15 things to do in Vila do Conde (Portugal)

This coastal city at the mouth of River Ave is a beach destination with a fascinating history. From the Age of Navigation to the 20th century, Villa do Conde was a shipbuilding town, assembling ships that spread Portuguese influence to Asia, Africa and South America.

Replicas of these ships are moored on the boulevard, and the old customs building is now a museum recording the ancient seafaring history of Conde Island. The resort is a calmer alternative to the north of Povard Varzim, just a few kilometers from the city and separated by a coastal park.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Villa do Conde:

1. Alfândega Régia – Museu de Construção Naval

Alfândega Régia, Museu de Construção Naval

The 15th-century Royal Customs House in Docklands is a museum that depicts the shipbuilding trade that occupied the entire Ave Riverside from the early modern period to the 20th century.

With model ships, tools and scenes, the museum deals with three distinct areas.

First, you’ll delve into the Portuguese Age of Navigation, when the likes of navigators Henry and da Gama were blazing the trail.

You’ll also learn more about the building’s role as a customs house, then delve into Vila do Conde’s historic shipbuilding industry, and the kinds of ships built at these docks.

2. Naukhuntista

nauquinhentista

The Cais da Alfandega moored on River Ave is a replica of a 16th-century sailing ship, the kind that was built at the Vila do Conde shipyard at the time.

The boat was launched in 2007 using ancestral carpentry and rope making techniques. One of the many interesting things about this ship is that it represented a phase in the Portuguese Empire when technical expertise allowed it to build ships with greater load capacity.

These people may stay at sea longer so that they can go on expeditions to India.

Containers, pharmacists, maps and navigational instruments are all on board to make things happen.

3. Igreja Matriz

Iglia Matriz

From 1496 to 1518, this wonderful church was built in a short time. At this time, churches and monasteries in Portugal were adorned with rich sculpture in the Manueline style, a fusion of Late Gothic with Spanish plate styles.

This church is a shining example, full of intricate carvings as you can see from the main entrance.

They are located in the tympanic chamber, just above the doorway, in the trefoil achivolt at the top and the spikes on the sides.

The interior has more Manuel stonework on the altar, which is baroque with gilded woodwork from the 1740s.

4. Santa Clara Monastery

Santa Clara Abbey

This majestic choir stands on a small elevation above Rio Avenue and was once one of Portugal’s richest monasteries.

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The monastery dates back to the 14th century, and the Gothic church here is from the first phase.

The main monastery building is newer, built in the 18th century, and now houses the municipal services of Vila do Conde.

Your attention will be drawn to the 14th-century church, which cuts out a militant image during a time when Castilian raids were prevalent.

There are bare granite walls, only one rose window is open, and the roof has pointy mellons.

5. Santa Clara Aqueduct

Santa Clara Aqueduct

Santa Clara Abbey once attracted a lot of water, commensurate with its mighty power.

In fact, just like in 1626, it launched a huge project to improve the water supply.

Diverting water from the high ground in Terroso, the structure stretches for 4 kilometers and took nearly 90 years to complete.

One reason it took so long is that in the 1630s there was a break when they realized they had calculated the slope incorrectly.

Parts of the aqueduct were lost due to construction and storm damage in the 18th and 19th centuries, but when it was completed in 1714, it had 999 arches.

6. Playa Azul

playa azul

Vila do Conde has several Atlantic beaches, but Praia Azul, about 500 meters from the old town, is the standout.

This blue-flagged beach has a large stretch of golden sand that stretches along a promenade and bike path for a few kilometers to Póvoa de Varzim in the north.

Despite all the Blue Flag-eligible amenities, Praia Azul feels remote and barely spoiled.

It comes down to the Marginal Atlântica, the city that is kept out of the city by its vast sand dunes and coastal scrub.

Children can play in the many rock-formed pools along the beach, while the more open areas have waves suitable for surfing in the fall and winter.

7. Capela de Nossa Senhora da Guia

Capela de Nossa Senhora da Guia

One of the few attractions to the right of the mouth of the Ave River is this chapel.

There has been a religious building of some description here since before the 12th century, the design of the current building is from around 1636. While the low stuccoed walls and terracotta roof are discreet, the interior feels like a can.

The ceiling has frescoes depicting square gilded panels, and the altar has a mix of marble and ceramic decorations.

Also take a closer look at the patterned tiles on the walls, made in the 17th century in the Coimbra factory.

8. São João Baptista Fort

Sao Joao Baptista Fort

A few steps from the chapel is this fortified 17th-century fortress, embedded in a rock platform on the beach.

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The fortification was active for 200 years, not least because of its strategic location, which protected the shipyard on the River Ave from pirates and privateers.

In the 1980s, after decades of abandoning the fort, it was decided to convert it into a boutique hotel with only eight suites.

Visitors can still enter the Pentagon and climb the walls, see the Batizans, and contemplate the Avenue when they reach the ocean.

9. Museu das Rendas de Bilros

Museu das Rendas de Bilros

Opened in 1991 in the gorgeous Casa do Vinhal townhouse, the museum dates back to the 1700s.

The attraction is dedicated to preserving the traditions of Vila do Conde, mainly the craft (bobbin lace) named after the museum. The cabinets have some very delicate examples of local lace that can be used on their own or attached to vintage pieces.

You can set your sights on the tools used to make this material, whether in Vila do Conde or abroad.

There are lace pillows, spools and wooden bulbs, and if you come on the right day, you’ll see skilled artisans making some lace the old-fashioned way.

10. Playa do Forno

Praia do Forno

Despite its proximity to the city, Vila do Conde’s main beach feels natural and far from the hustle and bustle.

In Marginal Atlântica, between the ocean and the town, keep high-rise apartments at a distance.

The only building on the waterfront is the Forte de São João Baptista, which sits on a granite bed and adds some drama to the scene.

Praia da Forno is a small cove surrounded by rocks, which helps protect it from rough waves and strong currents.

In summer, the cabins behind the beach are lined with kiosks and bars.

11. Jose Reggio House Museum

Jose Reggio House Museum

The left bank of the Boulevard River is the home of a respected Portuguese cultural figure.

Writer José Régio was a moderate opposition voice during the new Estado Novo regime in the 20th century.

He inherited the house from his aunt and decorated it with plans to live there in retirement.

Just before his death, so the museum is a microcosm of Régio’s life: there is a lot of religious art (religion is an important theme in the author’s work) in the form of paintings, ex votos (offerings) and statues. Régio Modern in Portugal He is also quite famous in the art world, and you can see his collection of paintings, as well as his own work.

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12. Povard Varzin

Pois-De Varzin

Just minutes from the coast, all the fun and options of a big resort.

You can see the apartment blocks of the Póvoa de Varzim skyscraper from Vila do Conde.

It wasn’t always like this in the city. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a spa resort and fishing center for the wealthy, with a fleet of “poveiro” sailboats.

Some of these ships have been restored in the History Museum (located in an 18th-century Earl’s Palace), and the Art Deco galleries on the beach and Beaux-Arts Casino, dating back to the 1930s, have memories of Powara’s luxurious past.

13. Cividade de Terroso

Cividade de Terroso

Older civilizations await in this castle on the hills northeast of Vila do Conde.

Cividade de Terroso is a sizable Bronze Age settlement surrounded by three defensive walls, defending dozens of houses for hundreds of people.

The oldest parts of these ruins are nearly 3,000 years old.

But there are also exciting traces of Roman settlements in the 2nd century BC, when the streets were still paved with stones and grooves to allow rain or sewage to flow.

You can see some of the pottery and metalwork found at the site at the Historical Museum in Póvoa.

14. Sao Joao Festival

Sao Joao Festival

June 23 and 24 are all about Villa du Conde’s patron saint, Saint John the Baptist.

Sao Joao is celebrated throughout the northern region, but the city’s events have their own character.

Yes, people took to the streets on the night of the 23rd to gather together at Praça José Régio and beat each other on the head with soft plastic hammers.

But there are a few things that make it special; first, almost every balcony is adorned with red and yellow tinsel, perhaps with an image of St. John, along with songs and ceremonies unique to the city, such as the traditional 24 Day Beach Trip.

15. Fashion Outlets

Fashion Outlets

This outlet mall near Vila do Conde is very popular in the area and there is even a shuttle bus from Porto.

The mall is undersized, but it has a range of high-end brands: Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Armani, Guess and Polo Ralph Lauren, as well as mid-market fashion brands like Mango, Benetton and Levi’s.

At Vila do Conde, it’s close enough that you can spend the day when the sky is overcast.

There’s free Wi-Fi, a nursery and play area for kids, and the usual food court.

Where to Stay: The best hotels in Villa do Conde, Portugal
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