(Green Coast) is 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.
About a 30-minute drive from Viana do Castelo is Esposende. 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 your way to the coast you can visit several monuments, starting with 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.
Then head to 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 ocean below.
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, 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 you reach the city, you can pass 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.
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
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, you can 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 metro
directly from Porto.
On your way to the city you’ll spot 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.
Finally, you can 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.
Costa Verde offers a range
of activities for families. Most of the cities on this stretch have a
beach where kids can go for a swim or build castles in the sand. Popular
options for families include Praia de Moledo (Viana do Castelo), Praia
da Apúlia (Esposende) and Praia Redonda (Póvoa de Varzim). You can also
take advantage of the saltwater pools in Leça da Palmeira or enjoy the
artificial waves at Piscinas Foz do Cávado.
In addition to the
beaches, you can follow many coastal trails, especially around the
Parque Natural do Litoral Norte. Each city also has a public garden or
park where kids can roam free, like Parque da Quinta da Conceição in
Leça da Palmeira.
Finally, you can explore historical attractions like the fortified
village of Castro de São Lourenço (Esposende), the windmills in Monte de
São Félix (Póvoa de Varzim) or hop aboard the Nau Quinhentista, a
16th-century vessel docked in Vila do Conde.
Foz do Cávado (Esposende): Set along the city’s waterfront, this
restaurant serves traditional Portuguese dishes. Specialities include
the posta (a thick piece of veal steak) and the arroz de tamboril e
gambas (monkfish and prawn rice).
Bodegão (Póvoa de Varzim): Open in 2000, this cosy restaurant is a
classic dining spot in Póvoa de Varzim. It serves a mix of fish and meat
dishes. There’s anything from the classic codfish to duck rice and
O Cangalho (Vila do Conde): Just a few steps from the city’s docks is
this cosy restaurant with a striking blue façade. Fresh fish is the
highlight here, which can vary according to the season, from sardines to
sea bream. There are also other seafood treats like octopus and prawns.
Casa de Chá da Boa Nova (Leça da Palmeira): Overlooking the sea, this
two-Michelin-star restaurant was designed by renowned Portuguese
architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. Chef Rui Paula is responsible for curating
the menus, which focus heavily on fish and seafood.
Hotel Suave Mar (Esposende): This three-star hotel in Esposende is only a
few minutes from the Forte de São João Baptista. It has 77 rooms, most
of which offer views of the Cávado river and the Atlantic. Facilities
include a restaurant, a bar and an outdoor pool.
Axis Vermar Conference & Beach Hotel (Póvoa de Varzim): On the
outskirts of Póvoa de Varzim is this modern four-star hotel. It features
two swimming pools, a tennis court, a spa and a restaurant overlooking
Villa C Boutique Hotel (Vila do Conde): You’ll find this contemporary
boutique hotel on the south end of the river. From here, you can drive
to the city centre or Praia da Azurara in about five minutes. The hotel
offers a restaurant, a gym, and a spa with an indoor pool. Additionally,
it has a monthly programme of activities that range from concerts to
To make the most of Costa Verde, you should visit during summer. That way, you can combine your sightseeing with a trip to the beach. Many towns also host traditional festivals around this time, so it’s usually more lively. Alternatively, you can come around spring and autumn when the temperatures are slightly cooler but still pleasant enough for a stroll. There are also fewer crowds during these seasons, meaning accommodation is usually cheaper.
Festa de São João (several locations): Porto isn’t the only city to
celebrate São João. All around Costa Verde, cities like Braga, Vila do
Conde and Esposende also join this lively party that takes place in late
June. There is plenty of dancing, street food, parades and fireworks.
Feira Nacional do Artesanato (Vila do Conde): If you want to learn more
about Portugal’s traditional crafts, it’s worth visiting this annual
fair in Vila do Conde. Held in late July, it includes workshops with
local artisans and traditional dance acts.
Festa da Senhora d’Agonia (Viana do Castelo): Around August, Viana do Castelo celebrates its patron saint, Nossa Senhora d’Agonia. One of the main highlights is the procissão ao mar, a colourful procession of boats along the Lima River.