15 things to do in Pombal (Portugal)

Pombal is a name you’ll hear a lot in Portugal, partly because of its role in the country’s politics. The first Marquis of Pombal was one of America’s greatest prime ministers and even had an architectural movement named after him (Pombalin). He retired to this small town in the Midlands in the 1770s.

In the last years of his life, the Marquis left his mark on the old center of Pombal, and the former prison building he commissioned now houses a superb museum about his life. There’s also a medieval castle with a modern visitor center and several churches, while the natural beaches on the coast are off the tourist radar.

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

1. Pombal Castle

Pombal Castle

Pombal was born when the castle was built on a hill in the mid-12th century, when Portugal was a battleground between Moors and Christians led by King Alfonso I. The work was overseen by Templar Gualdim Pais as an advanced outpost of the fortification network in the Mondgo Valley.

Curiously, the castle was never involved in a conflict other than being looted and burned by the retreating French troops.

The complex resembles Tomar Castle, also a Templar fortification, with two serrated walls surrounding a tall square castle.

There is a modern cafe outside and a visitor center inside the castle with a timeline and informative animated films about the castle and Pombal.

2. Museu Marquês de Pombal

Museum of the Marquis of Pombal

Housed in the historic former prison of Pombal, this museum tells the story of the 18th-century prime minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, who was the first A generation of Marquis of Pombal.

Considered one of Portugal’s leading politicians, he was a reformer who helped reduce the Inquisition and guided the country through the devastating earthquake of 1755. The collection was collected by a local antiquities collector who spent 25 years searching for items owned by the Marquis or related persons to give him.

There are busts, medals, prints, portraits, clothing, furniture, ceramics, documents and glassware, all of which piece together the giants of Portugal’s past.

3. Igreja Matriz de São Martinho

Igreja Matriz De São Martinho

The main church of Pombal was built in the 14th century, and it is in this building that an important moment in Portuguese history is said to have occurred.

King Denis I and his son Alfonso were at war throughout the 1320s, but with the mediation of Queen Elizabeth of Denis, the two publicly swore peace here in 1323. This event is recorded by a tiled panel on the Arc de Triomphe in the nave.

The building was remodeled in the mid-16th century with the addition of a fine side chapel (Capela Lateral de N.ª Sra.

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Dabidad). This is the highlight of its ribbed vault, the coat of arms of the noble Freire Botelho family and the polychrome Renaissance altarpiece.

4. Marquis de Pombal Square

Marquis de Pombal Square

The square in front of the church takes its name from the famous statesman who spent the last years of his life in Pombal between 1777 and 1782. This space has always been the social and economic center of the town, serving as the town museum in the buildings (the old prison and granary) that the Marquis personally ordered when he moved here.

The square is now completely pedestrian, and there is a bar at the north corner for a cold drink or coffee.

5. Museu de Arte Popular Portuguesa

Museu De Arte Popular Portuguesa

In 1776, the Marquis of Pombal ordered this granary to be used to store the grains of his farm at Quinta da Gramela.

Recently, the city government restored the building and established this museum of popular art and folk traditions on the ground floor.

About 2,000 handicrafts, mainly figurines, are displayed in glass cases and carefully selected from all corners of Portugal.

They clearly show the vast differences in customs, dress and folklore across the country.

All of these works were collected by Nelson Lobo Rocha, former curator of the renowned Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

6. Mata Nacional do Urso

Mata Nacional Do Urso

West of Pombal is a coastal plain surrounded by fragrant pine forests.

This is the northern extension of the Pinhal de Leiria pine plantation.

Like its southern neighbor, it was planted at the behest of medieval kings Alfonso III and Denis I to protect plain farmland from sand dunes that flowed in from the coast.

During the Age of Great Navigation, these tall maritime pines provided the timber for the sailing ships that spread Portuguese influence in all directions.

In a quiet, uninhabited area, there are more than 6,000 hectares of woodland: you can walk on two iconic trails, Trilho da Lagoa de São José and Trilho da Baleia Verde.

7. Praia do Osso da Baleia

playa dos da balea

Backed by these dunes and national forest is this desolate beach, now flying the blue flag for ten years in a row.

Due to limited infrastructure and no large resorts nearby, almost no tourists can reach this beach.

It’s better for those who know because it’s a five-kilometer stretch of paradise.

There is a wide strip of fine white sand and low rolling waves.

There are few services on the ground, but there are still some shops, bars, lifeguard patrols and first aid stations, while the boardwalk is accessible to the disabled.

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8. Serra de Sicó

Sierra De Sico

Breaking the horizon east of Pombal is this 559-meter karst massif with honeycomb-like caves that are being explored by speleologists and amateur cavers.

Hidden in the shadow of the Serra de Sicó is the rustic and ancient Aldeia do Vale, the longest inhabited village in the Pombal region.

This rustic settlement uses local limestone as a building material and is known for its distinctive round barns.

At the heart of the village is a lovely chapel built in the 1700s and a freestanding fountain for people and animals.

9. Igreja do Convento do Louriçal

Igreja Do Convento Do Louriçal

The church was founded by the Franciscans in the first half of the 17th century and is listed as a National Monument.

This period is in the transition period between Portuguese Mannerism and Baroque, both with details.

One of some distinguishing features of the building is the lack of curves in its walls, which makes the interior somewhat more striking.

See the Mannerist altar and side altars, made of the same white Lioz limestone as Lisbon’s famous Jeronimos Monastery and Belém Tower.

The tiles, from the 18th century, are exquisite and show the life and crucifixion of St. Clair, St. Anthony and St. Francis.

10. Panorâmico AquaParque

Panorâmico AquaParque

For families with bored kids and teens, this water park is a summer savior, located on a hillside a few minutes from Pombal.

There are three sinks to fly down: a twisted half-tube body slider, a multi-lane racer and a more serene river ride with an inflatable tube.

There are several pools, a wading pool with a climbing frame and suitable for the little ones, and a 25m pool for swimming or just rolling in the water.

There are also vast green areas where you can rest under palm trees.

The park’s heights on the Serra de Sicó also give it some awe-inspiring views, as the name “Panorâmico” suggests.

11. Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Cardal

Igreja De Nossa Senhora Do Cardal

This massive baroque church has probably the grandest building in town.

It was built in the 1600s by Count Castelo Melhor to fulfill a solemn oath.

The façade has scrolls, niches and pilasters, while the sheer volume of the nave will surprise you.

The altar, framed by tall Solomon columns, is striking, as is the retable, which the Renaissance was proud of.

This feature actually predates the church, being brought here from the ruined chapel in the castle complex.

It dates back to the 1500s and was probably designed by the acclaimed French sculptor João de Ruão.

In late July, the church was the focus of attention during Festas do Bodo, shown below.

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12. Festas do Bodo

Festival do Hakata

This harvest festival takes place around the last Sunday in July for five days and is dedicated to the Shrine of Our Lady of Nossa Senhora do Cardal.

The story goes that there was a plague of locusts and caterpillars in Pombal’s crops, so the town’s residents organized a procession from one church in the town to another, ending at the shrine of Capela de Nossa Senhora de Jerusalém, promising Hold a feast of honor with her.

Needless to say it was a success! The parade remains at the heart of the festivities, incorporating solemn traditions such as folk dancing and musical performances, along with a 10k competition and six nights of concerts by some of the biggest names in Portuguese pop music.

13. Teatro-Cine de Pombal

Pombal Theater

For the rest of the year, if there are exhibitions, plays, conferences, talks, concerts in Pombal, chances are it will take place at this restored Art Deco theatre.

Originally a cinema under the new Estado Novo regime in the 1940s, the venue has a lot of charm despite a tight budget.

It fell into disrepair at the end of the century before being refitted in 2002 for modern activity and safety regulations. If you’re visiting during the day, there’s a lovely cafe inside with antique projection equipment on display.

14. Day Trips

Leiria

If you need ideas for excursions, there is a medieval city, a beach resort and Roman ruins within half an hour.

If you want a beach with more life and more seaside activities, Praia da Vieira is the best choice; there is a water sports center, various seafood restaurants, bars and another water park.

Leiria, like Pombal, is overlooked from above by a castle.

But it was the residence of kings from the 14th to 16th centuries, with the elegance of a Renaissance palace.

To the north is the Roman Museum and Villa of Labasar, where lifelike mosaics of ground floor and residential areas await you.

15. Food and drink

Grilled Sardines

If you see couves migadas on the menu, you know you’re in a traditional restaurant in Pombal.

This is a local way of making cabbage, which is chopped, cooked with beans, and then topped with a slice of rustic bread.

Of course, it’s not a main course, but it accompanies many dishes, such as grilled cod or grilled sardines.

On cold winter days, with lamb stew and baby goat to keep you warm, the typical way to follow these is with a bowl of cinnamon-flavored rice pudding.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Pombal, Portugal
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