After exploring every nook and cranny of Porto, Portugal's second largest city, it's time to venture out and discover other superb neighboring towns and villages that will most definitely leave you speechless. Why? Northern Portugal is steeped in history and has a cultural, architectural and scenic heritage that is capable of astonishing even the most nonchalant. Here is a list of the best daytrips from Porto - places you should visit at least once in your lifetime.
Perfect if you like: Boat rides, Art Nouveau houses and traditional sweets
It is easy to see why this city is also known as the “Portuguese Venice”, as its landscape is essentially dominated by the water of the canals and the moliceiros, the traditional brightly colored boats (gondola-style boats) that cross them. Another feature that strongly characterizes Aveiro's landscape are the typical colorful houses in pastel tones. In the oldest part of the town, you will find these charming Art Nouveau houses, which certainly form a different and unique backdrop. In fact, in Aveiro you can admire beautiful buildings with facades inspired by the romantic Art Nouveau period, which has earned the city the reputation of an open-air Art Nouveau museum. This town was once an important fishing center, but today it is best known for its salt marshes, quality beaches and excellent gastronomy - be sure to try the sweet "ovos moles" (soft eggs) and take advantage of the town's location to enjoy great grilled fish or seafood. Take a moliceiro ride, enjoy the heavenly beaches, take great photographs by the typical houses, visit the Sé Cathedral and the Aveiro Museum - you will discover a very romantic destination with a postcard-worthy landscape.
Viana do Castelo
Perfect if you like: Coastal towns, traditions and architecture
Considered one of the most beautiful cities in northern Portugal, Viana do Castelo is a charming and peaceful coastal town, with a picturesque and compact historic center and pristine beaches. Strolling through the streets and alleys of the historic center, which is quite likely to be one of the best preserved in the country, is a great way to soak up the city's aura. Traditionally connected to the sea and river, this city steeped in history and local legends is full of attractions worth visiting, such as the famous Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also known as the Sanctuary of Santa Luzia. From this imposing church, located on the top of Mount Santa Luzia, you will have an overwhelming panoramic view of the city, the Lima River and the coast. Another great attraction is Praça da República, the heart of the city, with centuries-old buildings and a majestic fountain, where the Igreja da Misericórdia and the old former City Hall are located. It's the perfect place to sit in a cafe and absorb the local spirit. A visit to the Navio Hospital Gil Eannes, a former Portuguese hospital ship now anchored in the harbor, is also a good way to learn about the city's maritime tradition, as the ship was used to support cod fishing. The city's own attractions show that Viana do Castelo has been able to preserve its beautiful traditions. You can see this for yourself in the interesting Museu do Traje, where traditional costumes are on display. The city is also known for its handicrafts - embroidery, handkerchiefs, tableware and the tradition of gold work with the filigree technique are also characteristic of the culture of this authentic city.
Ponte de Lima
Perfect if you like: Natural landscapes and charming historic centers
It is quite difficult to enumerate all the reasons why you should visit this eye-catching village. Located in the center of a rich agricultural region, Ponte de Lima is a place full of character that exudes peace and tranquility. It is one of the oldest and most historic villages in Portugal, which can be easily seen in its medieval houses, graceful squares, ancient religious monuments and interesting museums. Like its neighbor Gerês, Ponte de Lima is also characterized by a remarkable natural landscape that offers some of the most breathtaking views in the country. With its flowering gardens and parks, this destination is perfect for those looking for some fresh air and quietness or to just get lost in nature and take in the sweet floral scents. It's worth wandering through the charming little historic center, passing through Praça de Camões, a lovely square with a large fountain, and tasting the famous Vinho Verde (green wine) produced in this region. Be swept away by the beauty of the old medieval Roman bridge with its Gothic arches, which exudes a very special magic at sunset, especially when it is harmoniously reflected in the Lima River that flows beneath it. This bridge is undoubtedly the main attraction and landmark of the village. Ponte de Lima is the ideal place for a hike, as there are numerous paths and trails. You can always take a moment to visit the numerous viewpoints of the village and be carried away by the charm of the surrounding landscape.
Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês
Perfect if you like: Nature, hikes and waterfalls
It extends over several municipalities and the Gerês, Amarela and Peneda mountains, rich in lush vegetation. This national park was the first protected area in the country and is a well-kept secret that seems to have been brush-painted in various shades of green. The astonishing wild scenery, with dense pine, oak and yew forests and the rich and varied fauna and flora make this region an authentic treasure of northern Portugal, where the locals of Porto go to escape the city. Between the narrow roads you can enjoy the picturesque horizon, and between the trails you will find crystal clear water pools and lagoons where you can refresh yourself, mesmerizing waterfalls and mind-blowing viewpoints. In the secluded granite villages and hamlets scattered throughout the park, far from modern life, old traditions are preserved - it seems as if time has stopped here. Lindoso, Soajo, Castro Laboreiro, Vilarinho das Furnas or Pitões das Júnias are just some of the villages worth visiting. If you’re a hiking or rock-climbing lover or enjoy other outdoor activities, you can be sure that you have found your oasis. In any case, medieval castles, monasteries and traditional villages are also part of the natural landscape of this park, so there is a lot to see and many different and unforgettable experiences to have. One thing is for sure: Gerês will leave you speechless.
Perfect if you like: Lively and ancient cities
This friendly city unfolds a very old urban landscape, but has modern cafes and boutiques scattered throughout the streets. Braga was once the seat of the Roman legal government and the capital of Galicia. Some say Braga is the "Portuguese Rome," but it is also known as the "City of Archbishops". Today, however, it is a lively, university and dynamic city. Nevertheless, it has a very old architectural heritage. There is even a popular Portuguese saying - "é mais velho que a Sé de Braga" (it is older than the Sé de Braga) - referring to the antiquity of the cathedral, which is at least a thousand years old. Narrow, ancient, labyrinthine pedestrian streets, many inviting ornate squares and several Baroque churches can be found in Portugal's third largest city. In the elegant and sophisticated historic center, you can sit in one of the lively cafes and soak up the vibrant atmosphere, or stroll through the streets and stop in one of the exquisite boutiques. Visit the Jardim de Santa Bárbara, with its natural beauty, surrounded by historic buildings; marvel at the Sé de Braga, Portugal's oldest cathedral; and pass by Bom Jesus do Monte, about five kilometers from the center, for breathtaking views. If you have the chance, stay until the sun goes down, because Braga glows at night in an almost mystical way.
Perfect if you like: Historic heritage, culture and architecture
Considered the birthplace of Portugal, Guimarães was once the capital of European Culture and has a historic center classified as a World Heritage Site. This was the city where Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born. Among the tight, narrow streets of this unique and noble city, you will discover a well-preserved and significant heritage - beautiful towers and cloisters, iron balconies and mansions are some of the city’s gems. You will be amazed by the architectural details that refer to the different periods of Portuguese history. There's something to see and admire at every turn and corner, and a lively medieval atmosphere to soak up. Visit the 10th-century castle that towers over the city center - one of the best-preserved castles in the country -, stroll down Largo da Oliveira in the heart of the city and marvel at the many historic monuments, quaint cafes and shops, and explore the old town's loveliest and oldest street, Santa Maria Street. Stop by the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, the manor house of the 15th century, and discover every picturesque church. Guimarães is undoubtedly one of those cities you must visit at least once in your lifetime.
Perfect if you like: Legends, gastronomy and harmonious sceneries
This small green town is a jewel of the north and unfolds a lovely scenery, worthy of a romantic movie’s setting. One of the most characteristic images of the town is the Church of São Gonçalo - there is a legend that rubbing the statue over the tomb of São Gonçalo will give you more chances of finding your soulmate, as the saint was also known for his matchmaking skills. In front of the church you will see the majestic and famous São Gonçalo Bridge, which was the scene of the Battle of Portugal against Napoleon's troops. Next to the church, the cloisters of the former monastery house the Museum of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, one of the most important Portuguese artists of the 20th century. In truth, Amarante is a harmonious blend of history, culture, nature, architecture and fantastic gastronomy. By wandering through the town’s streets, you'll see picturesque 17th-century mansions with colorful wooden balconies reflected in the calm waters of the Tâmega River, which flows through the town’s heart. Stroll through the narrow streets lined with small bars and quiet cafes, and remember that Amarante has many hidden surprises - there is even a river beach and a water park! There will be no shortage of experiences and things to do. If you have the time, take a walk through the Serra do Marão to contemplate the landscape.
Perfect if you like: Nature, wine and vineyards
The Douro Valley is essentially known for the excellent quality wine produced here, but also for the countless vineyards, wineries and estates that dot the impressive landscape. It is the perfect destination for those who just love to explore charming little villages or simply spend hours enjoying a unique and truly magical landscape, while tasting a delicious wine. The Douro region is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world and one of the most beautiful regions in northern Portugal, so it makes perfect sense that it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Pinhão, the heart of the valley, Peso da Régua, the town that played a very important role in the production and sale of the Port wine, and Lamego, a historic and monumental town, are some of the several stopovers you should definitely do when in Douro, although there are many lovely schist villages such as São Xisto, Gondarem or Midões, that stand out for their natural beauty as well. You can take a boat tour on the Douro River to really take in the magic of the place and marvel at the stunning views, or you can just sit back and have a wine tasting, while enjoying the mouthwatering gastronomy. There are also several unique and ravishing viewpoints where you can stop. In any case, in this region you will have a lot to be entertained and to be absolutely delighted!
Perfect if you like: Nature, adventure and hiking
Arouca is a charming municipality, but there are two main highlights that deserve special attention: the famous Paiva Walkways and the 516 Arouca Bridge. The Paiva Walkways are nothing less than a series of wooden pedestrian walkways along the Paiva River, stretching for 8 kilometers and offering an unspoiled view of unparalleled beauty. They are the ideal choice for those looking to do nature tourism, as the walkways, the rocks and the river come together harmoniously, creating an enviable landscape – a true natural sanctuary. Along the way, you can explore the local flora and fauna, but also discover incredible waterfalls. The 516 Arouca Bridge, on the other hand, is a bridge that is literally suspended in the sky, 175 meters above the clear Paiva River, in the heart of the Arouca Geopark, an UNESCO territory. As the longest suspended pedestrian bridge in the world (516 meters long), crossing it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, ideal for the most adventurous. The bridge connects the escarpment of the Aguieiras waterfall and the Garganta do Paiva area and has an open metal grid floor that allows you to see the Paiva River below. A real treat for any nature lover! Arouca is truly a perfect destination for the river and mountain sports lovers, as the cold, wild waters of the Paiva River and the slopes of the Serra da Arada provide moments of true connection with nature.
Perfect if you like: Thermal villages, golf and parks
This remarkable town is known mainly for its thermal waters and the majestic Vidago Palace Hotel, but also for its historical, cultural and scenic value. It is said that the internationally recognized water of Vidago, with an alkalinity superior to any other Portuguese water, has healing powers. Vidago is a national reference and has become a spa resort of excellence. The spa is now integrated in the Vidago Palace Hotel. If you are a golf lover, this town might be your dream destination, as you will find good courses here where you can practice this sport. The imposing Vigado Palace Hotel is surrounded by a remarkable and vast natural park, with centenary trees that characterize a typical landscape from the beginning of the 20th century, which changes colors depending on the season. As you wander through the park, you will discover beautiful small lakes, trails and fountains. The Vidago Palace Hotel is considered one of the most famous historic luxury hotels in Portugal, with a centuries-old architectural heritage. If you have time, take a detour to Chaves as well, just a few kilometers from Vidago, which has an important historical and cultural heritage, with beautiful landscapes and delicious cuisine.