The best independent guide to north Portugal
The best independent guide to north Portugal
Viana do Castelo is the gem of Northern Portugal and exemplifies all of the finest aspects of the Costa Verde region. There are pristine beaches, dramatic natural scenery, and a city rich in history and Portuguese culture.
Viana do Castelo has always been a hardworking industrial city, with a proud shipbuilding heritage and a large fishing fleet. It is also a personable and likeable destination, which has a surprising amount of sights and activities to offer you.
Contained within the compact historic centre are ornate religious buildings, handsome 17th-century villas and cobbled shopping streets. Viana do Castelo spans the northern banks of the mighty Rio Lima, and this shoreline has a pleasant mix of park, ultra-modern architecture and a bustling fishing port.
Dominating the skyline of Viana do Castelo is the Santuário de Santa Luzia, a neo-byzantine church that stands atop the Monte de Santa Luzia hill. From the top of the church’s domed roof is one of the finest panoramic views in the whole of Portugal.
Viana do Castelo lies in a region of outstanding natural beauty. The city sits at the mouth of the slow-flowing Lima River, and is surrounded by rugged hills characteristic of the Minho region, while the coastline comprises of gorgeous sandy beaches.
Viana do Castelo is barely known by foreign visitors, but the city and surrounding region has so much to offer, that it deserves to be discovered by you. This article will show you why you must visit Viana do Castelo and help you get the most from the region.
Relate articles: Ponte de Lima – Dy trips from Porto – Douro valley by car
The Santuário de Santa Luzia – The magnificent white church that stands high above the city, with beautiful rose windows and a spectacular view from the top of its roof.
The Praça da República – The heart of Viana do Castelo, with its historic buildings, cobbled streets and the Santa Casa da Misericórdia church, with its stunning interior.
The Gil Eannes hospital ship – The 1950s ship constructed in Viana do Castelo to support the city’s Atlantic fishing fleet, now converted into a fascinating museum that details its history.
The Praia do Cabedelo – Sweeping sandy bay south of Viana do Castelo, with pristine natural scenery and near-perfect surfing waves.
Viana do Castelo is a great destination for a day trip from Porto but is rarely considered. There are sufficient sights to easily fill a day of sightseeing, and the city has a completely different atmosphere to Porto.
It is even possible to visit Viana do Castelo as a day trip from Porto using public transport. The inter-region (IR) train service from Porto to Viana takes 95 minutes, and a return ticket costs €14.40; see Comboios de Portugal https://www.cp.pt
A typical day trip to Viana do Castelo is divided into three sections; the historic centre, the waterfront and the Monte de Santa Luzia hill. To explore each of these distinct areas takes five to six hours and makes for an enjoyable day trip.
The map below shows a suggested day trip to Viana do Castelo. The green line marks the tour of the city, and the yellow line shows the tour around Monte de Santa Luzia (Note: zoom out to see all of the points)
Sights of the day trip: 1) Museu do Traje 2) Praça da República 3) Igreja da Misericordia 4) Sé Catedral 5) Ponte Eiffel 6) Monumento ao 25 de Abril 7) Centro Cultural 8) Gil Eannes 9) Forte Santiago da Barra 10) Santuário de Nossa Senhora 11) Igreja de São Domingos 12) Elevador de Santa Luzia 13) Santuário de Santa Luzia 14) Citânia Santa Luzia 15) Praia Norte (beach) 16) Praia do Cabedelo (beach)
Note: On Monday, all of the city’s museums are shut, so it is advisable not to visit Viana do Castelo on this day
The gothic styled Se Cathedral
For your day trip, we suggest beginning in the historic centre, which is conveniently close to the train station. The historic centre follows a grid layout with the Praça da República at its heart. Highlights include the Sé Catedral, the Misericordia church and the informative Traje regional museum.
The waterfront is a mix of ultra-modern buildings and parks, that are centred around the Centro Cultural. Towards the mouth of the Lima River is the spawling Santiago da Barra Fort and port complex where the Gil Eannes ship is moored.
The final area for the day trip is the Monte de Santa Luzia hill (228m). This is where the Santuário de Santa Luzia is situated, along with the iron-age ruins of the Citânia de Santa Luzia. A funicular climbs the hill and stops at the base of the Santuário de Santa Luzia.
The view over Viana do Castelo from the top of the Santuário de Santa Luzia
The Citânia Santa Luzia ruins were a major iron-age town and fort that covered the entire summit of the Santa Luzia hill.
The Igreja de São Domingos
Viana do Castelo may not seem an obvious choice for a holiday, but it is a fantastic location if you are seeking a completely undiscovered and unique destination.
Along with the historical sights and activities, Viana do Castelo boasts a wide selection of restaurants, hotels and bars. The city has the facilities, services and nightlife of a large city but without the excessive clamour or hecticness of Lisbon or Porto.
For a holiday, Viana do Castelo provides exceptional value for money, as all restaurants and nightlife are designed for locals and not tourists.
Our opinion: If you adored Lisbon, fell in love with Porto, and the Algarve is too touristy for you, then Viana do Castelo should be the next place you visit in Portugal.
Viana do Castelo is not a classic beach resort, but there are amazing beaches within walking distance of the historic centre (the Praia Norte), and there is a summertime ferry to the beautiful Praia do Cabedelo.
The city is an ideal base from which to explore the Minho region and the Costa Verde coastline, and Viana do Castelo is the primary transport hub of the region.
A suggested 1-week itinerary could include:
• Day 1 – Explore the historic centre and the Santa Luzia hill.
• Day 2 – Visit the Gil Eannes ship and the beaches
• Day 3 – A day trip to Ponte de Lima (a pretty town)
• Day 4 – A day trip to Valença (a fortified town on the Spanish border)
• Day 5 – A day trip to the Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês (car needed)
• Day 6 – A day trip to Caminha and Vila Nova de Cerveira (delightful coastal towns)
• Day 7 – A day trip to Barcelos (a pretty riverside town)
The Viana do Castelo has a decent selection of hotels and rental rooms, and the best are seen in the map below. If you adjust the dates to your trip, it will display current prices and availability:
One consideration for a trip to Viana do Castelo and the Minho region is the weather. The Costa Verde (the Green Coast) is named after its lush vegetation, but this is due to the amount of rain that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean and falls over the hills.
The summer months are dry and warm, but there can be a lot of rain in the autumn, winter and early spring.
The daytime maximum temperature (measured in the shade) and night-time minimum
The average hours of sunshine per day and monthly rainfall
The Gil Eannes hospital ship was constructed in 1955 to support the city’s fishing fleet during their month-long cod-fishing expeditions to Newfoundland (off the coast of Canada). The ship doubled up as a supply ship and mobile hospital for this incredibly dangerous profession.
The boat was rescued from scrappage in 1992, and has been lovingly restored to its former glory, and celebrates the fishing heritage of Viana do Castelo. The entire boat can be explored, from the bridge to the engines, and even the operating theatres. This is a fantastic tourist attraction for adults and children alike: http://www.fundacaogileannes.pt
The Gil Eannes
The operating room was at the lowest point of the ship, to have the least movement during rough seas
The magnificent Santuário de Santa Luzia stands atop the Monte de Santa Luzia, and is visible from any point of the city. The neo-Byzantine styled church is much younger than it appears, with its construction only starting in 1904, and completed in 1959.
The Monte de Santa Luzia hill provides amazing panoramic views of the region, and if you are fit (without claustrophobic or vertigo) can climb to the top of the churches dome for even better views.
Related articles: The Santuário de Santa Luzia.
The Santuário de Santa Luzia
The nondescript exterior of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia gives no indication of the opulent and decorative interior of the church. Inside gilded leaf and beautifully painted Azulejo tiles adorn every surface.
The interior of the Igreja da Misericordia is simply stunning
The Costa Verde has a gorgeous coastline of pristine and windswept beaches. These beaches are stunning, and in the summer, when there is less wind, they can easily rival the best beaches of the Algarve.
The seawater of the Northern Portugal coastline is surprisingly cold, only reaching 16-18C in the summer.
The Praia do Cabedelo is the finest beach of Viana do Castelo and lies on the southern side of the Rio Lima. This pristine beach extends for over 3.5km and is popular for surfing and kite surfing due to its excellent waves and reliable sea breezes.
On the northern side of the mouth of the river Lima (and closer to the city) is the Praia Norte. This is a beautiful sandy beach interspaced with rocky outcrops, and has a bustling promenade of cafes, bars and restaurants.
Further north along the coastline are the smaller resort towns of Carreço, Afife and Vila Praia de Âncora, and each offers a wonderful sandy beach.
The Praia Norte beach