If you enjoy personalised programmes and hospitable places where gastronomy and wines, festivals and pilgrimages are like business cards, the historical cities and villages in the north of Portugal will become engraved in your memory, just like a touristic postcard.
The following suggestion is getting to know the real country, in touch with traditions, gastronomy and culture. Take seven days to visit the main cities in the north of Portugal.
Each one of these places preserves unique buildings that are worth discovering. Besides the heritage and the history, enjoy the magnificent landscapes and become surrounded by a natural friendliness.
The historical centres, which have been recovered – some are already considered World Heritage – will definitely surprise you for the richness of their monuments, leisure spaces, pleasant pedestrian streets and esplanades where you can rest in the sun.
In Porto, walk around the narrow sidewalk streets, delight yourself with the lively people in the city, enjoy the architecture, appreciate the city’s traditional dishes in one of the many picturesque restaurants of the Ribeira and, in the Port Wine cellars, on the south bank of the river, taste the famous Port wine. Two days in the capital of the north are enough to visit what is essential about the city, but you will wish to come back to Porto. We are absolutely certain.
Sleep in the heart of the historical centre, at the Pestana Porto Hotel, which lies on the medieval wall of the city and occupies part of a block of buildings classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.
Head towards Minho
In Minho, it is worth visiting the cities of Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima, Barcelos, Guimarães and Braga. Take two days to visit these cities.
In Viana, climb up the Monte de Santa Luzia and let yourself be amazed by the fantastic scenery. Down there, in the city, you can’t miss sitting in one of the pleasant esplanades in the Praça da República and enjoy its three 15th century constructions: a grand granite fountain, the Casa da Câmara and the Casa da Misericórdia.
In the streets surrounding the square, pay attention to the old manor houses, lavish in their Baroque or rocaille features, decorated with beautiful large windows showing the family coat of arms.
From Viana go to Ponte de Lima, where one of the pleasures awaiting you is a stroll down the leafy boulevards with huge sycamores accompanying the blue waters of the river. The old Roman bridge, a part of the road connecting Braga to Tui, the great medieval tower, the main church, the Casa da Aurora, the lovely emblazoned palace, the noble houses crowned by battlements, the beautiful Mannerist church of Misericórdia and the refreshing fountains are plenty of reasons to include this gracious village in your journey.
At lunch or dinner, taste the vinho verde wine from the region and the arroz de sarrabulho, a typical dish in the district. Stay at the Axis Ponte de Lima Golf Resort Hotel. Situated in a rural environment typically in the Minho spirit and integrated in a unique and lush landscape, this hotel invites you to relax or to play a round of golf on a course which is a mixture of plateau and mountain.
If you still have time, visit Barcelos, a village offered by king D. Dinis to the first Count of Barcelos in 1298. Take the Gothic bridge crossing the river and enjoy the medieval heart of the village: the ruins of the old palace of the Counts, later the Dukes of Bragança, of which survived a robust keep, which today houses the Tourism Board, the main church and the Pelourinho. In the Terreiro do Paço, there is an interesting outdoor Archaeological Museum. Walk around the pleasant Baroque inspired garden and visit the Church of Senhor Bom Jesus da Cruz.
Guimarães and Braga
On the next day, visit the cities of Braga, an ancient city still maintaining the radiance of the bishops’ power in its monuments, and Guimarães, which holds a very special place in the hearts of the Portuguese people.
Braga is a city rich in historical monuments, starting with its Cathedral – the oldest in the country – very young, due to the University, and with a high-class contemporary architecture.
Once called Bracara Augusta, the city was considered capital of the Gallaecia province in Roman times, today Galicia, by emperor Caracalla. After the Roman domain, the city was occupied by the Suebi, Visigoths and Muslims, until being conquered by Christianity in the 11th century. The exuberance of the Baroque art would later add to it buildings of great magnificence. Imagine Braga’s historical and architectural heritage!
After lunch, go to Guimarães, where you will find the medieval castle of where Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born, with a unique atmosphere. Begin your journey in the city’s historical centre, on the list of the UNESCO’s World Heritage, in the heart of the city that was the European Capital of Culture in 2012, the Largo de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira. There you can see the beautiful Church of Colegiada de Guimarães, from whence Pedro Hispano left for Rome and, with the name of John XXI, would become the only Portuguese Pope in the History of the Church. A little further away you will find the delightful Palácio de Vila Flor, today housing the Vila Flor Cultural Centre, and the Largo do Toural, known as the city’s guest room.
Sleep at Pousada de Guimarães, on the hill over the city, resulting from the recovery of the beautiful and majestic Monastery of Agostinhos, a building from the 12th century located in the middle of the Penha Park.
Trás-os-Montes in three days
The Trás-os-Montes region is a vast territory, well worth a calm visit, and where you must visit the cities of Chaves and Bragança.
In Chaves, begin your journey with the most important Roman traces of represented in the “Aquae Flaviae”: the beautiful Roman bridge over the Tâmega River, which today still links both parts of the city. Afterwards, you must visit the medieval castle, the Church of Misericórdia and the forts of S. Francisco and S. Neutel.
Have lunch or dinner in the medieval centre – there are regional specialities you can’t afford to miss, such as, presunto de Chaves – and then have a cup of coffee in one of the many bars and cafés of the Parque das Termas, a place appreciated by young people.
In Bragança, we emphasize the impressive medieval wall surrounding the citadel and from where the gigantic Torre de Menagem stands out, a medieval vigilant with its eyes set on the borders.
Inside, the Military Museum tells the centenarian history of the castle and the last floor offers an amazing viewpoint over the city and the vastness of the horizons with bronze coloured mountains in the beautiful landscape of Trás-os-Montes.
How to get there
There are flights from Bremen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Munich, Dortmund, Zurich, Liverpool, London, Bordeaux, Carcassonne, Dole, La Rochelle, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Paris, Rodez, St. Etienne Toulouse, Tours, Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, Bologna, Milan, Pisa, Rome, Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and New York.
The best way to go from the International Airport Francisco Sá Carneiro to the city centre is to take the underground. The trip takes about 30 minutes.
From Porto, take the A4 towards Amarante and then take the IP4 toward Bragança, in the heart of Trás-os-Montes.