Caldas da Rainha

Written By Becky Gillespie

Caldas da Rainha, a charming city about 10 km from the Atlantic Ocean in central Portugal, was founded by a queen named Leonor. As the story goes, while traveling from Óbidos to Batalha, Queen Leonor noticed people bathing in hot water. Suffering herself from a malady, possibly angina or a tumor, she tested them herself and found relief. As a token of gratitude for her own healing, Queen Leonor decided to build a thermal hospital in 1485 along with a church. This marked the official establishment of Caldas da Rainha, which translates in English to “Queen’s Hot Waters.”

Caldas da Rainha, Photo by Mário Rui André, Unsplash

Today, Caldas da Rainha is famous for its vibrant arts scene, particularly ceramic art, which has thrived since the 19th century. The city’s architecture reflects a blend of modern and historical influences. Notable landmarks include Queen Leonor’s Thermal Hospital, one of the oldest continuously operating thermal hospitals in the world. Parque Dom Carlos I, a lush park in the city center, offers a wonderful escape into nature and art with its many museums. In addition, the city’s bustling daily fruit and vegetable market, Praça da Fruta, showcases local produce and culture.

Only a one-hour drive from Lisbon, Caldas da Rainha is a great place to escape the hordes of tourists while also being close to some of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches, such as Foz do Arelho, which overlooks the tranquil Óbidos Lagoon, and Praia de São Martinho do Porto, famous for its calm, shell-shaped bay. Fifteen minutes south of Caldas da Rainha is the charming medieval castle town of Óbidos and thirty minutes further north is the famous surf town of Nazaré.

Caldas da Rainha’s cultural calendar is also packed with festivals and events year-round. The annual “Festa de São Sebastião” celebrates the city’s patron saint. The city also hosts various art exhibitions, music concerts, and theatrical performances, making it a vibrant cultural hub. These events draw visitors from all over, highlighting the city’s lively spirit and community engagement.

Where is Caldas da Rainha in Portugal?

Caldas da Rainha is located in the district of Leiria within the central region of Portugal. The city is approximately 90 kilometers north of Lisbon, which takes about one hour by car. It lies nearly 240 kilometers south of Porto, which will take about 2 hours and 15 minutes by car. The closest major airport is in Lisbon, but the Porto airport gives you another option if you are willing to make the drive south.

What to do in Caldas da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha’s main cultural sites can be explored in a day, but the city makes a great base for a long weekend, especially if you have a rental car and want to explore the nearby beaches and castle town of Óbidos. From exploring the bustling daily market to relaxing in the expansive Parque Dom Carlos I, Caldas da Rainha is a charming getaway and a great respite from the summer heat in southern Portugal. Here are our top picks for experiencing this delightful city.

3 Best Tours & Experiences in Caldas da Rainha

1. Caldas da Raina: Unseen with a Local Guide

Embark on a unique journey with a local guide through Caldas da Rainha. Visit the world’s first Thermal Hospital, and the Praça da Republica’s daily street market, explore Parque Dom Carlos I, and delve into the history of the José Malhoa Museum, among other whimsical stops along the way.

Book Caldas da Rainha: Unseen with a Local Guide

2. Nazaré and Caldas da Rainha Full-Day Private Tour

This full-day tour starts in Nazaré to watch the big waves and then moves on to Caldas da Rainha. Customize the stops based on your preferences. Visit Parque Dom Carlos I, the Museum of Ceramics, and the oldest operating thermal hospital in the world.

Book Nazaré and Caldas da Rainha Full-Day Private Tour

3. Caldas da Rainha: Óbidos Medieval Village & Buddha Eden Tour

This 4-hour tour begins in Caldas da Rainha and stops by the labyrinth of cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses in the medieval village of Óbidos. Finally, you will explore the Quinta dos Loridos, where the largest oriental garden in Europe, the Buddha Eden, can be found.

Book Caldas da Rainha: Obidos and Buddha Eden

Things to do in Caldas da Rainha

1. Visit the oldest operating thermal hospital in the world

Founded in 1485 by Queen D. Leonor, the Hospital Termal Rainha D. Leonor in Caldas da Rainha is the world’s oldest thermal hospital. Stepping into this hospital is like stepping back in time. Personally, we think it’s better to visit these facilities for their historical value rather than receiving treatment here if you are pressed for time. The staff don’t always answer the phone, so if you do want to make an appointment, it’s best to stop by in person. 

Thermal Hospital Interior, Caldas da Rainha, Caldas da Rainha, Photo by CCDRC, Flickr

Through a corridor in the Thermal Hospital, you can access the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Pópulo, a church completed 15 years after the hospital’s construction in 1500. Several improvements have been carried out over the years, most recently from 2021 to 2023. The church officially re-opened after its most recent renovations on May 15, 2023. Enjoy some marvelous tilework and well-preserved architecture in this essential part of Caldas da Rainha’s history.  

Nossa Senhora do Pópulo Church, Caldas da Rainha, Photo by Ajax, Flickr

2. Stroll through Parque Dom Carlos I

Parque Dom Carlos I epitomizes romantic charm. Originally vineyards and olive groves, it transformed into a therapeutic retreat for Hospital Termal Rainha D. Leonor’s patients. In 1889, architect Rodrigo Maria Berquó redesigned it into a beautiful garden.

Today, visitors enjoy tennis, a gazebo, tea house, rowing boats on the artificial lake, resident swans, and sculptures by artists like Leopoldo de Almeida and Henrique Moreira. The southern end celebrates Portuguese art at the Museu de José Malhoa (see below). The park also features the Museu Leopoldo de Almeida, Museu de Cerâmica, and the unique Museu do Ciclismo. You might just want to spend a whole day here.

Pavilions and lake in Parque Dom Carlos I. Photo by Sergei Zeiger (Flickr)

3. Pick up some fresh fruit at one of Portugal’s oldest continuously running open-air markets

The fruit market in Caldas da Rainha, known as Praça da Fruta, has a history dating back to the 15th century. It is recognized as one of the oldest continuously running open-air markets in Portugal. The market operates every day and is especially busy on the weekends. Located in the city’s central square, Praça da República, the Praça da Fruta is renowned for its array of fresh produce and lively atmosphere, attracting both visitors and locals. Stalls brimming with fresh fruits, sourced from local farms, line the streets. The market is particularly famous for its variety of apples, peaches, and citrus fruits.

Fruit Market, Caldas da Rainha, Photo by Angolano, Flickr
Regional and Traditional products at the market, Caldas da Rainha, Photo by CCDRC, Flickr

4. Visit the Museu da Cerâmica

The Museu da Cerâmica, located at the southern end of Parque Dom Carlos I, highlights Caldas da Rainha’s rich ceramics industry. Established in a charming 19th-century manor house, the museum showcases a diverse collection of ceramics including works by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, a notable Portuguese artist also known for his caricatures and sculptures,  alongside various other craftsmen. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and educational programs. These initiatives aim to promote the understanding and appreciation of ceramic art, both within Portugal and internationally.

5. See the works of a famous Portuguese artist

The Museu de José Malhoa, also part of Parque Dom Carlos I, is an art museum named after the Portuguese naturalist painter born in Caldas da Rainha. Founded in 1933, the same year as Malhoa’s death, the museum boasts a diverse collection, showcasing naturalistic paintings and sculptures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in addition to various other works.

Set amidst the scenic Parque D. Carlos I, the museum includes Malhoa’s masterpieces, which emphasize social realism and themes from everyday life. The museum also holds temporary exhibitions that include contemporary art.

6. Take home some phallic pottery

What? Phallic pottery? Believe it or not, alongside its exquisite traditional pottery, Caldas da Raina also offers more, shall we say, unique ceramic wares, in the form of louça fálica or phallic pottery. If you have ever longed for a mug with a phallus right in the middle, look no further than the markets and souvenir shops of Caldas da Rainha.

This tradition of phallic pottery has been part of Caldas da Rainha’s culture for decades, although we are not quite sure what Queen Leonor would say. Legend has it that the playful caricaturist and potter Bordalo Pinheiro once created a phallic piece for Dom Luís I, which amused the king and may have inspired this popular ceramic tradition in Caldas da Rainha. What better way to remember your trip to Portugal? =)    

Phallic pottery, Caldas da Rainha, Photo by David Sim, Flickr

Things to do in Caldas da Rainha outside of the city center

1. Óbidos

A quick 15-minute drive from the center of Caldas da Rainha, Óbidos is a municipality celebrated for its well-preserved medieval town. Encircled by ancient walls, this town is a maze of cobblestone streets and traditional white houses draped with colorful flowers. Óbidos also hosts an annual medieval fair and serves its own traditional Ginja liqueur. Its rich cultural heritage and vibrant festivals make it a must-visit destination for those interested in exploring the authentic charm of Portugal.

Make sure to visit the 12th-century Óbidos Castle during your visit. Once a formidable fortress, it is known for its stunning crenelated walls and offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Óbidos, Photo by Becky Gillespie

2. Foz do Arelho

Known for its stunning lagoon and beaches, Foz do Arelho, a picturesque village located just outside Caldas da Rainha, is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. The area is characterized by its unique landscape where the Óbidos Lagoon (see below) meets the Atlantic Ocean. This creates a beautiful contrast between calm lagoon waters and the wilder ocean waves, making it an ideal location for water sports.

The village itself maintains a laid-back charm with traditional Portuguese architecture and a welcoming atmosphere. Its streets are lined with a variety of shops, cafes, and seafood restaurants. Despite its growing popularity, it remains a peaceful retreat away from the hustle of city life.

Foz do Arelho, Photo by
Jose Morais Sarmento, Flickr

3. Óbidos Lagoon

The Óbidos Lagoon is one of the largest coastal lagoons in Portugal. Renowned for its natural beauty, it’s a popular spot for bird watching and leisure activities. The lagoon’s brackish waters are unique, blending freshwater from rivers with the Atlantic Ocean. Its shallow, calm waters make it ideal for families, and the surrounding area, with its scenic landscapes, is perfect for hiking and picnics. It’s a habitat for diverse flora and fauna and also offers recreational activities like kayaking, windsurfing, and paddleboarding.

4. Nazaré

Nazaré, a picturesque fishing village in Portugal, is renowned for its sprawling sandy beaches and towering waves, attracting surfers worldwide. This traditional town is also famous for its colorful wooden boats and the Our Lady of Nazaré Sanctuary, a pilgrimage site. Perched atop a cliff, offering stunning ocean views, Nazaré’s reputation as a premier surfing destination continues to grow.

Nazaré is 32 km north of Caldas da Rainha. The drive takes about 30 minutes.

Nazaré, Photo by Fabio Vihena, Unsplash

5. Lourinhā Dino Park

Lourinhã Dino Park in the town of Lourinhã is a unique outdoor museum dedicated to dinosaurs. Spread over a vast area, it showcases over 200 meticulously crafted life-size models of various dinosaur species. The park is designed to be educational and interactive, offering visitors a journey back in time. It features detailed displays, informative plaques in various languages, and engaging activities, making it a popular destination for families and dinosaur enthusiasts.

Lourinhã Dino Park is 31 km southwest of Caldas da Rainha. The drive takes about 25 minutes.

Man vs. Dinosaur, Photo by Becky Gillespie

View More Tours & Activities in Caldas da Rainha

Where to eat in Caldas da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha, with its daily fruit and vegetable market and proximity to the sea, has a wealth of dishes made with fresh produce available in its local restaurants. Classic cuts of meat and traditional dishes are served both in the center of the city and just outside Caldas da Rainha in smaller towns. Due to the increasing number of people moving to the city, you can also find a surprising variety of cuisine including Italian, Japanese, and Egyptian. Before we get into describing our favorites, let’s review some of the most classic dishes that you may see on the menus in Caldas da Rainha.

  • “Patanisca” (fried shredded codfish or other type of seafood in wheat flour)
  • “Cachaço” (referring to the neck or the shoulder cut of meat, usually pork)
  • “Bitoque” (thin steak)
  • “Alheira” (a typical type of smoked Portuguese sausage with a horseshoe shape)
  • “Caldo verde” (green soup)
  • “Cozido à portuguesa) (meat stew)
  • “Picanha fatiada” (sliced rump, sirloin, or culotte steak)

Now that you know what to order, here are five of our favorite restaurants in Caldas da Rainha.

1. Solar dos Amigos

Solar dos Amigos is actually located in the small village of Guisado about a 13-minute drive northeast of the center of Caldas da Rainha. Making the trip to eat at this historic establishment, now in operation for 48 years, is well worth the effort as you will be treated to traditional Portuguese dishes created by Dona Luisa Nunes, the restaurant’s owner and chef. Try the fried eels, the rabbit stew, and the codfish campino, which has appeared on Portuguese television. Book in advance as this is a very popular restaurant and come prepared to eat, as the portions of some of the meat dishes are big enough for 4-5 people. 

A meal for two here will set you back €40 – €50.

2. Cais do Parque

We recommend this restaurant for its lovely atmosphere and its fantastic location next to Parque Dom Carlos I. A wide range of food is served here including tuna ceviche, risotto, burgers, and a nice selection of vegetarian dishes. Enjoy the large windows looking into the park, and a selection of signature cocktails, and wines from the region. This is also a nice retreat on a rainy day.

The bill for two people will cost around €20 – €30.

3. Ti’Ascenção

Located about a 20-minute walk, or a 6-minute drive, from the bus stop in Caldas da Rainha, Ti’Ascenção boasts a traditional, rustic ambience and has a great range of local dishes made with local produce. Octopus “pataniscas,” black pig “cachaço,” and rabbit are on the menu along with delicious desserts including crème brûlée and pavlova. The service here is outstanding, and the prices are reasonable for the quality.

A meal for two here is around €40 – €50.

4. Restaurante Casa Antero

This traditional, family-run Portuguese restaurant has been operating for over 60 years and is located right in the heart of Caldas da Rainha. Many tapas are available including fried mini squid, octopus, and tuna. Wash them down with a great selection of wines from around the country. The locals clearly love this place, so we recommend getting a reservation in advance. In the summer, the restaurant can get quite warm, so aim to eat outside if you can get a table. 

A meal for two here will cost you €20 – €30.

5. Restaurante Adega do Albertino

This restaurant is about a 7-minute drive from the center of Caldas da Rainha, but the journey is well worth it. Adega do Albertino is a beautifully decorated traditional Portuguese restaurant with professional service. We recommend the cabrito assado com castanhas (roasted goat with chestnuts) and the alheira frita (fried sausage). Reservations can be made for 12:00 pm only and, after that, tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Service can sometimes be slow, but the prices are fair.   

A meal for two here costs around €40.

6. Cairo Restaurante

This is something you probably weren’t expecting, but Caldas da Rainha has one of the best Egyptian restaurants in all of Portugal. Try the hummus, baba ghanoush, koshari, moussaka, and veal tajine. Finish off your meal with a complimentary coconut baklava and pot of green tea. The staff are incredibly helpful and the Mediterranean flavors are fantastic. There are also lots of vegan and vegetarian options. While it may not be traditional food from the region, this is one of the best restaurants in Caldas!  

A meal for two here will cost you around €35.

Getting around in Caldas da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha is a moderately sized city on a much smaller scale than Lisbon or Porto. Most places that visitors will want to see are within walking distance from each other. TOMA, the city’s bus service, runs three lines: the Orange and Green lines are loops and the Blue line is a back-and-forth line. Buses run 7:30 am – 7:30 pm on weekdays and 8:00 am – 1:30 pm on Saturdays, with no service on Sundays. The time between buses is 30 minutes on each route. There is a large bus station in the city, where regional buses arrive frequently from cities like Lisbon and Porto.

It is possible to reach most of the main sites in Caldas da Rainha on foot, and buses also run from the center of Caldas da Rainha to beaches such as Foz do Arelho. However, if you want to cover a lot of the surrounding area including Óbidos and more beaches on the Silver Coast, we would recommend renting a car or booking a guided trip with transportation. Taxi services are also available but can get expensive if you want to visit more than one place.

Rent a Car in Caldas da Rainha

Final Thoughts

Caldas da Rainha embodies a unique blend of historical charm, cultural richness, and natural beauty. Its thermal springs, artistic legacy, and vibrant daily market make it a standout destination in Portugal. In addition, its proximity to Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto, coupled with milder weather, also makes it a great place to live. With its nearby stunning beaches, the magnificent Óbidos Lagoon, hot springs, and gorgeous city park, Caldas da Rainha might just become one of your favorite Portuguese cities, a place you will want to return to again and again!

⬇️Please share your favorite activities and things to do in Caldas da Rainha in the comments below ⬇️

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