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15 Best Places to Visit in Northern Portugal

BY Gary Arndt From Everything-Everywhere

Apart from Porto, Northern Portugal is often forgotten by international tourists. However, as Portuguese who traveled extensively in our country, we know that northern Portugal is probably the most authentic region, with a wide range of interesting destinations. If you are planning a trip to Portugal you should reserve at least a few days to discover it. In this post, we will present you with some of the most interesting things to do in Northern Portugal.

1. Porto

The Ribeira Neighborhood in Porto, Portugal
The Ribeira Neighborhood in Porto

Porto is the biggest city and the main travel hub in northern Portugal. However, until a few years ago it was forgotten by tourism, but in the last 10 years, that has changed. Porto has been considered the best European destination 3 times, and Historic center of Porto is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Today tourists travel to Porto to enjoy the exquisite food, the beautiful views, and the charm of its historic center. Ribeira is probably the most famous area in Porto with its old houses, narrow alleys, the Douro river, and D. Luis Bridge. Nevertheless, we strongly advise you to visit some other important attractions like the neoclassical Stock Exchange building, the Cathedral, Clérigos Tower, the modernist House of music and Porto’s city park.

2. Guimarães

Guimaraes is located 50 km north of Porto and it’s regarded as the berth of the Portuguese nation due to the fact that the Battle of São Mamede was fought there and it’s considered the crucial event for the foundation of Portugal.

In Guimaraes, the two main buildings are the Castle of Guimarães and the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança. The castle was initially built in the X century and it has a big national significance, while the Palace of the Dukes is a XV century impressive manor house with majestic rooms.

Nevertheless, the biggest reason to visit Guimaraes lies in its extraordinarily well preserved old town, filled with beautiful squares, cobbled streets, quaint alleys, and churches. Guimarães is also a UNESCO world heritage, since 2001.

3. Braga

Despite being one of the oldest Portuguese cities Braga is also one of the liveliest, mainly because of its University. Located in Minho about 55 Km north of Porto, Braga was always a very prominent city. During Roman times, Braga (Bracara Augusta) was the capital of the province of Gallaecia and later on, Braga became the first Portuguese Diocese.

Braga’s Cathedral was built in the 12th century by the parents of Portugal’s first King, D. Henrique, and D. Teresa, who were later buried there. This cathedral is the oldest in Portugal and it’s also called the treasure museum. One of the most pleasant things one can do in Braga is having a leisurely stroll around the historic center to visit the many churches, admire the houses and historical buildings.

4. Chaves

The Trajano Roman Bridge, Portugal
The Trajano Roman Bridge

Chaves is located in Tras os Montes, very close to the Spanish Border. The Area around Chaves is famous for being a great thermal region, with several spas and thermal baths. Chaves was already recognized by the excellent quality of the thermal springs and the healing properties of the water in the Roman times. In fact, one of the cities attractions are the Roman baths.

Chaves is also strategically important for centuries, as it was the first defense against invaders. The medieval castle, its keep, and the whole medieval quarter contained within the city walls are the remaining testimony to the city’s defensive importance.

Some of the other attractions not to miss in Chaves are the Trajano Roman bridge, the beautiful floral balconies in the old town, and the ducal palace. Finally, when visiting Chaves don’t forget to try the local specialties: Pastel de Chaves, the Hams, and Sausages.

5. Gerês National Park

Geres National Park, Portugaldata:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw==
Geres National Park

Geres National Park is located in the extreme north of Portugal, bordering Spain. It’s about 1h30 from Porto and the only national park in Portugal. Geres is a nature wonderland with lush woods, waterfalls, and lakes. However, it’s also home to some traditional villages with very unique settings and cultural heritage.

One of the best ways of exploring Geres is hiking through the several trials of the park and discovering hidden viewpoints, cascades, and river lakes. If it’s warm enough one can even dive in and refresh!

Some of the most famous (and beautiful) attractions in Geres National Park are:

  • Pedra Bela Lookout – one of the most beautiful lookouts in Portugal
  • Albergaria Forest – the heart of Gerês National Park
  • Tahiti waterfalls – Possibly the most beautiful of the many falls in Geres
  • Misarela Bridge – incredible bridge hidden in a canyon

6. Douro Valley

Douro Valley
Douro Valley

The Douro valley is a big region where the Douro river snakes through the hills of vineyards creating incredibly scenic views. One of the things we love about the Douro valley is that you can visit it in different ways. One can have a river cruise, a road trip, a train trip, a helicopter ride, or even explore it by bike! Each way you visit it is different, but it’s always a wonderful experience.
The vineyards in the Douro valley produce the famous Port wine and the whole region is a UNESCO heritage site since 2001. While visiting the Douro valley, some of the mandatory stops are Pocinho, Pinhão, Peso da Régua and Miranda do Douro.

7. Viana do Castelo

Viana do Castelo, Portugal
Viana do Castelo

Viana do Castelo is located in the north of Portugal, about 1h from Porto, at the mouth of Lima River. Located in a mountaintop is Santa Luzia Basilica and its panoramic views are our favorite things in Viana do Castelo. The church itself is iconic and would be enough for a visit, but its location and the lookout to the city, Lima River and the ocean is majestic.

The beaches close to Viana do Castelo are also very nice, however, the water is cold… very cold, even in Summer. Finally, Gil Eannes is a former Portuguese hospital ship that was converted into a very interesting museum and a youth hostel. It’s a very different attraction, but one that we strongly advise you to check and even spend a night, if you can.

8. Amarante

Amarante is a sleepy village beautifully located on the bank of Tamega River. The picturesque Saint Gonçalo bridge and the beautiful church next to it are the most important features of the historic center, while the garden park by the Tamega river gives Amarante the special touch that makes this village so appealing.

The small cobbled alleys and the balconied houses lend a medieval and even romantic touch to Amarante. Walking through the village is definitely the best way to visit it, and while doing so you might as well try some of its famous conventual pastry. If you like sweets and pastries, you are in for a treat!

9. Ponte de Lima

Ponte de Lima, Portugal
Ponte de Lima

Ponte de Lima is known in Portugal as the oldest “vila” (town/municipality) in the country. It’s also a very well know foodies destination, with plenty of traditional northern Portugal food. Among these, one particular dish stands out “Arroz de sarrabulho”, a unique and traditional pork and rice stew, with a very particular ingredient pork’s blood. It’s one of those things, you love it or… can’t even try it…

Ponte de Lima is known in Portugal as the oldest “vila” (town/municipality) in the country. It’s also a very well know foodies destination, with plenty of traditional northern Portugal food. Among these, one particular dish stands out “Arroz de sarrabulho”, a unique and traditional pork and rice stew, with a very particular ingredient pork’s blood. It’s one of those things, you love it or… can’t even try it…

10. Paiva Walkways

Paiva Walkways, Portugal
Paiva Walkways

The Paiva walkways (passadiços do Paiva in Portuguese) are probably the most famous trail in Portugal. They are located in the municipality of Arouca, about 65 km south-east of Porto, along with the left bank of the Paiva River.

The walkways are about 8 km long and provide a nature trail through the beautiful landscape along the Paiva River. The route stretches from the river beaches of Areinho and Espiunca, lying between them, the Vau beach. During the trail, you can also observe the Aguieiras waterfalls, the rapids and the gorge of the Paiva River. Please note that despite not being very long, this is a very steep trail making it quite difficult.

11. Aveiro

A traditional moliceiros in Aveiro, Portugal
A traditional moliceiros in Aveiro

The city of Aveiro is located about 50 km south of Porto in the mouth of the Vouga River, the Aveiro Lagoon. Aveiro is usually dubbed as the Portuguese Venice because of its high-prowed boats, bridges and the network of picturesque canals. Like almost every Portuguese town, Aveiro is best visited by foot, though its canals make a tour with the traditional boats (moliceiros) an incredible experience.

While visiting Aveiro one needs to visit the colorful Costa Nova, a stretch of sandy beach best known for its strip painted houses and the dunes in the Natural reserve of São Jacinto close by.

12. Pitões de Júnias

This very small village is still located in Peneda-Geres National Park but it’s so far from most of the other attractions in Geres that we decided it needed an item for itself. In fact, it isn’t only far from the rest of Geres, it’s far from everything in Portugal. Though, that’s one of its appeals.
Pitões de Júnias isn’t your usual travel destination… it doesn’t really receive many tourists, yet it’s a marvelous soothing place. There are two main attractions in Pitões de Junias, an old, decrypting monastery, and a nice waterfall with a trail leading to it. The monastery was built in the 9th century and it’s no longer in use. Yet it’s such a wonderful sight and a great place to explore that makes the trip to Pitões de Júnias worth it.

13. Foz Coa

Foz Coa literally means the mouth of Coa (river) and it’s where the Coa River drains into the Douro. Despite its wonderful setting Foz Coa only became a tourist attraction in the last 20 years. While doing an environmental impact study for a dam, researchers discovered an astounding collection of Palaeolithic art.

In a hindsight, the archaeologists brought the petroglyphs to the world’s attention, the dam construction was canceled, the paintings became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and now Foz Coa is one of the most interesting things to visit in Portugal.

14. Caminha

Caminha Beach
Caminha Beach

Caminha is a small coastal located in the north west of Portugal, on the bank of Minho River. This is a cute old town with different architectural styles combined. In Caminha a traveler should visit Rua Direita (which means straight street), the central square with a beautiful fountain and the clocks town.

The beach at Caminha wraps around the coast and alongside the river giving beachgoers two options, the ocean or the river. Around 200 meters off the coast, there’s the impressive (and picture-perfect) 17th century Forte de Insua. The beaches around Caminha are some of our favorite in northern Portugal, however, remember the water is cold, very cold!

15. Miranda do Douro

Miranda do Douro is a fortified frontier town, located on the bank of Douro river. In this region, the Douro river creates an impressive and dramatic gorge. The ruined castle and the Cathedral of Miranda do Douro give the town a medieval touch and charm.
One of the best things to do in Miranda do Douro is going on a river cruise through the Douro international natural park and enjoy the views. Miranda do Douro is also famous for its delicious “posta mirandesa”, an extremely tasty and large veal steak, from veals raised in this region.

Jorge & Claudia Bastos are travel Bloggers from Portugal and love to travel the world. They lived in Angola for 3 years and currently are traveling the globe. Their mission is to keep on discovering new countries and sharing their tips on smart and budget traveling on their site Travel Drafts.

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