This small city in northern Portugal is famous for the legend that lies behind the painted souvenir rooster of Barcelos. Judging by the number of giant cockerels dotted around the historical centre, this is still its main claim to fame but there are more things to do in Barcelos than hunt for ceramic fowl.
Here are my top tips for what to do in Barcelos.
1. See unique Barcelos pottery and ceramics
Barcelos craftspeople have produced many varieties of ceramics and pottery over the years, from earthenware pots to my personal favourite, the bushy-eyebrowed ladies.
The 15th century medieval tower in the centre of town has been renovated and is now used to display (and sell) ceramic figurines by various local artists. These make wonderful unique gifts and souvenirs of Portugal – I’m very pleased with my chicken seller figurine, which I actually bought at a craft fair in Aveiro.
Barcelos tourist information office also has an impressive array of ceramic figurines on display that reflect the range of styles and the local culture.
The Pottery Museum (Museu de Olaria), was initially a museum of regional pottery but it has since expanded its scope to include pottery from around Portugal.
2. Shop with locals at Barcelos Market
Noisy, chaotic and rich with colour and life, the weekly Thursday market in Barcelos attracts people from the Minho region to buy and sell all manner of things. The Barcelos market started life as an annual event in 15th century and remains an important element of the local economy and culture.
It also features high on many lists of what to see in Barcelos.
Just don’t expect much in the way of quality arts and crafts. You’ll find cheap clothes and shoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of ceramics, lampshades, kitchenware, traditional tools and farming equipment as well as a few souvenirs and a smattering of handicrafts.
3. Enjoy the outdoor collection at Barcelos’ Archaeological Museum
I love the fact that the Museu Arqueológico is not only free but puts the ruined Counts of Barcelos Palace to good use. It’s open to the skies and overlooks Barcelinhos across the river as well as a beautiful 15th century manor house.
The exhibits in this museum are made of stone and tiles and continue to withstand the elements centuries after they were made.
This is also where you’ll find the carved stone cross dedicated to the Lord of the Rooster (Cruzeiro do Senhor do Galo) which, according to the legend of the Barcelos cockerel, was erected by the poor fellow who only escaped death because of a rooster.
4. Go on a hike around Barcelos
Barcelos is one of the cities on the Portuguese Camino de Santiago so although Mike and I didn’t have time to venture much beyond the medieval bridge of Barcelinhos, we did notice several route markers and sweaty walkers as we wandered around the town centre. The main highlights of the Barcelos-Ponte de Lima stretch of the route are chapels, churches and bridges, as well as pretty countryside.
There are also plenty of other walks of about 3 to 4 hours duration (info in Portuguese) in the surrounding area that take in windmills, villages, rivers and forests.
Ask at the tourist information office about Percursos de Pequena Rota (PR) short walks or look out for the signs and coloured route markers. Don’t forget to take plenty of water with you as cafés and shops may be scarce.
5. Step back in time in traditional shops
The main shopping street of Barcelos, Rua António Barroso, is fairly short but if you want to step into a world where time appears to have stood still, visit one of the many shops that haven’t changed a bit since they first opened decades ago.
There are modern shops, too, of course, but these treasures offer a glimpse into a different way of life in Portugal and are still frequented by locals.
6. Check out the other local crafts
As well as ceramics, there are plenty of other handmade products on offer in Barcelos, some of which you can watch being made.
As soon as we entered the coppersmith’s showroom cum workshop, he grabbed a mallet, plonked himself on a stool and started bashing away at a copper bowl for our entertainment. He has a collection of tools that would set many a man’s heart racing and some fine copper pieces for sale.
We found another metal worker purely by chance. I happened to glance through an open window and spotted this guy transforming tin cans into what look like mini watering cans but I suspect they are for pouring olive oil. You can buy them at Barcelos market and souvenir shops.
7. Smell the roses in the Baroque Gardens
For a splash of colour and delicate aromas of the flowers in a beautifully tended ornamental garden, head to Jardim das Barrocas for a stroll or a sit.
8. People watch from outdoor cafés
Barcelos town centre has plenty of cafés with outdoor seating, perfect for a spot of people watching.
For a fancy cake worthy of a special treat, A Colonial, in the square next to the Senhor Bom Jesus church, has some delicious ones to tempt you.
We spotted two pleasant-looking riverside café bars, In Rio has terraces on the Barcelos side, while D’Outro Lado is literally on the other side and has a grassy garden and a marquee.
There’s also a scruffy (but endearingly authentic) football bar just up the road from D’Outro Lado which is decorated with football scarves and graffiti and has a dusty garden with plastic chairs if you like that sort of thing.
9. Discover a range of architectural styles and features
If, like me, you’re a fan of old buildings, sculpted stonework, colourful tiles and swirly railings, you’ll have fun wandering around Barcelos. The historic centre is quite small but there’s a wide range of architectural styles and features for the keen-eyed, including the impressive Romanesque parish church.
Many of the buildings are in ruins but there are still some very impressive ones, such as the town hall and the Baroque churches. I fell in love with Solar dos Pinheiros with its pretty windows and sand-coloured stone.
I also particularly liked the four stone figures on the wall of the 18th century Benfeito manor house. Each one represents a different season; it looks as though winter is grim up north!
Practicalities for visiting Barcelos
There’s a train station in Barcelos and the Porto to Barcelos train takes around 45 minutes. If you’re driving, Barcelos is just off the A11 motorway so access is quite easy.
Hotels in Barcelos, Portugal
We stayed at the Bagoeira Hotel which was comfortable and clean, with good service, and overlooks the weekly market. It now has a spa, too.
A cosy alternative in the city centre, with uniquely decorated rooms, would be Art’otel.
If you have your own transport and fancy staying in a very special place a few kilometres outside Barcelos, Quinta da Franqueira is worth checking out. It’s a beautifully restored 16th century monastery surrounded by gardens and vineyards with a pool to boot.
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