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The amazing Medieval Fairs in Portugal

This is the English version of my blog GDAMAS (Portuguese language, online since 2010). I'm still working on it. English is not my native language. Please, feel free to correct me.


Portugal promotes some of the most famous Medieval Fairs in the world. They happen most frequently in July and August, in days to be specified each year.

Damas, I’m planning a trip to Portugal. It would be awesome to witness an event like this. What can I expect?

Depending on the city, you can expect a lot – something like the sensation of being in a huge set, joining the cast of a medieval film from a book by Ken Follett.

Promotion of a medieval fair in Portugal
An example (poster) of a Medieval Fair in Portugal.

I will show you some details, with many photos, vibrant videos, and tips for your visit.

Take your sword, your helmet, your magic potion… and come with me before the guards of the king find us wandering around.

Medieval Fairs in Portugal

The experience

The Historic Center of the city changes to create a – guess what? – medieval atmosphere.

Facades of buildings are covered with an ancient style. Workers appear in different costumes of that time. Bars and restaurants replace modern seats and tables with old ones – sometimes made of straw – and serve beer in clay mugs. The money used to pay the bill may be a coin created especially for the event.

One other promotion of a medieval fair in Portugal.

Some details are shocking now, but were natural or common on that time. Like the corpses of hanged people (dolls, of course!), or people tortured in many other ways. In the open sky, visible to everyone.

The local castle is obviously part of the show. In fact, the best place to be. Moving around and inside it, we find actors dressed like knights, bishops, slaves, kings, criminals, artists, wizards.

They interact with us. I still laugh aloud when remembering a scene in the castle of Castro Marim (Algarve): an actress, in the role of a slave, chased me begging for help, because she had just escaped her “owner.”

Hey, Damas, I’m unhappy now for not being an actor or actress to use those costumes.

Unhappy? Never. Visitors are encouraged to wear medieval costumes. You can buy or rent one at the entrance. And more: consider purchasing a ticket to join the royal banquet – yes, with the king, the queen, and other people of the highest nobility.

I highly recommend you spend a little more with tickets for the daily extra shows. Those include knight battles, castle invasions, horse rides, dance numbers, etc. In some cities, like Silves (Algarve), the shows are simple. But they are impressive in Santa Maria da Feira. Astonishing. Jaw-dropping.

A knight and a castle
A battle during a medieval fair in Portugal
An Egyptian dancer

It’s like being in the studio of a medieval movie

Actors dressed like medieval people
Facade changed.
Example of covered building facade to assume a medieval atmosphere.
Typical food to buy
Typical gastronomic delicacies are a constant temptation.
Playing instruments
A woman dancing according to arabic traditions
Man riding a camel
Arab lights
Going to the castle
Going to the castle.
Entrance to the castle in Castro Marim for the Medieval Fair
Order of the Templars
Templars fight simulation

When

Opening this post, I said the Medieval Fairs happen especially in July and August (Summer). The greatest ones, I may say. You can discover different fairs in other months like January and October.

There are no specific days for each city. You need to check in advance to your trip. (I will show you below links to official web pages.)

Inside the castle, a man lights a fire

The castle gives originality to the event

Inside the castle during the Medieval Fair in Portugal
Eating and drinking inside the castle
A medieval scene in Óbidos.
Actors dressed in medieval style

How long

The number of medieval days depends on the city. Usually, the event happens for at least three days. Some of them extend to more than ten days.

The tickets give access to a full day.

Inside the castle during the Medieval Fair in Portugal, in a show with flags
Inside the castle during the Medieval Fair in Portugal
Actors in medieval style wave to the public

The most famous Medieval Fairs in Portugal

The most acclaimed Medieval Fair of Portugal takes place in Santa Maria da Feira (discover the city in Google Maps). The dimension of its production is comparable to the production of a film. Battle sequences, for instance, are jaw-dropping. In fact, it is promoted as the largest medieval recreation event in Europe.

Óbidos – one of the most famous places for tourism in Portugal – is another notable example.

The Algarve, southern Portugal, promotes Medieval Fairs in two cities: Silves and Castro Marim. They are both famous, but I prefer the one in Castro Marim, at the border with Spain. They invest much more effort and money. The name of the event there, to be precise, is Medieval Days, not Medieval Fair.

Here are the links to the most famous events: Santa Maria da FeiraÓbidos, Castro Marim, Silves. If there is no English version, use a tool like Google Translate or a web browser that offers automatic translation.

A man makes medieval instruments
Visitors using medieval costumes

The dark side of the Medieval Era is always present

Medieval tortures
“Torturas medievais”: Medieval torture.
Medieval torture
Inside the castle
Making wine with the feet
Making wine.
Making wine

Tips and warnings

Before the video, I have some tips and warnings for you.

Weather

As I said, the largest Medieval Fairs happen in Summer, especially July and August. This season is relentless in Portugal, even more in the Algarve. Expect extremely hot and dry days.

If you plan to be in a Medieval Fair during the day, I recommend sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat. And drink a lot.

A dance number

The best time to go

The event can start in the early afternoon and should extend until the end of the night, maybe dawn.

I am crazy for all those Medieval Fairs. I look like a child in Disney World. So, I stay there day and night.

Damas, it will not be possible to spend all they there. I’ll have to choose to go in the afternoon or at night. What do you suggest?

It depends only on your preferences. Please consider the following:

  • AFTERNOON
    • Pros
      • Fewer people.
      • Calmer – less uproar, less queuing.
      • We observe more details.
    • Cons
      • Too hot. The weather may be ruthless.
      • There are usually fewer shows.
  • NIGHT
    • Pros
      • More pleasant weather.
      • More shows.
      • The royal dinner.
      • More intense atmosphere (dark, use of fire, special lights).
    • Cons
      • Ooooovercrowded.
      • The atmosphere is more intense, but we do not notice some details of the historic place.
Inside the castle during the Medieval Fair in Portugal
The Plague.
During the night in the castle

In the dark, the event takes on a more intense atmosphere

At night
Night in the castle, during the Medieval Fair
A show with fire

How to go & Parking

If going by car, arrive early, or you will face the huge challenge of finding a spot to park.

The most organized events, like the one in Santa Maria da Feira, offers online reservations in the park. You can also buy your entrance ticket – a wonderful idea to avoid the lengthy queues.

Well, well, Damas. I prefer public transportation.

You are clever. But this is not a suitable choice for the Medieval Fairs in Silves and Castro Marim, because public transportation is terrible (a shame!) in the Algarve. Forget about bus and train. And there is no underground. Taxi, however, is practical.

Actors play with the visitors

Limited mobility

Unfortunately, a Medieval Fair is not a viable visit for people with reduced mobility. We move in historic places with uneven floors, stones, lengthy stairs with high steps, streets with steep climbs.

Once again, Santa Maria da Feira is an exception. They provide an accessible itinerary for people with hearing, visual, or motor impairment. They even offer wheelchairs. Obviously, the visitant will live a limited experience, but I am glad to say that he or she can live this special day.

Visitors eating and drinking
A seller of brushes inside the castle
A man making candles in the medieval style
Making candles.
A castle used in a Medieval Fair in Portugal
This castle, in Silves, is one of the most famous castles in Portugal.
Inside the castle during the Medieval Fair in Portugal
The Turret of the City Gate, in Silves.

Food, drink and fun

People in a restaurant see the castle
The view on this restaurant in the Historic Center of Silves is amazing.
Cathedral
Silves Cathedral.
BBQ
Crowd in a Medieval Fair in Portugal
Always expect overcrowded streets at ninght.
Crowd
Inside the castle at night

Videos

The videos below were published by the producers of the anual event in Santa Maria da Feira. The audio is in Portuguese, but the images will be enough to show what you need to see.

May you live a fascinating medieval day in Portugal!


G. DAMAS
I live in the Algarve (South of Portugal). My first fiction book, for young adults, was published in 2001 in Portuguese language — a time travel adventure that won thousands of readers. I also wrote some travel and tech books and manuals.
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