Vila Viçosa is a large and pleasant Alentejo town that’s situated close to the Portuguese-Spanish border and just under an hour’s drive from Évora, the capital of the Alentejo.
There are quite a few attractions and things to do in Vila Viçosa including its castle but probably the most interesting attraction is the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa as this had a major effect on the town’s influence and history.
Back in 1461, the House of Braganza, one of Portugal’s most famous and most important noble houses, took over Vila Viçosa. The town became an important base for the Dukes of Braganza and this meant that Vila Viçosa received a lot of investment from the dukes and was able to flourish.
Sadly for Vila Viçosa, when Duke John became King John IV in 1640, the House of Braganza moved to Lisbon. Although royalty would continue to visit Vila Viçosa, a lot of the house’s wealth was transferred to Lisbon and Vila Viçosa’s importance diminished.
Up until recently, Vila Viçosa has been an important part of Portugal’s marble industry. Along with Estremoz and Borba, it’s one of the three marble towns and marble extraction and processing gave employment to a lot of people here.
These days, Vila Viçosa is a laid-back, friendly, and beautifully-maintained town that attracts a few but not a huge number of tourists.
Handpicked accommodation in Vila Viçosa
- Alentejo Marmòris Hotel & Spa – With both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, this small luxury hotel with its spa by Karin Herzog is one of the most popular luxury accommodation options in Vila Viçosa.
- Pousada Convento de Vila Viçosa – Set in a former convent, this stylish luxury hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, landscaped gardens, and an on-site restaurant.
- Casa do Colegio Velho – Formerly a 16th century manor, this property has been carefully renovated into a charming historic hotel with amenities that include an outdoor swimming pool, extensive grounds, and a garden house.
- Herdade Ribeira de Borba – A working farm, this rural property offers contemporary-styled accommodation in the Alentejo countryside just a few km from Vila Viçosa.
Tours & things to do in Vila Viçosa
Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa
Without doubt, the most interesting attraction in Vila Viçosa is the Paco Ducal (Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa). It has an impressive history, and the rooms and artifacts are all very beautiful. Visits are by guided tour only.
Castle of Vila Viçosa
Before the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa was constructed in the 16th Century, this castle served as the base for the House of Braganza which took over Vila Viçosa in 1461. Even if you don’t pay to go into the main part of the castle, you can walk around the grounds and along the walls free of charge.
Museu Nacional dos Coches
A collection of around 70-80 different horse-drawn carriages, many of them more than 100 years old.
Museu do Mármore
The Museu do Mármore (marble museum) showcases the industry that has been important to Vila Viçosa and the two other marble towns (Estremoz and Borba) for so long.
Regional dishes from Vila Viçosa
The Alentejo is home to all kinds of regional dishes including migas (bread-based dumpling), açorda (a type of soup with bread in it), and sericaia (a popular dessert) and it’s worth trying all of them, along with the Portuguese foods that are found across the whole of Portugal – bacalhau, for example.
Tibornas (or tibornas do Alentejo) are a type of sweet that come from Vila Viçosa itself and you’ll see many pastelarias throughout the town advertising them.
They’re pretty unusual, which means they’re worth trying at least once. The main part of the sweet is usually made from crushed almonds and sugar, but it’s then topped with fios de ovos which is stranded of shredded egg that’s sweetened with sugar. Finally, it’s almost always wrapped up in slightly shredded paper like a present. You’ll find them in quite a few pastelarias around the town.
Getting to (and around) Vila Viçosa
The Alentejo quite a rural part of Portugal, and renting a car is definitely a good idea. It is possible to get from town to town by bus (see below), but it’ll definitely be a lot more time-consuming and complicated than renting a car.
It’s normally easiest to hire a car at the airport (Lisbon Airport is around 184 km away and Faro Airport in the Algarve is around 250 km away), but you will also find a number of car rental companies in Évora if you don’t want to rent a car for the entire duration of your trip.
As Vila Viçosa isn’t near a train line, buses are the only real form of public transport in the area. Local buses are served by Rodoviária do Alentejo and connect Vila Viçosa with nearby towns like Elvas, Borba, and Estremoz.
Longer distance coaches are mainly served by Rede Expressos which has national and international routes and connects Vila Viçosa to most major towns and cities like Lisbon, Porto, and Faro.
Vila Viçosa doesn’t have a train station. The nearest train station is probably Elvas’ train station, which isn’t quite in Elvas town centre, and is around 41 km from Vila Viçosa. There’s also a train station in Évora, which is around 62 km away.