Serra do Pilar Monastery, Porto

When I first wrote about the best viewpoints in Porto, I hadn’t yet been to Serra do Pilar Monastery. The white circular church on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Dom Luis bridge in Porto looks beautiful during the day and orange lighting gives the arches underneath it a magical glow at night.

You can see Serra do Pilar as you stroll along the river or sit at a streetside café in the Ribeira neighbourhood, as you cross the top tier of the Dom Luis I bridge on foot, or as you pass beneath this iron structure on a boat tour.

What you really need to do, however, is visit it. That’s why I’ve included it as one of the ‘must sees’ on my Best of Porto Self-Guided Walking Tour as well as an option on my 3-Day Porto and Douro Itinerary

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Dom Luís bridge, from the top of Serra do Pilar Monastery, Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto
Dom Luís bridge, from the top of Serra do Pilar Monastery

A military escort at Serra do Pilar Monastery

The monastery, named after the hill it sits on, is still used by the Portuguese army as barracks for the Serra da Pilar Artillery Regiment. This doesn’t become apparent until you are escorted by museum staff through a stone hallway to wait your turn to go up to the roof. At this point, you’ll be met by two young men in army fatigues. One of them will lead you up the tight spiral staircase to the platform that encircles the domed cupola.

The 360º view from here takes your gaze out towards the sea, across the red rooftops of the port wine lodges in Vila Nova da Gaia and past a succession of bridges. The colourful city of Porto rises away from the river on the opposite bank. In the other direction, you can look down on the tanks and canons on display within the barracks and beyond the long rows of dormitories to more bridges and the edges of Porto and Gaia.

View from Serra do Pilar Monastery, Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto
View from Serra do Pilar Monastery

Unique circular church

The architecture of the church itself is unique in Europe. Although an extension was built in the 17th century for a new altar, the original 16th century church was a perfect circle, as are the cloisters. Together they form a figure of eight, the symbol of infinity. Although I’m not religious, I like the original intention of the circular church whereby the priest would deliver his readings directly underneath the cupola, surrounded by the congregation.

The church remains open for services through the support of wealthy local families. They hold the key and open up for guided visits via the monastery. Other than that, it’s only opened for mass (11 am on Sundays) and weddings.

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Practicalities for visiting Serra do Pilar Monastery

Closed on Mondays, the monastery is open from 9.30 am until 17.30 or 18.30 April to October. 

Update March 2024: The monastery is temporarily closed for renovations but you can still enjoy the views from the terrace.

Address: Largo de Avis, Santa Marinha 4430-329, Vila Nova de Gaia or see Mosteiro Serra do Pilar on Google Maps. I would walk from Porto across the top tier of Dom Luís bridge until you reach the entrance to the monastery, or take the metro (yellow line) to Jardim do Morro.

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  1. I’d love to have gone up there, Julie. It was loosely on my itinerary but one we didn’t find time for. If I ever go back it’s a must now I’ve seen this. Mick’ll kill me! Just another hill, dear 🙂

    1. Author

      😀 My husband isn’t overly enthusiastic about traipsing up hills for views either but he really enjoyed this.

  2. Although I’ve been to the terrace a few times, I’ve not been inside the monastery and didn’t know about the dome, so thanks for that tip, Julie.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, Brid. It’s worth it!

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