Both Leticia and I love to visit the north of Portugal every time we can. And one of our favorite spots lately is Viana do Castelo, a city that mixes tradition and innovation, with medieval-style streets, unique crafts and great food, including one of the icons of Portuguese gastronomy: Cod.
Viana do Castelo is located at the end of the River Limia, at the point where it connects with the wild Atlantic Ocean. A privileged position that allows visitors to enjoy stunning beaches, worldwide recognized for its qualities for water sports, including Body Board, Surf and Sky Surf. So, if you feel like finding out more about a city full of life and traditions, keep reading:
Our 5 top reasons to visit Viana do Castelo
Santa Luzia Mountain
Saint Lucy (Santa Luzia) is the first one to welcome you when you visit Viana do Castelo. The Sagrado Coração de Jesus Temple, located on top of the mountain, can be seen from a distance. It is an imposing Neo Byzantine style stone temple built in the XX Century.
The temple can be reached by car or by foot (if you are willing to climb a 2km staircase.) Another option is the Funicular, only 10 minutes away from the train station of Viana. Going up there is worth the time: you will enjoy breathtaking views of Limia River and the City of Viana do Castelo. And if you want to see further down the coast, climb up to the dome. It costs € 1 and climbing a set of stairs of Vertigo.
But don’t stop there, right next is the Citania of Santa Luzía, the ruins of a fortified village from the first Century d.C., and the hotel Pousada de Viana do Castelo, from which you can enjoy some amazing views while enjoying a cafe at their open terrace.
The old town of Viana do Castelo
Surrounding Praza da Republica Square, you will discover the old town of Viana do Castelo. The square itself is a great place to see the evolution of the city.
In the middle of it is El Chafariz, an elegant renaissance fountain built in 1554. Next to it, the old town hall, Antigos Paços do Concello building has a fortress style. The building Edificio da Misericordia or Casa das Verandas (House of the verandas) with a Renaissance look…
They are not the only must stops near Republica square, stop at famous bakery Natario to taste its famous pastries “Berlinesas” or continue to the Cathedral of Viana do Castelo, with the looks of an old castle-fortress and a beautiful portico.
The narrow streets that continue from the Cathedral towards the river are full of small shops, including some great spots for handcrafts shopping. And they will lead you towards the Eiffel Bridge, the place that marks the nautical area of the city.
Here you will find the Marghinal and the Marina Gardens. The area is a great place to mix with locals enjoying their free time. Old bandstands here have been transformed into coffee spots and the place is full of small restaurants specializing in traditional Portuguese food.
The museums of Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo is very proud of its history and crafts. The city has transformed from a little fishermen village to capital city of the north coast of Portugal (right behind Porto). And it has some nice museums to prove it:
The Costume Museum, housed inside the old facilities of the Bank of Portugal has one of the best collections of traditional costumes and embroidery of Viana do Castelo.
The Museum of Art and Archeology: housed in a beautiful example of the portuguese nobiliary architecture, which used to belong to the Barbosa Maciel family. They showcase a collection of traditional pottery including examples of the old pottery factory from Viana do Castelo.
Other interesting museums are the one at Casa dos Niche (Casa dos Nichos) and the Interactive Chocolate Museum.
The walk by the river at the Port of Viana do Castelo
From the Eiffel Bridge, which connects Viana with the beaches on the other side of the Límia River, to the Castle of Viana do Castelo (now College of Tourism) there is a nice walk by the river. It is an interesting way to connect with city and its relation with the sea.
Near the Tourism Office, there is one of the icons of the harbor of Viana: the hospital ship Gil Eannes. The ship is now a museum that shows how it was to be a hospital on the seas.
If you continue along the coast, you will see some small houses by the water (on the picture on the side), that belonged to the seafarers. Now they also have some small fisheries and other businesses.
And finally, the Santiago da Barra Castle, a small walled castle that served as protection from the attack of pirates. The castle houses the Viana do Castelo School of Tourism but you can walk along the fortified walls.
Viana do Castelo Beaches
The beaches of Viana do Castelo stand out for the value of the dunes and its ecosystem. Both to the north and the south of the coast, the coast stretches with long areas of fine white sand that almost connect one to another.
There are many beautiful spots, a high number of them awarded with the Blue Flag. Their location on the Atlantic Ocean make them perfect for those loving sports like bodyboard, surf and kitesurf.
But there are also river beaches, like Praia do Coral, not far from the Castle and with a wild natural look that makes you forget you are in the middle of the city. And it has a unique location, right where the river connects with the Ocean.
Some extra info
Viana do Castelo is well explored on foot but you will most probably need a car to explore the small villages, beaches and interesting sights nearby (Praia do Cabadelo, Praia da Amorosa, Afife …).
There are several private parkings available around town and many public parking areas (pay, but weekends are free.)
How to get there
By train: Comboios de Portugal operates direct trains from Porto, Famalicao and Barcelos, but also from Vigo (Spain.)
By plane: Closest airports are Porto in Portugal (OPO 75 km away), and Vigo in Spain (VGO – 101 km away). Other options are: Santiago de Compostela in Spain (SCQ 180 km away).
Camino de Santiago: via the Portuguese Way of the Coast.