Situated in the north of Portugal, around 10 km from the Spanish border, the town of Chaves gets relatively few international visitors aside from a few Spanish who cross the border. Most tourists head to Porto and nearby towns like Braga or Guimarães instead, which means you’ll be heading a little off the beaten path. But, fear not: Chaves has everything you need for a short trip, including historical attractions, thermal spas, and hotels and accommodation.
Chaves is most famous for being a spa town, thanks to its thermal waters. In fact, its baths date back quite far in history – one of the main historical attractions in Chaves is the Roman Baths, one of the largest in Europe, and which were only discovered in 2005.
Aside from the thermal waters, Chaves is mainly known for its local pastry, the pastel de Chaves, its sausages, and its local wine. It’s a town you could spend 1-2 days if you want, although it’s possible to see all of the main attractions within just a few hours.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Chaves
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Chaves.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Chaves.
- 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 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 Chaves 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 Chaves is Porto Airport.
The easiest way to get to Chaves is to drive here. For car rental, see discovercars.com or rentalcars.com.
Where to Stay in Chaves
You’ll find several accommodation options on Booking.com or Airbnb. If you’re looking for some unique places to stay, however, take a look at the following links.
- Vidago Palace – This 5-star hotel is situated around 25 minutes by car from Chaves, but it’s absolutely worth the trip.
- Forte de São Francisco Hotel – Housed in a 17th-century Franciscan friary, this hotel boasts of history, charm, and comfort. Its location provides easy access to major attractions.
- ibis Styles Chaves – With an impressive exterior, this hotel offers surprisingly modern accommodation in the heart of the city centre.
What to See and Do in Chaves
There are a handful of things to see and do in Chaves, and seeing all of the attractions shouldn’t take more than a few hours if you’re in a rush. Otherwise, relax, take your time, and enjoy what this northern spa town has to offer.
As you meander through the intriguing corners of Chaves, you’ll discover an echo from the town’s past in the shape of the Termas Romanas. This well-preserved Roman spa, also known as Roman Baths, is not just a collection of ancient stones, but a gateway into an era long past. You’ll find yourself stepping into the shoes of Roman citizens who, two thousand years ago, dipped into these rejuvenating waters for relaxation and socialising.
The site’s archaeologists and guides do a fantastic job of interpreting the ruins for visitors. Even though you’re peering into the distant past, you’ll come away with a vivid image of what life was like in Roman times. Don’t forget to explore the adjoining museum, where numerous artefacts and illustrative panels further immerse you in the town’s Roman past.
Roman Bridge (Ponte de Trajano)
An iconic symbol of Chaves and a testament to Roman engineering prowess, the Ponte de Trajano, or Trajan’s Bridge, is a must-see for any visitor to this picturesque town. The bridge, constructed in the first century AD under the reign of Emperor Trajan, was a vital crossing over the tranquil waters of the Tâmega River, linking the prosperous Roman cities of Bracara Augusta and Asturica Augusta. Sturdy granite blocks hold together this 140 meters long and 8 meters wide bridge, standing as an enduring testament to the ingenuity of ancient Rome.
Standing tall as a silent sentinel over the town of Chaves, the medieval Castle of Chaves, or Castelo de Chaves, is a powerful symbol of the town’s resilience and historical importance. Originating from the 8th century but significantly expanded during the 14th century, the castle’s once imposing walls and towers have witnessed centuries of battles, reconquests, and cultural shifts. Today, what remains of the castle – the Keep Tower (Torre de Menagem) and a few stretches of the fortified walls – continue to exude a powerful aura of the past.
Ascending the 28 meter high Keep Tower, the main surviving structure of the castle, provides not only an intriguing journey into the past, but also a rewarding panorama of Chaves and its surrounding landscapes. The tower now houses a small military museum that showcases a collection of arms, uniforms, and war-related artefacts. As you stroll through the historical exhibits, you can almost hear the echoes of the ancient battles and strategic discussions that once filled these halls. Outside, a leisurely walk along the remaining walls lets you appreciate the castle’s strategic location overlooking the Tâmega River, a reminder of its pivotal role in Portugal’s defence line.
Igreja Matriz de Santa Maria Maior
One of Chaves’ most impressive religious landmarks, the Igreja Matriz de Santa Maria Maior, or the Church of Santa Maria Maior, is a place where spirituality and artistry come together in perfect harmony. Constructed in the 12th century during the reign of King Sancho I, this Romanesque-style church bears witness to the history and cultural transformations of Chaves over the centuries. As you approach, you’ll be captivated by the church’s sturdy granite façade adorned with intricately carved decorative motifs, a glimpse into Portugal’s Romanesque and Gothic architectural influence.
Stepping inside the Church of Santa Maria Maior, your eyes will be drawn to the elegant wooden altarpiece in the chancel, a remarkable piece of Baroque craftsmanship. Look closer, and you’ll find it flanked by beautiful 17th-century blue and white “azulejos” (Portuguese tiles), further enhancing the sanctum’s beauty. The church’s nave, covered with a wooden ceiling, offers a sense of serenity and peace. Notably, the church also houses the image of Our Lady of Loreto, highly venerated by the locals.
Igreja da Misericórdia
Built in the 16th century, this church boasts a richly decorated façade, complete with ornamental pilasters, floral motifs, and an impressively carved pediment, arresting the gaze of every passerby. Particularly noteworthy is the elegant Manueline-style window, a fine example of the uniquely Portuguese architectural style from the early 16th century.
The interior of the Igreja da Misericórdia is equally stunning. Here you’ll discover a magnificent altarpiece, beautifully adorned with gilded woodwork. The exquisitely painted panels depict scenes from the Passion of Christ, drawing the viewer into a meditative contemplation of the church’s spiritual essence. Another standout feature is the colourful “azulejos” lining the nave walls, telling biblical stories through their intricate designs. Visiting the Igreja da Misericórdia is much more than a religious journey. It’s a dive into the artistic treasure trove of Chaves, offering a glimpse into the town’s deep-seated devotion and its rich artistic legacy.
Praça de Camões
This square, named after Portugal’s iconic poet Luís de Camões, is a lively rendezvous point for locals and visitors alike. Enclosed by colorful buildings and charming cafés, the plaza emanates a captivating ambiance perfect for a leisurely stroll or a refreshing pause at a café terrace. In the square’s centre stands a statue of Dom Afonso, guarding the place.
Take a Pedalo on the River Tâmega
The riverside is one of the nicest parts of Chaves, particularly when it’s hot and sunny as the trees offer much-needed shade. If you fancy getting out onto the river, there are a number of pedalos and other boats available for rent for €10 for 30 minutes.
Museu da Região Flaviense
Located in a former bishop’s palace, the museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts showcasing the region’s cultural history from prehistoric times to the present day. Exhibits cover a wide range of themes, from archaeology and ethnography to numismatics, showcasing artifacts like ancient Roman coins, pottery, and stone tools. Interactive exhibits and informative displays bring the region’s history to life, making the Museu da Região Flaviense a must-visit destination for those eager to delve into the rich tapestry of Chaves’ past.
Termas de Chaves
Dive into a world of relaxation and rejuvenation at Termas de Chaves, a state-of-the-art thermal spa facility renowned for harnessing the curative properties of the region’s thermal waters. The spa’s water is sourced from a spring that flows at a consistent 73 degrees Celsius and is rich in silica, fluoride, and sodium bicarbonate.
According to their website, the facility offers a broad range of wellness treatments and therapies designed to address various ailments. These treatments include thermal hydromassages, manual massages, underwater jet treatments, and even a thermal pool for a relaxing soak.
Have a glass of hot water
One of Chaves’ natural wonders is the Fonte do Povo, or the People’s Fountain, a popular open-air spring where the water emerges at temperatures exceeding 70 degrees celsius (158°F). Situated conveniently next to this thermal marvel is the Buvette das Termas de Chaves, a welcome respite providing shade, seating, and glasses for those daring enough to sample the spring water. Although the flavor might not be the most appealing, don’t be deterred – the water is said to offer a wealth of health benefits. In fact, its therapeutic properties have been praised for their positive effects on musculoskeletal, respiratory, digestive, and cardiocirculatory ailments.
Regional Foods to Try
The gastronomy of Chaves is a delightful adventure for the palate. The town is famous for its hearty, flavoursome dishes that reflect its agricultural roots.
Pastel de Chaves
Pastel de Chaves is an iconic culinary delight hailing from the town of Chaves, holding such cultural importance that it is designated a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union. These mouth-watering pastries feature a delicate, flaky crust encasing a deliciously seasoned minced veal filling. Each Pastel de Chaves is meticulously handcrafted, with the dough rolled out so thinly you can almost see through it before it’s folded over the savoury filling. The result is a wonderfully crispy and tender bite, the golden exterior giving way to the moist, flavourful interior.
You’ll find these pastries at restaurants and bakeries throughout Chaves, but one of the most popular locations is Pastelaria Maria.
Presunto de Chaves
Presunto de Chaves is a prized gastronomic delight hailing from Chaves, a name synonymous with top-quality Portuguese smoked sausage. This delicacy is carefully crafted using a traditional curing process that includes salting and air-drying, resulting in a flavour profile that is both rich and nuanced. Its intense aroma, delicate texture, and distinctive taste make Presunto de Chaves an indispensable treat for any charcuterie lover.
Folar de Chaves
Among the rich gastronomic traditions of Chaves, the Folar de Chaves stands out as a distinct culinary gem. This unique savory bread is traditionally baked during the Easter celebrations, but its popularity ensures its availability throughout the year. Unlike other versions of “folar” found in Portugal, which can be sweet, the Folar de Chaves is packed with various meats, including pork, chicken, and veal. These layers of meat are interspersed between folds of soft, slightly chewy dough, resulting in a hearty, flavorful loaf that is both filling and immensely satisfying.