15 Best things to do in Vila Nova de Gaia (Portugal)

Opposite Porto on the Douro River, Vila Nova de Gaia is a city that occupies the southern bank and stretches along the coast. For most of its life, Vila Nova de Gaia has been known for its port wine cellars. Fortified wine will be brought here by water from the East and stored in warehouses, many of which still exist and are open to visitors.

If you want to taste port in Portugal, this is the only place to go, and the wine cellar selection is almost dizzying. High on the Douro River, there are also some magnificent views, with views of the banks of the River Gaia and Porto’s old town. For beach time, you’ll have no less than 15 Blue Flag beaches within easy reach.

Let’s discover the best things to do in Vila Nova de Gaia:

1. Port

port

Next to the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, you will stand where barrels and ports have been loaded and unloaded for centuries.

This continued until the 1950s when wine began to arrive by truck.

It all comes from the far eastern upper Douro Valley and is brought here to mature in oak barrels.

Port wine is fortified by the addition of brandy during fermentation.

This is what makes it sweeter because it stops the fermentation process, but in the 18th century the main reason for doing this was to keep the wine longer on voyages.

2. The Harbor Inn

Sandman

So now the hardest part is figuring out which port hotel you want to go to.

There are more than 60 caves in Vilanova de Gaia, at least 20 of which are open to tourists.

Typically, you get to know the different types of ports (tawny, white, crusty, vintage) and the slow development of ports in perforated oak barrels.

The wines are stored in cool, damp cellars, and you might be surprised how old some of the barrels are.

Many of the hotels have English names that date back to when Britain turned to ports after sanctions were imposed on French wine in the 1700s.

There are Sandeman, Cálem, Graham’s and Quinta do Noval to consider, and you can taste each to see the difference.

3. Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar

On the terrace overlooking the Dom Luís I bridge and the Douro River is this 16th-century monastery, listed as a World Heritage Site in Porto.

This is Gaia’s most important landmark, a vibrant place day and night.

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From here, there are exhilarating views of the Douro River, and you can see Porto and most of both sides of the river, as far west as the modern Arrábida Bridge.

The monastery itself dates back to the 16th century, and the church is decorated with 18th-century gilded altarpieces and polychrome sculptures of St. Augustine, Apollonia and Eulalia.

4. Teleférico de Gaia

Gaia Telecom

Opened in 2011, the cable car travels just over half a kilometer up and down the high south bank of the Douro River.

The upper terminus is the Serra do Pilar Monastery, the station that will be used by people crossing the border from Porto.

From here you will be flown to the water’s edge of Avenida Ramos Pinto, 50 meters above the port huts and warehouses.

The journey takes five minutes, enough time to photograph the river, the Dom Luís I bridge and the timeless cityscape of Gaia.

5. Casa-Museu Teixeira Lopes

Casa-Museu Teixeira Lopes

Sculptor António Teixeira Lopes (1866-1942) to appreciate this museum, you don’t have to be immersed in Portuguese art. A native of Vila Nova de Gaia, his work spread throughout the Porto region, and in 1895 his brother designed a palatial studio for him.

Now home to the museum, which, in addition to the many works by Teixeira Lopes, introduces you to Portuguese art of the past 200 years.

You can see sculptures by António Soares dos Reis and José Sousa Caldas, as well as paintings by Rococo court painter Vieira Lusitano or 19th century naturalist José Malhoa.

6. Douro River Tour

Douro River Tour

At the marina along the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, boats are ready to take you on a fast cruise along the Douro.

It’s chilling to know that this is where the barrels were rolled from the old rabelo boat.

During your hour-long cruise, you’ll get commentary on Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto’s landmarks, including the six bridges that cross the river.

The Douro is a spectacular river, so you may be in a longer mood.

Before you come, book a three-day cruise to the terraced vineyards of Pinhão, or go a step further and take a week-long trip to Spain.

7. Dom Louis I Bridge

Dom Louis I Bridge

Your connection to Porto, this metal bridge is one of the city’s international icons and broke records when it was completed in 1886. The designer was Théophile Seyrig, who co-founded the Eiffel company in 1868. One of the many innovative features of the time was the inclusion of two floors: today, the upper floor is used for Porto’s light rail system and pedestrians, while the lower floor is used for road traffic, which also houses pedestrian paths.

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8. Capela do Senhor da Pedra

Capela do Senhor da Pedra

Whether winter or summer, you can take some great photos at this unique location, Praia de Miramar, in Gulpilhares.

Senhor da Pedra is a 17th century Baroque chapel embedded in a rocky outcrop directly in front of the sea.

In summer, you can enjoy the surreal experience of sunbathing next to the chapel.

On Trinity Sunday around May or June, people make pilgrimages to the chapel on the beach, but for the rest of the year it’s a beautiful curiosity stranded on the beach.

9. Praia da Granja

praia da granja

The southernmost beach at Vila Nova de Gaia is definitely one of the cutest.

Like many on this coast, it has Blue Flag status every year, but what gives it some character are the old holiday cottages and mansions next to it.

These are from the 19th century, when Praia da Granja was the choice of nobles, industrialists, artists and famous writers such as Ramalho Ortigão and Eçade Queirós.

It wasn’t long before the famous poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen would spend summers here as a child, and the setting inspired some of her work.

10. Jardim do Morro

Jardim do Morro

Adjacent to the monastery and the cable car station is this park, which benefits from the romantic panorama of Porto.

It was landscaped in 1927, and tree-shaded paths meander up the slope, offering many places to stop and admire the view.

The breeze is blowing from the Atlantic Ocean, and there are several stalls selling souvenirs.

After the chaos by the river, it’s also a great place to take a break and contemplate Porto and the Douro in your own time.

After sunset, you can pick out landmarks like the Clérigos church tower and the illuminated cathedral.

11. San Inacio Zoo

San Inacio Zoo

If you have a young family, there is a good option besides the port warehouse in Vila Nova de Gaia on the upper Douro River.

It’s a bit far from town, but you can take a bus or a taxi and be there in less than ten minutes.

With 1,000 residents from 300 species, the zoo features a tropical greenhouse, reptile house, insect house and educational farm.

Among the many exotic animals are giraffes, cheetahs, capybaras, macaques, Siberian tigers and Burmese pythons.

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There are demonstrations throughout the day, all given by the same person! With birds of prey flying, you’ll get up close to harmless snakes and watch penguins feed.

12. Estação Litoral da Aguda

Estação Litoral da Aguda

There is another animal attraction in Agouda, which houses an aquarium and maritime museum.

Here are 15 tanks that vividly demonstrate the fauna and underwater plant life of the Atlantic Ocean near Portugal.

You’ll be able to examine more than 700 animals from 60 species, including octopuses, spider crabs and turtles.

The Museum District is home to a crazy mix of sailing, hunting, fishing, and the natural sciences, including antique harpoons, model boats, minerals, skeletons, and nets.

13. Gaia Bio Park

Gaia Bio Park

If you have young kids, this outdoor attraction in Aventus is also worth it, which showcases the area’s natural history, wildlife, and domesticated animals.

Kids will love the animal enclosure with goats, pigs, deer and turtles.

Due to the encroachment of the Porto metropolis, the park has an ecological purpose and creates a space for more than 40 different bird species to nest.

Depending on the season, many more visit during the migration.

There are also life-size models of prehistoric beasts, including the giant Brachiosaurus.

14. More beaches

Miramar the Praia do Senhor da Bedra

Needless to say, there are many more beaches to explore on Vila Nova de Gaia.

The city has more concentration of blue flag beaches than anywhere else in Portugal.

There are 17 kilometers of sandy beaches, and at least 15 beaches in a given year have been awarded the Blue Flag for cleanliness and facilities.

Some options marked on your map are Praia do Senhor da Bedra in Maddalena, Valladares, Aguda and Miramar, which has that sensational chapel at sea.

15. Porto

Porto

With only the width of a river from Vila Nova de Gaia and Portugal’s second largest city, Porto is where you can get in and out if you live on the South Bank.

You hardly need to cross a river to find vibrant areas and activities in this UNESCO city.

The Ribeira district is crowded on the waterfront, with a lively square and café terraces crowded with tourists and locals.

You can take the cable car right up to the city walls, then head to the newer parts of town to visit churches decorated with magnificent gilded woodwork, or Palácio da Bolsa, with its eclectic and luxurious interiors.

Where to stay: The best hotels in Nova Gaia, Portugal
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