The town of Wallongo is located in the mountains 10 km from the centre of Porto. You can experience every inch of the northern capital before returning to a quiet residential community close to forested mountains and vineyards with a few attractions of its own to keep you distracted.
In June, one of Portugal’s most unique traditional celebrations takes place in Valongo, while it also hosts a magical festival in the fall, with reservations for up to 200 performers, many from abroad. You can also see some of Porto’s outskirts that are overlooked by most tourists, such as the medieval Leça do Balio monastery, which was designed as a fort, in convenient places.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Wallongo:
1. The Porto River
A 15-minute drive from Porto, you will naturally be drawn to this UNESCO city.
You should dive into the historic core of Ribeira, with its brightly coloured houses on the banks of the Douro River.
It’s a chaotic, tourist-friendly area with bars and restaurants.
From the marina there is a view of the Dom Luís I bridge over the Douro river with two levels of road, pedestrian and tram traffic.
On the left bank of the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia are the famous port huts, as well as some spectacular viewpoints on the river looking back to Porto.
On this side of the river, you can take a short cruise on the rabelo, the old boats that used to transport wine downstream from wineries in the east.
2. Porto’s museums and attractions
It takes a few days to travel all over Porto, but there are a few must-haves that every beginner has to do.
The baroque church of Clérigos has a 76-meter tower that cuts through the cityscape and has 240 steps to the top.
The sensational Palácio da Bolsa stock exchange building has 19th- and 20th-century interiors, with almost every hall in a different style, including the Arabian Room with its extremely ornate stucco.
Liberty Square is an elegant open space bounded by the Town Hall and grand apartment blocks, designed in the 18th century.
This is followed by the cathedral and a large number of smaller churches (Igreja do Carmo, Igreja de São Francisco first), all decorated with gilded woodwork and glazed tiles.
3. Museu Municipal de Valongo
Wallongo’s museum is located in the neoclassical former town hall from the beginning of the 19th century.
When it was converted into an attraction in 2001, some of the interiors were restored to their original splendor, while other parts of the building were transformed into bold modern exhibition spaces.
You’ll learn about the history and culture of Wallongo, its ancient slate mining and flax processing businesses, and the Bugios (Christians) and Mourisqueiros (Moors) that hit the streets on June 24th. There are also paintings, religious art, trilobite fossils and Roman artifacts from the gold mines they dug in the Valongo mountains.
4. Galeria Museológica do Fórum Cultural de Ermesinde
Ermesinde’s cultural center is as cool as they come.
It was transformed into the town’s tile and brick factory, dating back to 1910. The building was completely renovated with an auditorium and galleries, but much of the factory was integrated into the design.
The art exhibition was actually held inside the old furnace, using its vents for lighting and air conditioning.
Since its opening, the gallery has hosted exhibitions for some of the luminaries of Portuguese contemporary art, such as Cruzeiro Seixas, Albuquerque Mendes and Jaime Isidoro, as well as emerging talent from around Porto.
5. Lusa Museum
Wallongo once had slate mines, and although these are no longer mined, the industry has left a small legacy in the town.
Museu da Lousa has three slate houses, built using traditional techniques.
The first of these drove people back to the hardships of miner life, with cramped living quarters and a small workshop where women in the family would sharpen stone pens for extra income.
The remaining two buildings have mining machinery, photographs and exhibits on material extraction and its various applications.
6. Centro de Interpretação Ambiental
Near Valongo, the metropolis of Porto began to dwindle, and urban sprawl was replaced by the Santa Justa and Pias Mountains.
These low-lying peaks are set among natural woodlands and eucalyptus plantations and are crossed by a tributary of the Douro River.
Before starting your hike through the landscape, you can drop off this interpretive center to give you a quick look at the plants and animals that have habitat in the range, as well as some of the fossils found in the range.
7. Festa da Bugiada
St. John’s Day or the night before is a special day in the Porto region, and each city has its own way of celebrating.
Valongo’s celebration, which takes place on the 24th, is so unique that it may soon be recognized by UNESCO. The story behind the scenes playing out on the streets of Wallongo is a battle for the miraculous image of St. John the Baptist owned by the Christians (Bugiadas), but also by Mourisqueros (Moors) who want to help heal their king’s daughter.
Both sides wore brightly colored, strictly coded costumes and performed dances to symbolize the conflict.
But there are more wonderful performances, such as satires and other traditional dances (Dança do Cego ou Sapateirada).
8. Magical Valongo
Every year in early October, the oldest magic festival in Portugal brings dazzling splendor to Valongo.
The event was small, but it won the hearts of the European magic world and was praised by the International Society of Magic (FISM). It has been going on since 1992 and has invited dozens of magicians to town.
These come from all over the world, and among the guests over the years are several FISM Award winners.
They take part in magic competitions, street performances, conferences and celebrations in the trendy cultural centre of Ermesinde.
9. Museu Mineiro de São Pedro da Cova
If you’re curious about the old-school lifestyle around Wallongo, you won’t be short of things to do.
In 2010, the abandoned mining complex in San Pedro da Cova was declared a “Monument of Public Interest”. Coal has been mined at the site for 170 years, and some heavy structures remain on site, such as the concrete headframe of the Titanic, the first in Portugal to be constructed of the material.
In the gallery of the original dormitory, you can enter a section of tunnels, see original mine carts, helmets, lamps, and discover the geology of the coal seam below Gondomar.
10. Estádio do Dragão
The northeastern suburbs of Porto are home to its most famous football team.
The UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup, Porto have all won the title and are the second most successful team in Portuguese history after Benfica.
This gleaming heritage awaits you at the museum, which can be combined with a tour of the stadium.
You’ll enter the dugout and get the coach’s view of the 50,434-seat arena.
If you’re new to the club, the museum will take you on a tour of those cup winners and showcase the pantheon of former superstars such as Deco, Joao Pinto, Jardel, Falcao, and the squads that won Euro 1987 and 2004 .
11. Mosteiro de Leça do Balio
A short drive through the northern suburbs of Porto, this church is a Portuguese National Monument, dating back to the 1000s.
In fact, this place is much older than that one, because the place has Roman and Gothic temples, but not in the current building.
It was redesigned in Gothic by the Order of the Hospitaller in the 1300s, and this is the look that has survived.
Note the defensive towers with turrets and arrow rings, and the serrations that cover every wall of the building.
Despite its narrow Romanesque windows, the nave has an airy quality, and as you browse, you’ll find oddly carved figures on the capital and the reclining Gothic tombs of 15th-century monks.
12. Mayan Zoo
Maia’s zoo is a must if you’re vacationing with smaller family members, but adults will also appreciate that the residents are well looked after.
This attraction has more reptiles than any other zoo in Portugal, including turtles, tortoises, geckos, iguanas, as well as a variety of snakes and caiman.
Many snakes live in the same creepy hall as the park’s scorpions, tarantulas and piranhas.
The zoo’s sea lions have feeding demonstrations and you can watch birds of prey in flight, scheduled 3 times a day.
13. The coast
If you’re craving sea breezes and rolling waves, you won’t need more than 15 minutes to reach Matosinhos, a Blue Flag beach that’s completely exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and has a pair of powerful rollers that surfers love.
Matosinhos is also a seafood hub, especially around the old fishing port, where grilled sardines, seafood platters (crabs are great here), shellfish rice and various cod preparations.
For a more remote beach setting, you can travel along the coast, past the airport, to the protected dune-ringed beach on the way to Vila do Conde.
14. Nacent Park
It’s good to know that even though Wallongo is almost at the foot of the countryside and mountains, you can still get some serious shopping done.
That’s because the Parque Nascente shopping centre is ten minutes away.
It’s one of Porto’s main shopping destinations, attracting 12.5 million visitors a year, while Iberian brands like Oysho, Bershka and Zara are taking Europe by storm.
Opened in 2003, the huge complex has 135 shops over three floors, as well as 35 restaurants and a cinema.
If you’re concerned about language in movies, most English-language movies have subtitles instead of dubbing.
There are also several supermarkets if you need groceries.
15. Food and drink
Valongo’s baking tradition is as strong as ever, and there are some local delicacies to try.
In bakery windows, you’ll see doces brancos, meringue-like sweets decorated with lemon icing.
Traditional desserts here often use leftover bread.
So there’s sopa seca (literally dry souo), a bread soaked in wine and lots of sugar and flavored with cinnamon, and pudim de pão, in which the bread is mixed with milk, eggs, and sugar.
As for drinks, there are vineyards around Valongo producing vinho verde, which is naturally light and fresh and goes great with seafood.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Wallongo, Portugal
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