“The Venice of Portugal”. This is what people like to call Aveiro, leaving an inevitable expectation for a place as sensational as Venice in Italy. If you’re also anticipating to see endless canals, weaving their way through narrow streets and picturesque buildings, stop right there.
You can keep the image of the narrow streets and beautiful buildings in your imagination, but scratch the canals part. Aveiro has a beautiful lagoon indeed – the Ria de Aveiro flows through the center of the city, creating a wonderful ambience, but don’t expect it to through the whole city.
We visited Aveiro during our 2-week trip to Portugal and it was one of our last stops on our itinerary. Having as little as less than 1 full day in Aveiro, we had to be strategic about how we use our time.
In this guide I’ll tell you the best way to explore the city if you’re short on time, as well as give you some tips on places to visit. Here are the best things to do in Aveiro and some of the city’s main attractions that you can see in just a day.
Where to stay in Aveiro
If you plan to spend more than 1 day in Aveiro, there’s a variety of accommodations to choose from. For all hostel lovers, we found this gem at a very reasonable price, right in the center of Aveiro. Suites & Hostel Cidade Aveiro also offers private rooms, which is very convenient.
Another highly rated hotel is Veneza Hotel, which is quite close to the train station and the main commercial street. Again, the prices are very good, as this is what we usually look for.
Map of things to do in Aveiro
Best things to do in Aveiro
Take a free walking tour
The first thing I do when visiting a new city is to check if there’s a free walking tour. Fortunately, Aveiro does! I urge you to sign up for it if you’re interested in learning about the city in a historical context, as well as having a local guide who can show you things you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.
Grab a city map from the tourist office
The tourist office of Aveiro offers free maps if you ask for one, and they can also point you to the biggest attractions of the city. This is life-saving, especially if you’re short on time and don’t want to roam around without a direction in mind.
The map is very well marked with all points of interest in Aveiro, including a short description for each one of them.
Rent a bike for free
Thanks to the fact that we went to the tourist center and asked for some directions, we found out that it’s possible to explore Aveiro by bike… for free! Yes, we couldn’t believe it either, but apparently local authorities want to promote sustainable ways of transport while reducing the number of cars within the city, which is understandable – it’s impossible to find parking on these narrow streets.
Head to the shopping mall and go on the other side of the building where you can find a small office for the free bike rentals. You just have to leave a personal document (driving license or ID, for example) and you’re free to take one of the bikes for up to 2 hours. We managed to explore the city’s main sights in under 2 hours, so I think you’d have enough time.
Having a bike to ride around Aveiro saved us a ton of time, which was perfect, since we only had 1 day to spend here.
Cruise through Aveiro on a boat (moliceiro)
One of the most popular things to do in Aveiro is to take a boat tour along the canals. The traditional boats you’ll see all around Aveiro are called moliceiro. Moliceiros are half moon-shaped gondolas, decorated with paintings that used to run along the Ria of Aveiro.
In the past they were used as work boats to collect and transport seaweed and slime, which served as a source of fertilizer in the agricultural lands of the city. Nowadays, since other chemical substitutes are available on the market and getting a fertilizer requires much less effort, the Moliceiros are used solely for touristic purposes.
A boat trip usually takes around 30 to 45 minutes and costs between €11 and €15, but we noticed we could bargain it down to €10. We visited Aveiro in the beginning of May, so prices may differ in the higher season.
Learn about salt production at the Aveiro Salines
Thanks to its extensive coastline, exposed to winds and sun, Portugal has been producing salt for many centuries. Back in the 12th century, the lagoons of the river of Aveiro (Ria de Aveiro) were producing so much salt that they were able to supply the whole country and even export some of it.
You can visit the salt pans around Aveiro and take a guided tour to learn more about the history and process of salt production in the region. Alternatively you can head to the open-air museum of Ecomuseu Marinha da Troncalhada, which shows the methods of artisanal salt production while keeping alive the experiences and traditions linked to this secular activity.
Main attractions in Aveiro
Museum of Aveiro
Among the major sights of the city is the Museum of Aveiro, which holds a valuable collection of paintings, sculptures, tiles and jewels. Since the museum is housed in the old Convent of Jesus of the female Dominican Order, you are also able to visit the Dominican rooms, walk around the cloister, through the main chapel and inner choire. The convent is one of the most ancient convents in Aveiro and it dates back to the 2nd half of the 15th century.
Art Nouveau Museum
The first buildings in Art Nouveau style appeared in Aveiro in the beginning of the 20th century. “Arte Nova” became very popular in the years between 1904 and 1920 when many such buildings appeared in Aveiro. It’s believed that it was wealthy emigrants to Brazil who imported the Art Nouveau after they returned to Portugal.
Nowadays you can see many beautiful buildings in this style, and the most important one is the Art Nouveau Museum. Here you can get acquainted with Arte Nova and the history of the style. The first floor of the museum showcases a roadmap for a walking tour of 28 iconic art nouveau buildings in the neighborhood. The second floor serves as an art gallery of new artists and architects from Aveiro. On the last floor you can find temporary exhibitions.
Cathedral of Aveiro
The Cathedral of Aveiro is located at the old Dominican convent, known for being the first religious community to be established in the city. The cathedral stands out thanks to its beautiful facade and imposing bell tower, which you just can’t miss. Be sure to go inside and enjoy the impressive decorations in tally, stone and tile, dating back to different periods in time.
Zodiac in Portuguese style Footpath
In 1963 the city of Aveiro invited a local neofigurative painter, Antonio Quadros, to design the zodiac figures that you can see today in one of the pavement streets in Aveiro. The designs were put in place in 1965 under the directions of the artist and without any models. The composition of the 12 zodiac signs is now one of the most emblematic works on Portuguese pavement of the country.
Bridge of the friendship ribbons
Between the shopping mall and the market from where you can rent the free bikes, you will find the Ties Bridge, or also known as the bridge of friendship. The “tradition” started after two students tied ribbons to the bridge as a symbol of love and friendship, prompting everyone else passing by to leave one as well.
Churches of St. Antonio and St. Francisco
Similar to most Portuguese cities, Aveiro is brimming with churches, and I advise you to visit at least a couple. The Churches of St. Antonio and St. Francisco are an interesting ansamble because they’re right side-by-side, connected by an arch. One is dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua (born in Lisbon) and the other to Saint Francis of Assisi.
The churches were built in Baroque style and inside you’ll find many handmade pieces of golden carving and Ancient artistic tiles. Pay attention to the walls because each of them tells a story.
I hope this guide makes it easier for you to mark the things you want to see in Aveiro, especially if you’re only coming for a short time, like we did. There’s so many things to do in Aveiro and depending on your pace you can even take a few days to explore, but for short stays it’s important to prioritize the most interesting sights for you.
Let me know what your impressions are of Aveiro by leaving a comment or messaging me on social media!
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