Viseu is a city unknown to many tourists (especially foreigners), however it has much to offer, unlike other cities in Portugal! It’s not by chance that this city has been elected for several times as the best city to live in Portugal.
Located in Central Portugal, Viseu and its wonderful surroundings have so much to see, and you won’t need to stay in more than one hotel to visit all these places.
After you visit the wonderful places in Viseu (see below), you’ll have the opportunity to go to other amazing locations in 100 km radius such as Douro Valley, the beautiful Serra da Estrela, the 12 historic villages of Portugal, Aveiro, Paiva Walkways and the National Forest of Buçaco.
Next, get to know a little more about the city’s history.
Viseu is a city that dates back to the Iron Age. This city was conquered by the Romans, despite strong opposition by the Lusitanians (the Portuguese ancestors).
After a long period of Visigoth rule, Viseu was conquered by the Moors in 716.
The city returned to Christian control in 1058 with king Ferdinand I of León victory over the Moors; in 1123 Viseu became part of the County of Portugal (Condado Portucalense).
Since then, the city has endured several raids by the Castilian (Spanish) troops. To protect Viseu, king D. João I has ordered the construction of ramparts surrounding the city, from which we can still see two of the original seven gates (Porta do Soar e Porta dos Cavaleiros).
As you can see, Viseu has a glorious past but the city doesn’t settle by living in the past. Instead, Viseu has modernised itself and offers to those visiting or living there exceptional conditions and quality of life. It’s not by chance that its population grew from 33 000 people in 1801 to 99 000 in 2011 (last census).
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What can you visit in Viseu?
Below, I’ll show you the itinerary (you can see the map later) that I suggest you to do to discover the wonders of Viseu; in addition, I’ll show you where you can spend the night.
Begin by leaving your car in the big parking lot (free of charge), located at the end of Avenida da Bélgica, 7, Viseu and Avenida Emídio Navarro.
At the upper right corner of the park, you’ll find Cava de Viriato, an octagonal fortification with around 38 hectares and a 2-km perimeter. Its origins are unknown, however some historians date this construction to the Roman period and others to the Moor period.
On this site you can admire a statue honouring Viriato, the Lusitanian leader seen as a hero because of his efforts (and his troops’) in repelling the Roman raids.
On the other side of the parking lot there is a funicular that can take you to the historic centre of the city. Take the funicular – it is free of charge and it’s a 400-metre walk you won’t have to do.
Information: the funicular is operational during Easter, in July, August, September and during the last two weeks of December.
Information: if you go to Viseu from the beginning of August and until mid-September, you can visit São Mateus Fair (located in the huge parking lot I’ve told you about – you can’t park your car here by this time of the year).
With over 624 years, this is one of the oldest fairs in Portugal. Here, you’ll find local handicrafts, folk music, a funfair, several food stalls and Portuguese and international artists concerts. Over these more or less 30 days of amusement, more than one million visitors go to this fair.
Let’s go back to our itinerary!
After taking the funicular, visit Viseu’s Cathedral, the beautiful cathedral built in the 12th century. This monument has endured several changes over the years, until the 17th century, and you’ll find here different styles such as the Roman, the Gothic and the Baroque.
On the left side of the cathedral you’ll find Grão Vasco National Museum (Museu Nacional Grão Vasco), founded in 1916. This museum offers to its visitors amazing artworks from the Portuguese painter Vasco Fernandes, also known as Grão Vasco – a painter that lived in Viseu in the 16th century.
You can also admire paintings from other painters, such as Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, José Malhoa, Alfredo Keil, Soares dos Reis, Silva Porto, António Ramalho, ou Sousa Lopes.
Facing the cathedral you’ll find the Misericórdia church. Built in the 16th century, this church presents a Baroque style due to its refurbishment in the 18th century.
After having visited the places mentioned above, head towards the square Praça da República – Rossio, passing through Porta do Soar, one of the seven gates / entrances of the ancient ramparts protecting the medieval city in the 15th century.
Once you arrive to the square Praça da República, don’t hesitate and take some minutes to admire the surroundings and, why not, have a cup of coffee.
Facing the square, you’ll find St. Francis church (igreja de São Francisco) and the city park Aquilino Ribeiro, the lung of the city.
Back to our itinerary, head towards the street Rua Formosa, a 100 % pedestrian and commercial street.
After that, turn right on the second street, Rua dos Andrades, where you can admire the amazing façade of Solar dos Condes de Prime; afterwards, visit the magnificent chapel built in honour of St. Anthony (Santo António) in 1751.
Return to Rua Formosa and right before you get to the end of the street surely you’ll notice at your feet a small part of an old Roman wall built around the year of 360 (it’s protected by a glass floor).
When you get to the roundabout, you’ll have the opportunity to visit Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church – here, you’ll find a Baroque-style interior with the most beautiful glazed-tile panels.
Your itinerary should continue on the Rua Direita (go back to Rua Formosa and then turn on your first right), the main commercial street in Viseu since the Roman period.
Along this street you’ll find many shops, restaurants and magnificent houses with Manueline-style windows.
Once you’ve walked 500 metres, you’ll get to the square Largo Mouzinho de Albuquerque where you’ll find St. Anthony Church (igreja de Santo António) in its Baroque style.
Go down some metres in the avenue Avenida Emídio Navarro and admire the Porta dos Cavaleiros (one of the old medieval city gates) and St. Francis’ Fountain (Fonte de São Francisco).
Next, stroll through the street Rua Loureiros, turn left on Rua Senhora do Postigo and then turn right in Calçada Vigia. Once you get to the square Largo São Teotónio, continue your walk passing by the back of the cathedral and to Rua Augusto Hilário – here you’ll have the chance to admire some street art works.
Information: since 2015, the city has a street art festival in which you’ll find some of the best works of Portuguese and international artists.
Throughout the itinerary I’ve made for you, raise your head to admire many works of art. You’ll find some in Rua Formosa, Rua Augusto Hilário, Rua Loureiros, Rua Silva Gaio, Largo São Teotónio and Rua Grão Vasco.
Finish your tour to the historic centre of Viseu in the square Praça Dom Duarte where you’l find the statue of the king D. Duarte, born in this beautiful city in 1391.
After taking the funicular back to your car, drive towards Palácio do Gelo shopping centre, located on the other side of the city, 4 km away.
You must be thinking: “Tiago, are you suggesting that we visit a shopping centre?”
Read what comes next!
Apart from the shops and the usual restaurants on the top floor (like in many other shopping centres), you’ll also find a 600 m2 ice rink opened throughout the year and the only ice bar in Portugal.
This ice bar was built solely with 35 tons of Canadian glacial water (things like walls, chairs, statues and glasses) and offers its visitors unique and unforgettable moments.
Before you enter this bar, you’ll be given a jacket and gloves so that you can endure the sub-zero temperatures, that go to -12 ºC, during the time you’re there (you can only stay in the bar for 30 minutes).
To warm up, don’t be shy and go to the dance floor and / or ask for one of the eight vodka-based cocktails (you can also drink non-alcoholic beverages) in ice glasses.
- Site: https://bardegeloviseu.com
- Location: shopping centre “Palácio do Gelo Shopping”, floor -1, Rua do Palácio de Gelo, Viseu
What to visit close to Viseu
When you visit this city, you should also take the opportunity to explore its surroundings and discover places that are known only to a few people – one of those places is the magnificent Condes de Anadia Palace, in Mangualde.
Located 18 km away from Viseu, this palace is one of the best examples of 17th-century Baroque architecture in Portugal. Here, you can start by exploring the exterior of the property and admire the beautiful facades of the palace, the adjacent park with its beautiful garden and woods planted in the 18th century.
Inside the palace, know that you can contemplate amazing glazed-tile panels, a beautiful stairway and several characteristics of the dominant architectural style, Baroque. What also stands out is the luxury and beauty of furniture and paintings that you’ll find in most of the rooms.
As you can see, there are several reasons why you should go to this wonderful place, a hidden treasure in Central Portugal that is worth visiting!
Apart from all these places, Viseu offers its visitors the possibility to cycle through the biggest bicycle path in Portugal (Ecopista).
Located on the old Dão railway line (deactivated in 1988), this is the perfect place to discover amazing landscapes, old train stations, tunnels, bridges, Dão river, Paiva river and even a steam locomotive from 1885 – all this in 49 km extension or 98 km round trip.
The bicycle path begins in Rua Adelino Azevedo Pinto in Viseu and ends at the train station in Santa Comba Dão.
Here is the route of the bicycle path on Google Maps (source: ciclovia.pt)
If you do not wish to do the round trip, then I suggest you begin cycling in Santa Comba Dão, more precisely at Quinta da Abelenda, a place where you can rent bicycles and that has a transportation service as well.
For 30 € per person, they’ll take you to Viseu so that you can cycle your way back to Santa Comba Dão. Know that, after going cycling, you can also spend the night in Quinta da Abelenda, in one of the available cottages.
Where to sleep when visiting Viseu and the surrounding area?
When I visited Viseu and the surrounding area I spent the night in one of the apartments of Casas d’Aldeia (affiliate link), located in a small village, 25 km from Viseu.
Recently refurbished, this beautiful stone house offers two apartments and can accommodate up to eight people.
What I loved the most about this place was its proximity to Viseu (18 km), to Serra da Estrela, to some historic villages and especially the warm welcome Filipa gave us – it made us feel at home.
Are you going to visit Viseu? Then don’t hesitate to book your hotel room, your car or the best activities by clicking the links below. This way you are helping me in the development of my blog and I’ll be able to offer you free tips and travel guides so that you can better prepare your visit to Portugal. Thank you!
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