Portugal’s “Venice of the North” is a charming city in the north of Portugal, famous for its canals, bridges, Art Nouveau buildings, Santa Joana and Ovos Moles. We visited in August, staying for two nights, and thoroughly enjoyed the time spent there.
Aveiro is on the same train line as Coimbra and Porto. A visit to Aveiro can be added on to a longer trip to one or both of these interesting cities. See our Porto blog here
This was our first overseas trip since the 2020 lockdowns in the UK and we were apprehensive about travelling. Portugal, and Aveiro in particular, have very stringent mask-wearing and hand-washing rules. In general, the rules were followed by most people and we felt very safe.
Magnificent 7 // Aveiro, Portugal
- Ride the Moliceiro canal boats
- Walk the city
- Visit the Art Nouveau Museum
- Soak in the riches of the Carmelite Church
- Discover the Museum of Aveiro/Santa Joana
- Wander through the salt pans
- Sample Ovos Moles De Aveiro
Getting there –
We took the Express train from Oriente station in Lisbon. It was a very smooth journey that took us 2 hours and 20 minutes. We took the metro to Oriente station, and it is not immediately obvious where to go, so keep taking the escalators up and you will find a small booth selling tickets. Tickets can also be purchased online, however they are cheaper at the station. We returned via the High-Speed service and that only took two hours to get to Lisbon’s Santa Apolónia Station. Santa Apolónia is the oldest railway terminus in Portugal and is a much smaller station than Oriente, easier to navigate and much closer to the Cais do Sodré station that we were headed for, so a lesson learned.
Where we stayed –
We stayed at the Veneza hotel. This is a three-star hotel a short walking distance of the railway station. It was also an easy 10–15-minute walk to the main attractions and popular restaurants. Our room was fine, with air conditioning and comfortable beds. A breakfast buffet was included, fairly basic but good for us especially as there was a lovely outside courtyard to eat breakfast in. Check-in was great (we needed to prove we had been double vaccinated and had had a PCR test – such is travelling in the times of Covid). We were given maps, recommendations for restaurants and attractions. Nothing was too much trouble.
To eat and drink –
Entrance for breakfast at the hotel was timed owing to Covid restrictions, however we were not rushed at all and as stated above, breakfast was fine. We did not have any lunches, other than coffee and possibly a cake or two. On our first night we ate at the restaurant above the fish market. This restaurant is recommended in most guide/travel books. It was OK, quantity rather than quality. Our seafood rice could have fed four people rather than two, but it was 95% rice. Service was OK and prices reasonable. On our second night we ate at the Mare Cheia restaurant (Rua Jose Rabumba, No 8 e 12), which was recommended by the lady who checked us in at the Venezia. This meal was superb. More sensible quantities and excellent service. Highly recommended.
1. Ride the Moliceiro canal boats
This is one of the main attractions in Aveiro. The boat ride along the canals lasts 45 minutes offering great views, tidbits of information and is a must do. Sit back and enjoy, don’t bother with too many photos as you will get much better ones on land and by using the bridges. All the boats have at least two crew members and there is a multi-lingual commentary. Ours was in Portuguese, English and Spanish. There seem to be two types of boat, the traditional Moliceiro boats, brightly painted with images such as Santa Joana, Eusabio, Ronaldo, city sites etc and much larger commercial boats. The former were traditionally used to gather seaweed for fertiliser. The canals were very clean, much cleaner and less polluted than those in Venice.
2. Walk the city
Aveiro is a small city. It is worth taking a boat trip or tuk-tuk to get an idea of what you would like to return to.
As great as the Moliceiro boats are, you see so much more when you walk alongside the canals. We suggest following the route the boats take and stopping along the way to see more of the city. One set of bridges are decorated with colourful ribbons. Rather than putting locks on bridges, students in Aveiro put ribbons, the colour denoting different things (friendship, love, graduation etc).
As well as walking the canals, we recommend visiting Fish Square – touristy and buzzing – or for peace and quiet, Aveiro City Park.
3. Visit the Art Nouveau Museum
There are a number of Art Nouveau buildings and bridges in Aveiro and the old family home of Mario Pessoa is home to the Art Nouveau Museum. We loved this museum and if Art Nouveau buildings and objects bring joy to your heart, then this is a must visit. It is a small museum on one of the main thoroughfares opposite the canals (Rue Barbosa de Magalhaes). You can pick up a brochure that shows where all the 28 Art Nouveau buildings and bridges in Aveiro are sited. The Old Railway Station is particularly impressive.
4. Soak in the riches of the Carmelite Church
This 17th Century National Monument – The Convent of St. John Evangelist – belonged to the barefoot Carmelite Nuns Order and is known as the Carmelite Church. It is sumptuous inside, with gold-leaf carvings and blue Portuguese tiles. It is free to enter and is truly beautiful. Situated on Marques de Pombal Square where tiles of the zodiac have been inlaid on the footpath around the square, it is worth the time to visit both the church and the square.
5. Discover the Museum of Aveiro/Santa Joana
This National Monument is housed in the former Convent of Jesus. The convent dates back to the 15th Century and in 1472 Princess Joana, daughter of King Alfonso V, entered the convent instead of marrying as her family wished. Santa Joana led a holy life and was beautified in 1693, becoming patron of the city and diocese, commemorated in an annual procession on May 12, the date of her death. We enjoyed looking at the chapel – and it is truly beautiful – and the rooms of the convent. There is also a museum with a significant number of religious paintings and artefacts, which we breezed through, however this seemed to be popular with other visitors.
6. Wander through the salt pans
Another thing Aveiro is known for is the production of salt. This is not a tour, but you can walk down to the salt pans and walk around the individual pans and see how the salt is harvested. There are a few information boards and I found this fascinating.
7. Sample Ovos Moles De Aveiro
Tradition has it that these delicacies originated in the Convent of Jesus in Aveiro. Apparently the egg yolks were left over after the egg whites were used to starch the nuns’ clothing and the yolks were used to create this sweet treat. Legend has it that they were used as a medicine as far back as 1502.
Our hotel booked the Moliceiro canal boat trip at a cheaper price than on the street/canals. Make sure you take a Moliceiro boat. They have paintings at either end and are shorter than the larger boats offering the same tour.
Tuk-tuk tours: Hmmm. We thought this would be a good way to see where things are so that we could visit them on foot later. I guess that sort of worked, but a not so satisfying tour, partly due to the driver having to go over things in multiple languages against the backdrop of noisy traffic and partly due to not being able to stop as traffic was thick.
Aveiro City Park: This large city centre park is not shown as a must do on a tour of Aveiro. We wandered through it and it has plenty of green space to walk through as well as places to sit and relax. A good place to go and get respite in the heat of the day.
Costa Nova & Barra beach: These are both shown in the guidebooks as “must do” trips when visiting Aveiro. We found that two days in Aveiro were filled with what the city offered. Getting to Costa Nova and Barra beach would mean a bus, car, uber/taxi etc so we left these for next time. There are a lot of great beaches in Portugal!
Most Portuguese cities include pavements decorated with black and white mosaic patterns, but many of those in Aveiro include maritime themes: we spotted fish, sea horses, shells, crabs, anchors and rope knots amongst others.