15 things to do in Viseu (Portugal)

In central Portugal, Viseu is an ancient city with famous granite monuments winding its streets leading to the magnificent Piazza del Duomo.

Known as Adro da Sé, this square has a collection of monuments from the Gothic to Rococo periods, each of which is worth visiting for an hour or two.

There are all kinds of things at the foot of the mountain to spark your imagination, such as historic houses filled with elegant furniture, an archaeological museum, tile panels designed by famous painters and the remains of the ancient fortifications of Viseu.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Viseu:

1. Viseu Cathedral

Cathedral of Viseu

This wonderful building was built in the 12th century during the reign of Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques.

From the square in front, there is a 17th century Baroque façade flanked by two towers; the south is medieval, while the north, like the façade, required reconstruction in the 1600s after the storm.

The fusion of style and period is evident inside, with a 14th-century statue of Mary on a baroque gilded wooden altar dating from the 18th century.

Above it, the choir’s barrel vault is lined with ornate filigree painted tiles.

2. Historic Center

historical center

Inside the 15th-century walled circle is the historic quarter of Viseu, on the Piazza del Duomo.

These winding alleys are paved with circular granite slabs and boast proud whitewashed homes, some in better condition than others. The dazzling excursion through this maze includes several streets: Rua Escura, Rua Direita and Rua Augusto Hilário.

The latter, despite being only a few metres wide, has some striking houses, in various states of repair, with overhanging iron balconies.

This will lead to Praça Dom Duarte, where there is a statue of King Edward, who was born in Viseu in 1391.

3. Adro da Se

Adro Dasse

Adro da Sé is a huge plaza (literally built on granite boulders) at the highest point in the city, and is home to some of the most impressive buildings in the country.

Whether it’s the Cathedral, the Seminary (including the Grão Vasco Museum) or the Igreja da Misericórdia, wherever you stand, there is something to photograph.

One of the buildings you’d like to see more of is the Passeio dos Cónegos (Canon Walk), a wonderful elevated cloister with a colonnade connected to the cathedral.

It was designed by the 16th century architect Francesco de Cremona.

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4. Gran Vasco National Museum

Gran Vasco National Museum

Named after one of the most important painters of the Portuguese Renaissance (Grão Vasco), this fascinating museum houses paintings, sculptures and applied arts from the 1200s to the 1900s.

The venue is also very exciting, right next to the cathedral at the seminary.

A must-have here is a 16th century painting by Viseu Grão Vasco and his great rival Gaspar Vaz.

They were all influenced by Flemish artists, such as Francisco Henriques, who went to Portugal to establish studios.

There’s more to explore, including 19th and 20th century Portuguese paintings, sculptures from the 1200s to 1500s, and tapestries and paintings that once adorned the cathedral.

5. Republic Square

Republic Square

In Rossio, this handsome central plaza lives up to its tile panel at the foot of the North Rim slope.

You need to cross the road to get a better view of the details.

These glazed (traditional glazed tiles) were painted by the conceited Portuguese artist Joaquim Lopes in the early 1930s.

On a panel with balustrades and iron gas lamps, there are images of idyllic scenes from Viseu and Bellas, like the old cattle fairs.

6. Igreja da Misericórdia

Igreja da Misericórdia

Another striking landmark on Adro da Sé is this church, located opposite the cathedral, built in the 18th century.

Combining baroque, rococo and neoclassical designs, you could almost mistake the building for a palace if it weren’t for the cross; the façade draws you in with its pilasters, pediments, shell patterns and ornate balustrades.

Inside, you won’t be able to ignore three neoclassical altarpieces painted in white and gold, with a statue of the Virgin of Mercy at the center.

7. Soar Gate

soar gate

One of the remaining traces of the defensive walls of Viseu is the gate to the west of this cathedral.

It guides you into the old town, built in 1472 when King Alfonso V refurbished the fortifications, as the inscription on the gate will tell you.

Part of this wall, shared with all the late medieval fortifications in Portugal, is the niche with the image of St. Francis.

The house by the gate, Casa do Soar, was built in the 1600s and has strange inscriptions on the corner windows.

This shows man as Homo Bulla to emphasize the fragility of life.

8. Fontello Park

Fontello Park

The city’s largest green space is a soothing oak and chestnut forest, where the people of Viseu go to recharge and get active.

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The park has an interesting history as it is part of a huge estate belonging to the bishop of the city.

They built a palace here in the 14th century for the use of the regional wine committee.

Also visit Portal do Fontelo, a stone arch built by a bishop in 1565, and the ruins of the Church of San Jeronimo.

In addition to trails for jogging in the woodlands, the park includes a municipal stadium, swimming pool, tennis courts, and a skate park.

9. Almeida Moreira Museum

Almeida Moreira Museum

You can walk into this museum and learn about one of Viseu’s most fascinating figures of the 20th century.

Almeida Moreira, the founder and first director of the Gran Vasco Museum, began collecting art and crafts as a teenager.

Not surprisingly, his house is crammed with faience, porcelain, sculpture, furniture and Portuguese paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries.

If you’re interested in Portuguese culture, you might be inspired to know that Almeida Moreira hosted major stars such as Raul Lino, Luciano Freire and Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro in these rooms.

10. Palácio do Gelo

Palácio do Gelo

If you’re stuck somewhere to go on a rainy day, this leisure and shopping center is just south of downtown.

It dates back to 1996, but underwent an expensive overhaul ten years ago.

There are over 160 shops in a clean, airy building.

But if you come here with your family, the main attraction will be the leisure facilities; there are bowling alleys and playgrounds, but the standout attraction is the 600-square-meter ice rink (the center is called the Ice Palace, after all!). Parents can enjoy a spa trip, relax in the hammam, jacuzzi suite, or choose from a range of treatments.

11. Casa Miraduro

Miraduro House

This palace in Largo António José Pereira is the only surviving Renaissance civil building in Viseu.

It was built by Francesco de Cremona, who was responsible for the awe-inspiring colonnade of Passeio dos Cónegos next to the cathedral.

Pass through the magnificent portal decorated with coat of arms and pilasters and you will be rewarded with one of the most interesting archaeological collections in the city.

It was curated by 20th century historian Dr. José Coelho, who collected Iron Age votive stones and Roman funerary monuments from the area’s ancient “Castro” settlements.

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12. Museu do Quartzo

Quartz Museum

To the north of the city, near a quartz quarry in Monte Santa Luzia, is the world’s only quartz museum.

It was conceived by the eminent Portuguese geologist Galopim de Carvalho and opened in 2012 on the site of a former tram factory.

It is worth mentioning the beauty of the location, the panoramic view of Viseu.

Mineral hunters or anyone with a previous interest in the natural sciences can marvel at the geodes and exotic crystal structures on display, while learning about the many commercial applications of quartz.

13. Cava de Villato

Cava de Villato

The powerful earthworks north of the city have puzzled historians for centuries.

The 38-hectare octagonal structure was originally designed to build a massive fort, but there is much disagreement over who built it.

Some claim to be Romans, while others say Moors or Christians during the 12th-century reconquest.

The site has been a Portuguese National Monument since 1910, and in 2001 the slope was supported with walls to prevent erosion.

There is a walkway on the south side to help you envision the ambitions of this ancient project.

14. Casa Ribera

Casa da Ribera

Life in Viseu can be found in the northern suburbs.

Casa da Ribeira is a large complex on the Pavia River that provides space for blacksmiths, warehouses, taverns and even student accommodation.

The house has been serving as an ethnographic museum and souvenirs of ancient crafts such as weaving, lace making, basketry and pottery.

Various tools for each industry are shown, with demonstrations on special days by the few who retain these traditional skills.

15. Food and drink

Castanhas de ovos

The former palace next to Parque do Fontelo can be your stepping stone to the Dão DOC wine region, one of the oldest in Portugal.

You can come to this beautiful old building and taste the wines of the region to see which one is to your liking.

The red wines from these regions are often very full-bodied and traditionally high in tannins, so they complement the rich and satisfying cuisine of this highland region.

Roast veal with rice, roast lamb and a pork stew (Rojões) and blood pudding are old-school classics here.

Typical sweets are castanhas de ovos, made from sugar, egg yolks and flour, originally made in the city’s monasteries.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Viseu, Portugal
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