Bom dia! Viana do Castelo is a very enjoyable and interesting Portuguese coastal city located at the mouth of the Lima River in the Alto Minho region in Northern Portugal. It’s also the capital of Viana do Castelo District and a popular travel destination ready to win your heart! Vamos, let’s discover the best things to do in Viana do Castelo, Portugal in one day.
Interesting fact. Viana do Castelo is part of Camino Portugues, one of the spiritual routes leading to the famous Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
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Best Things To Do in Viana Do Castelo, Portugal in One Day
Viana do Castelo is located in Northern Portugal in the Alto Minho region and Viana do Castelo District, at the mouth of the Lima River as well as in close proximity to Portugal’s only National Park – Peneda-Geres National Park.
The history of the area goes back up to the Middle Stone Age but the town officially was issued a charter in 1258. Since then, up to 1848, it was called Viana da Foz do Lima (eng. Mouth of Lima), when it was elevated to the status of a city and renamed to its current name.
Yes, Viana do Castelo is definitely worth visiting. The charming old town, stunning surroundings full of natural beauty, world-famous sanctuary, and many attractions like Gil Eanes hospital ship, are waiting for you there. The city is also a great starting point to explore other places in the area, like Caminha, Ponte de Lima, Ponte da Barca, Porto, or Peneda-Geres National Park.
The beautiful old town with the famous Praça da República (eng. Republic Square), magnificent hilltop Santa Luzia Sanctuary offering amazing views of surroundings with beaches, hills, river, ocean… and fascinating restored hospital ship, Gil Eanes, are the three things that Viana do Castelo is most known for.
Viana do Castelo is also a place where the Lima River meets the Atlantic Ocean, and there is an interesting story related to that fact… You see, around 139 B.C. Roman troops, which were marching through current regions of Portugal, believed that the Lima River was one of five rivers of the Underworld – the mythical River Lethe (River of Forgetfulness). So they refused to cross it because they were scared that their memories would be erased! Long story short, thanks to one brave general, soldiers finally crossed the river and kept all their memories. Wanna read the whole story? Check out our post about Ponte De Lima.
Things to do in Viana do Castelo Old Town
Viana Do Castelo Old Town is really charming, and wandering among its streets is a pure pleasure. There you’ll find points of interest like Praça da Republica with Igreja da Misericórdia church, the Renaissance fountain, or Costume Museum. There is also Catedral de Viana do Castelo and Igreja de São Domingos. Let’s go and take a closer look at each.
Praça da Republica
Praça da Republica (eng. Republic Square) is our unquestionable number one place in Viana do Castelo Old Town. It’s a big and very picturesque square in the heart of the city, full of beautiful historic buildings, among which are the 16th-century Renaissance fountain, Igreja da Misericórdia church, and Museu do Traje (eng. Costume Museum) located in former Portugal’s bank building. There are also many shops, cafes, and restaurants where you can sit down and watch people going on with their lives. Square’s great advantage is that it’s pedestrianized and no vehicles are allowed there. Also, don’t forget to take a look at Republic Square’s adjoining streets, as they may lead you to some hidden gems and interesting places.
Interesting fact: Viana do Castelo fountain (Chafariz) is one of three identical fountains that João Lopes designed. The other two are located in Caminha and Pontevedra (Spain).
Museu do Traje
Visiting Museu do Traje (eng. Costume Museum) is one of the most popular things to do in Viana do Castelo. It’s located in the old town, in Praça da República, in the former Portugal bank building. Inside you’ll find a wide range of exhibitions of traditional costumes on real-size mannequins that people wore in the Alto Minho region in the past. You’ll learn the stories behind, colors, embroidery, occasions those outfits were used, and messages they would communicate. In the old bank vault, you’ll also find an impressive collection of jewelry.
Entrance to the Costume Museum costs €2 (April 2023). The museum is closed on Mondays. To check out opening hours visit visitportugal.com website.
Cathedral of Viana do Castelo
In one of the streets leading to Praça da Republica, you’ll find the Cathedral of Viana do Castelo (pt. Sé Catedral de Viana do Castelo), a 15th-century Romanesque church with some influences from the Gothic period. In 1977, Pope Paul VI I elevated the old church to the category of a cathedral. The entrance is free.
Igreja de São Domingos
Igreja de São Domingos, which is located in São Domingos Square, is one more church in Viana do Castelo worth mentioning. It was built in the 16th century in the Renaissance style and was part of the Convent of São Domingos. It’s beautiful not only from the outside but also inside where you can admire several altars made of gilded wood. Igreja de São Domingos has been classified as a National Monument in 1910.
Gil Eannes Hospital Ship
Gil Eannes is a former Portuguese hospital ship that Viana do Castelo shipyards built in the early 1950s. It was in service for 23 years, from 1955-1973. During those years it supported the Portuguese cod fishing fleet in the seas of Newfoundland in Canada and Greenland by providing hospital assistance and saving fishermen’s lives. It was also used for breaking the ice, transporting mail, and as a tugboat. In the early 1960s, it also began to carry passengers.
After its last voyage in 1973, Gil Eannes was abandoned to rot in Lisbon and was destined for the scrapyard. Thanks to a TV campaign, the ship was saved in 1997 and later was restored in Viana do Castelo shipyards to its former glory. Now Gil Eannes serves as a really fascinating museum in which you can see a ship’s hospital, operation room, kitchens, bakery, control rooms, game rooms, quarters, and so much more… We really loved visiting Gil Eannes, and we think it’s a must-visit place while in Viana do Castelo.
Entrance to Gil Eannes Hospital Ship costs €5 (April 2023). To check out current prices and opening hours visit fundacaogileannes.pt website.
Other things to do in Viana do Castelo, Portugal
Santuario de Santa Luzia
Santuário de Santa Luzia (eng. Santa Luzia Sanctuary) is another great place to see in Viana do Castelo. This iconic mountaintop church is now one of the most famous monuments in Portugal. It was built on the model of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris (fr. Sacré-Cœur Basilica) only in the 20th century, between 1904 and 1959. The rose windows on Santuario de Santa Luzia are the largest on the Iberian Peninsula. The church is free to visit.
Even if you’re not into churches we advise you to visit Santuario de Santa Luzia, if only for truly stunning views of Viana do Castelo city and its surroundings. For views from even a higher spot (250m a.s.l), you can climb the dome or use an elevator (€2 per person).
Santuario de Santa Luzia is located only about 3km from the old town, and you can get there by car, on foot by climbing 659 steps, or arrive by the longest (650m) funicular railway in Portugal – Funicular de Santa Luzia (€2 one way, €3 return).
Viana do Castelo Beaches
After a whole day of intensive sightseeing, it’s time to visit the beach and relax for a moment. There are two beautiful ones near Viana do Castelo old town: Praia do Cabedelo and Praia Norte. So close to each other, and yet so different!
Praia do Cabedelo
Praia do Cabedelo is a long, wide, sandy beach with clear waters located on the edge of a nature reserve, with dunes and pine forests. This beach is located on the south side of the Lima River so you’ll need to drive or take a ferry from Viana do Castelo port. The journey lasts about 5 minutes and costs €1.5.
Praia Norte has less sand but more rocks and stronger winds, perfect for water sports enthusiasts like windsurfers or surfers. But even if you’re not into watersports you can enjoy a relaxing time on that beach.
Viana do Castelo festival – Festival of Our Lady in Sorrow
If you will be in Viana do Castelo between 18-20th August you’ll get a chance to participate in one of the best-known religious festivals in Portugal – the Festival of Our Lady in Sorrow. It’s an annual celebration that dates back to 1744 when fishermen began to call Lady in Sorrow (that’s how Mary, mother of Jesus, is referred to in relation to sorrows in life) to make sure that the sea would not be rough. Viana do Castelo festival features a wide variety of religious and cultural activities, which includes processions, mass, concerts, and traditional dances. Throughout the festival, the streets of Viana do Castelo are decorated with colorful flowers and lights, creating a festive atmosphere.
The two most famous parts of the Festival of Our Lady in Sorrow are the Desfile da Mordomia – a parade featuring hundreds of participants dressed in colorful traditional regional costumes, and Romaria – a pilgrimage that takes place on the final day, during which the statue of Our Lady in Sorrow is carried from the church to the Sanctuary of Santa Luzia.
Here you can take a look at highlights from Viana do Castelo festival:
How to get to Viana do Castelo, Portugal?
Viana do Castelo is located about 75km from Porto, 60km from Braga, 50km from Ponte Da Barca, 30km from Ponte de Lima, and 25km from Caminha. The most convenient way to get to Viana do Castelo is by car or by bus.
Where to park in Viana do Castelo, Portugal?
There are some parking lots in Viana do Castelo. We recommend leaving your car for free on this free parking lot right next to the Gil Eannes Hospital Ship. But watch out for scams – when we were there some people tried to show us where we should park, of course for money. Just drive past them and find a free spot on your own.
Airports near Viana do Castelo, Portugal
The closest airport to Viana do Castelo in Portugal is located in Porto (65km away). Other ones are located in Spain, in Vigo (90km away) and Santiago de Compostela (190km away). From each airport, you can get to Viana do Castelo by bus or bus+train. To check the connections that interest you please visit rome2rio.com website.
To Viana do Castelo by bus
You can quite easily get to Viana do Castelo by bus. For example, the journey from Porto will take about 1.5h (€4-13), from Ponte de Lima 50min (€2-10), and 1h 40min from Braga (€4-11). To learn more about bus connections that interest you visit rome2rio.com website.
To Viana do Castelo by train
From some places, you can also reach Viana do Castelo by train. There are connections available from cities like Lisbon, Porto, Caminha, Braga or even Albufeira. Here is a map of Portugal train connections.
Camping in Viana do Castelo, Portugal
If you’re traveling by camper you’ll probably be glad to know that there are two camping sites in Viana do Castelo. You’ll find Camping Rio Lima next to Eiffel Bridge, and Orbitur Viana do Castelo behind Praia do Cabedelo.
Best Things To Do in Viana Do Castelo, Portugal in One Day – Summing up
So now you know all the best things to do in Viana do Castelo, Portugal. Even though a day trip might seem short you can still see many of the city’s points of interest and breathtaking views of the area. Enjoy the best of Viana do Castelo in one day with the help of this blog post and leave with unforgettable memories of this beautiful city in Portugal.
Restaurants, accommodations, and map
Check out various recommended places below.
Where to eat in Viana do Castelo?
Here are your best, high-rated options in Viana do Castelo:
Where to sleep in Viana do Castelo?
Hotel do Parque
Hotel do Parque is a charming hotel located in a peaceful area of Viana do Castelo, overlooking the city park and the Lima River. The hotel offers comfortable and spacious rooms with modern amenities and elegant décor, creating a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant serving regional cuisine, a bar, a terrace, and a swimming pool, as well as free parking and Wi-Fi.
Dona Emilia Guest House
Dona Emilia Guest House is a charming and cozy accommodation located in the historic center of Viana do Castelo that offers comfortable and spacious rooms with traditional Portuguese decor and modern amenities, including free Wi-Fi and air conditioning. Guesthouse is within walking distance to many restaurants, cafes, and shops.
Casa da Gramatica
Casa da Gramática in Viana do Castelo is a charming apartment that offers mountain views and is conveniently located with North Beach just 2.2 km away. With free WiFi throughout the property, the apartment features a fully equipped kitchen, satellite flat-screen TV, and a balcony.
Hotel Laranjeira is a charming and comfortable 3-star hotel located in the heart of Viana do Castelo. It features well-appointed rooms with modern amenities, including air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TVs. Guests can enjoy a daily breakfast buffet and relax in the hotel's lounge or on the outdoor terrace.
Quinta de Valverde
Quinta de Valverde is a top-class hotel situated on the highest point of Viana do Castelo, overlooking the ocean, river, and historic city center. The hotel offers exquisite accommodation, a beautiful swimming pool, and a unique view of the surrounding nature. Guests can easily explore the town and take in the sights, sounds, and experiences of the lush gardens, parks, and countryside.
Accommodations photos source: booking.com