Barcelos, located in the Braga district of Northern Portugal, is a vibrant town steeped in rich history, tradition, and culture. Famous for being the birthplace of the Rooster of Barcelos, a national symbol of Portugal, it’s a place where folklore and legends blend seamlessly with everyday life. The town is spread on the banks of the River Cávado and is dotted with historical landmarks, picturesque streets, and lively squares that tell tales of its illustrious past.
The town’s name traces back to a Roman settlement, and throughout its history, it has seen Visigoth rule, Moorish invasions, and the establishment of Portugal as a nation. Today, it proudly exhibits its heritage through its medieval bridge, ancient churches, and the imposing Barcelos Castle. A high point in the cultural calendar is the Barcelos Fair, one of the largest and oldest in Portugal, which transforms the town every week into a bustling, colourful spectacle of local crafts, food, and tradition.
Beyond its historical charm, Barcelos is also a hub for the creative arts. It’s particularly renowned for its pottery and ceramics, with intricate, hand-painted clay figurines being a unique local craft. These pieces often portray scenes from rural life, religious figures, or, of course, the legendary Rooster of Barcelos. Coupled with a flourishing culinary scene that boasts delectable Minho cuisine and excellent Vinho Verde wines, Barcelos presents a delightful mix of history, art, and gastronomy for every traveler.
Barcelos’ best attraction is probably its weekly market, but mention to Barcelos to most people and they’ll probably say “rooster.” The “Cockerel of Barcelos” is definitely a big part of this small city’s identity. Everywhere you look, whether that’s the roundabout on the way into the city or in the little shops around the city, there’s something rooster-related.
Naturally, there are a fair few souvenir shops selling cockerel keepsakes – aprons, towels, figurines, you name it – but Barcelos doesn’t have an overly touristy feeling. It does get its fair share of tour groups coming from nearby Porto (60 km away), and it’s also a popular stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, but, even still, Barcelos is still quiet in comparison to other destinations in Portugal.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to BarcelosHere’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Barcelos.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Barcelos.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Lisbon and Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Barcelos and the surrounding Northern Portugal region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airport to Barcelos is Porto Airport, which is around 45 minutes by car.
Where to Stay
There are lots of accommodation choices on Airbnb and Booking.com, but a few that stand out include:
Art’Otel Barcelos: A blend of traditional design with contemporary art, Art’Otel Barcelos is a boutique hotel located in the heart of Barcelos. Each room is individually decorated with work from a different artist, providing a unique aesthetic experience. The hotel is within walking distance to the main attractions, making it a convenient place to stay.
Quinta do Sourinho: A charming farmhouse situated in a rural setting just outside of Barcelos, Quinta do Sourinho offers an authentic Portuguese experience. The rooms are elegantly decorated with a blend of rustic and modern elements, ensuring a comfortable stay. Guests can take advantage of the outdoor pool, and enjoy the tranquility of the surrounding landscapes.
What to See & Do
Although Barcelos is quite small, there’s plenty to see and do here and you can easily fill and day or two.
Ponte de Barcelos
One of the key landmarks in Barcelos is the Ponte de Barcelos (Bridge of Barcelos), an impressive medieval structure spanning the Cávado River. This granite bridge was originally constructed in the 14th century and has been standing firm ever since, a testament to the engineering capabilities of the era. Boasting fourteen arches and adorned with an oratory that houses a crucifix, it presents an intriguing blend of architectural and historical appeal.
Not only is the Ponte de Barcelos an essential part of the city’s identity, it is also an important point of passage on the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The bridge’s cobblestone walkway offers beautiful views over the river and the surrounding countryside. It is especially magical at sunset when the light creates a picturesque scene, making it an ideal spot for a tranquil evening stroll.
Torre do Cimo da Vila
The Torre de Menagem, standing as a proud testament to Barcelos’ medieval past, is an unmissable sight in the town’s historical landscape. The main vestige of the Castle of Barcelos, this granite tower, was built in the 15th century and continues to captivate visitors with its well-preserved medieval architecture. It is a square structure stretching over three stories high and reaching more than 33 meters in height, making it a prominent fixture in the town’s skyline. Visitors to the tower can embark on the ascent to its summit and will be rewarded with panoramic views of Barcelos and the picturesque Cávado Valley.
The tower doesn’t stand alone; it is situated within the grounds of the former castle, which is now known as the Paço dos Duques de Bragança. This public garden is adorned with statues, including the famous rooster of Barcelos, making it a charming place for a leisurely stroll. When viewed from the top of the Torre de Menagem, the combination of the lush garden, historical structures, and the sprawling view of the surrounding landscape makes for a truly captivating sight.
Templo do Senhor Bom Jesus da Cruz
The Templo do Senhor Bom Jesus da Cruz is an iconic landmark in Barcelos, distinguished by its unique, Baroque architectural style. Constructed in the 18th century, this religious sanctuary is said to have been built on the site where a cross mysteriously appeared in the soil in the 1500s. The event, considered a divine manifestation, is commemorated with the Festa das Cruzes, one of the biggest religious festivals in Portugal held annually in May.
The temple itself is a feast for the eyes, with a dramatic façade that features a bell tower, an ornate triangular pediment, and volutes, a type of spiral scrollwork common in the Baroque era. Inside, visitors are greeted by a stunning interior, with gold gilded woodwork, beautiful azulejos (traditional Portuguese tiles), and the venerated wooden cross, which is the focal point of the temple. The grounds of the Templo do Senhor Bom Jesus da Cruz are also worth exploring, with their carefully manicured gardens and serene atmosphere.
Visit the Weekly Market
One of the most vibrant aspects of life in Barcelos is the weekly market, held every Thursday, and known to be one of the largest open-air markets in Portugal. Aptly named ‘Feira de Barcelos,’ this grand marketplace swells with local vendors and enthusiastic visitors who gather from all corners of the region. A visit to the market is akin to stepping into a buzzing theatre of local life, where you can experience the region’s rich culture, traditions, and local commerce in one expansive setting.
At the Feira de Barcelos, you’ll find a wide array of products, from fresh produce to clothing, home goods, and, most notably, traditional Barcelos pottery. The market is particularly famous for its ceramics, especially the colourful ‘Barcelos Rooster,’ a national symbol of Portugal. Additionally, one can find stalls selling traditional Portuguese food and sweets, making the market a foodie’s paradise. While browsing, don’t miss the chance to taste some regional delicacies. The weekly market in Barcelos is not just a shopping venue; it is an immersive experience that allows visitors to partake in a time-honoured tradition and connect with the local community.
Admire all the Rooster Statues
As you wander around Barcelos, you’ll see a lot of statues of roosters. A lot. Aside from the weekly market, this is what Barcelos is most famous for, so everywhere you look, there are statues of roosters created by local artists.
Why roosters? Well, because of the famous myth about the cock of Barcelos.
Once upon a time, a long, long, time ago in the town of Barcelos, there was a wealthy landowner. One day, the wealthy landowner noticed that some of his silver was missing and he set out to catch the thief.
Now, it just so happened that a pilgrim was walking the camino to Santiago de Compostela at the same time. He was considered a suspect and, even through he protested his innocence, he was arrested and condemned to death by hanging.
The pilgrim asked to be taken to the judge who had sentenced him to hanging. The authorities honoured his request and took him to the home of the judge who was hosting a banquet.
The pilgrim pointed to a roast rooster that was on the table and said, “If I am innocent, that rooster will get up and crow.” While the judge didn’t let him go, he also didn’t eat the rooster.
The pilgrim was taken to the gallows but, just as he was about to be hung, the rooster stood up and crowed. Realising his mistake, the judge rushed to the gallows and “luckily” found that the rope had not been properly tied and the man was still alive.
Years later, the pilgrim returned to Barcelos where he sculpted a cross dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to Saint James. That cross can still be seen today at the Archaeological Museum of Barcelos.
Interestingly, and ironically considering its role in saving a pilgrim’s life, one of Barcelos’ main regional dishes is Galo Assado à moda de Barcelos (roast rooster, Barcelos style).
The Museu Arqueológico and the Counts of Barcelos Palace ruins stand as a fascinating testament to the region’s rich history and heritage. The archaeological museum, housed within the palace’s former stables, showcases an intriguing collection of artefacts that were unearthed from archaeological sites around the Barcelos region. From Roman relics to medieval pottery, these artefacts offer a deep dive into the history of the region from different epochs, telling the story of Barcelos’ past through each displayed item.
Adjacent to the museum, the Counts of Barcelos Palace ruins paint an intriguing picture of medieval grandeur. The palace dates back to the 15th century and was once the residence of the Counts of Barcelos, the most prominent nobles of the time. While time has taken its toll and the palace now stands in ruin, its remnants, particularly the Gothic windows, the imposing tower, and the arched bridge, inspire awe and offer a fascinating glimpse into the region’s past. The palace complex, set within a lush park, is a serene spot, offering visitors a chance to reflect upon the history and take in the magnificent panoramic views of the city of Barcelos.
What to Eat
Barcelos is in Portugal’s Minho district, so you’ll find plenty of regional Minho dishes like caldo verde and arroz de pica no chão (also called cabidela). It’s hard to find specific dishes that are completely unique to Barcelos, but there are quite a few dishes that, although found elsewhere in Portugal, have a Barcelos style or take.
- Galo Assado à moda de Barcelos
- Rojões à moda de Barcelos
- Papas de Sarrabulho à moda de Barcelos
Driving: Barcelos is situated in Northern Portugal and is well-connected by an efficient network of roads. From Porto, it’s about a 40-minute drive via the A28 and A11 highways. If you’re coming from Lisbon, it’s a journey of around 3.5 hours on the A1 and A3 highways.
Train: Trains are a convenient way to get to Barcelos. The town is on the Linha do Minho train line that connects Porto to Viana do Castelo and Valença. The journey from Porto’s São Bento or Campanhã station to Barcelos typically takes just over an hour. For train tickets and timetables, see cp.pt.
Bus: Several intercity bus services operate regular routes to Barcelos. Companies like Rede Expressos and FlixBus.pt have frequent services from major cities like Porto and Braga. The bus station in Barcelos is conveniently located in the town centre, providing easy access to main attractions.
Flying: The closest airport to Barcelos is the Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport in Porto, which is approximately 40km away. The airport is served by several international airlines. Upon landing, one can opt for a rental car, taxi, or public transport like buses or trains to reach Barcelos.