I shouldn’t be telling you now that Aveiro has channels and through those channels you can see boats that look like Gondola (the ships from Venice) and that’s the reason why they call Aveiro “the Portuguese Venice”, creating some expectations that are far from the truth of the destination.
What’s more, people should have gotten over it long ago if it wasn’t for the huge amount of travel agents and tour operators that “sell” a version of Amsterdam or Venice, with hundreds of bridges and channels everywhere. No, that’s not how the city looks like and most travelers miss all that Aveiro has to offer just because of that.
On my last visit to Aveiro, I asked through Instagram what shouldn’t I miss there and added some recommendations from my portuguese colleagues. I also explored a bit beyond their recommendations, so here you have a full list, so you don’t have an excuse not to visit Aveiro (or at least spend there more than just a few hours…)
1.- A trip on a moliçeiro or mercantel
If your idea of Aveiro is still to get on board of one of those quirky ships to navigate the urban channels. Just do it! It might not be the most romantic of things to cross Aveiro by boat with a bunch of tourists or to find out that everybody in your hotel is just doing the same thing, but it’s a classic must-do. The fact that the ships (once moved with a stick just like the Venetian ones) have an engine attached to help them navigate the area makes it lose the charm a bit too.
A tip here: if you want to add some spice to it, look for the “green” scenes near the curvy tip and try to google-translate the message (only for open-minds and adults ;) ;) ). Or change the moliçeiro for a mercantel, another classic ship in Aveiro, but instead of transporting seaweed from the coast, they used to transport salt, another key product from the region.
Or, read down, I will tell you about a much more interesting alternative to sail the Aveiro estuary on the last point.
2.- Go shopping at Aveiro
My Spanish side here is calling: Aveiro is a great place for shopping, but believe me there are good reasons for this:
First, Aveiro has an important shopping centre (Forum Aveiro) next to the channels, were you can go shopping, but the key here is not what is inside but what happens every last sunday of the month: a great antiques’ market that attracts collectors from all around Spain and Portugal (for December, it happens the Sunday before the 25th) and is well worth a visit.
An, on the second saturday of each month (and some bank holidays) you will find here a crafters market with some second-hand goods and plenty quirkyness.
Plus, you have a really great source for groceries at the market next to Forum Aveiro and the famous Fish Market, a must-do even if you are not planning to buy any fish.
You can also buy one of those ultra-addictive portuguese sweets: ovos moles (soft eggs). Waffers with different shapes, filled with sweetened egg yolk that has been boiled in low temperature. A conventual sweet (the nuns used the egg whites to harden the cap they wore) that has its own protected designation of origin (it was the first portuguese conventual sweet to become protected) so you can only buy them here.
Where to sleep in Aveiro
For this trip I slept at Hotel As Américas, next to the train station and only 7 minutes by foot to the famous channels. It has its own parking (a total must if you are driving through Portugal). Big renovated rooms, breakfast on its own Art Nouveau building (it’s part of an European art nouveau route) and affordable ¿What else can you ask for?
Well, they do have a bike parking lot with free bikes from the Aveiro bike service, so if you want to move around by bike, it couldn’t be easier. And, across the street, the best pizza place in the city (just in case you get bored of fresh fish, oysters and ovos moles.)
3.- Take a walk in search for art-nouveau
What do Barcelona, Brussels, Budapest, Glasgow, Helsinki, La Habana and Aveiro have in common? A decadent architecture that attracts visitors from around the planet. Modernism in Aveiro is a must do, not only because it is on the European route for art-nouveau, but also because here the style of curved lines and natural inspiration mixes with the traditional and beautiful portuguese tiles.
So don’t just look towards the water, get inside Aveiro and search for the most beautiful buildings, from the one at Hotel As Américas, to the house of Major Pessoa or the building of Cooperativa Agrícola. There is a route you can walk by (they have the map at the tourist office) and you will find signs throughout the city that will let you know more about each building.
And you can also find out more about the secrets of “arte nova” at the museum next to the Tourist Office and the Fish Market.
4.- Connect with the monastic past of Aveiro
It will be hard to find nuns or monks in Aveiro (priests will be easier to find) but through the Middle Ages and up to the XVIII Century (aprox.) Aveiro was home to big convents and it was home to princess Joana (saint Joana, daughter of king Afonso V.)
These convents have created one of the most iconic thing in Aveiro: Ovos Moles. But they are also the origin of an important collection of religious art that you can visit at the higher part of the city: the Museum of Aveiro and the Cathedral.
But, with all that the city has outside, is it worth going inside? There are plenty of reasons to visit, such as the XVII century tomb made of marble where the princess lays, or the convent itself. Plus, there is a discount ticket that gives you cheaper access to the Museum of Aveiro and the Art Nouveau Museum (available at the museum counters).
Plus, just next you will find another important national monument: the cross of S. Domingos, which you can glimpse at this video below:
And, if you want to ask something to a saint, look for the local patron San Gonçalinho. They say he is a saint with a great sense of humor to whom you can pray for fertility of a husband. And there is even a liquor with his name (green) and friendship bracelets blessed by him that you can tie at the bridge of friendship (and buy at many souvenir shops) next to the Shopping Centre.
There is a big party to his honor that lasts 5 days with the main day on the 10th of January. Check it out if you are in the area, they throw sweet cakes called “cavacas” from the top of the chapel (catching one brings good luck ;) ), which is next to the fish market.
5.- See the more creative side of Aveiro
Aveiro is bricks and modernism, traditional food and sea landscapes, but it also has its creative side. From the nearby factory of Vista Alegre in Íllhavo to the artisanal salicornia beer crafted by the team of Armazém da Alfándega or the urban art pieces that you can find now in town.
¿You will find pieces from Kest, Vhils and many local artists when touring around.
6.- Learn more of the seafarers’ life at Beira-Mar
A trip to Aveiro wouldn’t make sense without a visit to the old Beira-Mar area. Check the Mercado do Peixe (the old fish market, now a mix of that and a restaurant), the bridge of Carcavelos and the boat races, the churches of Misericordia, Vera Cruz and S. Gonçalinho…
And just outside, the sculptures of the salinheiras and marnotos (the people who used to work at the saltworks), the tide mills or the bridge of friendship next to the shopping mall.
We visited this area and the next point in this list with Tiago, from Crazy Bacalhau. They customize each visit to match your interests and can show you around in Portuguese, English and Spanish, and are amazing!
7.- Try the local food
Yes, it’s about the third time that I tell you about ovos moles, but this is not the only thing you should try in Aveiro. The traditional portuguese cod (some restaurants are so specialized they only serve this, like the highly recommended Salpoente) or amazing oysters they grow in the area and the Pao de Ló from Ovar (both of which you can try at Porta 36, next to the fish market).
Where to eat in Aveiro
There are plenty options, but we had some really good food at:
- Armazem da Alfándega, a largo do Rossio, next to where the tourist buses stop. A small place but fun from the food to the beer (I told you about it before, the one made with the salicornia plant growing in the Aveiro saltworks). Design, see-through kitchen and a young team that works with local produce to rethink traditional recipes.
- Restaurante Quatro Nos, at Cais dos Botirões, next to the Fish Market. Traditional design, touristic location and some great grilled meat and clams we had. The untraditional ovos moles were also fun to try.
- Porta 36, on one side of the Fish Market. It was recommended by my friends before my trip to Aveiro and does make a great choice. Grilled oysters, modern food with an international twist and an amazing Pao de Ló.
8.- Visit the Aveiro traditional saltworks
Salt used to be one of the economic pillars of Aveiro. At the estuary, there used to be up to 400 saltworks. Nowadays, there are only 9 saltworks working there to extract the salt from the water through evaporation and creating one of the most interesting views of town.
The space at Marina da Troncalhada has become an “eco-museum” (free entry), a nice spot for photography and birdwatching, but specially to learn more about the history of Aveiro and the local way of living back in the times. There is also a mud pool from Cale do Oiro where you can bathe (great for skin, they say), right next and you can also buy salt at very nice prices.
Below you will find a mini video of the saltworks.
9.- Sunbathe in style at Costa Nova
Barra beach and its lighthouse are a classical spot for those who venture in Aveiro for longer trips. Great beach, many cafes, restaurants and bars (and a bit of a traffic jam in Summer). But if you are into photography and original spots, head to Costa Nova and its houses with stripes.
Plus, they’ve told me it’s a nice spot for food and the beach is a local favorite.
10.- Walking the Passadiços
The new passadiços de Aveiro (don’t mistake them with the passadiços do Paiva, which are also worth a visit and not too far from here) are a great excuse to stretch your legs after a great gastro feast. They are about 7 kilometres and a half wood walks that surround the estuary, from the old harbor of Cais de Sao Roque to Vilarinho which you can also do by bike.
The walk also has many spots to seat or watch the birds that stop here on their way to the north of Africa or the south of Spain (or to Northern Europe). Just remember to take sunscreen ;-)
11.- Sail through the hidden ways of Aveiro ria
There are many reasons to sail through the Aveiro ria (the lagoon-like estuary), from birdwatching to learning more about the history and nature surrounding the city. You have already seen it from the coast, the passageways, the moliçeiro boats and the ferry-like boats that connect Aveiro to Barra, Costa Nova and Saint Jacinto.But if you really want to discover this natural wonder you must take a smaller boat (and a more sustainable one.)
The reason why you can’t navigate the Aveiro estuary in bigger boat is that the almost 400 saltworks that used to be in Aveiro back in the times are still there, and you need to know both the natural and man-made channels really well to be able to sail here. So the best (and the only) way to sail through is to use a 100% solar energy boat which has been designed in Portugal and earn a few sustainable design awards.
It is called Sterna, takes up to 10 people and can navigate up to 170 km around the lagoons, even at those places where you only have 70 cm of water. Wonder why you never heard of it? It is already famous among birdwatchers, so keep reading.
Gabriel, the captain, is in love with this place and knows every corner of it, so he will take you to the places that will interest you most, customizing each trip for each traveler. From the old saltworks houses to the rice fields, the swallows’ holes in the sand walls, the salicornia and gramata fields or the flamingo and the red heron spots.
And you can book it just for you at their booking site from a minimum of 2 people (25€/person for 2 hours or 20€/person if its more than 2), but the time and route can change depending on weather (and the tide.)
12. Travel back in time: the Vouguinha
The train Comboio Histórico do Vouga, also knonw as the Vouguinha, has restored and put back on track the traditional trains from beginnings of the XX century to travel (on steam) through the now partly demolished (and transformed into a cycling route) Vouga train line. A trip through rural landscapes and small forests, this trip to the past comes with traditional music, local sweets tasting, a visit to beautiful village of Agueda and a guided (and dramatized) visit to the train museum at Macinhata do Vouga.
Train availability is seasonal but you can buy the tickets at the tourist office, the train station or (sometimes) at the comboios.pt site.
What to see near Aveiro
If you like the vineyards and waterfalls of the Douro Valley and impossible rock sights, check the 12 places you can’t miss near Porto. And if you want to explore the portuguese mountains, hiking and thermal waters, check this route to disconnect at the Magical Mountains.
And don’t forget to read the guide about how to drive in Portugal and how the Portuguese trains work.
This post has its origin on an invitation from Gabriel at Sterna Boat Tours to learn more about the biodiversity of the Aveiro lagoons and has been completed with more recent trips to Aveiro region such as the Ria the Aveiro Weekend. As always, you will find here my experience and real opinion about the places visited and the services tried. If not, it would be like writing an advert and I don’t do that here.