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. Opening times are Tuesday to Friday 10am-5.30pm. Saturday, Sunday and Holidays 10am-12.30pm and 2pm to 5.30pm. Click here for the brochure in English.
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.GET A QUOTE FOR CAR RENTAL
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.
Portugal itineraries designed by Julie
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Hello Julie, my name is Paula and I’m the owner of In Rio Café. We are really happy because you enjoyed our café an the view. Thank you so much for your review an hope to see you here another time. It was a pleasure.
Thank you in name of our café.
Great article Julie.
If you would like to hear the Legend of the Barcelos rooster in Portuguese please check my video:
Is there a link somewhere to get the schedule of events for the Festival of the Crosses for May 2017 in Barcelos?
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
How kind of you to post the information. thank you
What time does the Barcelos Fair open in the morning? thank you, Katherine
Hi Katherine, I’m not sure but I’d guess between 8 and 9 am.
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.
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.
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?
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 😉
Plenty of copper stills for sale in Viana
Nice style Julie. The pic size seems to be appropriate I think. Mine is similar – give me an opinion – michealdebarra.com
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.