Set between the Lima river and the Atlantic ocean, you'll find the
historic city of Viana do Castelo. In the Age of Discovery, Viana was a
departure point for Portuguese explorers and, later on, it became a port
for codfish trade. This connection to the sea is still visible today in
the city's traditional cuisine and museums, like the Museu do Traje and
the Gil Eannes ship.
The old town is full of historic buildings, but
the real draw for visitors is the dramatic views from the Monte Santa
Luzia. At the top of this hill lies an imposing neo-Byzantine sanctuary
and the ruins of an Iron Age village, reached via a funicular.
There are also several beaches near the city, where you can go for a swim or practise watersports like surf and bodyboard.
you're wondering what to do in Viana do Castelo, below is a guide with
the main attractions in the city. At the end, we’ve included a section
with the best restaurants and hotels, so you can make the most of your
As you arrive in the city centre, a striking yellow building immediately
stands out. It houses the Museu do Traje, a museum dedicated to
traditional costumes from Viana do Castelo. Inside, you'll find a variety
of clothes used by locals throughout the centuries for farming, fishing
or special events like pilgrimages. Downstairs is a display of gold
jewellery, which is also typical of this region.
Just opposite the museum is the picturesque Praça da República, the
central square of Viana do Castelo. It's here you'll find many of the
city's landmarks, such as the Chafariz, a Renaissance fountain built in
1554, the old city hall with its striking crenellated top and the
16th-century Igreja da Misericórdia. There are also a couple of cafés
around this area, so you can stop here for a drink.
From the outside, Igreja da Misericórdia stands out with its Renaissance
façade and Venetian arcade. João Lopes, who worked on the square's
fountain, also designed this magnificent church in the 16th century. It
got renovated later on, giving its present Baroque interior, with
hand-painted tiles covering the walls, gilded altarpieces and beautiful
frescoes adorning the ceiling.
A few steps away from the square is the Cathedral of Viana do
Castelo, also known as Cathedral of St.Mary the Great. This impressive
church dates back to the 15th century, but went through several changes
through the centuries, resulting in a mix of architectural styles. The
original Romanesque towers give it a fortress-like exterior, and the
Gothic doorway draws visitors with its beautiful stone carvings. Step
inside, and you'll find a series of Renaissance-style chapels hiding
below the vaulted ceilings.
After visiting the cathedral, take a walk down to the marina of Viana do
Castelo. From here, you can see the Ponte Eiffel, a multi-level bridge
designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1878. The bridge crosses over the Lima
river, making the connection to the beaches in the south coast of the
city, such as Praia do Cabedelo. If you want to spend some time on the
beach, check out the Viana do Castelo Beaches section below.
From the marina, follow the promenade along the river, passing through a
park, until you spot a large white ship by the water. Known as the Gil
Eannes, it was once a hospital ship, supporting trawlers who set out to
fish in Newfoundland. Its last journey was in 1973, and it was left
abandoned in Lisbon until a public campaign rescued it and brought it
back to Viana. Today, fully restored, the Gil Eannes ship is open to
visitors as a museum, allowing them to climb aboard and wander through
its cabins. Inside, you'll find a variety of medical equipment, including
x-ray machines and an operating room.
If you continue down the docks, you'll soon reach the Forte de Santiago
da Barra, also known as Castelo de Viana. Standing on the edge of the
Lima River, this 16th-century fortress once guarded the city against
pirate attacks. It's worth walking around the ramparts to capture the
views of the sea and the Monte de Santa Luzia.
Perhaps the most iconic attraction in Viana do Castelo is the Santuário
de Santa Luzia, a stunning neo-Byzantine church towering above Monte de
Santa Luzia. There are three ways to get up here: you can drive, get the
funicular or climb the 659 steps if you're feeling brave.
in 1959, the sanctuary has a similar style to the Sacré-Coeur in Paris,
combining Neo-Gothic and Byzantine elements. Standing outside, you
can't help capturing the magnificent scenery featuring the mountains,
the river and the ocean. For an even higher view, you can climb up to
the church's dome. An elevator takes you halfway, but the final section
includes a narrow spiral staircase. The interior is quite modern, but
the altar stands out with its fresco paintings and marble sculptures.
Just behind the sanctuary, you'll find another landmark—the Citânia de
Santa Luzia. Similar to the one in Guimarães, these ruins belonged to a
Celtiberian village. A boardwalk leads the way through this historic
fortified settlement dating back to the 4th century BC. Its privileged
location above a mountain made it possible for residents to surveil the
Lima estuary below. Today, visitors can enjoy the panoramic views from
here while capturing the remains of the village. For detailed
information about the site, make sure to grab a leaflet from the
interpretation centre or book a guided tour in advance.
Viana do Castelo is home to a series of incredible beaches, which stretch up and down the city’s coastline.
you want to stay near the city centre, Praia do Norte and Praia do
Cabedelo are your best options. Praia do Norte is a small urban beach
located north of Viana. Although there’s not much sand around, the large
saltwater pool makes up for it. Along the beach, you’ll find two cafés
where you can go for a drink.
Located on the other side of the
river, south of the city, is Praia do Cabedelo. To get here, you’ll
need to drive or take a ferry. The ferry departs near the cultural
centre and takes about five minutes to reach the other margin. From
there, it’s a couple more minutes walk to arrive at the beach. It offers
perfect conditions for watersports activities such as surfing and
A few miles down from Cabedelo are the beaches of Rodanho
and Amorosa. Praia do Rodanho offers a vast sandy stretch surrounded
by dunes and vegetation. In the summer, this beach welcomes many nudists
who enjoy its quiet atmosphere. Also protected by dunes, Praia da
Amorosa is a favourite spot for surfing and bodyboarding. When the tide
is low, you can observe many species, such as limpets, mussels or
There are three other beaches near Viana do Castelo that
are also worth the visit: Praia de Carreço, Praia da Arda and Praia de
Afife. Sheltered from the wind, Praia de Carreço is a popular choice
among families. As you walk to the beach, you might spot the European
shag, a dark coloured seabird that inhabits this region. If you’re
heading this way, make sure to visit the traditional windmills of
Montedor located nearby. Praia da Arda attracts a younger crowd, and
it's famous among surfers and bodyboarders. There’s a surf school here
in case you want to get a lesson.
Finally, there’s Praia de Afife, a
large beach with golden sands accessed by a wooden walkway. The sea is
usually strong here, so it attracts many surfers too. Families can enjoy
the southern end of the beach, as the river meets the sea and forms a
Viana do Castelo offers a variety of activities for children. Families and chocolate fans will enjoy a visit to the Hotel Fábrica de Chocolate. Housed in a former chocolate factory, this boutique hotel has a small museum with fun interactive exhibits to explain the origins and the history of this sweet ingredient.
Kids will also enjoy hopping aboard the Gil Eannes ship or taking the
funicular up to Monte de Santa Luzia. In the summer, you can take a trip
to the beach for a swim or enjoy a boat tour along the Lima River.
There are many restaurants in Viana do Castelo where you can enjoy a good meal. Below are a few of our suggestions:
Liz Caffe Bar
- Set near Praça da República, Liz Caffe is only open at night, but
it’s the perfect spot for a drink and a light snack. Try one of their
delicious toasts paired with sangria or a glass of wine.
Manuel Natário - This pastry shop has been around for decades. It serves a variety of pastries, but it’s mostly known for its bolas de berlim (a doughnut-style caked stuffed with egg cream).
Tasquinha da Linda - Housed in a former fishing warehouse, this
restaurant specialises in fish and seafood. Highlights include grilled
fish, clams, prawns and lobster rice.
Louro - This restaurant on the outskirts of Viana adds a contemporary twist to traditional recipes. The menu changes with the seasons but includes meat, fish and even vegetarian options. You can choose between the three tasting menus or order à la carte.
Best Viana do Castelo Hotels
If you’re looking for a hotel in
Viana do Castelo we suggest the following: Pousada de Viana do
Castelo, Hotel Fábrica do Chocolate or Hotel Feel Viana.
above Monte Santa Luzia, Pousada de Viana do Castelo offers
incredible views of the city and the ocean. Whether you’re relaxing in
your bedroom or having breakfast on the terrace, you can’t help catching
a glimpse of the imposing Sanctuary of Santa Luzia standing on the
opposite hill. This 4-star hotel also includes an outdoor pool, a
restaurant and a spa.
Chocolate lovers will feel right at home at the
Hotel Fábrica do Chocolate. Housed in a former chocolate factory, this
boutique hotel also doubles as a museum. There are 18 rooms, and each
of them has a different theme, from “Hansel and Gretel” to “Charlie and
the Chocolate Factory”. Guests can choose from a series of experiences,
including chocotherapy treatments, a chocolate tasting or visit the
interactive museum to learn more about the origins of this delicious
If you want to be near the beach, Hotel FeelViana is the
place for you. Set within a modern wooden building, this 4-star hotel
blends perfectly with its natural surroundings of beaches and pine
trees. Guests can choose from the 46 rooms or stay in one of the nine
cosy bungalows. There are several restaurants and bars on-site, as well
as two swimming pools, a gym, kids clubs, and a spa with sauna and
Turkish bath. Within the hotel, there’s also a sports centre where you
can sign up for a series of experiences including kitesurf, surf, stand
up paddle or mountain biking.
The best time to visit Viana do
Castelo is between June and August. Despite being the busiest season,
this is the ideal time to make the most of the city’s beaches and
witness traditional festivities like the Festas da Senhora d’Agonia.
Spring and autumn are also good alternatives. The weather is still
relatively warm around this time, and you can enjoy the city’s main
attractions with fewer crowds.
Festas da Senhora d'Agonia: In mid-August, Viana do Castelo celebrates
Nossa Senhora d’Agonia, the city’s patron saint. Among the highlights is
the desfile de mordomia, a parade with traditional costumes and the
procissão ao mar, a procession of colourful boats along the Lima River.
Feiras Novas: The town of Ponte de Lima, around 30-minutes drive from Viana, holds this traditional fair every year in early September. The festivities include parades, concerts, bull races and fireworks.