Sea salt, seafood, seaport.
When I visited the coastal town of Aveiro in the winter of 2018, I fell in love with its easygoing vibe and artisanal souvenir shopping. It might seem a bit superficial or touristy to admit that I loved souvenir shopping here, but the products were incredibly affordable for such premium quality of salt, soaps, olive oils that I was busy browsing and relishing.
An hour south of Porto by car, Aveiro was formed during the Roman period and the name means “a gathering place of birds.” Today, you’ll see massive salt pans formed throughout the city since Aveiro made a name for itself by making salt. The industry might not be as large of a scale today, but it’s still relatively relevant.
As a seaport, Aveiro is also known for seaweed harvesting then used as a natural fertilizer. Though strong during the Middle Ages, Aveiro lost its influence when a storm formed a sandbar across the river mouth in 1575, which tied up the lagoon which led to the downfall of the city’s port. In 1808, a channel was made to reopen Aveiro to the sea.
If you have a bit more time in Porto, I highly recommend renting a car and head toward this mid-size town. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did with these top must-do’s.
1. DO: Visit a local fish market in its hustle & bustle.
Early in the morning, you want to check out a local fish market, or mercado do Peixe. There are restaurants inside the market, so you can pick up a few snacks if you enjoy seafood in the morning. Renovated during the 20th century, the market has been around since the 18th century. The one you want to do is probably Costa Nova fish market. For the adventurous foodie, try the local bean stew with sea snails, or feijoada de búzios. If not, maybe caldeirada de enguias or eel stew is more up your alley?
2. SEE: Snap ‘grammable photos of the Costa Nova colorful houses.
Also used as fishing gear storage homes, Costa Nova houses are quite iconic of the Aveiro postcard image. While facing the river and attracting much attention from tourists, some house are used as hotels nowadays. From these houses, you can also head over to the beach.
3. EAT: Ovos moles with a cup of coffee.
At the town’s most famous pastry shop, order Aveiro’s most famous dessert: ovos moles. It’s shaped like an egg, made with sugar and (well, what do you know!) eggs. The taste is creamy and fairly sweet, I thought it paired better with a cup of bitter coffee. You’ll find these darn little things in every shop, but get them at Oficina do Doce. These babies scream Aveiro louder than any bottle of olive oil.
4. DO: Moliceiros gondola ride so you REALLY feel the Venetian vibes.
Wanna feel like you’re actually in Venice? Definitely ride a moliceiros – Portuguese gondola. These boats have flat bottoms for the use of collecting seaweed from the lagoon. Although they’re sail powered and larger than a Venetian gondola, these moliceiros are worth 10€ per person for the most Aveiro-esque activity you can do.
As opposed to Baroque or Gothic-style you’ll see in other Portuguese towns, Arte Nova (Art Nouveau) is far more prevalent in Aveiro, and it began in early 20th century. Brought to the city by a wealthy Brazilian, Art Nouveau was adapted into local architectural designs and tiles which provided both waterproofing and embellishment in floral motifs. Stop by Museu de Arte Nova for a self-guided tour, then chill in the Tea House for a tiny day break.
As explained above, salt making was (still is) a huge industry in Aveira. Spend an hour and do a salt pans tour so you can watch how it’s done, live! You’ll witness lots of scraping, drying, gathering into big mounds shaped like pyramids. Learning the tradition and history in such a fun adventure was quite unforgettable. Buy salt here, it’ll be cheaper than other boutiques in town.
7. EAT: Lunch at Restaurante O Moliceiro.
Situated on one of the main streets in Aveiro, Restaurante O Moliceiro is a family-run place serving fantastic seafood dishes. With a street-view terrace and a bar, you’ll get a nice local meal right here.
8. SEE: Say a little prayer at Aveiro Cathedral.
If you’ve done enough day trips in Portugal like what we’ve suggested, you know that every city will have a Sé Cathedral. Aveiro is no exempt. The 15th century Aveiro Cathedral is a major landmark, set out to be a Dominican convent from the start. Today, there’s only one wall left from the original building. Since it’s been renovated numerous times over the years, you’ll see both Baroque and Gothic styles in its design.
Walk across the street from the Cathedral, you’ll see Aveiro Museum. Also originally a Dominican convent during the 15th century, the museum explains the life of a Portuguese Princess Joanna who lived here, hence her tomb is placed in the museum. Quite a different kind of museum than your usual Louvre, this one is religious particularly when nuns pray around the princess’ tomb.
10. DO: Work off those calories via Eco-Cycling Route.
To enjoy the natural and flora part of Aveiro, Via ecologica Ciclavel route is a wooden walkway that’s perfect for exercising and sightseeing. The 48 km cycling route connects Estarreja and Mira beaches. Within the first 2 km of the route, you’ll find a bar for a tiny stop perfect for coffee or dessert break. You can also do this on foot, if not, the city offers free bicycles next to the Forum Aveiro shopping center, inside the store Buga.
11. EAT: Dinner at the rustic-chic Salpoente
Once a salt warehouse, Salpoente is the city’s beautiful restaurant that serves modern Portuguese cuisine with a tasting menu and a lovely wine list. If it’s ever on the menu, try leitao, or suckling pig, it’s what Aveiro is also know for besides seafood.
12. DRINK: SAL
If you’re looking for a place to go out for drinks and dancing, then head over to SAL. Not that Aveiro is known for its nightlife, but if you were to look for a night out in this little seaside town, then SAL is where the party is at.