15 things to do in northern Portugal

In the northern regions of Portugal, you can start with the UNESCO sites in Porto, Guimaraes or the Douro Valley. Alternatively, you can escape to the unspoiled wilderness of Portugal’s only national park, Peneda-Gerês, or head to the Atlantic coast and its stunning golden beaches.

Then there are wines grown in spectacular terraced vineyards on the banks of the Douro River in the east and Minho in the north. In Porto, grape spirits are added to make a fortified wine known and loved around the world. In Coa, thousands of years of prehistoric art are carved into the rock and presented like a giant outdoor gallery.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Northern Portugal:

1. Porto

Porto

Norte’s capital has a subtle charm that has captured the hearts of people in the unpretentious Ribeira region by the water.

This closed and chaotic neighborhood is out of step with the elegant 18th-century city on the hill.

There’s a lot to see and do in Porto, but you should always save two hours for churches like Santa Clara, which boast some of the most lavish gilded woodwork from the early 1700s.

The Foz de Douro neighborhood is a great place to dine and watch the sunset, while Vila Nova de Gaia, on the south bank of the river, has centuries of port-manufacturing know-how to share.

2. Braga

Braga

The capital of the Minho region, Braga is a young university town built around an old core with exquisite Manueline and Baroque architecture from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Churches, fountains and mansions are covered in glaze to win your favor.

For sheer drama, nothing beats the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary just outside the city.

It’s as extravagant as they come, with a baroque staircase that zigzags up more than 100 meters to this pilgrimage church, passing fountains during the test climb.

That climb might not have been a fun day for everyone, so it’s nice to have a 19th-century funicular railway to take the pressure.

3. Guimaraes

Guimaraes

When Portugal was wrested from the Moors in the 12th century, Guimaraes was the base of power and became the capital of the time.

So it’s not wrong to say that Portugal was born in this charming city.

Your priority should be several monuments dating back to this era, such as the 10th-century castle and the church of Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira.

The historic center has many Gothic buildings in lovely little squares, as well as the 15th-century Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, decorated with period furniture and tapestries.

You can also take the cable car to the top of the top of Peña and have a picnic on the panoramic view of the city.

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4. Douro Valley

douro valley

The Douro Valley flows through the region from east to west, reaching the Atlantic Ocean in Porto.

To the east, the valley is a long World Heritage Site that can be the green line that runs through your holiday in the region.

You may come to northern Portugal for history, nature or wine, but you may find that you keep coming to these banks.

The Douro International Natural Park in the region’s far east heralds the river’s entry into Portugal through rugged gorges.

A classic scene in the Alto Douro wine region is the steep green river bank with vines on terraces stretching down to the water’s edge.

This is amazing in February or March when the almond trees are in bloom.

5. Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa

Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa

Included in the Douro Valley’s Wold heritage is this major site of prehistoric art, discovered during the construction of the dam in the 1990s.

Starting 24,000 years ago, humans have carved images into rocks, depicting people and animals.

This activity continued until the 1st century BC, so the chronology of art from prehistoric to Roman times is almost perfect.

There are several different park tours to choose from, but these images are best viewed at night when illuminated and explained by a guide.

If you can’t get enough of this mysterious place, come back and browse the modern museum.

6. Old Viana Castello

old Viana do Castelo

The old center of the harbour city can be seen on both feet.

You don’t really need to plan; just start in front of the old town hall and see where you end up.

Exquisite Manuel and Renaissance houses are an eye-opener.

Starting at Praça da Republica, you’ll find a 16th-century carved fountain, while this former town hall building is also of the same era, made of granite and bearing the city’s coat of arms.

Next door, Santa Casa Da Misericórdia is richly decorated, with a loggia supported by ornately carved caryatids.

7. Fortaleza Valenza

fortaleza valenza

Across the width of the River Minho from Spain, you can bet the border town of Valenza has seen some battles.

The walls of the castle have been demolished by the barbarians, Moors, armies of the various Spanish kingdoms and the French, but have been restored after each attack.

The present walls are a complex system of bulwarks and corner walls from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Besides being very scenic in the way it harmonizes with the hillside, it is a marvel of military engineering that will have historians engrossed.

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8. Peneda Jerez National Park

Peneda Jerez National Park

The country’s largest protected area is located in northern Portugal.

When you enter this unique area and come into contact with its wildlife, you will understand why it should be protected as a national park.

The pastel colors of granite and vegetation are beautiful in holly forests and woodlands with huge oak trees.

Take a quiet walk and you may spot roe deer or their natural enemies, the Iberian wolf.

Wherever you go, you should see handsome garrano ponies that are semi-wild and can go wherever they want in the park.

There are also traces of older human life in the Roman landmarks, cromlechs and menhirs.

9. Espigueiros de Soajo

espigueros de soajo

In the village of Soajo, within the boundaries of the national park, you’ll come across these peculiar stone structures scattered around the village.

There was also a place near the church where several people gathered.

They have stones on their roofs that look like giant tombs.

But these are actually ancient corn granaries, made of granite, supported by ten stone legs and with a triangular roof.

The oldest dating back to 1782, they are still used to keep corn cool and dry.

10. Chavez Roman Bridge

Chavez Roman Bridge

In Roman times, Chavez was a regional power because it was located at the intersection of three important roads that basically connected the Roman provinces of Lusitania and Hispania.

This bridge across the Tâmega River dates back to the reign of Trajan in the early 2nd century.

Naturally, a 140-meter-long bridge with 12 arches required years of operation and maintenance, but the two monumental columns of the original bridge survived.

An inscription on the building describes the local labor drafted for the building.

11. Bragança Castle

Braganza Castle

Remote Bragança is an unassuming town in the northeast of the country, but the dominant medieval castle will spark the imagination of young and old.

It is located within a larger shell that contains the castle, and all the walls are constructed of shale.

This was mined locally and used in many buildings in the area, but gave the old defensive walls an unusual combination of colours and shades.

The battlements walk is free, but you have to pay to enter the fortress.

It is 33 meters high and was built in the 12th century.

You have to use a ladder to get to the roof, but the satisfying view of the Fervença river makes it worth the money.

12. O Navio Gil Eannes

O Navio Gil Eannes

The ship docked at Viana do Castelo was launched in 1955 and has a very special purpose.

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It will sail into Arctic waters and provide medical assistance to Portugal’s large cod fishing fleet.

It held this role for 20 years and was supposed to be scrapped before being restored and opened at the shipyard in Viana do Castelo in the late 90s.

In any case, it will make one understand how dangerous life is for trawler workers.

Lots of vintage medical equipment has been preserved, including an operating room close to the hull to reduce movement.

13. Santa Maria da Feira Castle

Santa Maria da Feira Castle

A contender for Portugal’s most photogenic castle, this fort in Santa Maria de Feira dates back to the 9th century.

It was directly on the front line of the struggle between Christians and Muslims, and was an important springboard after it was twice wrested from Moorish control in the 11th century.

Unlike many other medieval castles, this building is more than a shell.

There is a chapel next to the Barbican guarding the entrance, and a narrow spiral staircase leads to the top of the fortress, where you can see Fira and the sea.

14. Beach

playa daluz

If you like widescreen, cinematic, big, beautiful beaches, Northern Portugal is the place for you.

There are rough Atlantic waves, towering dunes and huge golden sands.

No matter where you are on the coast, you don’t have to drive far.

One of the options is Caminha, at the northernmost point, at the Minho Estuary, with views of the 341-meter-high Monte de Santa Tecla on the Spanish side.

For unrestrained natural beauty, to the south is Praia de Árvore, which runs parallel to the nature reserve and has granite white sand beaches.

For a superb city beach, you can relax on the terrace of the Praia da Luz bar in Porto.

15. Wine

Douro Valley wines

Northern Portugal is the country’s best wine producing region.

You have to start in the Douro Valley: in the east, the Atlantic has less influence and the climate is more similar to the Mediterranean.

You can grow almost any variety of grapes in the Douro Valley, and the region produces red wines ranging from pale to intense, such as white sparkling wines and even muscadines.

The Minho region to the north is known for its white wines, where Albarino grapes are grown to make excellent wines for fish.

In the end, nothing beats the port, which is transported from the upper valley to the new city of Gaia.

Wine cellars on the Atlantic coast have been making this fortified red dessert wine for hundreds of years.

Where to Stay: Portugal’s Best Hotels in Northern Portugal
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