What to See and Do in Viana do Castelo

If you are traveling to Portugal, you can choose from a large number of incredible destinations.  In the Norte, or Northern region of Portugal, you will find the municipality of Viana do Castelo, a city situated on the mouth of the Lima River.

Travel guides will tell you all the major historic and cultural sites to visit while in Portugal but most will miss the wonderful things that you can see and do in Viana do Castelo!

The city is under four hours from Lisbon, and full of cultural and historical significance. It is closely situated to the Minho wine region, the Costa Verde, and nearby beaches.

There are plenty of pousadas (Portuguese inns) and lodging, as well as several restaurants and cafes where you can savor traditional Portuguese food like fresh Pescada a Vianesse, caldo verde,  or bacalhau.

There is something for everyone!

Here is our list of the best sites and experiences in Viana do Castelo!



The Funicular de Santa Luzia

The Funicular de Santa Luzia is a slow-moving train that climbs over two thousand feet in over seven minutes. Riding the funicular to the top of the hill is an exciting way to reach the Santuario de Santa Luzia and the fee to ride is very minimal.

You can decide to take the funicular to the top of Monte de Santa Luzia and back down, but we recommend hopping off at the summit and visiting the church, as well as taking photos of the vistas.

If you haven’t rented a vehicle, this is the best way to get to the top of the hill as the walk can be rather steep.

The views from the top are sensational. Not only can you see the entire city of Viana do Castelo, but you can see the Atlantic ocean and golden coastal sands. 



The Santuario de Santa Luzia

Despite its look, Santuario de Santa Luzia church was only completed in 1959. It was modeled after Sacre Coeur in Paris, and you can check out the similarities by attending Mass at the basilica or taking a look around the inside.

You can wander the grounds of the basilica, which as stated above, offer spectacular views of the city and coast below. 

The sanctuary is beautiful, designed and decorated painstakingly with frescoes and carved marble. You can also take some time to explore the church museum.

The rose windows of this church are the largest in all of the Iberian Peninsula.

For a small fee, you can climb the stairs to the top of the arched dome. You may have to wait, however, as there is a rather intricate “traffic” system in place to ensure that things don’t get too crowded at the top. But, once you get there, the panoramic views will more than make up for any time you spent waiting!

If you choose not to take the funicular to the top of Monte de Santa Luzia, you can walk to the church by following the crosses that mark the path. For those with a rented car, you will find a small amount of parking at the top of the climb.



Citânia de Santa Luzia

One of the must-see sites when visiting Viana do Castelo is the Citânia de Santa Luzia. This is a pre-Roman settlement, inhabited as early as 1 BCE.

This Iron Age settlement was first used by the Celts that settled in the area and later used by the Romans.

You can imagine that the settlement was a sort of town at one point, and though the remaining structures are only very low walls, you can picture the structures that would have once stood.

While exploring the site, it is interesting to note the strategic placement of the settlement, with the views of the area that would ensure that the inhabitants were able to see the countryside, the River Lima, the coastline, and what is now the city below.

The Citânia is just another place on the monte Santa Luzia that will allow you to see the beautiful views of the town below.



Praça da República

The Praça da República is the square located in Viana do Castelo’s historic center.

There are no vehicles allowed in the square allowing you to spend as much time as you please, walking around, viewing the statues, enjoying the renaissance fountain, or simply people watching!

The historic city hall can be found in the middle of the city center and it is possible to take a tour of its ground floor.

There is a museum and the Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy) is also located here.

The Church interior is filled with the traditional blue and white azulejos tile commonly associated with Portugal.

Additionally, there are cafes, restaurants, and shops that line the square. If you are visiting the square at night, pop in on Liz Caffe Bar for a snack or a drink. A little bit of sangria or wine paired with delicious toasts or other fabulous eats!



Gil Eannes Hospital Ship

The Gil Eannes Hospital ship was built in the shipyards of Viana do Castelo in the 1950s to replace a hospital ship of the same name.

The ship was used to deliver medical aid and medicines to Portuguese cod fishermen in Newfoundland, Canada. There are an x-ray machine and an operating area on the ship, which you can now explore.

During the fishing off-season, the hospital ship had many uses. It would act as an ice breaker, tug boat, and supply ship. The Gil Eannes also acted as a passenger ship later in its life.

The ship has been restored after being left to rust. The community of Viana do Castelo raised the money required to restore it and it sits docked on the river as a museum that you can board and investigate for something a little different.



The Beaches

When visiting Portugal, it would make sense that you might be looking to spend a little time at the beach.

Fear not, Viana do Castelo has amazing beaches.  Close to the town center, you will find the Praia do Cabedelo. Surrounded by a forest and sand dunes, this beach is clean, with lovely soft sand that is perfect for lounging.

Praia do Cabedelo is a blue flag beach located on the south side of the river so you will need to drive or take a ferry to get there. The ferry can be found near the cultural center and takes about 5 minutes to reach its final destination. If you walk a few miles along Praia do Cabedelo, you will eventually reach ​Praia da Amorosa​ where, at low tide, you can see a bunch of interesting creatures like mussels and starfish!



The Praia do Norte is perfect for surfing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. If you have never been surfing before, you can easily sign up for a class in order to get your bearings.

If water sports are a little too adventurous for you, Praia do Norte is perfect for relaxing with a book, lying in the sun, enjoying a picnic meal or building sandcastles. The beach is surrounded by rock formations that act as a breakwater, keeping the waters calm for anyone looking to take a dip. Onsite you will also find not one seawater swimming pool, but two!

When you have finished your time at the beach, there are a number of bars nearby that will be more than happy to serve you a drink while you watch the waves roll in. 



The Costume Museum

The Museu do Traje or Costume Museum of Viana do Castelo is one of the most popular attractions in the city.

The museum features traditional costumes and jewelry from the Alto Minho region of Northern Portugal, as well as the tools used to produce the clothing that has all been locally made. Additionally, there are visiting exhibitions related to clothing and jewelry that are worth checking out.

The costumes displayed here are typical of what locals would wear for farming, fishing, and pilgrimages. You will also find displays dedicated to the traditional gold jewelry that is typical of the region.

You will appreciate the care and skilled craft put into the clothing, and enjoy learning the stories behind the woven patterns and colors, which vary between towns and families.



Wineries

The Minho region of Portugal is well known for its win so if you are visiting Viana do Castelo, you’ll have ample opportunity to sample some of the best!

If you are looking for something produced regionally, try vinho verde, known as green or young wine. The wine is produced from immature Alvarinho grapes, which are unique to the region. These wines pair well with salads, fish, vegetables, and citrus fruits.

There are plenty of wineries to explore just a short drive away from Viana do Castelo including Quinta do Soalheiro, a welcoming modern estate, and Quinta da Aveleda, a family-owned winery near Porto in the Douro Valley.

You may be required to book tickets or make a reservation for vineyard and cellar tours as well as wine tastings. So, be sure to call ahead to find out. We wouldn’t want anyone to be disappointed!

Viana do Castelo is home to a lot of curious and interesting Portuguese history. From pre-Roman settlements to wine, churches, beaches and incredible mountain views, there is plenty to see and do in Viana do Castelo. If you’d like to know more about exploring this region, give us a call and we can help you plan the perfect Portuguese getaway!