The best introduction to Aveiro is a moliceiro boat tour along the canals. Looking a bit like mini-viking long boats or pimped gondolas, the moliceiros' high, pointed bows and sterns are painted with colorful design themes, ranging from saints to soccer stars to lewd jokes. The boats were originally used to collect seaweed from the lagoon which used for fertilizer. Nowadays, they ferry tourists around town, past wharfs lined with brightly painted fisherman's cottages or art nouveau mansions covered in shining azulejos. You can book an excursion at the tourist office or online from a number of companies like Viva a Ria (www.vivaaria.com, tel. 969 008 687), or Aveitour (www.aveitour.com, tel. 234 097 573). Tours start from 8€ per person for trips of up to 40 minutes around the city, but there are options that range from a whole day exploring the wide watery spaces of the lagoon. (Note: Some visitors object to the smell of the canals. If you're at all sensitive in this fashion, this may not be the tour for you).
A short walk from the double bridge over the main canal is the Museu de Aveiro, Parque de Santa Joana (tel. 234 423 297; Tues–Sun 10am–6pm; 4€ for adults, free for children and seniors), housed in a 15th-century convent. The museum centerpiece is the Igreja de Jesus church decorated with golden woodwork and blue azulejo tiles, hailed as the finest example of the Portuguese Baroque style in the country. Amongst it all is a masterpiece, the tomb of St. Joana. The Infanta Santa Joana, sister of João II and daughter of Afonso V, took the veil here in 1472. Her tomb, an inlaid rectangle of marble quarried in Italy, attracts many pilgrims. Its delicate pale pinks and roses lend it the air of a cherub-topped confection. Also on display: a lock of the saint's hair, her belt and rosary, and a complete pictorial study of her life. The portrait of her here is exceptional; painted in the late 15th century, it is attributed to Nuno Gonçalves. What's most noteworthy about the convent, though, is its carved gilt work, still lustrous despite the dust.
Some of Aveiro's prettiest Art Nouveau buildings are around the canal-side Rossio gardens, one splendid sky-blue townhouse fronted with white-stone carvings of eagles and floral columns was recently converted into a little museum dedicated to the style. The Museu Arte Nova, Rua Barbosa de Magalhães, 9–11 (tel. 234 406 485; Tues–Fri 9:30am–12:30pm, 2–6pm; weekends 2pm–6pm; 2€ adults, includes entry to two other small museums on the city’s history and salt industry) also contains a charming period tea house that makes a hip alternative to the more traditional cafes serving the artery-clogging local speciality oves moles. It turns into a cocktail fueled bar and cultural space in the evenings. The tea room opens at 9:30am and stays open till 2am, later at weekends.
About 6km (4 miles) south of central Aveiro the town Ílhavo has a pair of worthwhile museums bearing witness to the area's industrial heritage. The Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo, Avenida Dr. Rocha Madahil (www.museumaritimo.cm-ilhavo.pt; [tel] 234 329 990; Tues–Sat 10am–6pm, from Mar–Sept also Sundays 2–6pm; 5€ adults, 2.5€ children and seniors) focuses on cod fishing. It gives an insight into the centrality of bacalhau to the Portuguese psyche and to the tough life of the fisherman who sailed out for months at a time to the coast of Canada and Greenland, braving north Atlantic storms to bring back the salt fish which became a national stable. There's even an aquarium filled with live cod.
Nearby is the factory settlement of Vista Alegre, which has been producing fine porcelain for almost 200 years, gathering past-and-present European royalty among its fans. Britain’s Elizabeth II has a personalized set of tableware. By the standards of the time, the early 19th-century Vista Alegre factory was known as an enlightened place, providing decent housing, school and chapel and a theater for its workers. They can be visited today, along with the working factory, a museum tracing the history of the brand and a factory outlet shop to pick up a bargain souvenir. You can even attend a pottery or painting workshop to try your hand at producing some of the delicate porcelain, although you may struggle to match some of the top modern artists the factory now contracts to produce special pieces. The Vista Alegre Museum (http://vistaalegre.com, [tel] 234 320 600), is open daily 10:30–7pm. Admission 6€ adults, 3€ children, students and seniors.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.