In a sedimentological sense a fluvial to tidal transition zone can be defined in rivers as a zone that separates the upstream fluvial from the downstream estuarine zone. Characteristic sedimentary structures within this zone are notoriously difficult to recognize. This study demonstrates the influence of tidal modulation within the most proximal part of the fluvial-tidal transition zone (i.e. the ‘backwater zone’) of an ancient fluvial system. Criteria have been established to differentiate between purely fluvial facies and those modulated by tidal energy. The stratigraphic interval from which the data were derived is the Lourinhã Formation (Late Jurassic) of the Lusitanian Basin, Western Portugal. An analysis of sedimentary features at four key localities has identified a temporal spectrum of tidal influence ranging from the daily modulation of fluvial flows to the effects of tidal bore passage. A combination of quantitative and qualitative data reveals systematic changes in the internal architecture of dune-scale bedforms deposited in a channel-floor setting. The key co-occurring features are: (i) increasing-decreasing organic particle concentration; (ii) increasing-decreasing bottomset thickness; (iii) increasing-decreasing foreset dip and shape (from convex to concave); and (iv) increasing-decreasing brinkpoint height. Collectively, these features are interpreted as having been produced by successive fluctuations in flow regime conditions from lower (during flood tidal retardation) to higher (during ebb tidal drawdown) current velocities. Bedforms showing these features occur in both meandering fluvial channels and straighter distributary systems. In addition, several examples of a specific type of stepped erosion surface and draping sediment have been recognized, the interpretation of which strongly suggests generation by the passage of tidal bores. If this interpretation is correct, then it represents one of the first published examples of tidal bore propagation in ancient fluvial systems. Palaeoclimatic evidence (cellular analysis of woody tissue, palaeosol character and plate reconstruction) indicates a warm, seasonal, winter wet to summer dry climate during deposition of the Lourinhã Formation. From this evidence it is suggested that tidal modulation and tidal bore effects are more likely to develop in the ‘dry season’, when fluvial flow in the main river channels was reduced.