Oeiras - Lisbon

A place of ancient origin just 17 kilometres to the west of Lisbon city centre, Oeiras has plenty of interest for visitors exploring the Cascais coast, including some of the Portuguese capital’s best and most accessible urban beaches.

Loosely marking the point where the mouth of the River Tagus merges with the Atlantic Ocean, this charming town (set a little inland from the waterfront) is the extension of an integral part of imperial Lisbon that stretches west along the riverbank from the historic centre of Belém.

Oeiras’ well-preserved historic centre features the town’s parish church, the exquisite Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Purificação, which is prominently located on Largo 5 de Outubro. Dedicated to Our Lady of Purification, parts of the main structure date back to the 16th century and visitors are urged to look out for the altars covered with magnificent marble and decorated with retables, as well as the church’s impressive 18th-century organ.

Oeiras is largely synonymous with Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (aka the Marquês de Pombal) who presided over the country’s (mis)fortunes when the great earthquake struck in 1755. Famous for ‘burying the dead and healing the living’ (in his words), he set about rebuilding the heart of the Portuguese capital with an innovative grid system now hailed as a masterpiece of forward-thinking urban planning.

For many visitors, the highlight of Oeiras is the delightful palace built for this great man by the renowned Hungarian architect Carlos Mardel (designer of many of Lisbon’s fountains) midway through the 18th century. Covering a total of six hectares in and around the Old Town, the palace is one of the Lisbon area’s true architectural treasures with many old tile panels and some stunning walls and ceilings throughout its gorgeous interior.

Notable for their statues and azulejos, the palace’s extensive gardens also have many interesting features, including a lovely fishing pavilion (Casa da Pesca) and a stunning fountain known as the Cascata dos Poetas (Poets’ Waterfall). Other features include an 18th-century olive press and an old watermill that predates the palace.

Oeiras also boasts an important piece of maritime history, the fort and lighthouse of São Julião da Barra (built as a massive gun platform by King João III in the middle of the 16th century), which along with the Bugio Lighthouse (inaugurated in 1657 on an islet 2.5 kilometres offshore) marks the mouth of the River Tagus.

Where to go near Lisbon

Jogging fans looking to continue their fitness regime whilst staying in the area will find good running tracks on the roads around Portugal’s National Stadium (not far from Oeiras) and along the seaside promenade running east to Lisbon and west in the direction of the upmarket resort towns of Estoril and Cascais.

Portraying the origins of gunpowder and its use throughout the centuries, the town’s excellent gunpowder museum (Museu da Pólvora Negra) is housed in an old building adjacent to a memorial garden (Jardim da Memória) dedicated to all the workers killed by explosions at the factory.

Heading east from Oeiras in the direction of Lisbon quickly takes you to the Vasco da Gama Aquarium, one of Portugal’s largest collections of marine animals including some very unusual species, along with an important array of rare items retrieved from King Carlos’ oceanographic collection.

The vibrant seaside town of Carcavelos a couple of kilometres to the west of Oeiras boasts a long sandy beach (ideal for rookie surfers) and a bustling street market selling everything from clothing to Portuguese handicrafts in the main square every Wednesday morning.

Located midway along the Linha, the main railway line connecting Cascais with the Portuguese capital, Oeiras (indicated on the Google map below) is the ideal base from which to explore the Cascais coast and its many tourist attractions, including the iconic Estoril Casino where writer Ian Fleming was inspired enough to create the world’s most famous spy – none other than James Bond, 007.

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