Ponte de Lima charmed me when I stopped there for lunch a few years ago. When I revisited a couple of years later, the pretty old town nestled itself deep inside my heart and is never coming out. It’s got all the right ingredients for me: plenty of gardens, fancy mansions and other historical buildings, tons of restaurants and it’s surrounded by gorgeous Minho countryside.
Here are some of the things to do in Ponte de Lima, a town a I never tire of.
Note: If you want to stay overnight, check out my Ponte de Lima accommodation picks at the end of this post.
Ponte de Lima’s Roman bridge and legend
Many moons ago, when the Roman troops were marching through Portugal, they reached the River Lima and refused to cross. The area was so beautiful that they decided this river had to be the legendary River Lethe, famous not only for its beauty but for its ability to wipe out the memories of anyone who crossed it.
The only way the captain could persuade his soldiers that they wouldn’t forget everything and everyone they knew was to cross the river and call them across by name. That’s why there are wooden models of Roman soldiers in the riverside car park.
Once across, the Romans built a bridge which became the only safe place to cross the Lima for centuries and formed part of the Roman road from Braga, their seat of power in Portugal. It was rebuilt in the 14th century and is still a major focal point of the town.
All sorts of azulejos
Take a wander around the historical centre and you’ll find various painted tiled panels depicting elements of the town’s long, rich history. Among my favourites are the colourful panels on the municipal market and the one outside A Tulha restaurant.
Beautiful gardens in Ponte de Lima
Ponte de Lima has been dubbed Portugal’s ‘most floral town’. It’s easy to see why; even the road leading to the historical centre is lined with flowers. When I visited in April, the air was full of the sweet scent of wisteria dangling from pergolas and arches while pots of petunias and pansies added splashes of colour to the historical centre.
The creative displays at the annual International Garden Festival, which is open from May to October every year, are well worth a visit. The theme and the gardens change each year and the festival usually ends up with a heap of awards.
So far, I’ve only caught glimpses of the themed gardens of Jardims Temáticos do Arnado where you can see examples of garden fashions through the ages such as the Roman Gardens, the Renaissance Gardens and the Baroque Gardens. Next time, I’ll be making a point of exploring them in person.
Vinho verde interpretation centre
Ponte Lima sits firmly withing the vinho verde wine region and is surrounded by vineyards producing a range of grapes, notably the Loureiro variety. If you don’t have time to visit any of the nearby wine estates or attend the annual Vinho Verde Festival in June, you can learn about this distinctive Portuguese wine at the interpretation centre. Housed in a stately home in the centre of town, it’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.
So many statues in Ponte de Lima
If you’re the kind of person who likes having your photo taken while sitting on a bronze bull or next to a famous figure, Ponte de Lima will keep you entertained for a while.
When I was there, groups of tourists were taking turns to pose and smile in front of the statue of traditionally clothed villagers. Ladies in sunglasses snuggled up to a bronze man on a bench while their lovers snapped away without a hint of jealousy. The little boy perched on the bull wasn’t so happy though. He was crying to be taken down but his family insisted on taking a photo first.
Riverside walking and cycle paths
Ponte de Lima has a wide avenue of plane trees to promenade under and a place to simply relax on a bench and enjoy the River Lima. The walkway joins up with the Ecovia, a walking and cycling path that connects Ponte de Lima with various places of interest. On the opposite bank, there’s another section of the Ecovia which leads to the nature reserve at Lagoas. See the Visit Ponte de Lima website for more details of these trails.
You will undoubtedly spot some pilgrims when you visit Ponte de Lima. It’s part of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago so if you’re in the mood for a more serious walk in the Portuguese countryside, you can either more details of these trails from here or walk all the way to Spain.
Ponte de Lima Museums
Museu dos Terceiros (Museum of the Third Order) hosts a collection of medieval and baroque religious art and gold. The complex of museum buildings stem from the 15th century and used to be a convent.
For a more modern, quirky experience, the Toy Museum offers an intriguing insight into Portuguese playthings from the 20th century. You’ll find it in the red building just across the Roman bridge.
Cute chapels and a Gothic church
In its heyday, Ponte de Lima had more than its fair share of wealthy residents, several of whom could afford to have their own church or chapel built. Take a wander around the back of the historical centre and you’ll find Capela das Pereiras among others. My favourite is the tiny Capela de São João near ExpoLima.
In the heart of the medieval centre is the remarkable Gothic parish church, notable for its interior and exterior architecture. One of the statues is of Blessed Francisco Pacheco who locals would love to see canonised. Read more about his story and that of medieval Ponte de Lima in this article.
Multiple Ponte de Lima markets
As well as the municipal market which supplies residents with fresh produce every weekday morning, a fortnightly tented market takes over the sandy car park on the river bank. You can buy all manner of textiles, household goods, cheap clothes and shoes here.
Of more appeal to me personally are the Arts and Crafts market (every 4th Sunday) and the Antique market (every 2nd Sunday) which line the path to the right of the medieval bridge.
Food, glorious food. Eating in Ponte de Lima
On one of my visits, I arrived on a Sunday at lunchtime and the town was swarming with people, including a fair proportion of Spaniards, who’d come to Ponte de Lima for a leisurely lunch.
Who can blame them?
There are plenty of restaurants, several of which overlook the river. I can personally recommend the veal steak at A Tulha. I also had a very nice fish with onions at Sabores do Lima.
I wasn’t brave enough to try the local speciality, arroz de sarrabulho (rice with shredded pork and blood) but I thoroughly enjoyed my charuta (cigar-shaped cake which consists of a sweet, eggy filling wrapped in rice paper.
Feiras Novas in Ponte de Lima
The first weekend of September marks the town’s annual festival, Feiras Novas. Three days and nights of colour, music and all manner of activities await.
Update: I went back to Ponte de Lima for this festival but I couldn’t stand the crowds for long enough to watch any of the parades (I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable in big crowds so this is a personal perspective). You need to get there early to nab a spot by the side of the road well in advance if you want to see the floats and costumed people.
Tip: You may wish to do as the locals do and bring a stool. And a hat/sun protection.
Practicalities for visiting Ponte de Lima
Tours that go to Ponte de Lima:
You could spend an afternoon, or longer, in Ponte de Lima on this 3-day tour of the Minho’s Historical Charms.
How to get to Ponte de Lima without a tour:
If you’re driving, just keep heading downhill towards the river for the free parking, unless it’s a market day.
Be warned that signposting in this part of northern Portugal is, quite frankly, rubbish. If you’re hiring a car, bring your GPS gadget or rent one. If you think I’m exaggerating, one roundabout I encountered had four exits and not one signpost!
There are no trains to Ponte de Lima so your other options are to come by bus or organised tour.
Where to stay in Ponte de Lima
Within the town itself, you have Mercearia da Vila, inside a former traditional grocery story in a historical square. There are stairs and no elevator but the rooms and staff are worth it. Choose a room to suit.
If you have a car, you could venture a little further out of town to one of these gorgeous places:
For boutique luxury that you’ll never want to leave, try Carmo’s Boutique Hotel. It’s a little out of the town centre so better if you have a car but there is an onsite restaurant and beautiful grounds to enjoy. Check availability and prices.
Hotel Paço do Vitoino is a 4-star Ponte de Lima hotel a few kilometres from the town. This former palace has been tastefully restored 16th century palace has gorgeous grounds, an outdoor pool and highlights its wonderful historical architectural features. Comfort, style and luxury are evident throughout. Check availability and photos.
Quinta do Ameal is a wine estate with recently renovated luxury chalets and studios for rent. Surrounded by vineyards, this secluded accommodation offers the opportunity to appreciate vinho verde wines while relaxing in peaceful surroundings. There’s an outdoor pool, too. See photos and check current prices.
Or for a self-catering option on a former country farm estate, try Quinta da Aldeia.
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Note: Some of these are affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you book through them, at not extra cost to you.