Chaves is a relatively small city, so the best way to explore it is on foot. As such, I have selected 10 things to do in Chaves, including visits to churches, a museum, a castle, eating a “pastel de Chaves” and even drinking sulphur water.
I visited all the places described in less than a week. Please do not read this list as the best attractions in Chaves or something similar. They are simply my choices of what to do in Chaves, given what I found in the city.
Climb the Castle Keep (Torre de Menagem)
Climbing the Castle Keep was one of the most enjoyable things I did on my trip to Chaves. It is a granite defensive tower, built next to the wall of the medieval town. From the top of it you have a panoramic view over the current historical centre of Chaves, the Castle Garden and yonder the River Tâmega.
The day I visited it I was lucky enough to catch splendid weather which allowed me to take full advantage of the tower. Unmissable.
Visit the Igreja da Misericórdia Church
A stunningly beautiful baroque church dating back to the second half of the 17th century, the Igreja da Misericórdia de Chaves is a must on any ‘What to visit in Chaves’ list. Admire the relief depiction of Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia (Our Lady of Mercy) with her shawl sheltering the unprotected, and inside marvel at the magnificent hand-painted tiles on the lateral walls, the ceiling paintings and the golden altarpiece.
Absolutely a top recommendation! (and I’m not generally one to visit churches)
… and the Santa Maria Maior church (Parish Church)
Chaves Parish Church has medieval roots and is completely different from the neighbouring Igreja da Misericórdia described above, so it is well worth visiting them both. It is a much bigger church, accommodating three naves and endowed with an extremely rich array of architectural styles, which are testament to the various phases and interventions carried out over the centuries.
Cross the Trajano Roman Bridge
The Trajano Roman Bridge is one of the main tourist sites of Chaves and the most emblematic Roman monument of the city.
I crossed the bridge several times during my stay in Chaves, and I can vouch that it gains an incredible beauty at the end of the afternoon, when the water, the buildings on the left bank of the River Tâmega and the bridge itself are painted with the warm sunset colours.
It is impossible not to notice the two cylindrical commemorative markers in the middle of the Trajan bridge. One of them commemorates “the construction of the bridge by the aquiflavienses”, and the other is called the “People’s Column”, and contains a carved inscription listing the names of the ten indigenous peoples of the era.
No visit to Chaves is complete without crossing the bridge.
Observe the house balconies on Rua Direita
The balconies you can see in Chaves old town, especially those on Rua Direita, are delightful. Stroll at a leisurely pace and raise your head to discover these treasures from the time when the town of Chaves was surrounded by walls.
It is said that the balconies were a way of taking advantage of space, given that the houses were small, despite containing several floors. Today their vibrant colours beautify the heart of the city.
Visit the Nadir Afonso Contemporary Art Museum
Built to disseminate the work of the Chaves painter Nadir Afonso, the Chaves Contemporary Art Museum, is worth a visit firstly to observe the fantastic white concrete straight-lined building designed by the architect Siza Vieira. If you are pressed for time and you are not sure what to visit in Chaves, don’t hesitate to put the museum on your list.
From what I saw of the work of Nadir Afonso, a visit to this cultural facility available to residents of and visitors to Chaves will be time well spent.
Go back in time at the Aquae Flaviae Roman Baths
In the early part of the 21st century, Chaves council decided to build an underground carpark, but those plans were quickly shelved when they stumbled across centuries-old ruins of what turned out to be thermal springs. Remarkably, a Roman medicinal bathing system had been sitting there for thousands of years under people’s feet.
It was duly excavated and a museum built which opened recently. It is free of charge and contains fascinating information. The end result is the re-emergence of what is today considered among the five best preserved Roman medicinal spring complexes in the world. Another must visit if you are in Chaves.
Drink a glass of hot water in the thermal park
Even before the discovery of the Roman baths, Chaves had been closely associated with natural springs. As strange as it sounds, after trying and probably disliking it, many people continue to drink the medicinal water from Chaves Springs. I like new experiences, and so I highly recommend it.
To do so, there is an open-air fountain called the Fonte do Povo (People’s Fountain), where the spring water comes out at over 70 degrees centigrade. Next door is the Buvette das Termas de Chaves, a shaded facility that provides a glass and benches to rest on.
The therapeutic properties are said to be indicated for the treatment of musculoskeletal, respiratory, digestive and cardiocirculatory ailments. As for the taste… well, it is not the most pleasant. But it should bring you some health benefits. Cheers!
Eat a pastel de Chaves at the Pastelaria Maria
You can’t go to Chaves and not eat a pastel! The question is: where do you eat the best pasteis in Chaves? I really liked the Pastelaria Maria (the Mariazinha), and I unreservedly recommend it. Naturally, I cannot claim to know if they are the best in the city, but they sure taste good. Eat them warmed up and they are even more delicious.
Going out at night in Chaves: Ilha do Cavaleiro
At the end of a day walking the streets and bridges of Chaves, it will feel good to stop for a drink, or simply to listen to music, talk or socialise.
If that is the plan, I unreservedly recommend the Ilha do Cavalheiro bar. The night I went I enjoyed an extremely eclectic and friendly atmosphere, despite not being many people there. And it also serves snacks. Once again, I cannot say that it is the best bar in Chaves, but I really liked it – and that’s all that matters.
As well as this list of what to do in Chaves, I leave an extra suggestion to make your stay even more special.
Stay the night no Vidago Palace
Chaves has many good hotels, starting with the hotel located inside the São Francisco Fort, where I stayed. But, as Chaves is a city of water, if you can combine your visit with a stay at Vidago Palace, located 20 kilometres from the centre Chaves, it would be the icing on the cake. Even if it is for just one night. As the advert says: “because you deserve it”.
Where to stay in Chaves
I stayed at the magnificent Hotel Forte de São Francisco, and I unreservedly recommend it. It is well located, has excellent rooms and a varied and delicious breakfast at an acceptable price. Other recommended alternatives are the Hotel Katia and Hotel Aquae Flavia; or the slightly cheaper Ester Guesthouse.
If you intend something special (and more expensive), do not hesitate to book the Vidago Palace Hotel. It is 20 km from Chaves, but is a hotel of extraordinary charm. Alternatively, use the link below to browse all the hotels in the city.
Our thanks to Filipe Morato Gomes who provided the content for this article. You can read the original article (in Portuguese) by clicking here: 10 coisas imperdíveis para fazer em Chaves.
We highly recommend bookmarking Filipe's brilliant Alma de Viajante website for a comprehensive travel guide to Portugal in its entirety. The site is packed with fantastic articles on the endless destinations of interest in Portugal, tips on where to stay, eat and in general how to make the most of your visit. Boas leituras!