Best Things to Do in Vila-Do-Conde

One of Portugal's most noble cities, the 'City of the Count' developed as a resting point on the Portuguese Way long-distance pilgrimage trail that ends in Santiago de Compostela in neighbouring Spain.

The earliest documentation to mention Vila do Conde dates to 953 AD, although prehistoric finds are not hard to come by either. Many of the city's historic structures date from the 'age of discovery', when mariners set sail for sub-Saharan Africa and India for the first time. These include, ironically, the Praça Nova or New Square. Now Praça Vasco da Gama, it was laid out in 1538.

Approximately 25 kilometres from Porto in northern Portugal, and connected to its metro system, Vila do Conde also has more than its fair share of excellent beaches. Largely lacking the crowds of elsewhere on the coast, it's therefore very easy to combine rest and relaxation time on the sands with exploration of the city's historic heart.

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  • Rendas de Bilros - Lace Making Museum
    Rendas de Bilros - Lace Making

    Perfectly located for anyone touring the sights of central Vila do Conde, this museum of traditional lace making isn't just a building full of examples of Portuguese and international lace. It is also a working art school teaching this traditional form of handicrafts to students from all over the world.

    The delicate materials provide a great accompaniment to the building in which they are housed, which is a typical city mansion for the region. The permanent collection includes an important array of finished items of clothing, in addition to implements and examples of modern lace...

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  • Igreja Matriz de Vila do Conde
    Igreja Matriz
    Nmmacedo | BY-SA

    The late 15th century church of São João Baptista is Vila do Conde's "mother" church and without doubt the most interesting in the town. Located in the attractive setting of the central Praça Vasco da Gama the bare granite church stands across from the 18th century town hall and other buildings of the period.

    One of the first things you will notice about the church is the main portal with is in the richly decorated Manueline style featuring an arch of intricately carved stonework. This dates back to the time when the church was first built and can be seen in churches and monasteries...

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  • Casa de José Régio
    Casa de José Régio
    Jose Goncalves | BY-SA

    The modernist poet and writer José Régio was born and died in Vila do Conde, despite spending most of his life elsewhere in Portugal. Much of his works focused on the conflict between man and God, and between the individual and society. He was also known for being a thorn in the side of Salazar's dictatorship and the Estado Novo.

    Régio also had a magpie-like appetite for collecting art of all kinds and it is this that forms the basis of this house/museum. Much of the collection is religious art; paintings, statues and ex-votos (offerings), but the author also had a passion for...

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  • Alfândega Régia - Vila do Conde
    Alfândega Régia - Vila do Conde
    Jose Goncalves | BY-SA

    Vila do Conde has been one of Portugal's foremost ship-building ports since the 1200s, when a powerful navy was arguably even more important than it is today. This heritage eventually led to Portuguese sailors making some of the most important discoveries of the era, marking out routes to Brazil, Africa and India. This intriguing history is told through the three main exhibition spaces within the Museum of Naval Construction, also known as the Alfândega Régia.

    Situated on the banks of the River Ave in a former customs house, the museum is a treasure trove of objects that together...

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  • Santa Clara Monastery - Vila do Conde
    Santa Clara Monastery
    António Amen | BY-SA

    Perhaps the grandest structure to adorn the hills around Vila do Conde, the Convento de Santa Clara consists of a complex of structures which include the original fourteenth-century church, modern convent, and the Santa Clara aqueduct, the second-largest anywhere in Portugal. It is considered one of the best examples of Portuguese gothic beyond the Douro River.

    Said to have been paid for by the illegitimate son of King Denis of Portugal in exchange for several masses each day being said in honour of the family. His earthly remains...

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  • Vila do Conde aqueduct
    Sergei Gussev | BY-SA

    Virtually from the founding of the Santa Clara monastery in the early 14th century it was apparent that having an adequate water supply was going to be an issue. Initially there was a cistern within the monastery but as it grew this was no longer sufficient.

    In 1626 an ambitious construction project to carry water from a spring on high ground at Terroso, around 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) away, commenced. It was 10 years before the next abbot realised there had been something of a catastrophic miscalculation; a significant slope in the original route meant the building work to date was...

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  • Forte de São João Baptista - Vila do Conde
    Forte de São João Baptista
    Jose Goncalves | BY-SA

    Also known more simply as Vila do Conde Castle, Forte de São João (Baptista) was first constructed in the 1570s. Standing at the mouth of the River Ave, it is named in honour of Saint John the Baptist, the city's patron saint. However, it was originally named for the Virgin Mary.

    Built in order to protect this important trading port from attack, the fort comprises five individual bastions, facing coast, river, and inland too. It would once have been akin to a small village, complete with its own water source, chapel, kitchens, dungeons and weapons store, so that it could survive a...

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  • Capela de Nossa Senhora da Guia - Vila do Conde
    Capela de Nossa Senhora da Guia

    This simple whitewash and red tile chapel has a dramatic location surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Ave River estuary. Its interior decoration takes its direction from its marine location, and is well known locally for its tiled flooring, impressive ceiling art, and seventeenth-century pulpit. This is despite the fact the chapel's origins lie in much earlier centuries. In fact, the chapel is thought to be possibly the oldest building in the city, dating back to at least 953 AD.

    To one side you'll find an external staircase that climbs to the...

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  • Cividade de Terroso
    Cividade de Terroso
    PedroPVZ | BY-SA

    The ancient city of Cividade de Terroso is located on a hilltop a few kilometres inland of Póvoa de Varzim. It is estimated to be in the region of 3,000 years old and was one of the largest and most fortified settlements of the celtic Castro people.

    What makes up most of the remains of this Bronze Age city are the impressive granite walls belonging to a significant number of circular huts. In their day these would have had conical straw roofs and been home to hundreds of people. In addition there are some well preserved sections of the considerable defensive structures including a...

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Vila do Conde

Vila do Conde travel guide »

The coastal town of Vila do Conde lies at the mouth of the River Ave around 30 km north of Porto. This is a town with two contrasting characters; there is the modern beach town with its apartment blocks and vilas that merges into...