15 things to do in Santarem (Portugal)

The city of Santarem defends the plateau on the right bank of the Tagus River and was home to Portuguese kings throughout the Middle Ages. This is also where the country’s earliest parliament, Cortes, was located. This gives the city the best Gothic complex in Portugal, in its walls, churches, monasteries and isolated monuments such as the Gothic fountain with the seal of the king.

The city’s terrain is well above the fertile Tajo plains, giving it some amazing vantage points, the most powerful being the Jardim das Portas do Sol, where you can command the plains from the city’s battlements. If you’re in the city during feira, try the fandango do Ribatejo dance performed by two people in a simulated fight.

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

1. Diocesan Museum

Parish Museum

In Praça Sá da Bandeira, the museum is located in the north wing of the Jesuit college, integrated with the cathedral complex.

The architecture and marble decoration of the cathedral and college are part of the museum.

These ornate buildings are the repository for all the religious artworks painted, engraved and made in the Parish of Santarem.

There is art from the 1200s to the present, and as a city favored by royalty in the late Middle Ages, some of the statues, paintings and later tile panels are sublime.

2. Igreja da Graça

Igreja Da Graça

This church is a Portuguese National Monument, one of Santarem’s postcards and one of the shining parts of the Gothic heritage.

It began in 1380, work was quick, and ended in the early 1400s, maintaining a consistent Gothic architecture both inside and outside the church.

The façade is fantastic, the carved vaulted vaults are decorated with a floral frieze, which in turn is a very delicate rose window.

The three cavernous naves are bare compared to the Baroque temples of Santarem, but ribbed vaults dating from the 1400s and historic tombstones will grab your attention.

3. Jardim das Portas do Sol

Jardim Das Portas Do Sol

What was once the Castle of Santarem is now a peaceful garden with stunning views of the Tagus River.

It’s such a rush to stand at this point and know that it has been inhabited since the 8th century BC. There is a Bronze Age ‘Castro’, replaced by Roman, Visigoth and Moorish settlements.

In the 12th century, King Afonso Henriques used the fort as a base for his reconquest campaigns, which faced Moorish raids throughout the 12th century.

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The garden in its place has a section of old wall and a statue of Alfonso Henrique.

It’s a picturesque summer picnic spot, shaded by trees and a cool breeze from the river plain.

4. Igreja de Santa Maria de Marvila

Church of Santa Maria de Marville

Where the church now stands may have been a mosque, inaugurated in the 1100s on the back of the Christian Reconquista.

The original Gothic building was completely remodeled in the first decades of the 16th century.

The funder of these changes was the Governor of India, Francisco de Almeida.

This is the time to make intricate portals with spikes and botanical patterns.

Much of the interior is relatively new, with the most charming feature being the tiles on the walls.

The glazing around the holy water font is in the atapete style (literally, carpet), dating back to the 1620s.

5. Mercado Municipal

Mercado Municipal

The covered market in Santarém dates back to 1928 and has a hall with metal columns and a roof wrapped in a more traditional look.

You don’t even need to come shopping to admire this monument; the walls are covered with 63 glazed tiles made by Fábrica Aleluia of Aveiro, telling the history of agriculture and trade in the Tagus River and the wider Santarem region.

The hall itself is where snapshots of everyday life in Santarem are taken.

It is open until 12:00 every day and has all the produce you would expect such as fish, meat, fruit, vegetables and flowers.

6. Old Town

old town

Santarem is called the capital Gotico for good reason, as the city has a lot of medieval splendor, mostly in the form of churches and monasteries.

Even if it’s only part of what was once here, you might waste a whole day marveling at this legacy.

The ravine-shaped shopping streets are interesting, paved with patterned calçada Portuguesa, leading to cultural squares such as Praça Sá da Bandeira, where large public gatherings take place.

7. Casa Museu Passos Canavarro

Casa Museu Passos Canavarro

In 1841, the beloved 19th-century author Almeida Garrett lived in this princely mansion. At this time, he was writing his seminal book, Viagens na Minha Terra (Viagens na Minha Terra), and immortalizing the property in his work.

It stands above the medieval palace owned by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, so it’s part of Portugal’s recent history rather than recent Portuguese history.

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Founded by current owner Pedro Cannavaro, who spent most of his time in the Far East, the museum houses paintings, porcelain, furniture and other decorative arts from Japan and China.

8. Miradouro de São Bento

Miradouro De São Bento

On the east side of Santarem is a lookout with a stunning panoramic view of the Tagus River and its endless plains.

A few miles east and south, the scenery is flat and you can meditate on the course of the Chessboard Fields, the Tagus River and the D. Luís Bridge, which opened in 1881 and spans more than 1,200 meters across the river.

The viewing platform is at the end of a small square and there is also a bar with a terrace if you want to have a cold drink while admiring the view.

9. Torre das Cabaças

Torre das Cabasas

Next to the Church of Santa Maria is a national monument and part of the city’s ancient fortifications.

The fortification was converted into a bell tower in the 1500s.

The colloquial name “Cabaças” (head) comes from the hollow clay gourd attached to the iron bell tower.

These were added to give the bells more resonance and were named “minds” at the expense of the city’s “hollow” council members! The bells themselves have set the rhythm of everyday life in Santarem from 1604.

10. Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park

Serras De Aire E Candeeiros Natural Park

The southern end of this natural park is just a 20-minute drive away.

This limestone massif has many natural wonders to experience.

You can see dinosaur footprints at Vale de Meious, which appeared in a former quarry in the park.

Meanwhile, the Mira de Aire cave is listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Portugal, and you will descend 110 meters in a huge cave.

Fórnea is a circus of over 200 meters high with waterfalls and beautiful rocks and green seams.

There are also castles, more caves, salt pans, natural springs and many idyllic farmlands separated by dry stone walls.

11. Casa dos Patudos

Casa Dos Patudos

This beautiful house across the Tagus River in Alpiarça was the residence of José Relvas, Portugal’s 70th Prime Minister in 1919, who was in office for only two months. In 1905 he commissioned a vibrant Revivalist style house with arcades, loggias and minarets.

Relvas bequeathed the estate to the municipality when he died in 1929, and it opened as a museum in 1960. He has always been an avid art collector, and the mansion has paintings, sculptures, glazed tiles, furniture and porcelain from Portugal and across Europe, as well as Japan, China, India and Persia.

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12. Convent of San Francisco

monastery of san francisco

This lovely 13th-century monastery is another Gothic gem in Santarem.

It reopened in 2012 after a period of abandonment following a fire in 1940. The interior is very rudimentary, in part because medieval monuments, such as the tomb of King Fernando I, have been moved to museums in Lisbon.

But you’ll know why as soon as you walk into the monastery, which has two levels, a ribbed vault and capital letters with a leaf-like pattern, and a representation of Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grape.

13. Fonte das Figueiras

Fonte das Figueres

On the walls of the parish of San Salvador is a hidden 14th-century Gothic fountain during the reign of King Denis I or King Alfonso IV. It is co-funded by the city and the royal family, as both coats of arms are visible.

The fountain is an important source of water for Porta de Atamarma, leading from the castle to the Ribeira district by the river.

The whole scene belongs to one painting; there is a very romantic stone eaves, three pointed vaults and melons as pointed as the city walls.

14. National Food Festival

National Food Festival

Every October, Santarem hosts an 11-day national food and drink festival that celebrates the best of the Ribatjo region.

There are live cooking demonstrations, special themed lunches at 12 traditional restaurants and 1 concept restaurant around the city.

During this time, dozens of artisans set up stalls in the town, specializing in the production of herbs and spices, cheeses, traditional monastic sweets.

As for the wines, usually every DOC wine region from across the country is present at the festival, but the focus is on Ribatejo wines, which can be red, white, sparkling or fortified.

15. Complexo Aquático de Santarém

Complexo Aquático De Santarém

Summer in central Portugal brings searing temperatures, so most towns have municipal outdoor pools.

Santarém’s is one of the best, which is why it is so popular.

Arrive early if you want a quiet swim.

However, if you have kids or teens, these three slides will be a hit.

While they’re having a good time, you can look for shade from umbrellas and palm trees on the grass around the pool.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Santarem, Portugal
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