“why are you going to Leiria? There’s nothing there”. This was the common response from most people that I told we were spending 2 nights in Leiria. Leiria is a small city in coastal Portugal, nearly halfway between Porto and Lisbon. We ended up there a bit randomly. We were heading to Peniche, at the coast, and needed to kill a few days between our time in Coimbra and our time visiting them. Leiria was halfway between the two, making our decision.
Getting to Leiria
Bus is the only way, unless you are one of those lucky travelers with a car. From Coimbra it was less than an hour on the bus, with Rede Expressos. It was then another 2 hours on to Peniche.
Not being high on a tourists list, accommodation was very reasonable in Leiria, though a little sparse. With Airbnb. I booked a room in massive house in a suburb, 15 minutes walk from the centre of town. We had a massive room, with space to workout. Our host was a lovely Portuguese woman who made us breakfast each day, insisted on cleaning up and drove us to the bus station. We also had the luck of watching the Portugal vs. Iran game with her family, a very authentic cultural experience!
Highlights of Leiria
Leiria is a small city with only a little going on. As I mentioned early, we kind of ended up here by accident and they do not have a booming tourist economy. This meant that it was a really good opportunity to get a better glimpse into real Portuguese life. I also had a cold while we were in Leiria so our first day was spent sipping lemon and ginger tea and our second day was slow.
This seems to be our top highlight of everywhere we visit and I think that it’s our interactions with other humans that will provide the enduring memories of our travels. In fact, keep reading because I’m adding a new section to our posts: The Kindness of Strangers. Out host in Leiria spoke even less English than I do Spanish (which was very useful in Portugal) and we had to use eccentric mime to get to know her a little. She went above and beyond the requirements of Airbnb and insisted on hosting us as honoured guests, making tea from her garden and offering us tasty Portugese treats. She had her son translate for her to explain all of the things we could do around town and would have done anything to make our trip enjoyable.
The main tourist attraction in Leiria is its castle. The whole city is built around it and you can pretty much see it from wherever you stand. It is buult high on a hill overlooking the city and is really well preserved. Entry is really cheap. It was €2.10 to see the castle and €2.50 to see the castle and a museum of choice in the city. We chose the latter. It was so cheap that it seemed obvious.
We spent a lovely morning exploring the castle. There was very little restrictions or safety in place so you could explore really well. We really enjoyed walking out on to the walls of the keep to survey the city below. In the keep they have a small exhibition with replica armour and weapons which Daniel really enjoyed. I probably would have been bored by it if I didn’t have Daniel’s font of knowledge to learn from.
The Paper Mill Museum
I was really look forward to visiting this museum. Apparently Leiria has an interesting history surrounding the paper mill and I was keen to learn about it. Following the castle we trooped on over to the museum, only to find that it was closed for lunch until 2.30, daily. We decided to come back later and Daniel looked at the closing time on the door. 5.30pm, perfect. We could go home for lunch and pop back in the late afternoon. The catch, Daniel had read the closing time for Saturday and we were too late to visit! So, if you ever plan to go to the paper mill museum in Leiria, know that it closes at 5pm on weekdays.
A walk along the river
The river itself is a little scummy but the vegetation around it is very pretty. We really enjoyed wandering along the banks of the river, under beautiful trees, looking at pretty buildings. If your going to the paper mill, I suggest taking the long day and following the river path. It’s great to be in a city and nature at the same time.
The Kindness of Strangers
We are gathering so many bizarre and wonderful stories involving total strangers that I decided I better start sharing them. So here is Leiria’s addition to the people stories. Having brought way to much luggage with us, I wish I were a minimalist, we decided to send some on to the UK. Posting under 2kg was very reasonable so we thought ‘why not?’
We packed unnecessary gear from our Camino Portuguese into a backpack we shouldn’t have brought and headed to the post office. The first problem was that for some reason we weren’t allowed to post it in the bag, it had to be a box. Immediately the lady was bustling about to find us a box.
The second problem was that what we wanted to post did not fit into one of the post office’s prepaid boxes the lady had kindly got for us. As we tried to organise our stuff a man appeared. He’d seen our struggle and rushed out the back to find a spare box to fit our stuff. We thought all of our issues were solved. In went the things they should have stayed in NZ and off we went to the counter.
The third problem. We needed a Portuguese address as a sender to actually post it. This is where the panic and immense kindness starts. The post office was closing in 30 minutes. Our friends in Peniche were the only people we could think of to use as a return address. We could only contact them via email AND we needed wifi to do so. The lady at the post office immediately jumped into action. She happened to have the passcode for a nearby cafe’s wifi so she sent us off down the road to send our email. But who happened to be at the cafe? Non other than the son of our host, who we’d met watching football the night before. After he stopped trying to buy us cakes and drinks and heard what we were trying to do, he wisked us off down the street to his office, sat us in a comfy chair with the wifi code and left us to send our email. Thankfully our wonderful friend Yelena replied in under 5 minutes and we were back to the post office to lighten our load.
There you have it, a mundane task, turned lovely tale of human kindness. No one needed to help us but heaps of people absolutely insisted on resolving our little problem. This trip is so adding to our faith in humanity!
With only 1 slow day in Leiria we didn’t get up to a huge amount. We loved the castle and thought that it was well worth a visit. If you are traveling in Europe and only ahve a short time in Portugal, I wouldn’t add Leiria to your must see list but if you have plenty of time, pop on by, see the castle, take a walk along the river and maybe even go and say ‘hi’ to our friends at the post office.
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Chloe and Daniel xx