15 things to do in Santa Maria da Feira (Portugal)

The town of Santa Maria da Feira is not far from the coast and half an hour south of Porto by car. One landmark that has an immediate impact is the castle, which is intact and preserves 500 years of Portuguese medieval history. Every summer, this is one of the biggest medieval festivals in Europe, offering epic reenactments, markets and entertainment for the kids.

There’s more to see, such as the museum in a 16th-century monastery with artifacts from a Celtic castle, Portugal’s only bird zoo, thermal springs and a fascinating array of local museums. Another festival sweeps Santa Maria in May, when troupes from many countries dazzle audiences at Portugal’s premier street theatre festival.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Santa Maria da Feira:

1. Santa Maria da Feira Castle

Santa Maria da Feira Castle

The town’s crowning glory is one of the most complete medieval monuments in the country.

The castle was a regional fortress from the 11th to 15th centuries, and a surprisingly large number of buildings from each period have survived.

There is an oval-shaped castle commanded by a formidable castle with pyramid-shaped towers at each corner.

You enter the complex under the Barbican, which now also has a badge.

The castle is three stories high, with a cistern on the ground floor below a hall heated by three huge fireplaces.

Further up are the private apartments, where you can also climb up to the roof and enjoy the view from the balustrade.

2. Viagem Medieval em Terra de Santa Maria

Viagem Medieval Em Terra De Santa Maria

Every summer, Santa Maria da Feira hosts an event that dwarfs the average Renaissance fair.

Viagem Medieval em Terra de Santa Maria has markets, clowns, mock equestrian competitions, traditional dances, falconry shows and more.

Children can watch puppet shows, ride donkeys and take adventure classes.

The event builds up at night with plenty of volunteers, stunt performers on horseback, and even siege machines at work.

While entertainment is the purpose, the celebration also has a historical context, involving different chapters of the region’s medieval history, such as the Reconquista or the reigns of famous kings like Denis I or Alfonso IV in the 13th and 14th centuries.

3. Museu Convento dos Lóios

Museu Convento Dos Lóios

This 16th-century monastery is also a museum, a landscape in its own right: it has a cloister with a fountain in the middle, and a stunning grand staircase that zigzags up to the west façade of the adjoining Church of the Holy Spirit.

On the upper terrace is a 1746 cross, while at the bottom of the steps is a beautiful 16th century fountain with an armillary sphere at the top.

In 2000, the monastery became a museum when the town’s archaeological and ethnic heritage was relocated to its rooms.

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On display are pottery dating back to the Bronze Age, followed by coins, metal tools and steles from the Roman era.

In the Ethnology Room there are tools used for local crafts such as paper making, co-op and weaving.

4. Lorosa Zoo

Delorosa Zoo

This zoo is the only bird park in Portugal.

It is not dedicated to other animals, with around 500 birds from 150 species housed in 80 different aviaries or open enclosures.

As an introduction, there are pelicans, toucans, many parrot species, flamingos and birds of prey such as bald eagles and snowy owls.

Keep an eye on the calendar because if you come at certain times of the year, such as Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Easter or Halloween, there are special events planned for the kids.

5. Paper Museum

paper museum

For more than 300 years, people have been making paper on an industrial scale in Santa Maria da Feira, and in 2001 the town opened Portugal’s first paper museum.

It is located in a complex of two paper mills from the early 1800s, which also includes the eerie ruins of a third mill from the late 1700s.

In the first factory you can get acquainted with the old-fashioned handmade papermaking process, while the second factory has machines that took over production in the 19th and 20th centuries.

There is a set of watermarks to check, and you can also notice differences in paper produced in other parts of Portugal.

6. Castro de Romariz

Castro de Romariz

This fortified hilltop village was inhabited from the 5th century BC to the 1st century AD, but was not forgotten until the 19th century.

Proper excavations were not carried out until the 1980s, when archaeologists discovered one of the most complete castles (ancient castles) in the Entre Douro e Vouga area.

They unearthed ceramics, glass, coins and metal utensils, some as far away as Greece and Carthage.

These were exhibited at the Museu Convento dos Lóios.

The village has a characteristic network of circular and rectangular walls that form the monumental lower part of the houses and meeting halls.

You can book guided tours of the site with the museum during the week.

7. The Virgin Mary Museum

Virgin Mary Museum

A few minutes ahead is the Parish of Santa Maria de la Mas, once the stately home of a philanthropist’s 20th-century inhabitant, now a museum.

Henrique Alves de Amorim donated his estate to the town when he died, and as an art lover he amassed 16 rooms with tiles, tapestries , paintings, sculptures and many ceremonial items.

Baroque gilded wood and polychrome statues line the entire room.

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But most jaw-dropping is Amorim’s cork collection, filled with cork-working tools, as well as models like Lisbon’s Torre de Belém and a 15th-century sailboat made from the material.

8. Vision Pavilion

Hall of Illusions

This multi-sensory, hands-on science museum encourages children to learn about technology, astronomy, chemistry and the human body through experimentation and interaction.

You can learn how Portuguese explorers sailed the globe in the Age of Voyage and explore the inner workings of human organs and microchips through moving models and multimedia displays.

There are a total of six rooms displaying six cartoon characters, as well as the “lab”, a high-tech laboratory where children can watch experiments and demonstrations in microbiology, forensics, genetics and even molecular gastronomy.

9. Termas de São Jorge

Termas de São Jorge

The thermal springs of Caldas de São Jorge have attracted generations of tourists for their healing properties.

Water is sulphurous and claims benefits for musculoskeletal, respiratory and skin conditions.

Many people come for long-term treatments, but the Termas de São Jorge Spa is equally suitable for day visits.

The “Termalbreak” package includes a Vichy shower massage, a bath in the thermal pool and a workout in the gym.

“Termalfit & Form” is a slightly longer program to detox and fine-tune your nutrition and health.

10. Igreja da Misericórdia

Igreja Da Misericórdia

The church is also on a patio, served by a lovely old staircase from the 1700s, complete with gas lamps and fountains.

Once you’re at the entrance, you can look back for a satisfying panorama of the town, with the castle in the background.

Before the new church built by the Misericórdia brothers at the turn of the 18th century, there was a much older church of St. Nicholas on this windowsill.

A peculiarity of the building is that, despite its height dating back to the Baroque period, its façade has a Mannerist design from more than 100 years ago.

Make time to visit the Arc de Triomphe with Tuscan pilasters, wooden ceilings, and Baroque gilded altars.

11. Mercado Municipal

Mercado Municipal

Listed as a “Monument of the Public Interest”, the Santa Maria Market dates back to the 1950s.

If you need some groceries, there are vendors selling flowers, fish, meat, cheese and more, but shopping will give way to groundbreaking modern buildings.

The market was designed by the influential Fernando Tavola and was specifically designed to make the most of a small plot of land.

Its booths feature pavilions, which are permanent concrete slabs set on two levels around a central courtyard, with a fountain in the middle, decorated with geometric tiles.

12. Illusions

imaginer

For three days at the end of May, the town hosts Portugal’s largest annual street theatre festival.

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This is an international festival, now in its 17th edition, with around 400 performers from 13 countries.

It was an intensive three days with hundreds of shows scheduled and nine permanent installations installed on the streets.

These are often creative and blur the lines between street theatre and conceptual art.

One of the most prominent guests in recent years has been Spencer Tunick, who is known around the world for his numerous nude photos.

But there’s also a lot of fun and whimsy, and opportunities for kids to get involved.

13. Festa das Fogaceiras

Festa Das Fogaceiras

On January 20, Santa Maria celebrates a festival with a 700-year-old tradition.

Its roots lie in the Black Death; the townspeople baked special cakes, fogaças, as a wish to San Sebastian to drive away the plague.

The town recovered quickly, but when they stopped baking cakes, the plague returned.

So they’ve been roasting them ever since! The most characteristic part of the day is the parade of the town’s girls on Rua Direita.

They wear white dresses with red or blue belts and the famous fogaças on their heads.

14. Day out

ovary

You don’t need to drive more than a few kilometers to see the best of the area.

The town of Ovar, just 10 minutes away, is the center of excellence in the Portuguese art of tile-making, with churches, houses and even a central square painted with colorful glazes.

The town’s traditional melted sponge cake, sold at bakeries tied with linen paper, is all the incentive you need.

Ria de Aveiro is a huge shallow lagoon covering over 75 square kilometers, a haven for both wildlife and ancient aquatic traditions such as salt farmers and fishing.

Then there’s the coast, and in just 15 minutes you’ll arrive at Praia do Furadouro’s endless white sands and turbulent Atlantic waters.

15. Local Food and Drink

Fogasas

The quintessential sweet treat in town, fogaças are sold in Santa Maria’s bakeries any time of the year.

They are made with egg yolks, butter, sugar and flour, flavored with cinnamon and lemon zest, and topped in the shape of a castle battlement.

Another old-fashioned candy is caladinho, a soft, round biscuit often eaten as an afternoon snack with a hot drink.

Cheese is also a local strength, with supermarket brand Lacticínios Maf operating in the town since the 1930s. They are known for their soft butter cheeses with a creamy texture and mild flavor.

Finally there is the local drink, chamoa, made with blackberries and served as a liqueur or wine.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Santa Maria da Fira, Portugal
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