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With its many canals and lagoons, the colourful city of Aveiro is sometimes called the 'Venice of Portugal'. Following a huge storm in the 1570s, the town lost its role as a major port but reinvented itself as a centre for salt and kelp. The beautifully patterned boats on the canals are left over from these industries. These were once used for harvesting seaweed but now provide a leisurely way to experience the city. Be sure to taste Ovos Moles, the city's signature sweet of candied egg yolks, while you're in town.
Aveiro is compact and most hostels are walking distance from the centre. Rooms are often air conditioned and have private bathrooms. For a little luxury, choose an Aveiro hostel with a hot tub, or linger over your breakfast in a sunny courtyard. After a day at the beach, gather a few travellers to share a bottle of wine on the terrace. The curious selection of artefacts dotted around one hostel will surely get conversation started!
The main area for visitors is Aveiro's old town. Extravagant art nouveau façades line the canal network. Here you'll find museums, restaurants and boutiques selling crafts from around Portugal. Linking the old and new towns is the open air Forum Shopping Centre, which has won awards for its design: it even has canals running through it. Outside the city, it's just a short bus ride to the beach town of Costa Nova, famous for its striped fisherman's cottages and good surfing and windsurfing.
Top of the list of activities is a moliceiro (boat) ride through the old town. Back on dry land, you could visit the Museum of Aveiro which is housed in a convent and focuses on the story of a Portuguese princess (also buried there). It's worth getting up early to catch the fish market (in Praça do Peixe) in full swing or come back in the evening for the market restaurant. The market square is also a central spot for nightlife. Head to Parque Dom Pedro Infante for a picnic or go hiking and birdwatching in the São Jacinto Dunes nature reserve.
The newly built train station (Estação de Aveiro) is east of the city centre. Trains leave for Porto leave every 30 minutes and take an hour, while Lisbon is 2 hours away by train. While the city is very walkable, you could make use of Loja BUGA, the free urban bike scheme. For the coast, however, catch the bus from Rua Clube dos Galitos.