Santo Tirso is a charming town on the banks of River Ave, formed around a Benedictine monastery in the early Middle Ages. This remains the main attraction, easily spotted by its pyramid-shaped, tile-covered dome. A new museum attached to one of the convent buildings showcases Santo Tirso’s love of outdoor contemporary art.
More than 50 pieces scattered throughout the town, contributed by well-known personalities such as Vladimir Veličković and Wang Keping, add a sense of drama to the park and square. The town has also invested in its parks and riverfront for leisurely walks and energetic morning jogs.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Santo Tirso:
1. Mosteiro de Santo Tirso
The abbey was built in 978 and is located in the city centre on the left bank of the River Ave. The present building dates back to its reconstruction in the mid-17th century.
The beautiful outbuildings of the monastery are now city offices, facilities and private residences, but are still worth seeing from the outside.
You can enter the cloister, a semicircular arch bordered by a small garden with a fountain.
There is a lot to see in the church, such as colorful statues, gilded wooden altars, and elaborate chapels.
A very rare accessory here is the iron railing that separates the monks on the altar from the rest of the church.
2. Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Assunção, Monte Cordoba
If you take the winding country road southeast from Santo Tirso, you will climb Monte de Nossa Senhora da Assunção.
From the terrace here, you can see Santo Tirso, the open Ave Valley, and even the Atlantic Ocean in clear weather.
Facing west, the sunset is most idyllic, and you can also take a signposted trail back to San Tilso.
On the terrace stands the sanctuary, built in 1901 in Romanesque Revival design.
On August 15th, this otherwise desolate place breathes life and colour into the Nossa Senhora da Assunção holiday and pilgrimage.
3. Parque Urbano da Rabada
Little by little over the past decade, Santo Tirso has been given a new park that sits on the twists and turns of Ave.
This is a charming green setting of oak and cork oaks, with new facilities installed in phases since 2010. The park is littered with public art works by internationally renowned artists such as Wang Keping, Pino Castagna and Philippe Perrin.
There’s a lake, ample sports facilities, a children’s playground, cafes and trails that meander through fresh woodland and down to the water’s edge.
4. Castro do Monte Padrão
One of the peaks to the southeast of San Tilso has the mysterious ruins of the Bronze Age castle village.
There are many such sites in northern Portugal, but Castro do Monte Padrão stands out for how long it has been preserved and inhabited.
The oldest site was built in the 9th century BC and has signs of occupation in the form of late medieval chapels and cemeteries.
There is a modern interpretive center on site explaining this Castro’s tangled story.
The display case has a large collection of objects from different eras such as bronze and iron ornaments, axes, beads, glassware, coins, enamels, millstones and pottery.
5. Parque D. Maria II
This delightful park in the center of town was first landscaped in the 1870s.
The plantains and ginkgo trees alone give you an idea of the site’s age, climbing high above the park and providing ample shade in summer.
The lovely pavilions, tea houses and elegant esplanades all come from the park’s early days.
There is a small pond with ducks and geese, a playground for young clan members to play, and temporary art exhibitions are held in the tea house.
In July, this park is also where the town gathers for the Festas de São Bento.
6. Museu Municipal Abade Pedrosa
The museum is located in one wing of the monastery, in a beautiful slender building that was once a pilgrim’s hut.
This is a beautiful 18th century building with cellars and granaries still intact.
Along a long corridor, small but fascinating artifacts are found in Santo Tirso and its nearby archaeological sites.
You can find more coins, inscribed stones and glass, and glassware from Roman-Celtic burials at the Castro in Monte Padrão.
7. Museu Internacional de Escultura Contemporânea
Just opened in 2016, the museum is housed in an angular, modern building connected to the city museum.
It was designed by Álvaro Siza and Pritzker Prize winner Souto de Moura and features modern public art by Santo Tirso.
Since 1991, the town has hosted ten public art workshops, leaving behind 54 works by 53 different artists (we already mentioned some of the works in Parque Urbano da Rabada). Two of them were contributed by 20th-century sculptor Alberto Carneiro, who pioneered the project in 1990. The museum does not actually house any of these works, but is a sort of interpretive centre, documenting all 54 works and holding short-term contemporary art displays.
8. Parque do Ribeiro do Matadouro
Our last park is located in the regeneration area south of the city center, connecting the old Quita do Tapado estate with the town fabric.
It took shape in 2013 with state-of-the-art urban design.
The most striking part is the Rota das Esculturas, in the spirit of Santo Tirso’s public art heritage.
There are strange fiberglass structures that blur the lines between artwork and furniture, and can be interacted with, serving as a ramp for skateboarders or an obstacle for the little ones to climb.
9. Termas das Caldas da Saúde
Across the river, on the way to Vila Nova de Famalicão, there is a natural hot spring with a temperature of 36°C. It was directed into a fountain which gave off a rather strong smell of sulphur.
Next to the fountain is the Thermal Spa, open since 1891. The water here is said to be good for musculoskeletal problems, arthritis and respiratory problems.
But if you just want to relax, you can book a one-time massage, or use the spring water for a hydro massage.
10. Igreja de São Pedro de Roriz
This mysterious Romanesque church is a national monument, built by the Augustinians on land granted by King Alfonso Henrique.
Beginning in the late 1100s and built over decades, the work was done to a high standard and its masonry has stood the test of time: the scallop shell pattern on the capitals of the portal indicates a stop on the Way of St. James to Galicia The pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela.
There are more carvings inside the columns, tympanum, and capitals supporting the blind arches of the apse.
11. Citânia de Sanfins
For the keen historian, there is another Castro not far east of the Citânia de Sanfins.
This one differs from Castro do Monte Padrão in that one of the houses has been restored with a thatched roof.
So you’ll get a valuable glimpse into what lived here 2,500 years ago.
There are more than 150 buildings on the site, both rectangular and circular.
Many date back to the 5th century BC, and the settlement peaked 400 years later, around the time the Romans took over.
If there’s anything you can’t help but check out, it’s the “pedra formosa,” a giant inscription in the village’s public bath with an elaborate pattern above a small arch in the rock.
12. Feast of Sao Bento
Santo Tirso is one of the greatest religious festivals in the northern region in honor of the patron saint, Benedict.
The whole thing unfolds in the five days leading up to St. Benedict’s Day on July 11. These days are filled with esoteric customs and rituals passed down from generation to generation.
There are masses, drum parades (bombos), dances, solemn parades, theatrical performances and fireworks.
Every night, the center is packed with concerts by Portuguese pop singers, and the night of the 11th is entirely fado music.
13. Rio Avenue
At the same time as Parque Urbano da Rabada is being laid out upstream, Santo Tirsos has also invested millions of euros to keep the Ave riverfront in the city centre.
There is a new 1.4km walking and cycling path with a fishing pier and many points where you can get off the trail to the water’s edge.
Besides being in the blissful nature by the river, you can admire the monastery and its pyramid-shaped towers from a whole new perspective.
14. Day Trips
Santo Tirso is a geographical wonder, as it is equidistant from the cities of Braga, Guimaraes and Porto (all about 30 km). All of these are UNESCO sites and are worth your time for different reasons.
Braga, one of the oldest cities in the country, has Portugal’s first-ever cathedral, as well as the splendid Bom Jesus Sanctuary at the top of an epic Baroque staircase.
Guimaraes is rich in history, the birthplace of Portugal’s first king, and has an atmospheric old center, home to the Gothic palace of the Dukes of Braganza.
Porto needs little introduction, as the home of Port wine and the beautiful riverside community of Ribeira, with its colorful houses and the bubbly plaza under the famous Dom Luís I bridge.
15. Local flavors
In Santo Tirso you are in the country of vinho verde.
The word verde (green) here refers to the age of the wine rather than the color.
Vinho verde doesn’t mature for long, giving these wines that crisp and light feel that people like.
See if you can get your hands on a bottle of the award-winning Quinta de Gomariz, produced by Antonio Sousa, one of Portugal’s most respected winemakers.
The Benedictine monks of Roleiz inherited the licor de singeverga, an artisanal liqueur distilled from saffron, cinnamon, vanilla, myrrh, cloves and coriander.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in São Tilso, Portugal
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