What to see and do in Ponte de Lima

What To Do In Ponte de Lima, Portugal’s Oldest Town

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.

Roman soldier waiting to be called across the river Lima by name.
Roman soldier waiting to be called across the river by name. Ponte de Lima

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.

Hand painted tiled panel of horses and soldiers in battle
This modern azulejo panel is on the wall outside A Tulha restaurant in Ponte de Lima.
Azulejo panel of Dom João IV arriving in Ponte da Lima
This more traditional azulejo shows King John IV arriving in Ponte de Lima in pomp and style.

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.

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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.

A boy sitting on a bronze bull surrounded by his family who are taking a photo
Poor little boy wasn’t allowed down until he’d had his picture taken.

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.

Pilgrim on cobbled road near Ponte de Lima, Portuguese Way of St. James
Pilgrim on cobbled road near Ponte de Lima, Portuguese Way of St. James

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.

Capela de São João, Ponte da Lima
Capela de São João, Ponte de Lima

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.

Riverside craft market, Ponte da Lima
Riverside craft market, Ponte de Lima

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.

Charuta, Ponte da Lima
Charuta, Ponte de Lima

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.

If you only have a day to spare, you could combine a visit to Ponte de Lima with the lovely historical city of Barcelos on this tour.

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.

Arc My Otel is a more modern bed and breakfast near the bridge. Try to get a room with a river view.

Casa do Pinheiro is a traditional manor house hotel with a small garden and pool in the historical centre. Period furnishings add the the charm. Check photos and prices.

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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Why visit Ponte de Lima Portugal
Why visit Ponte de Lima Portugal

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.

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21 Comments

  1. A friend and I will visit Ponte de LIma in early October and plan to stay two nights. We also want to go to Braga. Would it be possible to take the tour and to Barcelos and then dont go back to Ponte de Lima but go to Braga instead. Another question- will it be possible to take a train/bus from Santiago to Ponte de Lima?

    1. Hi Marietjie, If you take a private tour, you can customise it to suit your plans, including having a different drop off point. If it’s a group tour, there is no obligation to complete the return journey to Ponte de Lima but you’d need to make your own arrangements for onward travel to Braga.
      This site is a good resource for finding out about transport, including your second question: https://www.rome2rio.com/s/Ponte-de-Lima/Santiago-de-Compostela

  2. Looks like a lovely place. After digging out a map we will unfortunately not be able to include it on our visit this September on our 1st visit to Portugal. Hopefully we will return and see it then. One small suggestion….perhaps include a small map to show location on your visits to save hunting around for a map. Great info on places to see.

    1. I usually include a link to Google Maps in my articles as I haven’t been able to find a suitable map plugin for the website so far.

  3. We visited Ponte de Lima on family holiday a few years ago and were so impressed with the town and the surrounding area we bought and restored a ruined farm house. It is in a stunning location outside Ponte de Lima and available for rent: http://quintadeagriboa.com
    It is an excellent base for exploring the towns and beaches in the north, visiting the national park, day trips to Spain, playing the excellent local golf courses, enjoying the stunning local food and wine or simply chilling out by the pool.

    1. Author

      The Quinta looks lovely, John. And I’m not surprised you chose to buy there.

  4. Just home from doing the Portuguse Camino. We were a group of twelve and started our walk just outside Barcelos. Our first days walk brought us to Ponte de Lima. Having discovered your blog before travelling, I was delighted to find that it was everything you said. A really nice place. I will be back1

    1. Author

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for taking the time to report back after your trip. I’m so glad it lived up to your expectations, especially to the point that you’d like to return. What was the highlight of the trip for you?

  5. Hi, Julie. I too fell in love with Ponte do Lima the first time I bicycled there on my way from Lisbon to Santiago do Compostela. The year was 1987, and the town was relatively untouched by tourism. I made a painting of the bridge and church in 2008 upon returning to the town. You can see my painting of what I believe to be one of the most lovely places in Portugal at http://www.davidsommersart.com/landscape-paintings.html (the first painting).

    1. Author

      Lovely painting, David. Not just the Ponte de Lima one, but all of them. I love your style and use of colour. Thanks for sharing the link.

  6. Hi Julie! I’m from Ponte de Lima, i was searching for some information about my home town when i found you this page! I’m even more pround of living here after reading your great description about Ponte de Lima.
    Thank you Julie! You should come here more times, we have new things every year..

    Sorry for my bad english 😛

    1. Author

      Hi Mi, I’m very happy to hear that you approve of my description of your home town. It’s a beautiful place and one I could happily live in myself, I think. I will definitely be back, I just don’t know when!

      1. You can’t visit Ponte de Lima and not fall in love! Yes, I’ve since bought a house there, who would want to settle anywhere else? 🙂
        There was only one thing missing in your article: the people! They’re so warm and welcoming! And the Town Hall deserves praise for their great management and friendliness to residents and visitors.

  7. Hi Julie, nice descriptive piece on Ponte de Lima, it gives us a wonderful vision and paints a picture of a town I would love to see.

    1. Author

      Thanks, David. It’s kind of you to say so. I love the place and would recommend it to anyone. I would advise thinking twice about going during Feiras Novas (1st weekend of September, I think) as unless you cope well with hoards of people, it’s a bit chaotic and I found it overwhelming.

  8. Ah, Julie- it looks like exactly my kind of place, and you’ve set me off planning and scheming again! I envy you that September visit.
    Great overview. I look forward to checking it out someday. (sorry I’m late getting here- I’m still playing catchup from an Algarve visit)

    1. Author

      I think you’ll love Ponte da Lima, Jo. It’s hard to imagine anyone not loving it but even so, from what I know of you, it does sound like just the spot for you.

  9. Excellent overview…just the right amount of detail, fun to read and hitting all the points that make a trip memorable. Thanks for another great article.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the encouraging feedback. It’s reassuring to know that you enjoyed reading it.

      I’ve just been organising my next trip up north and am really looking forward to it.

  10. Very nice – it’s a lovely place, although we haven’t been there for a couple of years. And I can vouch for the “arrôz de sarrabluho” – it’s great if you’re a determined carnivore with a taste for offal! Make sure you have a big appetite!

    1. Author

      I’m glad you told me about the offal, Robert. I’m done with tripe now, having tried it twice, although I do like liver. Is there any tripe in arroz de sarrabulho? If so, I’ll leave it alone and stick to the charutas 😉

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