Viana Do Castelo, situated in the north of the country, is renowned as one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal. It is famous both for the quality of its cityscape and also the loveliness of the surrounding countryside.
Viana Do Castelo has been named by Wallpaper magazine as the "Mecca" of architecture, and the city attracts visitors from all over the world to admire buildings such as the Basilica of Santa Luzia.
The town's position on the estuary of the Rio Lima is particularly attractive and the nearby Lima valley and Serra d'Arga mountain are simply stunning.
The town is close to a number of good Blue Flag beaches. Some are within a 10-minute drive from the town center or can be reached in a 45-minute walk.
Viana Do Castelo's Eiffel Bridge spans the Rio Lima and was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel, famous for the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Walking in the narrow streets of the pedestrianized historic town center is a great way to get to know Viana Do Castelo.
Situated on the banks of the Lima river, the Castelo de São Tiago da Barra dates back to the 13th century when King Afonso III of Portugal erected walls to defend the city of Viana. In the 15th century a tower was built, followed by the fortress. Expanded by Italian architect Filippo Terzi, the castle was completed in 1596 with the help of the townspeople, who carried stones to the site. The pentagonal stronghold, which currently houses an auditorium where cultural events and exhibitions are held, is revered for its panoramic views of the city.
Sitting atop the Santa Luzia mountain, the Templo do Sagrado Coração de Jesus Sanctuary was built between 1904 and 1959 by architect António Adelino de Magalhães Moutinho in honor of the region's patron saint. The granite shrine is said to be inspired by the Sacré Cœur Basilica in Paris. The temple, which also houses the Núcleo Museológico do Templo-Monumento de Santa Luzia, can be reached by the Funicular de Santa Luzia, a cable railway. The museum showcases carvings, illustrations, tiles and paintings. The site also includes an amphitheater and a panoramic restaurant.
In the heart of the old city, the Praça da República is a central square that can be accessed by seven different passageways. The square revolves around the Chafariz, a Renaissance fountain erected in 1554, and holds the Antigos Paços do Concelho, a 16th century town hall that currently hosts contemporary art exhibitions, and the Edifício da Misericórdia e Igreja, a Rennaisance structure inspired by the Italian and Flemish architecture of the era. The interior of the church displays carvings by Ambrósio Coelho, painted tiles by Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes, and frescoes by Manuel Gomes.
Featuring a hotel, a restaurant and a museum, the Fábrica do Chocolate is a must-visit for chocolate lovers. Focusing on the origins and history of chocolate, the museum explores the science of chocolate-making, as well as the modern technology developed for its sustainable production. The hotel, which has 18 rooms that represent a variety of chocolate brands and classic stories such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Hansel and Gretel, also offers chocolate-inspired spa treatments and an endless array of chocolate treats and cocoa-based toiletries.
Housed in an 18th century palace, the Museu de Arte e Arqueologia showcases a stunning collection of 17th and 18th century ceramics, most notably blue Portuguese porcelain, as well as furniture. Consisting of two buildings joined by a courtyard, the museum, designed by Manuel Fernandes da Silva, has two floors. The first focuses on archeology, including pre-Roman stone shields, bronze artifacts and ceramics. The second floor displays 16th to 19th century paintings and decorative tiles, which represent mythological and hunting scenes.
Viana Do Castelo gets hot in the summer but ocean breezes make it feel cooler. Winters can be wet and quite cold. Summer is the peak season for visitors.
The closest airport is Porto Airport (OPO). It has excellent connections from other Portuguese cities and from major centers across Europe. You can catch a bus to Viana Do Castelo for around EUR8 and a taxi will cost EUR50.
Viana Do Castelo has extensive rail connections from cities across Portugal. The fare from Porto is from EUR8.
The A28 connects the town from Porto, while the A27 enters from Ponte de Lima.
AVIC runs services to Viana Do Castelo from Lisbon and Porto. The fare from Porto is EUR5.
Pensão O Laranjeira offers traditional accommodation right in the historic center, by Praça da República, while Hotel Flor de Sal has spectacular views from its clifftop perch on Avenida de Cabo Verde.
Historic Center - this beautiful town center lies to the north of the Rio Lima. It is home to most of the town's best architecture and the pedestrian area is a wonderful area to explore.
Cabedelo - this district lies on the opposite bank of the river and features a beach and some good hotels and guesthouses.
Sobreiro - this is a quiet and leafy neighborhood just to the north of the town center. It is close to the pretty park of Santuário de Santa Luzia.
The city bus network is run by AVIC, with single fares from EUR1.50.
Taxis are easily found in town. Meter drop is EUR3.42 and then you pay EUR1 per mile.
Driving in Viana Do Castelo is fairly relaxed, with light traffic and well-marked roads. Car rental is available from just EUR10 per day.
The area around Estação Viana is good for general shopping, while the local specialty of Viana crockery can be purchased in the factory at Meadela.
A quart of milk in Viana Do Castelo will cost EUR0.57 and loaf of bread is EUR1.02.
À Moda Antiga serves well-priced Portuguese dishes from EUR6 and Taberna do Valentim is a good seafood restaurant on Campo do Castelo, with mains from EUR10.