Viana do Castelo is the gem of the Northern Green Coast of Portugal, “Costa Verde”. It sits at the mouth of the River Lima, just 50 miles North of Porto. The city itself is very attractive indeed, brimming with a variety of different architectural styles; Manueline, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Deco, and more contemporary designs. It is probably best known for the imposing “Santuário de Santa Luzia” which sits high above the city on the Santa Luzia mount. A remarkable Neo-Gothic style church, which you can see from almost everywhere in the city and surrounding area. A trip to the top is an absolute must while in Viana – the view from here is truly something.
Viana do Castelo is an ideal base for exploring the nearby Minho region (Ponte de Lima, Guimarães, Braga, Peneda Geres National Park) and the Vinho Verde wine region. It makes for a more relaxed, less touristy contrast to vibrant Porto. The city has always been an important fishing port before focusing more on shipbuilding and the cod fishing industry. That said, by no means do these industries encroach on the beauty of the city, surrounding beaches, and countryside.
Viana do Castelo is famed for being the birthplace of João Alvares Fagundes, one of Portugal’s great explorers, who in the 16th century ended up in the Canadian Atlantic and discovered the famed Atlantic northwest cod fishery. He was granted the sole rights to fish there by the king, however, he tragically died before making it home to celebrate his discovery. His fellow men nevertheless continued to bring cod back in this salted form (for preservation) and centuries later “Bacalhau” remains the national Portuguese dish. Viana’s shipping industry also dates back to the 16th century, being one of the major ports where the sailing ships were built and set sail to explore and returned with worldly, exotic treasures. Manueline architecture can be seen all over the town, this extravagant style was inspired by the profitable discoveries from those times. Nowadays the shipping and codfish industries continue. Tourism is starting to play a significant role, contributing to the local economy, but fortunately for those that visit, Viana do Castelo is still off the main tourist routes, making it that little bit more special.
Gastronomy & Wine
The gastronomy of Viana do Castelo is naturally heavily dependent on codfish. There are numerous restaurants along the pretty flower filled streets of the town center, where you can try the renowned “bacalhau” and in more ways than you can imagine. “Pescada a Vianesse” is a particular specialty of this town, consisting of codfish with lemon juice and garlic, baked with sliced potatoes and onions. “Caldo Verde” the famous vegetable soup from kale and potato originates from the nearby Minho region. The Vinho Verde wine region is a stone’s throw away, so these crisp, effervescent wines and Alvarinho tend to be the favored whites here. However, the arresting Douro Valley is not far from here and the spectacular dry DOC and Port wines from this region are not to be missed. When visiting this northern area, a couple of days to take in the emblematic Quintas in the Douro and Port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia are essential.
On the top of this eucalyptus tree covered mount, the Santuário de Santa Luzia church stands impressively looking out over the town below. It is the characteristic photo shot of Viana and can be seen from miles around. You have plenty of choices to make your ascent; funicular, e-bike, hike or drive, either way, you can’t beat the view from the top.
The beautiful historic town of Viana do Castelo can be included on one of our Portugal Wine Tours. As part of a longer trip, as an extension to your Douro Valley Wine Tour or as a day excursion from Porto.
Praça da Republica
This main square is the heart of the town and where you find the town hall, Romanesque and Gothic cathedral, and a wonderful fountain. Viana displays an incredible array of Manueline, Renaissance, Baroque and Romanesque architecture.
Santa Casa da Misericórdia
Near the Praça da Republica, this church has an amazingly lavish, baroque style interior with 18th-century “azulejos” portraying bible scenes, quite a contrast from its renaissance exterior.
This hospital ship used to set sail for the Newfoundland Ocean with the cod fishing ships. It is now a memorial and museum and contains much of the original medical equipment, including x-ray machines and the operating room.
Beaches and Watersports
The Praia do Cabadelo beach is an almost infinite stretch of white sand. Pine trees shelter the views of the town and with only a handful of beach huts in view, it is an unspoiled paradise. It also has optimum wind and water sports conditions and is a favorite spot for surfers, windsurfers, and kite surfers alike.