Last Updated on 2023-09-16
Did you know that of the nine Portuguese UNESCO Creative Cities five are in Central Portugal? Caldas da Rainha, Covilhã, Idanha-a-Nova, Leiria, and Óbidos stand out, each in their way, in the arts in Crafts and Popular Arts, Design, Music, and Literature.
We can say that it’s a lot of creativity in these cities in Central Region of Portugal.
Get inspired by my suggestions of what to see and do in these creative cities and prepare to (re)discover it with different eyes.
It’s an itinerary for the committed tourist, because I tryed to emphase the activities related to art related to each destination.
So that you can get the most out of each city, I include a suggested itinerary through UNESCO’s creative cities in Central Portugal if you drive from the North and South of Portugal. Also, You’ll find suggestions of restaurants and accommodation in each destination.
It’s an excellent excuse to meet in Central Portugal, don’t you think?
What are UNESCO Creative Cities?
Founded in 2004, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network aims to transform cities through culture and creativity.
Currently, 246 cities are part of this network that share knowledge and experiences in their respective creative areas.
And together they manage to change the lives of people in their cities and, some say, make the world a better place.
UNESCO’s Creative Cities in Central Portugal
Below are some suggestions of what to see and do in Caldas da Rainha, Covilhã, Idanha-a-Nova, Leiria, and Óbidos, regarding the work that the Creative Cities Network is developing.
I also include a note about Aveiro, which, not being part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities, has something exciting to announce.
This guide should be an inspiration and initial motto for you to discover at your own pace what is most creative in each place.
And to get to know the Creative Cities of the Center of Portugal better, I suggest you explore the Turismo do Centro website.
Caldas da Rainha Creative City of Crafts and Popular Arts (2019)
Did you know that Caldas da Rainha is the city in Europe with more artists/creators in ceramics?
The combination of quality clays, qualified labor, and a sense of entrepreneurship of the young people from Caldas could only result in something great!
During the time I spent in the city, I had the opportunity to get to know ADOC é a Associação Design Ofícios e Cultura (the Design Crafts and Culture Association), and the work of former students of the Escola Superior de Artes e Design of the Polytechnic Institute of Leiria.
Eneida Lombe Tavares works with pine needles and transforms them into original decorative pieces, while Samuel Reis gives new life to hollow tree trunks, using them as a mold for his blown glass creations.
I enjoyed talking to these young people and hearing them talk enthusiastically about their plays.
The walk continued until next to Balneário Velho and from there to Parque D. Carlos I, where we saw the embroiderers entertained between lines and clothes.
Ana Maria Pereira and Princepelina Loução explained the different stitches of Bordado das Caldas and proudly showed us their work.
Tourists arriving in Caldas da Rainha can take the Bordaliana Route, exploring the city looking for sculptures by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, whose map can be downloaded online or grab your map at tourism office.
One of the stops on the Bordaliana Route is the Parque D. Carlos I, a romantic park with gardens, a lake, monkey sculptures hidden in the trees, and the Thermal Hospital.
Things to see and do in Caldas da Rainha: Ceramics Museum (Museu da Cerâmica), Museu Malhoa, Atelier-Museu António Duarte, Atelier-Museu João Fragoso, Museu Barata Feyo and Espaço da Concas.
Where to sleep in Caldas da Rainha
When choosing accommodation in Caldas, I suggest a central location, so you can easily walk from one point to another in the city.
Thus, the Hotel Cristal Caldas has a great location, with a restaurant serving traditional Portuguese cuisine and a swimming pool for the hottest days.
If you prefer to stay in an apartment, then Bordallo’s Prime Apartments may be what you are looking for. It can accommodate five people, has an equipped kitchen and free wi-fi.
If none of these solutions pleases you, I suggest you check the link below for other alternatives.
Covilhã Creative City of Design (2021)
A great way to start exploring the Creative City of Design is at the National Wool Museum at the University of Beira Interior.
It consists of three museums: the Real Fábrica de Panos (1764), the Real Fábrica Veiga (1784) / Wool Interpretation Center, and the Râmolas de Sol.
The old royal cloth factory was where the fabrics were dyed to be taken to Lisbon.
The factory’s history merges with the city’s history, because it was a source of employment for the population. In addition, King Dom José authorized the use some stones from the Covilhã wall in the construction of the factory.
At the end of the visit, we walked to the city center to visit the Covilhã Museum, dedicated to the region’s heritage.
Over three floors, visitors can explore different aspects of the city.
The ground floor is dedicated to the figures and heritage of Covilhã, followed by on the 1st floor by the contemporary period, on the 2nd floor, Covilhã in the Middle Ages, and the Modern Period, and on the 3rd floor, from the first inhabitants to the Romanization.
We still walked a part of the Urban Art itinerary before leaving the city of Covilhã.
Things to see and do in Covilhã: the New Hand Lab, the Urban Art, Art Nouveau and Wool routes, the Jewish quarters, and WOOL, the oldest urban art festival in the country.
Where to sleep in Covilhã
Puralã – Wool Valley Hotel & SPA.
I stayed at Puralã – Wool Valley Hotel & SPA and enjoyed it. The hotel’s decor is inspired by the wool cycle, the rooms are very comfortable, and it has a restaurant that I recommend. It also has a SPA and a kids club for families.
Pena D’Água is a four-star boutique hotel whose Açafrão restaurant is very worthwhile.
It is not for all budgets, but the quality and refinement of each dish is an experience in itself.
If you prefer other suggestions, then take a look at the following link for alternative hotels in Covilhã.
Idanha-a-Nova Creative City of Music (2015)
Have you ever heard of the adufe? It is a typical musical instrument from Idanha-a-Nova played by the adufeiras.
This form of art was almost extinct until the Municipality of Idanha decided to create training courses so that knowledge would not be lost.
Now it is possible to see live adufes being made at the Centro de Artes Tradicionais in Idanha-a-Nova and participate in sporadic workshops organized by the municipality.
If you want to enjoy a performance of adufeiras from Idanha-a-Nova, I suggest you watch this video I made during my visit to the region.
Things to see and do in Idanha-a-Nova: Boom Festival, Fora do Lugar – Festival Internacional de Músicas Antigas, Eco Festival Salva a Terra and Raiano Cultural Center (Centro Cultural Raiano).
Where to sleep in Idanha-a-Nova
The Hotel Estrela Da Idanha is an option for those looking for good value for money and has the advantage of having a good location.
I stayed at the Hotel Fonte Santa in Monfortinho, about 50 km from Idanha, and, as usual, this hotel never disappoints.
It’s on the border with Spain, has a beautiful pool, and a breakfast with the biggest variety of cereal I’ve ever seen in a hotel. The rooms are large and comfortable and have a desk so you can work while traveling.
However, you can see other hotel alternatives or local accommodations in Idanha-a-Nova at the following link.
Leiria Creative City of Music (2019)
To start your creative itinerary in Leira, I suggest you go to Espaço Eça for a coffee and a sweet treat. The space is beautiful.
There is a deep-rooted musical culture in Leiria, which includes 23 folkloric groups, three conservatories, and eleven philharmonic bands, some of which are centenary, concerts for babies, and choirs.
In addition, in the city’s museums, there are daily musical moments and almost every family has musicians.
I had the opportunity to watch a performance by Pedro Rodrigues on the classical guitar, the Decateto de Metais de Leiria, and also a concert with ceramic amphora at the Centro de Diálogo Intercultural de Leiria, that is, in the old Igreja da Misericórdia.
I realized that in Leiria, there are cultural events related to music, dance, theater, and exhibitions every day, so you have every reason to visit Leiria.
Things to see and do in Leiria: Casa da Cidade Criativa da Música, Leia Paredes com História, A Porta, Festival Entremuralhas, Música em Leiria, LIZBRASS – Leiria Metals Festival, Cultural Tour of O crime do Padre Amaro, and the Roadmap culture of the Jewish quarter of Leiria.
Where to sleep in Leiria
he first one has free parking (but it is not possible to book in advance), and the second has an agreement with a car park close to the hotel.
If you need more hotels and apartments to stay in Leiria, follow the link below.
Óbidos Creative City of Literature (2015)
Begin your journey at Rua Direita and discover the Biological Market Bookstore, where biological products and used books coexist in the same space.
I must say that I was amazed at the number of books on the shelves that went up to the ceiling.
In addition, the bookshop is decorated with old fruit boxes, as this region of the West did not have a tradition of pear and apple.
After exploring this unique space, it was time for the iconic Livraria Santiago.
Livraria Santiago is in the old Church of São Tiago, a temple started in the twelfth century which is currently not sacred.
It’s strange to see altars and bookshelves in the same space, so I recommend you go there.
Don’t forget to go to the Church Choir to see Natália Santos, the Lace-Poet from Óbidos, who recites verses while working on bobbin lace.
This was followed by a quick visit to the Ruy Belo Residence and the Literary Man Óbidos Hotel, where I was amazed at the number of books in every room of the hotel. That’s about 75,000 books!
The last stop was at the Óbidos Municipal Library, a magnificent space with a section dedicated to José Saramago.
Things to see and do in Óbidos: FOLIO – International Literary Festival, Latitudes – Literature and travelers, Vila Literária project, Óbidos Vila Literária, museums, galleries, and artistic and literary residences.
Where to sleep in Óbidos
I’ve already mentioned The Literary Man Óbidos Hotel and how incredible this hotel is, so for me it’s the right choice.
See other hotels in Óbidos in the following link.
Aveiro: Candidate City for European Capital of Culture 2027
Aveiro is not a creative city, but on this trip, there was still time for a detour to this vibrant city.
It was nice to take a cruzeiro na Ria de Aveiro, tasting soft eggs (ovos moles) and sparkling wine (you can do this tour seven days a week, with or without tasting).
Then we went to CMIA – Municipal Center for Environmental Interpretation – where you could see flamingos in the Ria de Aveiro.
The exhibition was nice, and we had the exciting news that Aveiro is a Candidate City for European Capital of Culture 2027.
Good luck Aveiro!
UNESCO Creative Cities Itinerary in Central Portugal for those coming from the North of Portugal
For those in the North of Portugal, it is easier to start this itinerary in the city of Aveiro and then visit the creative cities in the following order: Leiria, Caldas da Rainha, Óbidos, Idanha-a-Nova, and Covilhã.
With this itinerary, you will drive about 470 km.
Alternatively, you can go from Aveiro towards the interior to Covilhã, Idanha-a-Nova, Óbidos, Caldas da Rainha and Leiria (about 560 km).
As there are many km, it is a good idea to do this route in several days, and for that, you can take advantage of the hotel suggestions in this article.
UNESCO Creative Cities Itinerary in Central Portugal for those coming from the South of Portugal
I suggest you start in Óbidos, then head to Caldas da Rainha, Leiria, Aveiro, Covilhã, and Idanha-a-Nova.
With this route, you will travel about 450 km.
How many days does it take to visit Creative Cities in Central Portugal?
For this itinerary I needed three days, but I must say I would would be nice to stay longer in each city.
In addition, and as I mentioned, the city of Aveiro is not part of the creative cities, so if you don’t have the time, you may consider removing this stop from the itinerary.
I take every opportunity to return to Aveiro, but I understand it is a choice to consider.
So, to make the most of your days in creative cities, I have three suggestions for you.
The first suggestion is that you should dedicate a day to each city.
If this isn’t possible, and you want to do this itinerary all at once, I recommend you reserve only half a day to each city. In this case, you will need the three days I mentioned. This is not the ideal situation, but you can get a good idea about creative cities.
Finally, you can split the tours, that is, visit Óbidos, Caldas da Rainha and Leiria in one weekend and Aveiro, Covilhã, and Idanha-a-Nova on another weekend.
*I participated in a press/blog trip to promote the Creative Cities of Central Portugal, at the invitation of Turismo do Centro.
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