516 Arouca Is Portugal’s Hottest Tourist Attraction Right Now!
On our recent road trip exploring Northern Portugal we visited the newly opened 516 Arouca pedestrian suspension bridge. This is the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge and in our opinion it is a must see/do activity if you are in the area!
The 516 Arouca Pedestrian Suspension Bridge:
By now you will have already gathered that the suspension bridge is located in Arouca in the Aveiro district of Portugal. As the bridge is 516 meters in length, it is referred to as the “516 Arouca”. The bridge is located in the Arouca de la UNESCO Geopark (part of UNESCO’s European Network of Geoparks) in which you will also find the beautiful and very famous Passadiços do Paiva (Paiva Walkways).
The bridge spans across the Paiva gorge, connecting the banks of the river Paiva.
At its highest point the bridge is 175 meters above the ground. It is 1.20 meters wide. Much more than a bridge, it is a true work of art. For this reason, the bridge is already attracting a lot of attention, not only from those who want to experience walking across it and to see the views of the surrounding area but also by those who acknowledge that it is an impressive piece of engineering and construction, an ambitious project that has been a complete success:
“Witness a true engineering prodigy and be dazzled by a landscape inserted in a UNESCO World Geopark.” (Source here).
Bridge Facts & Figures:
Here are some highlights about the bridge, taken from the official 516 Arouca website (and slightly reworded to correct the auto translate):
Construction of the bridge took 5 years, beginning in 2016 and finally opening in April 2021.
The 516 Arouca is made up of 127 metal grid trays. Each of these trays works as a kind of independent capsule. In this way, the feeling of security and comfort is greater.
All the material used in the construction of the bridge was tested to exhaustion. Due to the way the trays are connected, even if one cable brakes, the 516 Arouca will remain as steady as ever.
The two concrete pillars from which the bridge is suspended are each 35 meters high.
The bottom of the bridge is transparent so you can look down into the gorge as you walk across.
- The cables used are made from several wires wrapped around a core.
“In this way, the work was coherent with the concept of the designers, who designed an ‘Inca’ style bridge. By using the system of several cords, they reproduced the technique of ancient hemp ropes that, between the 15th and 16th centuries, were wound almost manually, with the aid of a tourniquet.” (Source here).
The 516 Arouca was inspired by Inca bridges which cross the valleys of the Andes Mountains.
The X or crossing of some of the cables is to reduce the movement of the bridge, making it more stable.
If you want to know more about the design, construction and technical aspects of the bridge be sure to check out the official website yourself!
Where We Stayed?
We spent two nights in the wonderful Casa do Soutinho which is located on the edge of a small village called Alvarenga. We arrived in the afternoon and had our tickets to visit the 516 Arouca booked for the following morning (more about this later). When we parked up at Casa do Soutinho we received a very warm welcome from two staff members who quickly checked us in and gave us a tour of the property. Due to Covid-19 we then booked a time to have our breakfast the following morning so that they could manage the numbers in the dining area.
The property from the road:
Our bedroom, clean and modern:
Shower on the left and toilet on the right both behind glass doors:
The communal lounge:
The terrace which is located off the lounge area:
The gorgeous pool area and the building contains toilets and showers:
The view from the pool, can you spot the 516 Arouca bridge - such a nice surprise!
The bridge highlighted below:
A shaded area near the pool which was nice with the close to 30’C temperatures when we stayed.
On our first afternoon we walked around the small village of Alvarenga which has a population of approximately 1200. We chose Alvarenga as our base purely due to its proximity to the 516 Arouca, less than 10 minutes via car to where we wanted to start our walk to the bridge.
The view as we walked along the road from our accommodation to the village was beautiful and of course we could see the 516 Arouca! The steps in the photo below are the start of a trail that leads to the bridge. We did not walk it but it is signposted.
Beautiful vines next to our hotel:
The village is small but has a medium sized supermarket, two gas stations, some cafes and restaurants (traditional dishes mainly on offer), a post office, a bank etc. Once you are not looking for anything too adventurous it is a great town to base yourself for exploring the area.
Visiting the 516 Arouca:
Walking the 516 Arouca is a ticket only attraction - no ticket = no entry. You must purchase your ticket in advance from the official Arouca site here, ticket sales are not available on site. An adult ticket costs 12 Euro and children aged 6-9 are 10 Euro (Children under 6 years of age are prohibited) however they also do family tickets, as well as senior and student discounts. Information about all of these ticket options can be found on the aforementioned website. A ticket to the 516 Arouca also includes entry to the Passadiços do Paiva.
All bridge visits are accompanied by a guide and there are approximately 50 people per group (this might increase when Covid-19 is no longer an issue). There were about 25 people in our group when we did the tour. You will be prompted to choose a tour time when you make your booking, we chose 10am. They recommend that you arrive 15 minutes prior to the time slot that you book so be sure to leave enough time to walk to the entry area from wherever you park your car (more about what we did below).
When booking your ticket you also need to choose what side of the bridge you want to start/do the tour from, Areinho or Alvarenga. Be mindful that you will be walking over and back on the bridge so you will end where you begin. You can find the exact co-ordinates of the meeting points and parking areas here.
You need a copy of your ticket in paper or digital format to enter. Your ticket will be scanned by staff. We had our digital ticket on our phones and had no issues.
How to get there/Where to park?
Check the exact co-ordinates of the meeting points and parking areas here. Although we were staying in Alvarenga, we wanted to start at the Praia fluvial do Areinho (river beach Areinho) which was only a 7-10 minute drive from our accommodation (which is why we based ourselves there). By starting at the Praia fluvial do Areinho we could walk to the bridge via the Passadiços do Paiva (the Paiva pathway is linear trail whereby you can start/end at the river beach Areinho or Espiunca beach), complete our bridge tour and return to the correct side to walk the rest of the Passadiços do Paiva when we were finished with the bridge. We had also decided to walk the Paiva pathway out and back so we would return to the river beach in Areinho.
On the morning of our tour, we woke to a complete “fog-out”, we couldn’t see a thing! This definitely had us nervous as we could only hope the fog lifted before our 516 Arouca tour - fingers and toes were crossed! After breakfast we drove to the praia fluvial do Areinho. Parked up and ready we headed off on the trail:
The start of the trail was well signposted and is easy to follow from the car park at the praia fluvial do Areinho.
The approximately 1.8km long walk from where we parked at the praia fluvial do Areinho to the Arouca 516 entry point took us 20 minutes. From the car park you follow the board walk until you come to the road:
Cross the road and up you go! Climbing wooden steps, about 135 meters in elevation:
A lovely view as you make your way up:
Making progress, a small trail section before more wooden steps:
In the photo below you can see the entrance area to the bridge (left side) and to the Paiva pathway (right side) with the bridge in the background. It is here that you show your ticket for the bridge at the time allocated on your ticket. Your guide will be there to meet you. You will return here after the tour and if you are walking the Paiva pathway you will then enter on the right side:
The photo below has an arrow pointing to the trail that we took from the car park, this is where we popped out!
As it only took us 20 minutes to walk to the entrance we had some time to spare so we walked down the Paiva pathway as far as the bridge, we were underneath it. Although foggy it was still pretty cool and mysterious:
And then the fog started to clear - wooohoooo!
The trail you can see in the photo below is part of the Passadiços do Paiva so if you don’t want to walk/tour the bridge but are walking the trail you will still get a great view of the bridge. If you are not visiting the bridge, a ticket is required to walk the Passadiços do Paiva so don’t forget to buy your ticket in advance online (as aforementioned, a bridge ticket includes the Passadiços do Paiva).
The view looking back the way we walked up was gorgeous too once we were able to see it:
The Bridge & The Tour:
At 10am our tour guide was ready and waiting at the entry gate and no time was wasted. Our guide was really great, knowledgeable and friendly. He first spoke to the majority of the Portuguese tour participants in Portuguese (obviously) and then he kindly came to us and another couple and explained everything in English. Our group stopped a little bit down from the entry to the bridge to listen to the guides information:
We really enjoyed hearing all the extra information that our guide had about the bridge and the Geopark in general. Once our guide had finished and explained a few easy to follow “bridge rules” we were ready to go!
Once at the bridge and we were free to walk across at our leisure with just the stipulation that we keep right to allow the tour approaching from the opposite side with ease.
The bridge felt very safe and stable. The most movement we experienced was in the middle when we also met the other tour group but we felt totally secure due to the height of the side railings.
A great view of the trail we were on earlier:
The left arrow is the entry to the Paiva pathway and where the ticket checking office is located and the right arrow is pointing to the higher trail that brings you to the bridge:
Below is the view up the gorge where we would be walking next:
The arrow on the left is pointing to the ticket checking office and the right arrow to the Passadiços do Paiva that we would be exploring after our bridge experience:
Just after the half way point in the photo below, our tour group ahead of us:
A closer look at the Cascata das Aguieiras from the bridge:
I loved seeing the Paiva gorge from different perspectives:
Almost across and looking back the way we had come:
On the other side seeing the bridge from a new angle:
When everyone had arrived on the other side the guide spoke to us again with some more information and then we were free to take photos and make our way back over the bridge when we were ready.
We were the first of our group to head back over the bridge so we had the advantage of getting some photos with no one else present:
Almost back to where we started:
Back on solid ground again!
This was the end of the tour, it took about an hour in total and we really enjoyed it, especially with the weather and the view! As we already said, our guide was great and in general all the staff we met were very friendly and helpful. The one thing we did observe is there did not appear to be any toilet facilities but there was some work taking place next to the ticket checking office so perhaps they are on the way.
If you want to see some videos of our 516 Arouca experience then check out our “516 Arouca” highlight on our Instagam @noroadlongenough.
After our 516 Arouca bridge tour we walked the Passadiços do Paiva and absolutely loved the experience.