Portugal has quickly become one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. Portugal has so much more to offer than its golden, sandy beaches in the Algarve and beautiful tiles in Lisbon. Most visitors are taken aback by the green northern section of Portugal, in particular.
Indeed, the Porto area, Douro Valley, and its charming scenic villages include a variety of gems such as breathtaking vistas, delectable food, and warm-hearted people. This article is about the best places to visit in Northern Portugal, including some of the best beaches.
Some regions, particularly in the highlands of Tras-Os-Montes and Viseu, appear to be frozen in time. A journey to Northern Portugal is an opportunity to reconnect with yourself. It’s about pampering oneself and discovering inner serenity amid gorgeous scenery. Discover a bustling culture, total silence in the Douro valley, and exquisite food and world-class wines.
Why and When Should You Visit Northern Portugal?
Portugal is a well-known tourism destination. It boasts a lot of authentic sites and is nonetheless reasonably priced (one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe). When is the best time to visit Portugal? The best seasons are late spring and early autumn.
In July and August, you can avoid the crowds while still enjoying the warm weather. If the summer vacation is the only time available to you, don’t worry.
If you can take two or three weeks off, travel the country by automobile. Don’t rush from one attraction to the next; instead, immerse yourself in the southern Portuguese way of life. Some visitors spend up to 2.5 weeks just visiting northern Portugal.
Wander through the small towns, go for long hikes in the beautiful scenery, sample the great food, and don’t forget the fantastic wine. It’s not that difficult to live a nice life! That said, let’s look at the best places to visit in Northern Portugal.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Portugal
While Porto might be the first place that comes to mind when you think of Northern Portugal, there is no lack of places to visit and things to do. The northern side of this country is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, which is why tourists are drawn to the region every season of the year.
As Portugal’s second-largest city, it’s no surprise that there is no shortage of things to do in Porto, especially if you enjoy history and culture. Tourists visit Porto nowadays to experience the fine gastronomy, breathtaking views, and the charm of its historic core.
Ribeira is undoubtedly Porto’s most well-known neighborhood, with its old houses, tiny lanes, the Douro River, and the D. Luis Bridge. However, we strongly suggest you see some other notable attractions as well, such as the neoclassical Stock Exchange building, the Cathedral, Clérigos Tower, and the modernist House of Culture.
The Douro valley is a large region where the Douro River snakes over wine hills, offering breathtaking views. One of our favorite things about the Douro Valley is that you can explore it in a variety of ways. A road trip, river cruise, a helicopter ride, a rail ride, or even a bike ride are all options! It’s different every time you go, but it’s always a beautiful experience.
The Douro Valley vineyards produce the famed Port wine, and the entire region has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. Pocinho, Peso da Régua, Pinhao, and Miranda do Douro are all must-sees when visiting the Douro Valley.
Chaves was a regional power during the Roman era because it was at the crossroads of three important roads that connected the Roman provinces of Lusitania and Hispania. The Tâmega River Bridge was built at the turn of the second century, during Trajan’s rule.
It’s only inevitable that a 140-meter-long bridge with 12 arches would require some maintenance over time, yet two memorial columns from the historic bridge remain. One includes an inscription regarding the building, which describes the local labor drafted for the job.
Aveiro is about 50 kilometers south of Porto in the Aveiro Lagoon, at the mouth of the Vouga River. Because of its high-prowed boats, bridges, and network of gorgeous canals, Aveiro is often referred to as the Portuguese Venice.
Aveiro, like almost every other Portuguese town, is best explored on foot, while its canals make a trip with traditional boats (moliceiros) an unforgettable experience. While at Aveiro, don’t miss out on the vibrant Costa Nova, a swath of sandy beach noted for its strip-painted buildings and the neighboring dunes in the Sao Jacinto Natural Reserve.
Braga, a charming city not far from Porto, is worth a visit. Braga is a small city that is readily walkable and full of beautiful squares and churches.
You can spend the day exploring the colorful streets; in high season, the main promenades and squares will be crowded, but when you’re off the main pathways, the streets will be mostly empty. Bom Jesus Do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mountain), a sanctuary and pilgrimage destination, is located just outside of town.
Guimares is about 50 kilometers north of Porto and is considered the birthplace of the Portuguese nation because the Battle of So Mamede was fought there, which is regarded as a pivotal event in the formation of Portugal.
The Castle of Guimares and the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança are the two most important buildings in Guimares. The castle was originally erected in the 10th century and has significant national significance, whilst the Palace of the Dukes is an extraordinary 15th-century country house with beautiful rooms.
However, the main reason Guimares is one of the best places to visit in Northern Portugal is due to its exceptionally well-maintained old town, which is filled with magnificent squares, cobbled streets, tiny lanes, and churches.
Ponte De Lima
You can’t explore the best places to visit in Northern Portugal and not visit the country’s oldest town. Ponte de Lima is a little village with a medieval charm that will take your breath away. Visiting Ponte de Lima may take at least half a day, but plan on a full day because you won’t want to leave once you’ve been there.
The town is the country’s oldest “vila” (town/municipality). It’s also a popular gourmet destination, featuring an abundance of classic northern Portuguese cuisine. Among these is “Arroz de Sarrabulho,” a one-of-a-kind and traditional pig and rice stew with a very special ingredient: pork’s blood.
Geres National Park
Gerês National Park is situated in northern Portugal, near the border with Spain. It’s around an hour and 30 minutes from Porto and is Portugal’s sole national park. Gerês is a natural beauty with beautiful forests, waterfalls, and lakes. It does, however, have traditional villages with particularly unique scenery and cultural history.
Hiking around the park’s various routes and discovering secret vistas, falls, and river lakes are some of the greatest ways to enjoy Gerês. Evening canyoning is available for the more daring travelers. And if the weather is warm enough, one can even dive into the ocean to cool off!
Viana do Castelo
The historic town of this port city is designed to be explored on foot. You don’t need to have a strategy; just begin at the front of the old city hall and see where you wind yourself. There are refined Renaissance and Manueline houses to turn your head.
Beginning on Praça da Republica, you’ll find a carved fountain from the 16th century, as well as the former city hall structure, which is made of granite and bears the city’s coat of arms. The Santa Casa Da Misericórdia next door is highly ornately decorated, with a loggia supported by ornately carved caryatids.
Lamego, a lovely town beside the Douro River, is worth a visit. This small, baroque-infused hamlet is chiefly known for its important Sanctuary, which is surrounded by stunning alpine scenery.
The castle from the 13th century stands atop one of its two hills. The Porta dos Figo’s entrance arch leads into the inner city’s small lanes. The town’s museum is now housed in the 18th-century Episcopal Palace, which has works by Vasco Fernandes (Gro Vasco). The main church, the Sé, was built in the 12th century by Afonso Henriques, the first monarch of Portugal.
Amarante is a peaceful town on the banks of the Tamega River. The majestic Saint Gonçalo Bridge and the lovely church adjacent to it are the most prominent characteristics of the old town, while the garden park by the Tamega river gives Amarante its unique flavor.
Amarante’s tiny cobbled alleyways and balconied buildings give it a medieval, even romantic feel. Walking through the hamlet is unquestionably the finest way to see it, and while you’re doing it, you should eat some of its famed conventual pastries. You’re in for a thrill if you like pastries and sweets!
Vila Nova da Gaia
The old village of Vila Nova de Gaia, famous for its port wine lodges, is located on the steep south bank of the River Douro in northern Portugal, immediately opposite the magnificent city of Porto.
It was conferred town status in 1255 by King Afonso III and then donated to the aristocracy in order to combat the authority of the bishops of neighboring Porto, who were imposing unduly high shipping tolls at the time. Vila Nova de Gaia is a transpontine extension of Porto woven into the city’s fabric, best experienced on foot via the spectacular Dom Lus I bridge.
Passadiços do Paiva in Portuguese (The Paiva walkways) are perhaps Portugal’s most well-known route. They’re on the left bank of the Paiva River in the municipality of Arouca, some 65 kilometers south of Porto. The walkways are approximately 8 kilometers long and provide a nature trail through the lovely Paiva River scenery.
The course runs between the river beaches of Areinho and Espiunca, with the Vau beach in between. The Aguieiras waterfalls, the rapids, and the Paiva River canyon may all be seen along the route walk. Please keep in mind that, despite its short length, this is extremely steep terrain, making it fairly challenging, so you have to be ready for a hike.
Caminha is a tiny coastal town on the banks of the Minho River in Portugal’s northwestern region. This is a charming historic town with a mix of architectural types. A traveler to Caminha should pay a visit to Rua Direita (straight street), the central square with its lovely fountain, and the town clocks.
Caminha’s beach runs along the river and around the coast, giving beachgoers a choice between the ocean and the river. The spectacular (and picture-perfect) 17th century Forte de Insua is located about 200 meters off the coast. The beaches around Caminha are among our favorites in northern Portugal—but keep in mind that the water is really cold!
The Coa River empties into the Douro at Foz Coa, which literally means “mouth of the river.” Despite its beautiful surroundings, Foz Coa has only recently become a tourist magnet and one of the best places to visit. Researchers unearthed an amazing collection of Palaeolithic art while doing an environmental impact analysis for a dam.
In retrospect, archaeologists drew the petroglyphs to the world’s notice, the dam was never built, the paintings were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Foz Coa is today one of the best places to visit in Northern Portugal.
Praia da Costa Nova
You won’t find many houses painted in the same style as those at Praia da Costa Nova anywhere in the globe. The houses in this fishing village in Aveiro are painted in bright red, blue, and green patterns with white accents.
Other stripes run horizontally, while others run vertically, and some houses have both. These one-of-a-kind homes were initially built as shelters for fishermen and are now used as vacation homes. This is a great site to get your fill of fresh seafood in north Portugal. When the sea is rough, which is often, surfers flock to Praia da Costa Nova.
Miranda Do Douro
This old city was previously a Roman settlement before being captured by the Arabs in the ninth century, who gave it the name “Mir Andul,” which subsequently became Miranda. Because of its proximity to the boundary, it became a key point of defense in the twelfth century, when D. Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first monarch, ordered the construction of a castle and town walls, transforming the settlement into a true stronghold.
Miranda do Douro is noted for its vibrant and colorful heritage, such as the Pauliteiros de Miranda, who execute their famous stick dance to the accompaniment of bagpipes while clothed in traditional white flannel kilts. The origins of this dance can be traced back to the Iron Age Celtic occupation of the region.
Keep an eye out for folks who say “mirandês.” This is one of Portugal’s official languages, and it is widely spoken in this area. When it’s time to eat, keep an eye out for “Posta mirandesa,” a dish cooked with the region’s outstanding beef.
If you enjoyed this article you might also like to read about North Portugal Itinerary: 10 Days From Aveiro to Porto and Lamego Cathedral