this final leg of our journey, we made our way down the Costa Verde
(Green Coast), a coastal stretch in the North of Portugal with pristine
beaches fringed by pinewoods and valleys.
Many towns in this
region are former fishing ports, such as Esposende and Póvoa de Varzim.
But these days, it’s the beaches that lure most visitors here, as well
as a casino and golf courses.
Summer is the best time to visit
Costa Verde if you’re coming to the beach but, be warned—the water is
pretty chilly around here. Still, the natural landscape makes up for it.
Off-season you can visit historical attractions, from Iron Age
settlements to military fortresses and churches.
Below are a
few things to do in Costa Verde, including the best beaches and
attractions to see on your way from Viana do Castelo to Porto.
Our first stop of the day was Esposende, which is roughly 30 minutes
away from Viana by car. Set on the banks of the Cávado River, it’s a
charming resort town famous for its pristine coastline. You’ll find most
of its beaches within the Parque Natural do Litoral Norte, a natural
park with dunes placed between the river and the ocean.
On our way to the coast, we decided to visit a couple of monuments.
First up was the Santuário da Senhora da Guia. Perched on a hill in
the village of Belinho, this tiny shrine boasts incredible views of the
mountains and the ocean.
Next, we visited Castro de São Lourenço, a
fortified village dating back to the 4th century BC. Many houses are
still intact, so you can imagine what it was like to live in that era.
From the edge of the village, you can contemplate the river and the
As you approach the coast of Esposende, the first beach you’ll find is
Praia Suave Mar. Also called Praia do Esposende, it's one of the many
beaches located within the Litoral Norte Protected Landscape. Backed by
low sandy dunes, this beach offers a few cafés were you can stop for a
There are a few other beaches in
Esposende that deserve a visit such as Praia de Ofir, Praia da Apúlia
and Praia da Ramalha. Praia de Ofir is popular among surfers, and
there’s a surf school on site for those who want to learn the sport.
When the tide is low, you can spot the Cavalos de Fão, a natural rock
formation rising amid the sea. Further down is the Praia da Apúlia, a
large beach surrounded by dunes and old windmills that deserve a
Praia da Ramalha is a bit calmer and offers plenty of space
to practise beach volleyball or football.
If you’re visiting
Esposende in the winter or prefer to swim in warmer waters, you can head
to the Piscinas Foz do Cávado. This public pool complex features two
seasonal outdoor pools and an indoor pool open all-year-round. It
releases waves every hour, making you feel like you’re in the ocean.
can also take the opportunity to wander around the natural park itself.
Follow the trails on foot or rent a bike and enjoy the views of the
landscape. Keep your eyes open as you might spot herons or otters,
especially near the river.
Esposende Itinerary Map
Póvoa de Varzim
From Esposende, we headed south to Póvoa de Varzim. This fishing town
has been welcoming visitors to its beaches since at least the 19th
century. Once sought-out for its curative seaweed, Póvoa de Varzim has
transformed into a modern city entertaining tourists with its casino and
Before we reached the city, we passed by Monte de
São Félix, the highest hill of Póvoa de Varzim at 202 metres high. Up
here, there’s a sanctuary, windmills and the ruins of a pre-Roman
village. A long stairway leads the way to the top, but you can also
drive here. Whichever way you go, you can expect fantastic views over
the town and its woods.
Beaches in Póvoa de Varzim
Stretching for around 10km, the coast of Póvoa de Varzim features a
series of glorious beaches. In the north is Praia do Quião, a quiet
stretch with white sands and rocky outcrops emerging near the water.
Close to the centre is Praia da Salgueira, an urban beach that
attracts many local surfers and bodyboarders. After that, comes Praia
do Carvalhido, a small sandy bay occupied by striped beach tents in the
summer. Then there's Praia Redonda, a popular choice among families
living in the North of Portugal. Behind these last three beaches is the
Avenida dos Banhos, a long promenade with plenty of cafés and
Attractions in Póvoa de Varzim
After touring the beaches, you can explore some of the city’s main
landmarks. Set between the beaches and the harbour of Póvoa de Varzim is
the Painel dos Azulejos, an impressive tile panel designed by
Fernando Gonçalves in 2004. It includes scenes from the city's past
focusing on its fishing traditions.
Nearby is the Fortaleza Nossa
Senhora da Conceição, a military stronghold dating back to the 18th
century which protected the city from invaders. Inside the fortress are
now two restaurants which provide great sea views.
Praça do Almada
is the city's central square, framed by colourful buildings and
historical sites such as the town hall, a 16th-century pillory and a
statue of the famous Portuguese writer Eça de Queiroz.
also pay a visit to the casino or spend some time at the nearby golf
course. Open since the 1930s, Casino da Póvoa offers many gaming
facilities, as well as a restaurant, four bars and a theatre which hosts
several events throughout the year. Golf fans should drive up to the
Estela Golf Club, a links golf course with 18 holes overlooking the
Following Póvoa de Varzim, we continued down to Vila do Conde. Standing
amid the ocean and the Ave River, this coastal city has a fascinating
maritime history. Back in the Age of Discovery, it was a ship building
port, and visitors are reminded of this today when visiting its museums.
Of course, most people head here for the beach, and there a plenty of
those too. Even if you don’t have a car, you can take the subway
directly from Porto.
As we made our way to the city, we spotted the Aqueduto de Santa
Clara, a 17th-century aqueduct which connects Póvoa de Varzim to Vila
do Conde. Attached to this monument is the Convento de Santa Clara.
Founded in the 14th century, it was among the largest feminine convents
in Portugal. You can still see its original Gothic structure with its
granite walls and crenellated roof, but there's also a newer section
built in the 18th century.
A few minutes away from the convent is
the Casa Museu José Régio. This house was owned by José Régio, a
prominent Portuguese writer during the 20th century. Now converted into a
museum, it's worth exploring its rooms decorated with ceramics,
religious art and antique furniture.
From there you can walk to the
Igreja Matriz, the city's parish church. Built between the 15th and
16th century, it's one of the most striking buildings in Vila do Conde.
The outdoor façade stands out with its carved doorway typical from the
Portuguese Gothic architecture, while the interior is mostly Baroque.
is the Museu da Rendas de Bilros, a museum which showcases
traditional lacework from this region and the tools used to produce it.
a look into the city's maritime history, you can visit the Museu de
Construção Naval or hop on the Nau Quinhentista. The first one is a
museum dedicated to the city's shipbuilding industry, the second is a
replica of a 16th-century vessel which rests by the river.
the river, and you'll soon end up at the Capela de Nossa Senhora da
Guia. This tiny whitewashed chapel dates back to the 17th century and
hides a rich interior with fresco ceilings, tiled walls and a marble
Not far from the chapel is the Forte de São João
Baptista, a 17th-century fort with a unique pentagonal shape rising
amid the sand. For centuries, it was a strategic defence point
protecting the city from pirate attacks, but in the 1980s it became a
boutique hotel. Even if you're not staying here, you can still climb the
walls and relish the views over the river and the ocean.
Most beaches in Vila do Conde are located north of the river, these include, Praia do Forno and Praia Azul. Praia do Forno is the closest one to the city centre, and it's where you'll find the imposing Forte de São João Baptista. Next to it is the Praia Azul, which offers perfect conditions for surfing. Running behind the beach is the Marginal Atlântica, a promenade that stretches up to Póvoa de Varzim.
South of the river are more remote beaches like Praia da Azurara. Protected by dunes, this white sandy beach extends for several kilometres, so there's always somewhere to lie down.
Driving down from Vila do Conde, the first beach to come
up is Praia do Aterro. Surrounded by lush vegetation and with a vast
sandy stretch, it's the perfect place to relax. Just next to it is Praia
Azul. Also known as Praia da Conchinha, this small bay is surrounded
by rocky outcrops. To the left of the beach, standing on a headland, is
the Capela da Boa Nova, a 14th-century chapel that once belonged to a
Franciscan monastery. The interior is pretty low-key, but the ocean
views outside are worth capturing.
Contrasting with the chapel is
the Casa de Chá da Boa Nova, a Michelin-star restaurant housed in a
beautiful contemporary building designed by Portuguese architect Siza
Vieira. Close by is the Farol da Boa Nova, one of the tallest
lighthouses in the country established in 1926.
Head further south,
and you’ll soon be at the Praia Leça da Palmeira. This beach has a
long sandy stretch which goes all the way to the marina, making it the
closest beach to the town centre. There are two cafés on the beach and
many more in the surrounding area. One of the highlights of this beach
is the Piscinas de Marés, two saltwater pools rising from the rocks
also designed by Siza Vieira. Its calm waters are ideal for families
with kids. Near the beach is the sturdy Forte Leça de Palmeira, a
17th-century fortress that now houses the offices of Porto de Leixões.
heading to Porto, we made one last stop at the Parque da Quinta da
Conceição. This public park was once home to a Franciscan convent, and
you can still see the remains of this as you wander through its leafy
paths today. The roofless cloisters, the stone fountains and the
vine-covered Manueline doorway are a few elements that you can’t help
noticing when you visit.
If you’re interested in exploring more in Costa Verde, you can check our guides about Viana do Castelo, Porto and Aveiro.