If you’re a travel enthusiast, and you haven’t visited Portugal, you haven’t traveled yet. For starters, Portugal is blessed with a dream climate that practically makes it a year-round destination—and sets it apart from its European peers. In some places, you can expect the sun's rays to pleasurably tingle your skin all year round. By and large, winters anywhere in Portugal are not ice-frozen or frigidly cold. Also, the landscape is incredibly beautiful and diverse, with some touches of mountainous ruggedness, especially in the north, amazingly juxtaposed against gentle rolling plains, particularly in the south. Portuguese are warm and friendly to a fault.

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And no, this is not some fable. In surveys that compare the level of friendliness in countries across the globe, Portugal came top of the pack in 2021. And here’s the clincher, the average Portuguese speaks English better than a Swede. They rank an impressive seven in English proficiency based on test results in 112 countries. So yes, without a language barrier, you should expect to move easily and even roll with the crowd. And we’ve not even mentioned the broad range of delicious food options at some insanely affordable price points. And while there are many fun-filled activities you can do anywhere in Portugal, Leiria has its own unique charm and allure, that you may not find anywhere else in the Mediterranean country.

Leiria, Portugal: The Historical Jewel

It’s the 7th century. Hordes of North African tribes and recent converts to Islam are making their way across the Iberian Peninsula. Their aim is to erect the banner of the crescent instead of that of the cross. Native populations in Portugal quickly capitulate. Surrender terms are anything but harsh or cruel. For the next 500 years, the al-Andalus, as the Arabs called the regions of Spain and Portugal, become the hub of a restive Muslim civilization where the arts and sciences reached what would be their highest pinnacle of glory and achievement. At the heart of this cultural panorama is the little settlement of Leira.

At this early time, Leiria was already a bustling city, the southernmost tip of Portugal, and one of the first to be occupied by the invading army. The subsequent years would witness alternating conquests and reconquests like the foaming waves of the ocean that collapse on the back of another. The end result is a city that today boasts of amazing historical monuments and features that bring centuries of time to the immediate gaze of the enchanted backpacked sight-seer.

Historical Sights That Are A Must-see In Leiria Portugal.

One of the prettiest castles you’ll ever see in Portugal is right inside Leiria. The first king of Portugal, King Afonso, erected it on top of a rocky hill in the 12th century—as a fortress against the marauding Muslims from the south. It has since been built and rebuilt for over 800 years interspersed with oscillating periods of turbulence and tranquility. One of the finest makeups was done by Dinis, the philosopher-king known to have patronized poets—and written an impressive volume of lyrical poems himself.

Yet Dinis did not just build this castle as a fortress. It was also to be a summer hideaway for him and his Aragonese wife who would later become Saint Elizabeth. On top of this massive structure is a magnificent balcony with a beautifully designed crenelated tower. Within this castle’s massive walls is the Nossa Senhora da Penha, a roofless church embellished with Gothic architecture. The Renaissance-styled Leiria Cathedral sits majestically below the castle. This is a magnificent architectural delight that any traveler would not want to miss. Constructed in the 16th century, it’s one of Europe’s finest examples of hall churches.

  • Leiria Castle Location: Rua do Castelo, 2400-235 Leiria (GPS: 39º44'51.00”N | 8º48'31.00”W)
  • Leiria Castle Entry Fees: Adult – €2.10. Up to 10 years - Free

Related: These Are The Most Beautiful Castles Of England

About two kilometers away is the Leiria Museum which houses some 2,000 years-old artifacts and ceramics among many other historical, archeological, and artistic treasures that’ll blow you away. This museum is housed inside the former convent of Saint Augustine, one of the most important in the whole region. Then there’s the amazing Monastery of Batalha, just about 8 miles from downtown Leiria. This UNESCO World Heritage Site takes Gothic architectural design to a whole new level.

While the exterior of this structure is truly stunning, with large, colorfully stained windows, the inside of this monastery is not as aesthetically decorated with artwork as some of her European peers. Still, that just seems to add to the monastery’s unique style and charm. Perhaps the most symbolic feature inside this monastery is the expansive tomb of King João I who ruled Portugal between 1385 and 1433—and his English wife, Queen Phillippa. Prince Henry “the navigator,” who pioneered the naval explorations that would literally open up the world to western powers, is also buried in this church. Other attractions include the Paper Mill Museum which houses what was the first paper mill in the Iberian Peninsula. Here, you’ll learn the fascinating history of paper as it travels from hill to valley—wending its way slowly to Portugal. Visitors also get to learn the milling process exactly as it was done six centuries ago.

  • Nearby Attraction: Sanctuary of Fatima, 30km to the south-east of Leiria where three young children supposedly saw visions of the Virgin Mary.

Still not sure whether you should tour Leiria? If not for the delightful history, go for the delicious traditional Portuguese cuisine—or the many stunning beaches that decorate its rugged coastline.