Barcelos lit up for the Festa das Cruzes

9 Things To See And Do In Barcelos, Portugal

Winning a night’s accommodation encouraged me to find out what there is to see and do in Barcelos. This small city in northern Portugal is famous for the cockerel legend that lies behind the painted souvenir cockerels. Judging by the number of giant cockerels dotted around the place, this is still its main claim to fame but Barcelos has more to offer than that.

Barcelos, Portugal

1. Barcelos pottery and ceramics

Barcelos has inspired many varieties of ceramics and pottery over the years, from earthenware pots to bushy-eyebrowed ladies. We tried to visit the pottery museum, Museu de Olaria, but the building was closed for renovations (Update 2016: The museum has reopened, although I haven’t had chance to visit). Luckily, the tourist information office had an impressive array of ceramic figurines on display that reflect the range of styles and the local culture.

Update 2016: The Medieval Tower in the centre of town has been renovated and is now used to display (and sell) ceramic figurines by various local artists.

Typical ceramic figurines from Barcelos include heavy-browed women and cockerels.
Typical ceramic figurines from Barcelos include heavy-browed women and cockerels.

2. Thursday market in Barcelos

Noisy, chaotic and rich with colour and life, the weekly 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 things to see and do 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.

decorative wooden yokes
For sale at the Barcelos market: decorative wooden yokes

3. 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 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.

Archaeological Museum, Barcelos, Portugal
The exhibits of the Archaeological Museum are dotted around the ruins of the Palace of the Counts of Barcelos.

This is also where you’ll find the stone Crucifix to the Lord of the Rooster (Cruzeiro do Senhor do Galo) which was erected by the poor fellow who only escaped death because of a rooster.

Legend of the Barcelos cockerel depicted on a stone cross
Legend of the Barcelos cockerel depicted on a stone cross. Hanged pilgrim saved by St. James and the crowing of a cooked cockerel.

4. Walks around Barcelos

Barcelos is one of the cities on the Portuguese Way of Saint James (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.

Update 2016: This article covers what you can see on the Barcelos-Ponte de Lima stretch of the route, which I have walked since first writing this post. As you’d expect, the main highlights 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. Timeless shops

The main shopping street of Barcelos, Rua António Barroso, is fairly short but if you want to step back in time, 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.

old fashioned hardware shop, Barcelos
Old fashioned hardware shop on the high street in Barcelos

6. Handicrafts

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 the market and souvenir shops.

man making tin oil cans in a workshop
Man making tin oil cans in his workshop, one of many things to see and do in Barcelos

7. River beaches and summer fun

If you visit Barcelos in July or August, the patch of sand by the Barcelinhos side of the bridge will probably be covered with sunbathers although when Mike and I visited in early September, there were only a couple of people soaking up the sun. The posters advertising the summer’s entertainment were still dotted around town though and it seems there’s plenty of live music and discos throughout the summer season.

8. Outdoor cafés

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 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. The 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.

9. Architecture

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. I 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!

stone sculpture depicting winter
I shiver just looking at this stone sculpture of winter. Cold and miserable indeed!

Many of the buildings are in ruins but there are still some very impressive ones, such as the town hall and the Baroque monuments of the Walkway of the Benches gardens. I fell in love with this one though; the Solar dos Pinheiros with its pretty windows and sand-coloured stone.

Solar dos Pinheiros, Barcelos
Built in 1448 and still beautiful, this is the Solar dos Pinheiros manor house in Barcelos.
Window, Solar dos Pinheiros, Barcelos
Window, Solar dos Pinheiros, Barcelos

Practicalities

There’s a train station in Barcelos and it’s just off the A11 motorway so access is quite easy.

If you want to visit Barcelos as part of a day trip that incorporates some of the Minho’s other great spots, such as Ponte de Lima and Viana do Castelo, this tour may interest you: Minho Day Trip From Porto.

Otherwise, get in touch and I’ll connect you with a local tour operator who can customise a programme for you.

Get help with planning your trip to northern Portugal

 

Accommodation in and around Barcelos

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.

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.

Another similarly special place near Barcelos is Quinta da Malta.

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What to see and do in Barcelos, Portugal
What to see and do in Barcelos, Portugal

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17 Comments

  1. Is there a link somewhere to get the schedule of events for the Festival of the Crosses for May 2017 in Barcelos?

    1. Hi Lauri, It won’t be published yet but when it is (probably about a month before), the municipal website is your best bet: http://agenda.barcelos.pt/

  2. I loved Barcelos, small town but so lovely. Best time to visit is no doubt in the summer, was a really great surprise. Beatiful city with huge history, great food and a nice nightlife. The people were adorable, its like a town that stopped in time, and wasn’t corrupt by people and time.

    1. Author

      Hi Jan, Thanks for taking the time to share your impressions of Barcelos. I never got to experience the nightlife but I imagine that in the summer, there’s quite a bit going on. I certainly noticed several posters for river beach parties and DJs.

  3. Hi Julie, my wife & I “discovered” Barcelos by accident on a touring drive through northern Portugal some years ago.
    We loved the town. We went into one of the churches, and were surprised to find one of the windows was, in fact, the Star of David.
    One of the locals explained the history, and I’ve neglected to record it. We just found it unusual, and inspiring, that a Christian church should have the most recognisable symbol of the Jewish faith built into it.
    Cant remember the Church, except that I think it was close to the Archeological Museum. I’d be interested in finding out if you knew of this.
    Best wishes,
    Bruce Waters
    Sydney, Australia

    1. Author

      Hi Bruce, There are a lot of vestiges of Jewish heritage in Portugal if you look closely. Although I didn’t spot the one you mention in Barcelos, I’ve seen other buildings with both Jewish and Christian symbology carved into their stones. Do you know about the alheira sausage? That stems from times when Jews were having to hide their faith and pretend to be Christian. To make a pretence of eating pork and avoid suspicion from their neighbours, they would make sausages from poultry instead. Alheira sausages are very popular among Portuguese people regardless of faith these days.

  4. the “official” opening hour of the fair is 8 am, but most of the sellers “set camp” the evening before and open shop between 5 and 6 am 🙂

    1. How kind of you to post the information. thank you

  5. What time does the Barcelos Fair open in the morning? thank you, Katherine

    1. Author

      Hi Katherine, I’m not sure but I’d guess between 8 and 9 am.

  6. I had never been north of Lisbon before so when the opportunity arose to go with a group on the Portuguese Camino, I didn’t hesitate. So when we arrived in Ponte de Lima I was really delighted with it and wished my wife was there also. We are both into Gardens and historic places. Reading your blog has wet my appetite! Walking the Camino is not the best way to explore the small towns as you have to stay with the group. Also staying in Albergues is an experience my wife is happy to do without!
    I did find the local people we met were very helpful and indeed could not do enough for us.
    That and the landscape I will remember and I will be back, with my wife, to gain a fuller experience of that beautiful country.

    1. Author

      I’m sure your wife will thank you for sparing her the albergue experience and for bring her to such a lovely corner of the world.

  7. I spent a night in Barcelos in 1989 as it was a stop off on the way back (by train) from Valença do Minho. I remember it well as no one spoke English and I had to learn Portuguese. Fortunately this did not end here. Sadly the only time I can practise this is when I speak to my youngest daughter’s teacher who is from Brazil (the accent is very different!): sotaque sounds more like sotchaque!!
    I liked the bit about the Coppersmith: Wonder if he had any lovely stills for sale?

    1. Author

      I admit I find Brazilian Portuguese quite difficult to understand because the accent is so different. Portuguese people often advise foreigners to learn Brazilian Portuguese, saying it’s easier to learn but I don’t see much point in that if you’re going to be living or travelling in Portugal.

      As far as the stills are concerned, I think they’re illegal now so I doubt you’d be able to buy one over the counter 😉

  8. Nice style Julie. The pic size seems to be appropriate I think. Mine is similar – give me an opinion – michealdebarra.com

  9. I had wondered about Barcelos, Julie, so was interested to read this. Looks like it could be worth a visit if (when?) I’m up that way again. Those wooden “yokes” intrigued me. Couldn’t quite work them out? Purely decorative? I liked them, anyway.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.