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Viana do Castelo Portugal
– A tourism guide fully updated for 2018
Viana do Castelo is a fascinating destination, which exemplifies the finest aspects of the Costa Verde and Minho regions. There are dramatic coastlines, beautiful natural scenery, and a city rich in history and Portuguese charm. Viana do Castelo is primarily an industrial city, being a major centre for shipbuilding, but it is also a personable and likeable destination, which has a surprising amount of sights and activities to offer visitors.
The water front of Viana do Castelo
Within the compact historic centre are extravagant religious buildings, delightful café-lined plazas and narrow shopping streets, which open out on to the banks the Rio Lima. The city’s skyline is dominated by the Santuário de Santa Luzia, which is truly a mesmerising attraction, and from the vantage point of the church’s dome, is one of the finest panoramic views of Portugal. Viana do Castelo is situated in a region of outstanding natural beauty; it is close to wild beaches, surrounded by lush forested hills and is on the banks of the slow-flowing Lima River.
Viana do Castelo is a great destination for a day trip, and even better for a holiday, but it is sadly neglected from most tourist’s itineraries. Viana do Castelo is a wonderful city, which deserves to be discovered, and this article will provide a tourist introduction to the city.
The Santuário de Santa Luzia
Highlights of Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo for a day trip
Viana do Castelo is an ideal destination for a day trip from Porto. There are sufficient sights and activities to easily fill a day of sightseeing, and Viana do Castelo has a completely different atmosphere and vibe to cosmopolitan Porto.
A day trip to Viana do Castelo is typically divided into three sections; the historic centre, the waterfront (including Gil Eannes ship) and the Monte de Santa Luzia. To explore each of these distinct areas requires around 5-6 hours and makes for a full and enjoyable day trip. For a full guide to a day trip to Viana do Castelo, along with a suggested 1-day itinerary please see this article.
For a day trip there are direct and inexpensive train or bus services connecting Porto to Viana do Castelo. A day trip is good for visitors who are limited by time or wish to spend their entire holiday in Porto, but we would always recommend spending at least a couple of nights in Viana do Castelo.
The delightful Praça da República, the historic centre of the city
A holiday to Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo may not seem an obvious choice for a holiday destination but for the right tourist it can be a fantastic location. Along with the historic sights and activities, Viana do Castelo boasts a wide choice of restaurants, a good selection of hotels and numerous bars. The city has the facilities, services and nightlife of a large city but without the excessive clamour or bustle of Lisbon or Porto. Viana do Castelo is not a classic beach resort, but there is a decent beach (Praia Norte) within walking distance of the historic centre
Viana do Castelo lies within the Costa Verde coastline which is renowned for its pristine coastline and wild beaches that face the power of the Atlantic Ocean. The city is an ideal base from which to explore the Minho region and the public transport of Viana do Castelo allows the majority of the region to be reached. There are enough interesting day trips to easily fill a week’s holiday and a 1-week itinerary could include:
Our opinion: If you adored Lisbon and fell in love with Porto, then Viana do Castelo should be your next Portuguese city for a holiday.
For a guide to the best hotels in Viana do Castelo, please click here
The dramatic coastline and beaches of Viana do Castelo
What to expect from Viana do Castelo?
Historically the city was a centre for seafaring, fishing and shipbuilding, and today the shipbuilding dominates the busy docks and shipyards. There is heavy industry in the city, but this will never detract from a visit to the city, and it is very easy to explore the historic centre without realising it is there at all. Viana do Castelo has the facilities of a large city, with a wide selection of restaurants, good nightlife and excellent shopping.
The average weather of Viana do Castelo
The historic centre of Viana do Castelo is a year-round destination, but sightseeing will never be enjoyable during the heavy winter rains. The north of Portugal has significantly more rain than the south and there is a reason why the region is known as the green coast (Costa Verde). The weather is better from April to the end of October and beach weather is from mid-May until the mid-September.
Note: All of the museums close on Mondays and it is advisable not to visit Viana do Castelo as a day trip on Monday.
What is the best tourist attraction of Viana do Castelo?
The most famous tourist attraction of Viana do Castelo is the Santuário de Santa Luzia, but our favourite attraction is the Gil Eannes hospital ship. This ship was built in Viana do Castelo’s shipyards to support the Newfoundland cod fishing fleet during the 1950s, and has been lovingly restored to its former glory, since being rescued from a salvage yard.
The whole boat can be explored from the bridge, to the operating theatres and down to the depths of the engines, and cleverly celebrates the history of the region’s cod fishing. A fantastic tourist attraction for adults and children alike.
The official website is: http://www.fundacaogileannes.pt (link opens new tab)
The Gil Eannes hospital ship
The Santuário de Santa Luzia
No article about Viana do Castelo could not discuss the Santuário de Santa Luzia. This magnificent church stands atop the Monte de Santa Luzia, making it visible from any point of the city. The neo-Byzantine styled church is much younger than it appears, with construction only starting in 1904, and after many delays, was completed in 1959.
The vantage point of the Monte de Santa Luzia hill provides great panoramic views of the region, and for those fit tourists (without claustrophobic or vertigo) could climb to the top of the churches dome for even better views. The whole Santa Luzia hill takes a half day to explore, and includes a ride on the funicular, the Citânia de Santa Luzia (pre-roman ruins), tree line walks and great views. For a full guide to a trip to Santa Luzia please click here.
The Santuário de Santa Luzia
Viana do Castelo's best hidden sight?
The nondescript exterior of the Santa Casa Da Misericórdia gives no indication of the opulent and decorative interior of gilded leaf and beautiful painted azulejo tiles. The church is on the edge of the Praça da República (GPS: 41.69381, -8.828355) and is only € 1 to enter.
What about the beaches?
Viana do Castelo is often purely considered as a historic town, but there are some wonderful beaches near the city. The two issues with the beaches are that the sea waters are extremely cold (only reaching 18-20C in the summer) and often there is a strong sea breeze.
The Praia Norte beach
The Praia Norte is the main beach of Viana do Castelo and is within walking distance of the city. This is a sandy beach interspaced by rocky outcrops and has a bustling promenade of cafes, bars and restaurants. The Praia Norte is always a hub of activity but will be crowded in the summer.
To the south of the Lima estuary is the vast expanse of wild sands which make up the Praia do Cabedelo and Praia do Rodanho. These beaches are windswept, have huge waves and are great to escape the summer crowds. Further north along the coastline are the smaller resort towns of Carreço, Afife and Vila Praia de Âncora each with a wonderful sandy beach.