Having benefited from the healing properties of waters already revered by the local population, the Queen ordered a hospital to be built on the site in 1485, making it the oldest thermal hospital in the world. The city grew up around the hospital and was always a favourite place for kings and the Portuguese aristocracy, its popularity peaking in the 19th century when spas were all the rage.
The thermal waters continue to be much sought after, though today Caldas da Rainha boasts many other attractive elements. These include the fresh and green Parque Termal (Thermal Park) in which there are a number of good quality museums, like the José Malhoa Museum. Here you will find fine naturalist and realist paintings by José Malhoa as well as other Portuguese painters from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The abundance of clay in the region led to the proliferation of ceramics factories, an industry that continues today and is internationally renowned for its figurative and satirical works. The ceramics owe their fame to 19th-century potter and caricaturist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, who founded a factory here. A collection of his work can be seen at the Museu de Cerâmica (Ceramics Museum).
Some of the city’s churches (like the Nossa Senhora do Pópulo Church) and Caldas da Rainha’s historical town centre are worth a visit. And don’t forget to explore its surrounding areas, including the town of Óbidos and the great beaches.