mole

playa de san pedro de moore

If you’re craving sea air and beautiful beaches to pass your time, you’re in luck, as this elegant coastal village is less than 20 km away.

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The drive will also take you through the pine forest, and the village is home to many 19th-century buildings, including the former home of the turn-of-the-century poet Afonso Lopes Vieira. Even in summer, the water is cold and not suitable for recreational swimmers or young children. This is the Atlantic coast after all, and it’s better for surfers and surfers.

But the real charm is in the beach itself, which is vast, with white sand and a lot of exhilaration, with rocky outcrops and towering cliffs with a lighthouse.

13. Praia de Paredes da Vitória

Praia de Paredes da Vitória

Another beach that should be on your radar is a few kilometers from San Pedro de Moor.

Barely any tourist encroachment, behind this beach is just a village and a long line of vegetation-covered cliffs.

Soft, light-coloured sand fades into the distance in either direction, while the village has the facilities to ensure a comfortable day in the sun.

The cliffs of Paredes da Vitória are also worth mentioning, as these limestone and sandstone formations contain fossils from the Lower Jurassic period, some 200 million years ago.

14. Fatima

Fatima

Just 20 minutes to the southeast is Portugal’s most precious pilgrimage site.

It all started with the Marianne apparition reported by the Shepherd 100 years ago.

In an idyllic spot in the hills at an altitude of 350 meters, a shelter was built on the site.

People from all over the world embark on a journey, and for the non-religious, you can come and see one of the meeting points of Christendom.

The sighting was first reported on May 13, so Fatima was particularly busy on this day.

But the 13th of any month between May and October is also popular, and October is the last time Mary is here.

15. Local Food

Brisas do Lis

If you wander around the old center of Leiria and look in the bakery windows, you’ll see these bright orange candies in little paper cake boxes.

They are a local specialty, called Brisas do Lis, made from egg yolks, sugar and almonds, and were originally made by nuns at the defunct Santana convent.

For savory food, there is the typical morcela de arroz, a black pudding made with pig blood, rice, pork and various herbs and spices.

For traditional local cuisine, try bacalhau com migas (cod fish baked in breadcrumbs), fried whitebait, suckling pig or chanfana, goat or lamb stew.

Leiria is also in the Encostas de Aire wine DOC, known for its pale reds and fruity whites.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Leiria, Portugal
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