Billed as the "Venice of Portugal" the town Aveiro, about 75kms south of Porto, made it to onto our list of day trips from Porto. Like most places trying to build tourism that name themselves (or get named) after another famous place, it is never likely to live up to that moniker. So it was with Aveiro, we enjoyed our day trip nevertheless.
The town sits on the edge of a large lagoon from which it got its foundation from fishing, then salt making and seaweed harvesting (used to make fertiliser before the creation of modern chemical fertilisers). It was an important salt producer in Roman times and an important trading port in medieval times.
Well protected from the Atlantic ocean, the lagoon is a large area with a lot of wetlands and bird habit, as well as farming, and near the ocean some large industrial docks. From the lagoon a large central canal runs into the center of the town of Aveiro, there are a few other canals that branch off from the central canal. It lacks the large network of canals of Venice, or the beauty of the old stones as mostly the canals are cement. The big benefit over Venice is that it doesn't stink!
There are colourful canal boats that take tourists for a trip through the canals and take in the sights of some of the delightful Art Nouveau buildings around the town. Apparently it was this style of canal boat that was used to harvest the seaweed in the lagoon. If you want to take a canal boat trip, don't worry about finding them, they will find you! Their touts are very active, but not pushy.
Getting to Aveiro from Porto
We caught an urban train from the Sao Bento train station in Porto directly to Aveiro which took about an hour and 20 minutes and cost €7.20 return per person. We aren't sure if it was us or the website - but the times on the website didn't match up with reality and we ended up waiting for another 40 minutes for the train. We subsequently found that there is a printed time table for all the trains in the stations - so check them out for a more up to date time. Here is a good guide to the trains in Porto.
What to do in Aveiro
The old Aveiro was all centered around the canals, so we decided that most of the day would be to walk along the canals to explore them and the town that sits between them.
Once we arrived into Aveiro we headed to the end of the central canal which ends at the Centro de Congressos de Aveiro (Congress Center). This large red brick building used to be a major tile manufacturing site but is now a conference center, and sits on a wide end of the central canal. It is a lovely space with a fairly wide body of water, some expansive lawns with art installations and all surrounded by nice modern apartments.
On the lawn here is a large three piece art installation that is a monument to a local speciality sweet, ovos moles, which are egg yolks and sugar in a wafer casing. They are surprisingly delicious!
From there we followed the canal to the center of town taking in the sites of the cute pedestrian bridges that cross the river that are covered in colourful ribbons. It turns out that the ribbons are a far better replacement to the "love locks" that people often put on fences and bridges. They had lovers names and dates written on them and were then tied onto the bridges - much more pleasing to the eye and less damaging than the padlocks. You can't miss it due to the colour, but the main bridge to watch out for is Ponte Laços de Amizade.
We strolled through parts of the old town enjoying the lovely architecture, and the amazing tiled footpaths until we made it to the Praca do Pexie (fish square) which is an active fish market with a small square and canal where the fishing boats used to come in. The canal is lined by some very picturesque and colourful buildings which really bring it to life. Where the little canal intersects with the bigger canal, there is an impressive pedestrian bridge that allows you to cross over the intersecting canals into three directions.
By this stage it was way hotter than the 24 degrees forecast and we were in the sun as we made our way over to the mouth of the central canal and the Salinas de Aveiro. This is where they still produce salt in the old style through small salt pans. It was interesting, but too hot to linger.
We hot footed it back to town and went to the central park, Jardim do Rossio, and took in the sights of the best art nouvelle buildings. Some of them are truly delightful such as the Museu de Arte Nova.
We crossed over the canal to head up to the Cathedral of Aveiro. It was a small cathedral, but quite an interesting looking building, and was very serene. A quick mosey around the streets, some lovely squares, and of course some great tile buildings and it was time for lunch.
We decided we would try a local restaurant that offers up a prato do dia (plate of the day) - which normally includes a soup, a main dish, a drink and a coffee (sometimes a dessert is also included). We found a spot that looked pretty popular with the locals where we could sit outside in the shade. The funny thing we have noticed is that most places that offer prato do dia don't do it with an English menu even though they have their standard menu in English. It's almost like they want to keep this great secret among the locals. This place was the same, so once we Google translated we got a great meal starting with a green soup, then baked sea bass with potatoes and greens and a glass of wine for €7. Great value!!
After lunch we took a wander through two pretty parks with small ponds - Parque Dom Pedro Infante and Parque de Santo António. There is a lot of green space in and around Aveiro which makes it a pleasant space and gives the local residents a place to connect to nature (it's always something that we look for when planning our long stays).
We were getting weary and knowing that it was over an hour and half at least back to Porto, we made our way down the grand avenue of Avenida Lourenço Peixinho from town center to the train station. Lined with apartments, restaurants and shops it really was a lovely avenue, and it gave us shade!
The train left promptly, and we soon found that it really was a commuter train as people came and went all along the line at different stations filling and emptying the train several times.
It was certainly a worthwhile day trip to Aveiro from Porto - the town was very pretty with its canals, green spaces, and gorgeous architecture - if you are in Porto and are looking for a day trip - this is well worth the effort.