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Caldas da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha; great city and excellent spot to discover the Portuguese Silver Coast

Caldas da Rainha is a great place to see when you enjoy visiting off-the-beaten-path towns in Portugal. It's located in the Portuguese district of Leiria, just over an hour north of Lisbon. You can easily add this city to your itinerary when visiting Peniche, Óbidos, Alcobaça, and Nazaré. Caldas da Rainha and the region's clay-rich soils are famous for their pottery, ceramics, and hot springs, thanks to the benefit of the healing waters. But there is more to see in this lovely town! Let's look at the sights of Caldas da Rainha and discover more about this part of the country.

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Discover Caldas da Rainha

A quick overview

What to see and do? Discover a stunning garden, traditional pottery, try the local Cavacas das Caldas and find time to relax in the thermal baths.

Costs? From free to a fee for excursions or car rentals.

Where? The town of Caldas da Rainha is located one hour north of Lisbon on the Portuguese Silver Coast.

Worth it? Caldas da Rainha in Portugal isn´t huge, but it has a fascinating history thanks to Queen Leonor! Plus, it´s known for the tradition of Portuguese pottery and ceramics!

A little bit of history of Caldas da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha was founded by Queen Leonor (Rainha Dona Leonor), wife of King João II. When she spotted peasants bathing in the foul-smelling waters, she wondered why people would do so. They told her the healing waters were good for rheumatism and arthritis due to their curative powers. So Queen Leonor de Avis decided to try it and discover the benefit. Queen Leonor started feeling better and noticed the waters were much in demand. Therefore, she decided to build a thermal bathhouse named Hospital Termal Rainha D. Leonor ((Queen Leonor Spring Water Hospital, or Thermal Hospital) so that the Portuguese could treat themselves in some comfort. The Thermal Hospital is the oldest purpose-built institution in the whole world! And thanks to Queen Leonor, the settlement of Caldas da Rainha was born.

Caldas da Rainha is often called just Caldas and can be translated to Queen’s Hot Springs or Queen’s Baths. The city is also renowned for its creativity and is even recognised as a UNESCO Creative City! There are many cultural institutions, and it is mainly known for its Portuguese pottery tradition and many pottery shops. This region is renowned for its abundance of clay; thankfully, it’s turned into the most fantastic piece of art. The glazed pottery from an ancient local trade, known as Louça das Caldas, often contains decorative elements such as fruits and vegetables. Caldas was also the birthplace of important figures in Portuguese culture, notably the painter José Malhoa. And Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, the 19th-century caricaturist, founded the pottery factories in Caldas da Rainha.

Things to see and do in Caldas da Rainha Portugal

Caldas da Rainha is a lovely town to take a break, and there are several places to visit and things to see in the city. First, we´ll check out some things to do in Caldas da Rainha and then find out why it’s famous for its glazed pottery and ancient local trade.

Parque Dom Carlos I

If you’re looking for a moment in nature, visiting Parque Dom Carlos I is excellent! The Dom Carlos I Garden is named after the Portuguese king and is very close to the Thermal Hospital. The idea was that patients could enjoy a walk in nature to help their health recovery. The bourgeoisie could listen to music or enjoy a boat ride on the artificial lake. Rodrigo Maria Berquó was the architect who created this beautiful place in 1889. The romantic gardens are still perfect for walking amongst trees and flowers. And each season has its charm.

Museu José Malhoa and a garden for art lovers

You notice many beautiful statues and sculptures, the lake, tennis courts, and cafes during your walk. Sometimes there is even live music at the bandstand. Art lovers will enjoy this park, as, besides the statues, you’ll also see two museums. Casa dos Barcos often has exhibitions, and it’s free to visit. Museu José Malhoa exhibits paintings by Portuguese naturalist José Malhoa and artworks from other painters of Grupo do Leão. At Museu José Malhoa, you can expect sculptures, paintings, drawings and pottery from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Pavillions

When visiting Parque Dom Carlos I, you cannot help but wonder… what are these abandoned pavilions in the park behind the lake? The buildings have been long left to nature but were designed in the 19th century by Rodrigo Berquó as the new Thermal Hospital. Even in this state, you can see how beautiful this structure is, but unfortunately, it was never used for what it was intended.

When Berquó died of a heart attack in 1896, construction abruptly stopped, and the structure was never fully finished. In 1901 it got its first occupants, and over the years, it once housed military barracks, a police station, a library, a tourist office and a secondary school. Since 2005 it’s been totally abandoned.

The curative powers of Termas das Caldas da Rainha

Like the queen, you can enjoy the curative powers and the thermal waters of the Thermal Hospital yourself. Visit the Termas das Caldas da Rainha for an excellent experience in town. It is open all year and, of course, a great place to relax. The water has a temperature of 35ºC and helps with issues with the respiratory system and rheumatic and musculoskeletal disorders. There are several immersion baths and showers (including a nasal shower or irrigation). You´ll feel reborn afterwards and might feel like a queen yourself!

Visit a church in Caldas

Like all Portuguese cities, you’ll find several churches in Caldas. The most remarkable church is probably the 20th-century Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, which is open during services. You can also visit the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Pópulo and the Igreja do Espírito Santo church.

Museu da Cerâmica (Ceramics Museum)

Visiting Caldas da Rainha without seeing the Ceramics Museum is just not the same! Caldas da Rainha is often called the Portuguese capital of ceramics and pottery thanks to the ancient local trade and a region full of clay, so visiting the Museu da Cerâmica is a must! The museum is in the historic city centre, near the D.Carlos I Park and the Bordalo Pinheiro Factory. The pottery centre was founded in Caldas in 1983 and is situated in a beautiful home with stunning farm gardens. The Visconde de Sacavém Farm is an excellent example of Revivalism architecture and is home to a permanent exhibition. The newer-built extensions host temporary exhibitions, and the romantic garden is perfect for a stroll. You’ll see many decorations, such as tiles, statues, gargoyles and ceramic architectural elements. Art lovers will really enjoy this visit to Caldas da Rainha!

You can visit the museum on Rua Dr. Ilídio Amado every day apart from Mondays and holidays. Opening hours differ per season and the day you visit, so double-check beforehand. Overall, it’s open between 10 AM and midday and 2 PM until 5.30 PM. Tickets cost € 3,00 per person, and children under 12 can visit for free.

Tip: Other museums worth visiting are the art museum Leopoldo de Almeida, and Museu do Hospital e das Caldas. You can locate both in Caldas da Rainha’s city centre.

Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro

Someone who left a mark on the tradition of ceramics in Caldas da Rainha (and the rest of the world) was Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro. His glazed pottery is often in the (humorous) shapes of fruits and vegetables and animals like lobsters and sardines. Zé Povinho is one of the most famous images in Portugal and became a symbol of the Portuguese people. It’s a cartoon character Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro created of a Portuguese everyman. The character became a symbol of the Portuguese working-class people.

Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro was a very influential person in nineteenth-century Portuguese culture, and he began his ceramics production at the Fábrica de Faianças (ceramics factory) in Caldas in 1884. Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro passed away in 1905, and his son Manuel Gustavo Bordallo Pinheiro kept his father’s work and tradition alive. The factory is now under management by Grupo Visabeira, and the ceramics adopted a modern approach. Loja da Fábrica (the factory shop) is still open for visits, and they sell many of the famous designs. The Factory Store is open daily, and you can find it close to the city centre of Caldas da Rainha.

Naughty pottery

Would you ever expect to see ceramics in the shape of male genitalia in Caldas da Rainha? The Louça Fálica, or phallus pottery, is hard to miss. Walk into any shop in Caldas, and you’ll spot penis-shaped ceramics in every colour under the rainbow. Some even have faces on them! Somehow this ordinary town in Central Portugal became the spotlight of phallic pottery! Several theories about its origins exist, but even local potters don’t seem to know for sure. 

Was Dom Luís I of Portugal asking local potters ´to make something different´ from clay? Or was it Bordalo Pinheiro who created another humourous piece, and the town kept reproducing the phallic pottery? The Bordalo Pinheiro company certainly doesn’t take credit for this tradition. The penises made from ceramics are still widely sold in shops all over town. The penis wine jugs are a favourite, making for a unique souvenir.

Centro de Artes

Art lovers will enjoy a visit to Centro de Artes in Caldas da Rainha. The municipal artistic compound comprises museums showcasing artistic heritage and contains one of the country’s most significant Portuguese sculpture centresMany pavilions are also used for creative projects, workshops, and ateliers. Guided tours are by appointment only, and there are workshops regularly.

Shopping in Caldas da Rainha

Especially if you’re interested in buying pottery, Caldas da Rainha is the place to be. Several pottery shops like A Loja Do Cerâmico, Loja da Fabrica, and Mercado da Loiça exist. Whether you´re looking for ceramics in the shape of cabbage leaves, tomatoes or a fish, you will find it here! The shops sell traditional ceramics but also pieces with a modern twist.

In other shops in Caldas da Rainha, you can find clothes, souvenirs and jewellery. Are you curious about what to buy for the homefront? Check out this article about the best souvenirs in Portugal.

Where to eat in Caldas da Rainha?

Plenty of excellent restaurants are in the centre of Caldas da Rainha. Check out the area around Praça da República, where you can find some cafes and bakeries. This is the place to try Cavacas das Caldas! Cavacas and Beijinhos das Caldas (little kisses) are typical for the region and can be bought in most pastry shops in Caldas da Rainha. Cavacas das Caldas are unique sweets to try!

Praça da República is also called Praça da Fruta (Fruit Square) due to the farmer’s market that is held in this part of the city. You can also find many restaurants here with dishes from all over the world, such as Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, and Indian cuisine. For a Portuguese meal, you can eat at restaurants such as O Telheirinho, Zé do Barrete or Zé Povinho.

How to reach Caldas da Rainha 

By car

Caldas da Rainha is located in western Portugal along the A8. From Lisbon, it takes just over one hour to reach the city. It’s not far from places like Óbidos, Alcobaça, Nazaré, and Foz do Arelho. If you rent a car and drive from Lisbon, you can follow the A8 northbound until exit N360. You’ll reach the city within a few minutes after leaving the motorway. Renting a car in the country allows you to visit nearby towns you’re interested in. Visit the medieval village Óbidos, see the big waves in Nazaré, discover the Silver Coast or enjoy the Buddha Eden Garden in Bombarral. You can also find a lot of wine in this region, so enjoy tasting some if you´re a wine lover. Caldas da Rainha is so close to the Atlantic Ocean that a combination with the beach is possible! Discover Portugal highly recommends Discover Cars. On their website, you´ll see the best deals, and you can rent with your favourite car rental business.

Tip: Behind Parque Dom Carlos I is a large free car park!

By bus

If you prefer to travel by bus through the country, you can board a Flixbus from Lisbon Oriente to Caldas da Rainha. It’s a direct service, and the cost for a single journey is as low as € 2,99 per person. Travelling time is the same as driving, and Flixbus is the cheapest way to travel to Caldas da Rainha. Rede Expressos also has a direct route to the city but it often costs a little more.

By train

Those who enjoy a train ride through the Portuguese countryside can board the train in Mira Sintra-Meleças. The train to Caldas da Rainha takes around 1,5 hours and stops several times along the way. Check Comboios de Portugal for routes and current train times.

With a guided tour

The easiest way to reach Caldas da Rainha is by guided tour. You can join a group or book a private tour to visit Calhas and other towns in one day. You can sit back and relax, and your experienced guide will show you all the highlights along the way. There aren´t many tours to Caldas da Rainha in Portugal, so be sure to book your spot in time!

Beaches and coastal towns close to Caldas da Rainha

Caldas da Rainha in Portugal is a great city to settle for a few days to explore the Silver Coast by car. The Portuguese Silver Coast, or Costa de Prata, is located between Porto and Lisbon. Visit coastal towns along the Atlantic Ocean, such as Foz do Arelho, Nazaré and Peniche. There are also stunning beaches like Praia do Bom Sucesso, Praia da Foz do Arelho, and Praia da Gralha. So bring your towel to enjoy a beach holiday along the coast!

Tip: from Peniche, make an excursion to the Berlengas Nature Reserve. The Berlengas are located in the Atlantic Ocean and are excellent for dolphin watching.

Day trips from Caldas da Rainha

If you prefer visiting a town and soaking up the culture, you can easily reach Alcobaça (30 minutes), Óbidos (10 minutes), Batalha and Santarém (both 40 minutes), Fátima (50 minutes), and Tomar (1 hour). Alcobaça, for example, has a stunning monastery that you can visit. The town also has a lovely park, and from the castle’s ruins, you enjoy spectacular views of the small Portuguese city. Don’t forget to visit the wine museum to taste some fantastic Portuguese wines!

Óbidos is known for its castle walls and medieval character. The town of Óbidos was a gift for the Queen of Portugal, Queen Isabel, and the colourful centre is a must-see during your holiday in Portugal. There are also many festivals throughout the year, and it’s a favourite town of many. If you are religious or if you have an interest in religious stories, a visit to Fátima is a must. The city is known for the appearance of Our Lady of Fátima in 1917. Since then, a shrine, church and other structures have been built on the site.

Enjoy nature close to Caldas

Nature lovers will also enjoy a visit to Caldas da Rainha. The city is near the Atlantic Ocean but also close to Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiros and Serra de Montejunto. Both Portuguese natural places are known for their outstanding nature and many hiking trails. Enjoy a day of birdwatching, or visit the beautiful Mira de Aire Cave. This region has so much history that you can even discover dinosaur remnants and prehistoric fossils. About 10 kilometres from Fátima, you will find Portugal’s largest and most important sauropod dinosaur footprints. These stem from the Jurassic period and are considered 75 million years old! This is a protected area, but the park has several pedestrian trails.

Tip: Óbidos Lagoon is another beautiful place in the country. At Lagoa de Óbidos, you can witness stunning views of the whole lagoon, sand dunes and cliffs. It’s just a 10-minute drive from the centre of Caldas da Rainha.

Hotels in Caldas da Rainha

A great benefit of staying in the centre of Caldas da Rainha is seeing a lot of the Silver Coast and this region of the Portuguese country! But where will you stay? On the below map, you’ll see some of the best hotels in Caldas da Rainha. Discover boutique hotels such as the beautiful 19 Tile Ceramic Concept. The SANA Silver Coast Hotel is equally stylish and has a gorgeous 19th-century neoclassical façade! The price of accommodations is overall very reasonable in the city.

Closer to the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll find SilverSide Holidays, a hotel with a swimming pool. Or maybe you like a sustainable stay in an agritourism. Rent a lovely room at Casas Dos Infantes, a Turismo Rural with gardens and a pool! Caldas da Rainha is only a 20-minute drive from the nearest beach!

Booking.com

FAQ

Absolutely! Caldas da Rainha is exciting if you like ceramics and hot springs. The park Dom Carlos I is also a great place to visit.

Caldas da Rainha is known for its pottery, Queen Leonor, Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro and hot springs.

Caldas da Rainha is only a 15 minute Óbidos. You can visit both towns in one day.

Caldas da Rainha is often called the pottery and ceramics capital of Portugal. Redondo in Alentejo, Coimbra, Alcobaça, and Lagoa (Azores) are other places known for beautiful clay art.

Conclusion

For many reasons, Caldas da Rainha is an excellent city in Portugal. Enjoy a walk in Park Dom Carlos I, visit a museum, and discover the history of pottery in Caldas. The city centre has several famous sights, such as the Thermal Hospital and the Ceramics Museum. Or visit the Museum of José Malhoa, where you discover Portuguese national art, with works by Malhoa, amongst other painters from the last two centuries. Many sights cost nothing to visit, making it an affordable town. Try local delicacies such as Cavacas das Caldas, a crunchy shell-shaped biscuit, or Biejinhos das Caldas (little kisses). Caldas da Rainha is a great city to explore if you enjoy art and a laidback atmosphere.

Written by Marga

Written by Marga

Content creator, travel writer and photographer

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I’m Marga, the blogger and photographer behind this site! I live in Lisbon, and I’m a cat-mum to 13-year-old Savage. I love coffee, cheese, a good book and exploring this beautiful country. I write about Lisbon and the rest of Portugal, and I hope this website will help as an inspiration for your holiday.

16 Responses

  1. haha I love that pottery!! I don’t know if I’d want it in my house though lol This is a great guide, very informative

  2. There are so many great places to see in Portugal! I already have Obidos on my bucket list but will now add Caldas da Rainha as it sounds like it would be easy to do both in one day. Thanks for the great idea!

  3. The pavilions, the intended Thermal Hospital, are so beautiful, it’s a shame they’ve been abandoned for so long. Love the pottery by Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro (and the naughty stuff too haha) but not sure I’d have space for it at my place. I’d have to check it out though 🙂

    1. It really is a shame the buildings are abandoned. I believe there was a plan to convert it into a hotel, but so far no sign of repairs…

  4. We made it to Obidos but missed Caldas da Rainha when we went north of Lisbon. Interesting to learn that it is recognized as a UNESCO Creative City. And not just for the thermal baths. There is lots to see and do on a visit. I can see why I might want a hot bath after my tour.

  5. I’ve been dying to go to Portugal for ages! Before reading this post I never knew this place existed. Thanks for sharing this beautiful place!

  6. Caldas da Rainha looks like an amazing place to visit. The pavilions are gorgeous- and somewhat eerie. I wonder what stories those walls can tell. The phallic pottery was also cute. I hope I get to visit someday!

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