>  Cape Verde   >  What to see in Cidade Velha, Ilha de Santiago (Cape Verde)?

Blog post updated in May 2024

There are places whose existence is completely unknown. Their inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List doesn’t change this, yet this list contains countless gems far from the tourist bustle. This is the case with Volubilis in Morocco, Avila in Spain, and also Cidade Velha, which I discovered during my trip to Ilha de Santiago, Cape Verde. An exotic destination that truly deserves a few hours of exploration. So, what to see in Cidade Velha, Ilha de Santiago?

What to see in Cidade Velha?

  1. The Nossa Senhora do Rosario church
  2. The Rua Banana
  3. The Sé Cathedral
  4. The Fort of São Felipe
  5. The Convent and the Church of São Francisco
  6. The main square
  7. The Small Port

Useful information:

Cidade Velha in a nutshell

Located 15 km from Praia, the capital of the country, Cidade Velha was the first city built by European colonizers in the African tropics. The city also witnessed the presence of two great navigators on its soil: Vasco da Gama, who set sail for India, and Christopher Columbus, departing for his third voyage to the Americas.
As a witness to the slave trade, pirate attacks, and the expansion of the Portuguese empire, it preserves part of its road layout and significant remains: two churches, a royal fortress, and the Pillory Square. A place that is therefore steeped in history.


Cidade Velha is quite small; you will only need a few hours to explore its 7 essential places.

1. The church Nossa Senhora do Rosario

This is the oldest colonial church in the world. Its construction began in 1493 and was completed two years later. In Manueline Gothic style, the building was spared from the raids of Barbary pirates but did not escape some damage during the raid of Sir Francis Drake, an English corsair. However, it was during the Cassard expedition in 1712 that it was destroyed (along with the rest of the city). It would take several centuries for it to be reconstructed. From the church, visitors have a lovely view of the surrounding houses that shelter curious pets.

2. The Rua Banana

Right near the church is the first street urbanized by the Portuguese in the tropical zone: Rua Banana. Lined with charming stone houses, it’s a very peaceful place.

3. The Sé Cathedral

It took more than a century to complete the construction of the city’s cathedral in 1693. Unfortunately, 19 years later, pirates attacked it, leaving it in ruins. Here, children play football while teenagers socialize. Besides coming to admire the remains of the cathedral, it’s also a good place to observe local life.

4. The Fort of Sao Felipe

Overlooking the city, the Fort of São Felipe was built to protect the town from assaults orchestrated by French and English pirates shortly after Drake’s attack. The monument’s visit starts with a film explaining the fort’s history. After your visit, you can enjoy the place and admire the surrounding view.







5. The Convent and the Church of São Francisco

This church and convent, dating back to the 17th century, were partially destroyed by pirates in 1712. The church has been restored, and inside, you can read explanations about the history of these monuments. To enter, you need to find or rather let yourself be found by the person with the key, who also sells the entrance tickets. Note that it’s possible to request a combined ticket with the fort visit. INFORMATION TO VERIFY. THE SYSTEM TO OBTAIN ENTRY HAS LIKELY CHANGED.







6. The Main Square

This monolith recalls the time when the city was a port for the entry and exit of slaves. If any of them rebelled, they would end up tied to this pillory and whipped in the public square.


7. The Small Port

Cidade Velha also features its quiet port with a few colorful boats. Facing the sea, some restaurants stand, offering an ideal place to taste the local fish.




HOW TO GET TO Cidade Velha from Praia?

The cheapest and most local way is to take an “aluguer” a kind of collective minibus. Most of them can be found at Praça de Terra Branca, next to the gas station, where several vehicles are parked. They usually drop off passengers at the main square of Cidade Velha. It is also possible to ask the driver to stop near Fort São Felipe.

Traveling responsibly to Cidade Velha

Visiting Cidade Velha means discovering a moment of history lost in nature. This involves both the need to respect this history and take care of the environment.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of actions to be a responsible traveler:
  • Learn briefly about the history of the place before visiting.
  • Respect the customs and traditions of the locals.
  • Do not litter in nature.
  • Respect the wildlife, so do not feed the animals.
I hope this article on what to see in Cidade Velha has conveyed the most important information for visiting the village and having a good time.
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what to see in cidade velha
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