The Northern region of Portugal, characterized by heavy autumn rains and its luxuriant nature, is a very interesting area to visit. Among hills, bushes, and valleys there are cosmopolitan cities and villages that seem to be suspended in time.
All this and much more is waiting for you if you decide to visit this region. A mix of landscapes that conquer every tourist who comes here to admire its contrasts and the beauty of its views, and enjoy some great food and wine.
The North of Portugal boarders to the North and to the East with Spain, to the South with Central Portugal – it is divided by the city of Porto – and to the West with the Atlantic Ocean. The region extends on an area of about 136 kilometers on each side.
The whole region can be driven in a little bit more than one hour and a half; however, it deserves a longer visit, starting from the main city of Porto, known for its architectonic heritage and for its UNESCO World Heritage Site old center, as well as for its stunning landscape and for the production of Porto wine, which is famous all over the world.
Porto is not the only interesting destination in the North of Portugal: you can walk along the banks of the Douro river, crossing hills and lush landscapes, natural reserves, fields, and UNESCO World Heritage towns. Not to mention all the opportunities offered by its beautiful coast, which is great for a day at the beach. The territory is so vaste that it will definitely meet the needs of every traveler.
Porto with its charming and crumbling atmosphere will seduce you at very first sight. The city is divided into three main areas: the uptown, which is the most modern area featuring shops and restaurants; the downtown, which is located on the shores of the Douro river and which represents the original center of the city, and the area beyond the river, which belongs to the municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia where there are many cellars producing Porto wine.
The main points of interest of Porto can’t be summed up in just a few words. However, we do recommend to visit the Catedral de la Sé de Oporto, which was built uptown and presents the most important building of the city; the Clerigos Church and Tower, which is the tallest tower of Portugal, one of the symbols of Porto as well as one of the best lookout to enjoy the view above the city; and the Mercado do Bolhao, the perfect place to appreciate the essence of Porto.
There also some interesting historical buildings, like Sao Bento Station, built during the IX century on the remains of an ancient monastery; Palacio de la Bolsa, built in Neo-Classical style during the XIX century and which now represents the site of the Porto Commercial Association; Librerìa Lello e Irmao, a library that was featured in one of the Harry Potter’s movie; the Casa de la Musica, which built in 2001 and it now represents one of the symbols of the new Porto.
Braga, a city of Roman origins, is mostly characterised by baroque details. It is the third biggest city of Portugal and it deserves a visit in order to appreciate its beauty.
Visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, built in Neo-Classical Italian style. The staircase leading to the top of the sanctuary is made of a series of ledges decorated with fountains, statues, and other baroque decors. The Santuário do Sameiro is the most visited Marian sacred place, attracting dozens of pilgrims every year. From an artistic point of view it is not particularly interesting, except for its silver sacrarium and the image of the patron saint; however, it deserves a visit thanks to the beautiful view that one can admire from its top.
If you are interested in discovering the cultural side of Braga, visit the Museo Biscainhos, located inside the Biscainhos Palace, exhibiting a permanent collection of decorative arts, music instruments, sculptures, carves, tiles and painting. The Raio Palace is an eighteenth-century residence with a Rococo facade covered with blue azulejos and windows framed by carved granite fences.
Lastly, the Peneda-Gerês National Park is not too far from Braga, representing the only Portuguese protected area classified as National Park.
Guimarães is a medieval town candidate to become World Heritage Site. It is one of the most ancient cities of Portugal, and you can feel it straight away by strolling around the medieval streets of its old town that lead to the castle overlooking the city.
The Guimaraes Castle, with its seven towers, is located at the top of a hill in the historic center of the city; it was built during the XI century to protect the nearby monastery and urban settlements. The first king of Portugal was born here.
There are many things that deserve a visit in Guimaraes, such as the Palácio dos Duques de Bragança, built during the XV by order of D. Afonso, the Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo, located between the castle and the Palácio dos Duques de Bragança, the Igreja de São Gualter, built in the XVII century and which represents the most important church of Guimares, and the Plataforma das Artes e Criatividade, a transformation project of the Old Market into a multifunctional space for artistic, cultural, and social purposes.
Viana do Castelo is an elegant town on the Atlantic Ocean, still preserved from the stream of mass tourism. It was built with the founds coming from fishing activities and commercial trades with Brazil. Its port deserves a visit: here is where an intense maritime active takes place every day.
The Sanctuary of Santa Luzia, located on the Santa Luzia Mount is also very interesting. Its construction works in Neo-Bizantine style ended in 1954. It has a roof decorated with a series of paintings. The ruins of the old city are located nearby.
The Santiago de Barra Castle was built in the XV century, and it is located near the port. It is very interesting to visit its walls in order to admire the city from a different point of view. In Praça da República there is the old town hall, which is similar to a fortress. Today it is used to host contemporary art shows.
Viana do Castelo is also home to a couple of very interesting museums: the Museu de Artes Decorativas, located inside a building of the XVIII century, showcasing an impressive collection of ceramics and furnitures from the XVII-XVIII century, and the Museu do Traje, which exhibits traditional costumes that were used for fishing, agriculture and for collecting sea weeds, as well as costumes used for the pilgrimage of Our Lady of Agony.
Amarante is a enchanting village in the Douro Valley, along the banks of the Tâmega river. There are not many information about its origin, besides the fact that it was founded by the romans and that it was named after the Roman centurion Amarantus.
The city owns its fame to the Benedictine San Gonçalo. Today his name is celebrated and honored with a religious and folkloristic festival. The two most important monuments in the historic center of the city are the São Gonçalo Church and the São Gonçalo Bridge. This last one symbolizes the memory of the popular resistance against the Napoleonic armies.
Visit the Churches of São Pedro and São Domingo, as well as the Amadeo Souza Cardoso Museum, which honors the Portuguese artist and exhibits its masterpieces of contemporary art.
In Amarante it is also possible to visit the house of Teixeira de Pascoaes, one of the most important poets and writers of the XX century.
Barcelos is a lovely town of Medieval origins. Its historic center consists of the Bridge, the walls with the Porta Nova Tower, the Paço dos Duques and the Igreja Matriz.
It is also possible to admire some historical houses such as the Solar do Pinheiros or the Casa do Condestável. Walking through the streets of the center you will pass through the old Largo da Feira, which today is known as Campo da Républica, where there are the eighteenth-century churches of Bom Jesus da Cruz and Nossa Senhora do Terço.
Visit also the Museu da Olaria and the Centro de Artesanato de Barcelos, to learn more about the artistic soul of the region. Among the main important works of art, there is the representative and colorful Rooster of Barcelos.
Lamego is a very ancient city, so much that it was inhabited by the Visigoths in the 7th century. It experienced an era of great prosperity when the famous “vino fino” was produced here, which then originated in the famous Porto wine. From the medieval time we can still admire its castle, the cathedral, and the church of Santa Maria de Almacave.
During many centuries the city was influenced by the Church, indeed there are many sacred places built in Classical style. Among the most important and beautiful ones there are the Igreja do Convento de Santa Cruz, overlooking the city, as well as the monumental Baroque Sanctuary dedicated to Nossa Senhora dos Remédios.
The city celebrates the Holy Mary with a pilgrimage to Nossa Senhora dos Remédios taking place every year from the 6th to the 8th of September. The location of Lamego, so close to the shores of the Douro river, offers the opportunity to take nice walks to admire the beautiful view of the hills where the Porto wine is produced.
Ponte da Barca is located at the border of the region with the Lima river; its name comes from the boat that used to connect the two shores before the construction of the bridge, which happened in the XV century. This region used to be known as the Land of Nóbrega or Anóbrega, which may come from the Roman name “Elaneobriga”.
The historic center of the village, characterized by country houses and beautiful monuments from the XVI-XVII century, deserves a visit. Here you will have the opportunity to admire the Romanic church of Bravães and the Castillo de Lindoso, both dating back to the XIII century. This last castle played an important role in defending the region.
The Peneda Gerês National Park is the ideal place to practice sports and to relax.
Valença do Minho is a star-shaped fortified city. Do not miss a visit to the bastions to enjoy a beautiful view of the city. The main attractions to visit are:
Located in the extreme northern-eastern area of Portugal, between Alto Minho and Trás-os-Montes, Serra da Peneda and Serra do Gerês are the only Portuguese protected area classified as national park.
The park, which stands out from all the others, is characterized by a breathtaking landscape among mountains and water basins, where there are some unique species such as the Garrano wild horse and the dog breed Castro Laboreiro.
Here, just like in the Montesinho Park, people managed to preserve a rural lifestyle, sharing work and structures. It feels like a different world where the human activity perfectly fit with nature, preserving ancient values and traditions that are still tangible in the villages of Pitões das Júnias and Tourém.
Mountains are passed by rivers and torrents which often overflow into waterfalls and end up into artificial dams, like the ones of Caniçada, Vilarinho das Furnas o Portela do Homem.
If you feel active and full of energy, then there plenty of activities to do in the park. For instance, it is possible to go on kayak or canoes. There are several paths leading to dolmen and cromlech, medieval castles, monasteries, and sanctuaries perfectly integrated with the landscape.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
When we are on holiday and we need to decide where to sleep we often end up choosing a simple hotel in the center of the city. However, while traveling around such an authentic region still far from the mass tourism, we can choose to stay in a pensão or a pousada, that is to say a luxury accommodation located inside restored castles or monasteries with the aim of valorising the artistic and landscape heritage of the region.
It could be also interesting to stay in a farm, a rural house or a camping site located along the coast.
Sleeping just outside the urban center offers the opportunity to stay in a place where the art hospitality is an added value, where the hotel managers will give you all the tips to discover the hidden treasures of the area.
Those who choose Porto as a base will have a wide choice of places where to sleep: from small family-run hotels to guest houses, hostels, and big international hotel chains, mainly located in the new part of the city or near the airport.
Porto airport is the gateway to the region, as well as one of the biggest airports of Portugal, and the third most important airport in terms of traffic after the one of Lisbon and Faro. It is an ideal destination for discovering the city of Porto and Northern Portugal.
The airport is named after Francisco Sa Carneiro, the first Portuguese minister who passed away on a plane crash while he was traveling from Lisbon to Porto. It is located about 10 km from the city, and the city center can be reached by car, metro, train, bus, and taxi.
Porto airport is used by flag companies as well as by various low cost airlines for domestic, international, and intercontinental flights. Ryanair has one of its logistics bases in Porto.