Most travellers will fly into Porto of Lisbon and do a whistle stop tour of the main sites in those two main cities. But although they are stunning destinations, you will miss out on the traditional and local vibe of small and magical Portuguese towns such as Amarante if you don’t head out of the main cities.
Introduction to Amarante Portugal
The gorgeous inland town of Amarante in Portugal is one of the less well travelled destinations, although in my opinion, it’s not to be missed. Amarante is located about one hours drive East of Porto and is beautifully positioned on the river Tamega. Amarante is everything you think that Northern Portugal should be….the beautiful buildings, a gorgeous romantic bridge over the river and gastronomy to die for! You will find less tourists in Amarante and get more opportunities to practice your Portuguese. It’s rather hilly and cobbled, so stilettos are not really an option!
When to go to Amarante Portugal
Amarante can get very busy in the summer months and is also very hot – for this reason I tend to avoid July and August. I really like travelling in the shoulder season (April/May or Oct) when the tour buses are fewer and the weather is still warm but not too hot. I travelled to Amarante in mid October which was the perfect time to visit. Surprisingly the weather was 23 degrees C!
The first weekend of June is time for Amarante’s main annual festival, devoted to São Gonçalo, so this is another great time to go. There is a fertility theme to this festival so don’t be surprised to see penis shaped pastries!
How to get to Amarante, Portugal
Most people travelling to Amarante fly into Porto airport. Porto airport is on the Metro line into the centre of Porto. If I have a late night flight, I often stay one night in Porto (my place of choice is the Gallery Hostel) and then travel to Amarante the next day. I take a taxi if I have a lot of luggage or jump on the train or bus if I’m travelling light. Here are the best ways to get from Porto to Amarante:
You can get to Amarante by bus, train or Taxi. I booked an Uber and paid just €50 door to door from my hostel in Porto (Gallery Hostel) to my hostel in Amarante (Hostel des arts). You can also download the taxi app FREE NOW.
You can take the bus from Porto to Amarante for just €2-3 and it takes around one hour. Buses go from the bus station in Campanha and take you to the other side of the river in Amarante just 10-15 mins from the centre of the town. Flixbus operates this route.
You can take the train from Porto to Vila Mea from São Bento station for just €3/4 and then take a bus from Vila Mea to Amarante. Because of the inconvenience of the change at Vila Mea, most people who want the cheapest option go for the convenience of a direct bus.
What to Pack for Amarante
Because Amarante in Portugal is quite hilly and has many cobbled streets, I would recommend that you take a backpack over a suitcase. I took a suitcase and highly regretted it! It depends on what time of year you go to Amarante but there are standard things that you should pack…
- Comfortable day pack
- Sun hat and sun cream
- Walking boots (or sturdy and comfortable trainers)
- Underwear and thick walking socks (so that you don’t get blisters)
- Sports bras (for ladies)
- Smartphone with pre downloaded apps – map of the area, Flixbus and Rede Espressos (buses) and FREE NOW or UBER for taxis.
- Camera with backup batteries and a power pack (for charging on the road)
- Comfortable walking trousers and a pair of jeans
- T shirts and light cotton tops
- Light cardigan or jacket
- Rain jacket (it can rain heavily in Northern Portugal!)
- Comfortable shorts or cycling shorts
- For ladies one nice dress for an evening meal (Portuguese like to dress up!)
- Water bottle
- A nice book (Amarante is nice relaxing place where you might fancy reading)
- Sunglasses (I like to have reactive lenses in my prescription sunnies!)
- Two pronged electrical adapter for Portugal
- First aid kit
Ideas for your First Aid kit
- Antiseptic cream (germolene or equivalent)
- Insect repellant (with DEET or alternative)
- Antihistamines and Hydrocortisone cream if you are prone to allergic reactions to bites as there are some mozzies here
- Dioralyte sachets as it is easy to dehydrate in Portugal in the summer months (especially if you are walking in the heat of the day)
- Usual prescribed medication (inhalers if you are asthmatic, epi-pen for allergies or insulin if you are diabetic)
- Canisten (thrush cream) if you are prone to thrush (candida likes warm moist conditions!)
- Plasters and blister pads for your feet (you may do a lot of walking)
Where to Stay in Amarante Portugal
The best place to stay in Amarante is by far the Hostel des Artes which is in the BEST location, and has 10/10 on Hostelworld reviews. It is clean and comfortable and very well set up for backpackers and digital nomads. The location is the best in the city – just five minutes walk from Sao Goncalo Church and Bridge. Let me introduce you to this wonderful place to stay, along with a couple of alternative options depending on your needs.
Hostel des Artes Amarante
Room prices at Hostel des Artes are extremely reasonable here and in low season you can get the master suite with a private bathroom and private terrace for around just €60. You can also grab a bed in a shared dorm for around €15 if you are travelling on a budget.
I totally love the Portuguese style wash basins in the en suite…
There is a kitchen where you can prepare your own food if you wish. It is well kitted out with a microwave and stove. But if I’m honest, you won’t feel the need to cook as the bar provides reasonably priced food and drink. I loved the Sangria and home made brownie! The bar area has a log fire centrepiece and retro feel to it. There is also has a beautiful decked terrace area with tables and outdoor sofas overlooking the river.
Hotel Casa da Calçada Relais & Chateaux
On the other side of the river, a good alternative option is Hotel Casa da Calçada Relais & Chateaux. Set in a 16th Century manor this boutique hotel also has views of the river Tamega.
Hotel Casa das Lérias
If you are looking for somewhere with an outdoor swimming pool stay at Hotel Casa das Lérias. Prices start around €60 per night. The hotel also has a bar, restaurant and garden.
What to do in Amarante
This serene town of Amarante in Portugal has a traditional vibe to it and beautiful views of the river from Ponte. The main things that you cannot miss in my opinion are:
- Ponte de São Gonçalo
- Igreja de São Gonçalo (São Gonçalo Church)
- Igreja de São Domingos
- Museu Municipal Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso
- Igreja de São Pedro
- Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Amarante
These sites will take just a day and so after that if you have more time there is plenty more to see and do in the area.
Ponte de São Gonçalo
Ponte de São Gonçalo is a stunning example of a bridge in Baroque and Neoclassical style. You are greeted by two pillars when you cross it. The bridge is made of granite and is a symbol of strength as it helped to defend the city against the French in 1809. The original bridge was built in the 13th century following orders of Gonçalo, but collapsed in 1763. The current bridge that you see today was built in 1790.
If you cross the bridge and head to the opposite side to where the Monastery of São Gonçalo is, you will find some of the best restaurants on that side of the river (more about where to eat later on in the blog!). When you look back towards the two monasteries from that opposite side of the river (to the Monastery of São Gonçalo and Igreja de São Domingos), the view is phenomenal.
The Monastery of São Gonçalo
The Monastery of São Gonçalo was established in 1543 by João II. It’s a stunning building with a Renaissance doorway and a detailed facade. This impressive church was built in 1540, during the reign of King Joao III and the three kings who followed him – statues of all four Kings are displayed inside the church. It also houses the tomb of Gonçalo de Amarante himself. The Church is free to enter and well worth a look inside.
Igreja de São Domingos
Just a few steps away from The Monastery of São Gonçalo is the beautiful white Baroque style Igreja de São Domingos. Built in 1725, it’s style is a stark contrast to its neighbouring São Gonçalo.
Museu Municipal Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso
The main museum in Amarante is Museu Municipal Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, and it’s well worth a visit. It was founded in 1947 to house materials relating to the history of the town. The building also combines the library and is set in part of the former monastery, so as well as taking interest in the artefacts, you will also be interested to see the building itself. Admission is only €4, but at the time of writing this blog (October 2022) admission was free because of ongoing renovations with limited exhibitions on display.
Igreja de São Pedro
My favourite Church in Amarante is Igreja de São Pedro – an 18th Century Baroque Church with beautiful arched bell tower. It’s extremely instragrammable! Inside the Church, admire the one central nave adorned with yellow and blue azulejos (Portuguese tiles).
Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Amarante
If you’ve not yet over done it with Church architecture, walk higher up into the central part of the town to discover Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Amarante.
Where to Eat in Amarante
Yes, believe me when I say you won’t go hungry in Amarante! It is a town of gastronomical delights. Certain local foods that you need to try while you are here include the pastries (penis shaped or otherwise!), the traditional sausage and green wine. These are my favourite eateries in Amarante:
Pobre Tolo is one of the best places for a fine traditional Portuguese meal. It’s located on the opposite side of the river to Sao Gonçalo (the same side as Don Rodrigo Taverna below). They do a fantastic paella and have an excellent selection of fish and meat dishes, as well as some vegetarian options. Expect to pay around $25-30 on a meal here. Oh, and the desserts are to die for!
Don Rodrigo Taverna – Green Wine and Chorizo
Head to Don Rodrigo Taverna to be greeted by Pedro and his strung up hams! This place is so quirky and traditional – it’s just the place to try the local sausage and green wine. Remember that even the red wine (Tinto) will be ‘green wine’ (fizzy and acidic!). It’s one of those where you love it or hate it (I am in the latter crowd I must admit!) but you’ve got to try it!
Sical – Pasteis de Bacallau
Sical (slightly further up the hill from the main centre) is the local eatery to try savoury snacks including the pasteis da bacallau (cod fish cakes) and croquetas Jamon (ham croquettes) for just a few euros.
Confeitaria da Ponte – Pastries
Head to Confeitaria da Ponte for some of the best pastries in town. Make sure that you try the pasteis da data (Portuguese custard tarts) of course! But also try some of the doces locales (local sweets)- there are five sweet pastries you should try in Amarante that are local to the area:
- Brisa do Tamega
- Papo de Anjo
- São Gonçalo
Other Attractions in and around Amarante
If you have more than a day to spend in Amarante, it’s certainly worth exploring the region.
Rota Romanica – The Romanesque route
Dotted around the Tamega, Douro and Sousa valleys are a number of monuments (58 to be precise!) that make up what is known as the Romanesque route. You will need a car (or driver) to get to these (I hire Joao from Inside Experiences).
Some of the best sites to see along the Romanesque route near Amarante are Mosteiro do Travanca, Mosteiro de Sao Martinho de Mancelos and Igreja Gatao. To do all of these monument and complete the full route you would surely need a car and about 2-3 weeks available!
If you are travelling with kids then Amarante waterpark is a great family fun day out. Amarante aquatic park has high speed slides and pools that you can enjoy with stunning mountain side views.