Viseu in central Portugal is such a lovely place, it’s been voted ‘Best city in Portugal to live in’. Twice. I won’t be moving up there any time soon but I am pleased to have got to know it a little better. Here are some of the reasons why I think Viseu is worth visiting and possibly using as a base for exploring the area. Or moving to.
What there is to see and do in Viseu
1. Praça Dom Duarte
At the heart of the historical centre, the bronze statue of King Duarte presides over a square lined with cafés and restuarants and backed by the cathedral walls. A great place for people watching and admiring the beautiful old buildings that surround the square.
At the top of Rua do Comércio you’ll find Despensa da Praça, a gourmet shop where you can sample some excellent Dão wines and buy port for less than you’d pay in Porto. They also stock gourmet preserves, teas and salts as well as top quality cheese and sausages. If you’re into designer clothes, check out the shop opposite. For antiques, head to the shop under Casa da Sé in Praça Dom Duarte.
I’m more of a window shopper and I found some fascinatingly old-fashioned shops on Rua Direita where you can buy hair restorer and cassettes, if you really want to. This traditional shopping street has become rather neglected since the fancy pants commercial centre opened and several window displays haven’t changed in donkey’s years. There’s a project underway to breathe new life into the Rua Direita so hopefully it will shake off its apathetic, forgotten air.
3. Museu da Misericórdia
I was given free tickets to the museum that’s next to the Igreja da Misericória (Church of Mercy). Without them, I probably would have contented myself with a peek inside the church to see its wedding cake altarpiece. I’m glad I went, especially for the view of the church from the upper corridor that connects the museum rooms.
The rooms either side of the church contain rich oil paintings and religious artefacts. Some depict religious scenes or personalities, others are portraits of the church’s many benefactors. The museum focuses on the various charitable works carried out by the church over the centuries, both physical acts and spiritual support. It’s only a euro without the free ticket.
I just had time to nip into the cathedral on Sunday morning after mass. If you’re interested in architecture, stone sculpture and azulejos (hand-painted tiles), it’s worth going inside. Building started in the 12th century and various bits and pieces were added over the years resulting in a combination of styles including Manueline, Renaissance and Gothic. The cloisters are small but contain treats such as the Romanic Gothic doorway and paintings of the life of St Theotonius which make me wonder what he got up to.
5. Grão Vasco Museum
Next to the cathedral, you’ll find the famous altarpieces and other works of Vasco Fernandes, Portugal’s finest Renaissance painter, a.k.a. Grão Vasco. The museum also houses a fine collection of carved, painted baroque figurines and other religious objects. Not normally my cup of tea but there were some surprisingly interesting pieces and a temporary exhibition of modern art. It’s free on Sunday mornings.
6. Cultural events
For such a small city, Viseu has plenty of cultural activities going on, including free street theatre, music and public art installations. The Jardins Efémeros (Ephemeral Gardens) festival takes place at the end of July.
I visited on 1st June when a year-long programme of events was launched with a 24-hour performing arts festival. Check Visit Centro’s events page to find out what’s going on in the area. And keep your eyes peeled when wandering around the city centre.
7. Stone sculpture and other details
I’ve developed something of a fascination with doors and windows and Viseu has plenty of grand examples. It’s also full of magnificent stonework, including its ancient city gates. And tiles.
8. Parks and gardens
One of the reasons why Viseu ranks so highly as a place to live is its numerous green spaces and pretty public squares. Parque Aquilino Ribeiro is a great place for a picnic with plenty of shade, grassy areas, trees and a pond. Nearby Praça República has a bright café that’s great for people watching in all weathers as well as fountains, flowers and a merry-go-round. There are more landscaped gardens overlooking the Praça.
Venturing beyond Viseu
9. Wine tasting
Paço dos Cunhas de Santar has been transformed from neglected 17th century manor house to a modern wine tasting facility with a lovely restaurant. Although it wasn’t one of the wines I tried, I couldn’t resist snapping the Pedro and Inês wine, named after Portugal’s star-crossed lovers.
You can arrange various wine tasting sessions and workshops as well as tours of the vineyards. If you’d rather pair your wine with gourmet food, stay for lunch or dinner. It’s best to call or email in advance to make arrangements and check times.
10. Stately homes
There are plenty of manor houses around Viseu, some of them still occupied, some in ruins, others converted for wine tourism. One of them, Casa da Ínsua in Penalva do Castelo, offers something for everyone. As well as being a 5-star hotel, it also offers guided tours of the historical mansion with its unique furnishings and decorative features. The gardens are rather spectacular, too, especially when in full bloom.
I had a go at making Serra da Estrela cheese but you can try other activities like jam-making or visit the museum. It was closed when I visited (Monday) so I contented myself with the intriguing collection of traditional toys on display.
That should keep you busy for a while but there are plenty of other things to do in the region, including thermal spas, golf, bird watching and bio parks. Visit Centro has more information.
Where to stay:
If you want a unique, boutique hotel in the city centre, try Casa da Sé Hotel*. Otherwise, try searching for other hotels in Viseu* to suit your style and budget. If you have your own transport and fancy staying in a historical stately home with beautiful gardens, Casa da Insua* is lovely.
(*These are affiliate links – if you book and stay in a hotel via these links, you won’t pay any extra but I’ll receive a tiny commission which will go towards the costs of running this blog.)
Getting to Viseu:
If you come by car, park in the big free car park near Cava de Viriato and take the free elevator up to the historical centre. Trains don’t come to Viseu but the intercity coach company Rede Expressos does.
Have you got any more suggestions for visiting Viseu? Please share them in the comments if you have.
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