Boat rides down canals past traditional tiled houses, a stones throw from the beach in this little seaside city known as the “Portuguese Venice”.
Aveiro, once a small fishing town, is now an emerging tourist destination for Portugal. Located south of Porto on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, Aveiro is a petite port city known for its production of salt and seaweed. It is also a university city, with the campus taking up a considerable portion of the city’s south and students making up roughly a quarter of the population. Relative to Porto and Lisbon, it is a much smaller scale city and imbued with a more laid-back atmosphere.
By far the biggest tourist attraction in Aveiro is floating down the city’s canals in the local equivalent of gondolas, called Moliceiros. These brightly coloured boats take visitors around the canals that branch off the nearby lagoon. This is where the city gains its nickname of the “Portuguese Venice” although that may be a little bit of a reach. Still, who doesn’t like relaxing on a boat for a spell. The canals do cover a fair bit of ground and pass by some interesting architecture, particularly art nouveau houses and those covered with ornate local tiles known as azulejos. The moliceiro tours leave from the central canal near Rossio Park.
As the city centre is quite small you can pretty much walk everywhere on foot, but there are buses if need be. Walking through the city centre, you’ll find tiled streets detailed with intricate patterns. Over head, you may see seasonal decorations hanging as I did in summer. The laconic vibe means you can simply wander and explore without ever being hassled or feeling rushed to hit the highlights. Grabbing a drink at the cafe outside the Art Nouveau Museum with its beanbag chairs will give you a chance to rest your feet.
Truthfully, there aren’t dozens of sights to see here in Aveiro. For shopping or to entertain the kids your best bet is the Forum, a large shopping mall along one of the canals with everything from Zara to a cinema. If you’re looking for a green space to sit and relax in the shade, the Parque Infante dom Pedro with its blossoming bougainvillea is perfect. Outside of what I’ve already mentioned and the city museum, the cathedral and the ornate train station, you’ll be hard pressed to find many more significant tourist attractions. But I don’t think that’s what visiting this pleasant city is about. A visit to Aveiro is about enjoying and exploring the city’s atmosphere, architecture and way of life.
And food. When it comes to food, Aveiro is as good a place as any to explore ordinary Portuguese cuisine. The local delicacy here is the Ovos Moles, a egg yolk and sugar dessert that won’t be difficult to find. And if you’ve managed to miss it elsewhere in Portugal, a Bifana pork fillet sandwich makes for a quick tasty lunch.
Aveiro also makes for a good beach getaway. There are two beaches close by, one being at Costa Nova and the other Praia de Barra a little further north. Not too far from the centre of Aveiro is the seaside community of Costa Nova, famed for its pretty striped wooden houses. Accessible from the city centre by buses to the coast, Costa Nova feels even more placid than the city. Walking past these brightly painted houses that pretty much equate to large beach shacks, feels like you’ve returned to simpler times. A few blocks back from the main road and you’re at the beach. Couldn’t be simpler.
Praia de Barra seems to be the more popular beach and even with crummy weather, you’re bound to see plenty of locals down there enjoying the sand and surf. For lighthouse aficionados, the Barro Lighthouse is the tallest in the country.
The un-demanding city of Aveiro will keep you entertained for at least a day or two and makes a good stopping point between Porto and Lisbon. There are worse ways to spend your time in Portugal than exploring this little city’s canals, architecture and nearby beaches.
Have you visited Aveiro? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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