Barcelos, west of Braga, is a lovely medieval town with a strong cultural identity. This comes from artisan traditions such as pottery, as well as Galo de Barcelo, the ornamental rooster that has become a symbol of Portugal. The Thursday market is one of the largest in Portugal, and with the usual fresh produce, it’s a souvenir hunter’s dream, with traditional handcrafted “figurados”, painted galos, reed baskets and more.
For sightseeing, there is a medieval tower, a series of churches ranging from medieval to Baroque, and the stately ruins of the palace where the Dukes of Braganza once lived.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Barcelos:
1. Torre do Cimo da Vila
In the Middle Ages, anyone traveling in the area from north to south had to pass through this gate due to the road system and topography.
Barcelos never had its own castle, but in the 1400s the Count of Barcelos fortified the town’s walls with three square towers made of solid granite stone.
The last one is still here, after the tower was used for too long as a defense, it was used as a prison until the 1930s, and there is now a local arts and crafts center.
If it’s free, there’s even an elevator to the top with a view of the center of Barcelos and the mountains in the background.
2. Olaria Museum
Barcelos has always been known for its pottery, especially the “figurado”, a funny figurine with prominent features representing traditional peasants, folk musicians and figures in nativity scenes.
This museum has a large collection of figurados, many of them created by the beloved potter Rosa Ramalho, who lived in Barcelos all her life until 1977. But there are many other pottery styles to browse, not only from other parts of Portugal but also from former Portuguese colonies like Cape Verde, Angola and Timor.
You can also watch a video of how local potters turn clay into art.
3. Paço dos Condes de Barcelos
Alfonso I, Duke of Braganza, ordered the construction of this Gothic fortified palace in the 15th century, and it is the richest building in the town.
Standing on the Cavado River, this is the luxury residence of the Bragança line.
It wasn’t until the 18th century when it was damaged in the earthquake of 1755, and it didn’t begin to decay until its towers and roof collapsed in 1801. Today it is a shell with several walls, pointed arches, mullioned windows and a tall tubular chimney (like those at the famous Braganza Palace in Guimaraes), but it is fun to explore.
The crucifix on this site has a famous story, which we’ll get to later.
These ruins are national monuments, a glimpse into the power wielded by the Dukes of Braganza.
4. Igreja Matriz de Barcelos
A few meters from the ruins of the palace is the main church of Barcelos, which began in the transition from Romanesque to Gothic in the 1200s.
Back in the 13th century is the portal, which has a vaulted arch of lilies and rosettes.
Above is a rose window with beautiful stained glass depicting Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.
The nave features a distinctly 18th-century decoration with blue and white varnishes, showing scenes and episodes of history from the Bible.
5. Barcelos Weekly Market
The town of Barcelos may not be huge, but its weekly open-air market is, and it attracts shoppers from miles away.
Every Thursday, there are plenty of stalls at Campo da República, one of the largest and most typical markets in Portugal, dating back to the Middle Ages.
If you come in summer, be sure to get there early to avoid the crowds.
There’s a lot of fresh produce here, but it’s best to think of the market as a giant souvenir shop: all the traditional Minho area crafts are here, like pottery, hand-woven baskets and bags, and don’t forget our Barcelos rooster club to the next one.
6. Galo de Barcelos
The story of the Barcelos rooster, recognized around the world as a Portuguese symbol, is a bit like this: it’s about a Galician man who was wrongly accused of stealing and sentenced to hang.
He protests his innocence and demands to meet his judge while he eats the roast rooster.
The Galician told the judge he must be innocent “because when they hang me, the rooster is sure to croak”. When he was hanged, the rooster would croak, and the Galician survived and was released, returning very late to the Paço dos Condes to carve the cross you can still see today.
So if there’s one place to buy this rooster as a souvenir, it’s Barcelos!
7. Barcelos Bridge
At the southern entrance to the old Barcelos, the medieval bridge forms a picturesque sight under the ruins of the Paço dos Condes and connects it with Barcelinhos on the left bank.
Built in the 1320s by Pedro Afonso, 3rd Count of Barcelos, the bridge became an important landmark for pilgrims who followed the Way of Saint James to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
When the palace’s tower collapsed in 1801, along with it, a section of the bridge was demolished, requiring extensive reconstruction on the right bank.
8. Igreja de Vilar de Frades
Another lineup of national monuments in Barcelos is this magnificent church in the parish of Areais de Vilar.
It is connected to a Benedictine monastery built in the 6th century, destroyed by the Moors and rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 1000s.
There are still some 11th century elements, but it is the later Gothic and Manueline craftsmanship that grabs the headlines.
You spend most of your time tilting your head back, gazing in awe at the superb ribbed vaults in the nave, main chapel and side chapels.
The main entrance takes a moment to appreciate the impossibly detailed masonry in its columns and arches, carved with botanical motifs and grotesques around the 1520s.
9. Pelorinho de Barcelos
Also by the river and near the ruins of the palace is the Pillory of Barceló.
These monuments are the mainstay of all historic Portuguese towns as relic symbols of order, and Barceló is one of the best.
Set in a geometric riverside garden, it was built at the end of the Gothic period in the late 1400s.
The columns are hexagonal with a very ornate lantern at the top, ribbons on the columns below and a spire at the top.
10. Francella Hills
The hill near Barcelos, which houses a 16th-century hideaway, will begin a pilgrimage in August: hundreds of the town’s residents climb the stairs to pay their respects to the shrine of Nossa Senhora da Franqueira.
This location needs to be seen at any time of the year, mainly to enjoy the exhilarating views of the coast from Esponsende to Póvoa de Varzim, the last bend of the Cávado river, Barcelos and eastward to Braga and its signs Sexual Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary.
You can enter the hermitage to visit shrines and stroll the hillsides filled with historical sites.
11. Faria Castle
Hidden in the dense pine forests of the Monte Franqueira promontory is the remains of an unforgettable medieval castle.
The site is just a short walk from the top of the mountain and its hermitage, and it has ties to Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.
The castle was also an important stronghold during many conflicts with Galicia and Spain before being abandoned in the 1500s.
But after so long, you can still identify the Romanesque castle and three rows of walls.
The Romans arrived here as Celts about 300 years ago, as the circular foundations show.
12. Igreja do Bom Jesus da Cruz
Newer than any other church we’ve seen so far, this 18th century building is an outstanding example of Baroque architecture.
One of the most important Portuguese architects of the era, João Antunes was hired for the job, and from 1705 to 1710 the church was completed in just five years. All the signs of Portuguese Baroque are here, such as the mix of stucco and exposed granite on the facade, and the bell tower above the portal.
The nave has a classic blue and white glazing, with botanical motifs and scenes that convey passion.
A life-size old oak statue carved in Flanders in the 1500s is surrounded by fine gilded woodwork.
13. Horseback riding
Centro Hípico Ir Pedro Coelho, inaugurated in 2009 in Vilar de Frades, is a large facility suitable for all equestrian disciplines.
Every May and September, it hosts an international obstacle course in its arena with more than 150 entrants.
There is also a smaller national competition in April.
But the rest of the time you can book a horse riding experience.
Schools here organise excursions to the idyllic countryside east of Barcelos, which are open to almost all ages and can be done without any experience.
14. Day out
The countryside surrounding Barcelos has a lot to like: in addition to Monte da Franqueira, the city has three other hilltops with panoramic terraces (Monte de Facho, Monte de São Gonçalo and Monte de Airó), all ready to be conquered on foot or ride a bicycle.
Meandering through these hills, the Cavado River is clean, wide and teeming with birds and otters.
It has river beaches on its route and around Areias de Vilar you can rent a kayak.
If you want to spend a day at the beach, Esposende has a lagoon and wild Atlantic coastline surrounded by restaurants.
Opposite is Braga, revered for its Baroque palaces and sanctuary in the clouds.
15. Food and drink
If you want to try some traditional local food, you’ll be happy to know it’s unpretentious and easy to use.
You’re not far from the coast, so fish and seafood are a staple: there’s fried cod, grilled sardines, grilled cod, lamprey rice and grilled octopus.
Cozido à portuguesa is a slow cooker that uses almost any vegetable, including radishes, cabbage, beans, carrots, as well as a variety of pork, chicken, and cured sausages such as portuguese and blood sausage.
There are also caldo verde, vegetable soup, roast lamb, roast steak, roast rabbit, chicken rice and more.
Seafood and light dishes pair perfectly with fresh wines from the Minho region.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Barcelos, Portugal
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