A multi-day walking route along the varied and unspoilt Atlantic coastline of northern Portugal’s Costa Verde (Green Coast) certainly sounds appealing. I suspect this is partly why the coastal Camino de Santiago has been gaining popularity.
However, while the Camino da Costa offers an attractive alternative to the more traditional central pilgrim trail through Portugal and Spain, if you dream of spending days by the ocean, this ancient path is not necessarily the best hiking route for you. In fact most of the coastal Camino is actually inland, as I found to my own frustration.
Fortunately, there is another option…
Leisurely coastal hiking trail in northern Portugal
If your main goal is to spend some leisurely days walking by the sea with time to appreciate the scenery, towns and villages you encounter, the “Atlantic Route” may be a better option, especially if you are not bothered about getting to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Note: If you DO want to get to Santiago, you could do a hybrid route to give you the best of both worlds and still qualify for your pilgrim certificate if that is important to you. Use the form at the end of this post to enquire about this option.
What I like about the self-guided Costa Verde hiking trail
The route heads north from Póvoa de Varzim along beautiful beaches and through some charming towns and countryside to Caminha at the very tip of Portugal.
Since it’s designed to keep you as close as possible to the water, I got to see sections of the Atlantic coast that I’d missed when I walked the Coastal Camino. This made me happy, especially as some of them, like Afife, are particularly gorgeous.
With mountains, fields and dunes backing many of the beaches, it’s obvious why this stretch of Portugal’s Atlantic coastline is known as the Green Coast.
The beachscape ranges from wide sandy expanses to rocky shores and pebble beaches. You’ll encounter windmills on the beach, mostly without sails, chapels, fortresses and colourful fishing boats.
The other good thing about this itinerary, as opposed to the Camino, is that you don’t have to walk as far each day. The longest stretch is 19 km (11.8 miles) but most are around 13 km (8 miles) and pretty flat so not particularly taxing.
You can either take your time and make stops en route or arrive at your destination around lunchtime to give yourself the afternoon for fun of your choosing.
Towns and villages to explore on the Green Coast of Portugal
Póvoa de Varzim
The route starts in the resort town of Póvoa de Varzim, which has plenty of sandy beaches. You can get a sense of its deep connection with the Atlantic by taking a look at the tile mural opposite the casino, which depicts fishing traditions and significant events that have shaped local lives.
It’s a popular holiday town so there are lots of modern facilities catering to tourists, including shops, as well as some attractive historical buildings around Praça do Almada.
One of Póvoa da Varzim’s main attractions is the casino but I can’t tell you what it’s like inside. Even if the chance of winning some money doesn’t appeal, they put on some good shows so it’s worth checking the agenda to see what’s on.
The recently renovated Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of Conception) fortress may also be worth a visit while you’re in town.
Once you set off towards Apúlia, expect sights like these:
The village of Apúlia makes the most of both land and sea. It’s surrounded by market gardens and has a tradition of collecting seaweed as well as fishing. The beach is small but pleasant enough and you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to fresh seafood.
As you leave the village, you’ll pass a line of stone windmills between the beach and the road.
Apart from a seriously ugly blot on the landscape (which you won’t see unless you make a slight detour to the beach at Ofir), Esposende’s holiday accommodation is low rise and low key.
The walking route takes you along both sides of the Cávado estuary but if you want to explore some of the town’s historical and cultural offerings, you’ll need to venture away from this.
The historical centre of Esposende is small and centres around its Town Hall and principal churches. I particularly like the figures in the Mariner’s Chapel in the Church of Mercy (Igreja da Misericórdia), a clear indication of the importance of the sea to the local community.
As a sucker for all things Art Nouveau, especially tiles, I found the museum, originally the town’s theatre, also worth inspection.
If you’d rather spend time on a beach, try Suave Mar to the north of the town or make a detour before crossing the River Cávado and explore the nature reserve on the Fão headland.
Find out more about Esposende in this post.
Viana do Castelo
Viana is actually a city, albeit a small one, and has a long, rich history. I love it. Try to get here in plenty of time to explore its treasures as they are many. If you want beach, spend a little time at Cabedelo before crossing the river.
Once in the historical centre, I would definitely encourage you to visit the Costume Museum (Museu do Traje) in the medieval Praça da República. Also in this square you’ll find another Church of Mercy next to the former hospital. Renovated to its full dazzling glory, it’s a fine example of Baroque art and azulejos.
If you have time, take the funicular, or a taxi, up the hill to the Santa Luzia Basilica where you’ll be able to see incredible coastal and inland views. A few hundred metres behind the hilltop Pousada lies an ancient Celtic settlement of curious circular dwellings.
Vila Praia de Âncora
You’ll get a sense of how vast the beach is on your approach to Vila Praia de Âncora. This is the longest walking day so if you can find a sheltered spot, you may be content to spend the rest of the day on the sand with views of the Serra d’Arga mountains.
Although pleasant, there’s not a great deal to see in the town aside from the fishing harbour and fortress. There are, however, plenty of restaurants where you can eat your fill of local dishes and catch of the day, washed down with some lovely vinho verde (young wine).
Last but not least is the charming little town of Caminha. This is one of my favourite Minho towns and you’ll soon understand why.
Before you even reach the town, you get to walk through an impressive pine forest and along a boardwalk at the mouth of the Minho River with views of the Spanish and Portuguese mountains all around.
If you concentrate on looking to your left as you walk towards what remains of the citadel walls, you can focus on the bobbing fishing boats instead of the traffic.
Once in the historical centre, you can explore the medieval and 18th-19th century architecture and attractive squares.
Read more about Caminha’s charms in this post.
Practicalities for walking the Costa Verde, Portugal
Duration and customisation
This is an 8-day self-guided walking tour which begins and ends in Porto but can easily be adapted to suit your plans.
For example, I mentioned before that you could combine this with the official Camino de Santiago if you want to continue walking into Spain.
If you’d rather stay in Portugal, it’s also possible to extend this by walking along the River Minho to the fortress town of Valença.
Best time to do this coastal walk
Because you’ll be walking beside the ocean, it’s not a great idea to do this in winter because strong winds and heavy rain will take all the fun out of it.
I’d try to avoid walking in the heat of the day but if you get a reasonably early start, you could still do this walk in the summer months thanks to the sea breeze and the chance to cool off with a dip in the ocean.
Interested in booking this Portugal walking tour?
Complete this form and I’ll connect you with the local tour operator.
(Disclosure: I may receive a small referral commission if you make a booking but the price you pay would be the same as going direct).