Museu do Traje, the museum of traditional Portuguese costumes

Traditional outfits of the Minho region are still worn once year.

Villagers in characteristic clothing (image: Museu do Traje)

In northern Portugal, Viana do Castelo and the surrounding villages are famous for their traditional folk costumes worn during the 18th and 19th centuries. The outfits are different depending of the village the woman was from or the occasion for which they were being worn.

My favorite museum in Viana do Castelo, the Museu do Traje (Costume Museum) does a great job of explaining the history of these rural costumes with displays of outfits that were worn for festivals, going to the market, for working, and even for weddings. Surprisingly, the bride wore a black wedding dress rather than the white we are used to.

The museum is laid out on several floors and even has space dedicated to the making of the cloth. It seems every rural household had its own loom where women would weave fabric.

Loom used in homes (photo: Brent Petersen)

While I’m no fashionista, the intricate woven designs of the skirts and blouses are fascinating. I can’t imagine the time and skill required by the women to make these pieces.

In the basement is the “Sala do Ouro” or “Gold Room” where exquisite pieces of gold jewelry are displayed behind glass in a vault. As the region around Viana do Castelo became more prosperous, people wanted to show off their wealth.

Pieces from the Gold Room (photo: Brent Petersen)
Coração de Viana

Often worn as an accessory with these outfits is gold jewelry called Coração de Viana (Heart of Viana). The Coração de Viana is the most popular form of jewelry in the area, and now throughout Portugal. Made of filigree gold (and sometimes silver), the threads are woven into incredibly intricate patterns to create the famous heart shape. There are lots and lots of jewelry shops around the city of Viana with Coração de Viana for sale in all of them. The best is probably Ourivesaria Freitas – Manuel Rodrigues de Freitas since many of their pieces are on display at the museum.

Coração de Viana has become so popular, in fact, that it has become the symbol of the city. You’ll see it not only in jewelry stores, but on pictures, signs, and t-shirts. I even saw a cake in the shape of a Coração de Viana in the window of a bakery!

Heart of Viana cake (photo: Brent Petersen)

In addition to the Gold Room, there are lots of pictures in the Museu do Traje of women wearing the Coração de Viana. You’ll not only be awestruck by the gorgeous pieces themselves, but also by the vast quantity of jewelry that some women wear around their necks. They put the richest 90’s rappers to shame!

Romaria de Nossa Senhora da Agonia (Pilgrimage of Our Lady of Agony)

Every August, the Romaria de Nossa Senhora da Agonia festival fills the streets of Viana with music, parades, and dancing. Started in the late 18th century by fisherman praying for safe waters, today the festival is the place to be if you want to see the real people wearing the Costumes of Viana do Castelo. Many women will also be seen draped in pieces of Coração de Viana.

Percussion groups and social clubs march in the streets, often wearing traditional costumes. Musical and dance groups perform on stages. And, of course, vendors sell everything from trinkets to food.

Women wearing traditional costumes during the Romaria de Nossa Senhora da Agonia festival (photo: Brent Petersen)

It’s the biggest celebration in Viana do Castelo, so if you decide to go, be sure to book your hotel early.


Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides in Portugal to Lisbon, PortoSintraÉvoraBraga, Loulé, Almada, Monsaraz, and Batalha. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms.

Author: Brent