It has been a while since I last visited Viana do Castelo so this summer I decided to pay a visit to this beautiful city. Usually I travel with my husband but this time he had to go back to work and I was left on my own. Sad, isn’t it? Well, not necessarily, you can also enjoy life on your own (oops, he is just beside me, I hope he will not be very disappointed or left aside…). I feel good in my own company and when on holidays I like to make the most of it. So I decided I would be spending a day in Viana. Viana do Castelo is a gorgeous city located in the North of Portugal, next to the sea and where Lima river meets the Atlantic ocean. It is located in a region called Alto Minho. This region is characterized by a scenery of greens and blues with a stunning landscape alongside with a gastronomy that will leave your mouth watering.
The journey started at the train station in Campanhã at 8.20 am.
I really like to use trains as you don’t have to be worried about traffic or where to park the car , you can simply enjoy the views, read or make some last minute research regarding what you would like to visit. Besides, this is also a cheap way to travel (I paid 5.85€ per way). By 10.06 am I had arrived to Viana.
Once you step out of the train you will feel the charm of this beautiful train station built in the 19th century. Take some time to have a look inside and outside the building.
The train station is very well positioned, located in Av. dos Combatentes da Grande Guerra with a wide avenue that leads to Praça da Liberdade. Also outside the station there is a huge statue with a woman and a man (Maria and Manel) dancing, this monument represents the Folklore, a tradition that people from this city are very proud of.
My first stop was Basilica de Santa Luzia, so I decided to take the Funicular. A 3€ round trip will save you from walking 1.8 km in a steep terrain. The funicular will make it in 7 minutes saving your legs for later when visiting the city. I have to confess that the journey was a little bit weird as I was the only Portuguese inside the Funicular, around me I could only hear people speaking French and for awhile I wasn’t sure if I was in Portugal. There are some explanations for this: when I went there it was July which is usually a month with a lot of tourists, besides some people argue that this building was inspired in the Sacré Cœur in Paris so probably they wanted to check with their own eyes the similarities (or lack of them).
Once you reach the top you will be amazed with the imposing Basilica, a magnificent building in a neoclassical and byzantine style that took around 50 years to be completed during the 20th century. I was lucky because it was still early so there wasn’t a lot of people around which allowed me to admire the stunning views.
I took some pictures as I really love photography (despite only being an amateur) and then I went to the top of the Basilica (paid 0.80€). I was the only person there . The tranquility of the place and the panoramic views of the city, Lima river, the beaches and the mountains make you feel connected with the environment and a sense of happiness and peace will fulfill you. I truly recommend you do the same.
I really didn’t want to leave this place so I decided to go to Pousada Viana do Castelo for a coffee (you already know that for me any excuse for a coffee is valid) and I took some more time absorbing those gorgeous views.
In the quietness and beauty of this place I took my time and my camera was again in action. What a fantastic place to be!
I couldn’t stay here for ever as I had other places I wanted to visit and a lot of walking was waiting for me.
I took the Funicular back to the train station and I went to Praça da República, the heart of the historic centre. Viana do Castelo is a lively and vibrant place particularly during summer time when the festivities of Santa Luzia take place. One of the reasons why Viana is well known is related with the tradition of Folklore and during the day I was visiting it an encounter of Folklore from different countries was happening.
There was a lot of people dressed in these absolutely beautiful costumes dancing and sharing their traditions. But of course my favourite are women of Viana (not that I’m biased…). Take a look at those stunning costumes and all the gold embezzling the women.
This is the costume Vianesa and this used to be the way rural people used to dress according to their job and social status. A good place to learn more about the ethnographic heritage and the identity of people from Alto Minho is Museu do Traje. The museum has a large collection of costumes and rural objects that recount the life of the people of these times. The entrance is free of charge and it’s open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm (though it closes for lunch from 1 pm to 3 pm).
Praça da República is a charming place full of life, monuments, narrow and picturesque streets, confectioneries with such a variety of pastry that it will be difficult for you to decide and believe me, you will order more than one, it’s impossible to resist such a delicious temptation. You see, if you are visiting Portugal it’s inevitable that you are going to end up with some extra kilograms!!!
Some of the places you could visit: Antigos Paços do Concelho and Edifício e Igreja da Misericórdia both from the 16th century.
I started to feel hungry so I made my way back to Praça da Liberdade located beside Lima river. I had my lunch enjoying the views. The gastronomy in Portugal is very rich and Viana is not an exception. Some of the typical dishes are: cod (cooked in several ways), sea food, octopus, grilled sardines, sea bass, hake and then you also have plenty of choices if you prefer meat like, Rojões, sarrabulho rice, duck rice, cabrito, just to mention some.
After lunch I followed along the river and I went to visit the Navio Gil Eanes (hospital ship Gil Eannes) open from 9.30 am to 6 pm during winter time, finishing one hour later during summer (the cost is 4€). In the past this ship was used to support the Portuguese cod fish in Greenland. Today is a museum where you can visit the different rooms and the the doctor’s office with all the equipment and operation theaters.
Time to keep going. The walking take you through the harbour. The smell of fresh fish being cooked is delicious. This should have been my place for lunch, definitely for next time.
Following alongside the river you will come across the Forte de Santiago da Barra from the 16th century which was used to defend the city against the invasions during the Portuguese discoveries. Unfortunately it was closed at the time of my visit, hope you have more luck.
From here I made my return to the centre and I visited the Museu Municipal de Viana do Castelo which is a beautiful mansion from the 18th century where you can admire the Viana porcelain/pottery from the 17th century to the 19th century. You can also see a collection of sacred art, beautiful pieces of Indo-Portuguese furniture from the 18th century and the beautiful Portuguese and Hispano-Arabic tiles.
My cultural visit ended at Igreja de São Domingos.
My legs started to complain, so I went back to Praça da República as I wanted to eat in a different confectionery from the ones I’ve been before. As I was looking for one I saw a queue and I thought to myself that that one must be good, otherwise why would be so many people waiting. I went inside and one member of the staff brought me a list to choose from. There were so many I felt lost, so I asked him to bring me something special from Viana. He brought me a Bola de Berlim and I thought to myself, “Seriously, I can have a Bola de Berlim any place in Portugal!” but then I took a close look and I noticed that this Bola de Berlim wasn’t like the others, the sugar was different and when I put the first bit in my mouth…oh my God, was it good? I don’t have a word that can describe how good it was, different from all the others, absolutely delicious. I noticed then the name of the place, Confeitaria Natário and I remembered my mum had told me once that I should go to Viana and taste this specialty. This Confeitaria does 1000 Bolas de Berlim per day and has a history of 70 years producing authentic delights which are impossible to resist. Check the link above and find all the products they sell.
It was almost time for my train to return back to Porto. A final stop at the shopping centre beside the train station for a final coffee at the rooftop and a final look to this beautiful city.
“Quem gosta vem, quem ama fica” (Those who like will come back, those who love it will stay).