Portugal has become one of the hottest travel destinations on this planet. Although it's now very known for its golden, sandy beaches in the Algarve and delicate tiles in Lisbon, Portugal has so much more to offer.
Especially the green Northern part of Portugal is an absolute surprise for most travellers. Indeed the area of Porto, Douro Valley and its quaint picturesque villages hold such variate gems as breathtaking landscapes, delicious food and warm-hearted people. In some areas, especially in the mountains of Tras-Os-Montes and Viseu, it seems as time's standing still.
A trip to Northern Portugal is a trip to re-connect with yourself. It's about indulging yourself and finding inner peace in front of breathtaking landscapes. Discover a vibrant culture, absolute silence in the Douro valley and enjoying the most delicious food and world-class wines. On top, nowadays Portugal is one of the best value destinations in Western Europe.
As deciding what are the Top Things To Do in Northern Portugal might be quite an overwhelming task, I compiled a variety of travel bloggers favorite things to do in the north of gorgeous Portugal.
You'll find a map with all the mentioned highlights at the end of this post.
Have you been to Northern Portugal? What was your absolute highlight? I can’t wait to read about it in the comment form!
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1. Porto: Barrio Ribeira
Porto is one of our favourite European cities. Colourful barrios (neighborhoods), cobblestone streets with old trams running up and down hill, friendly locals sitting with a cup of coffee in one of the small cafes all these are attributes of old Porto neighborhoods.
Ribeira is one of them, the oldest neighbourhood in Porto and one of the most visited and photographed by tourists. Located on the left side of Douro river bank it looks amazing from the opposite side of the river or from the Dom Luis I bridge. Though the area is quite touristy if you wander around its narrow streets you can find some hidden from bustling crowds.
The highlights of Ribeira; Elevador da Ribeira – offers great views over the city, Ribeira Square, Stock Exchange Palace, St.Francis church. Ribeira is perfect area to dine out in one of the restaurants along the river delicious food, great wine and stunning views are guaranteed.
Favourite Place to Stay: Eurostars Porto Douro ****
Top Activity To Do: Porto Delicious Food Walk Tour
2. Porto: Wine Tasting Grahams Lodge
When in Porto, tasting port is a must do! A great way to spend your day in the city is to head to the Graham’s Port Estate about 20 minutes walk from the famous bridge in the city center.
Here you can join one of the many daily port tours through the estate where you learn about the production and the history of port. You will get to see the production process, the wine cellar and of course the best part of this tour is waiting for you at the end when you are able to taste a couple different ports.
It is best to go here late in the afternoon and afterwards indulge yourself with some ports on the terrace outside with great views over the city. Also consider booking a table for dinner in the style onsite restaurant where they serve delicious food.
Best Place to Stay: Hotel Cristal Porto ****
Top Activity To Do: Fado in Porto: Calem Wine Porto Cellars Visit
3. Porto: Dom Luís I. Bridge
A must-see on any trip to the north of Portugal is Porto and its most famous landmark: the Dom Luís I. bridge. Located in the heart of Porto, it spans over one of the city's six bridges and connects the bustling Ribeira district with the township of Vila Nova de Gaia, best known for its many port wine distilleries.
From the bridge, one has a breath-taking view over Porto, the Douro River with its colourful boats, the multi-storey plains of the old town and Porto's traditional port warehouse. The bridge is 385 meters long and weighs over 3,000 tons. At the time of its construction, it was the largest wrought-iron arch bridge in the world.
Today, it no longer holds this title, but captivates with its central location and as an architectural masterpiece. The best time for visit is at sunset hour when the city and the river appear in the most beautiful colors.
Best Place to Stay: Vincci Porto ****
Top Activity To Do: Secret Sites of Porto 3-Hour Walking Tour
4. Douro Valley
Northern Portugal is full of hidden gems and plenty of interesting places to visit. Many people typically head straight to Porto but there is actually a lot more to see in the region that you don't want to miss!
One of my favorite places in Northern Portugal, and even in all of Europe, is the spectacular Douro Valley. This is a picturesque and incredibly scenic area full of all of the natural beauty that you could ever want.
Driving through the area you won't be able to help but pull over to take photos and admire the terraced vineyards as they climb up the mountains surrounding you. Cutting through the heart of the valley is the magical Douro River and it's the same river that helps to keep everything such vibrant shades of green all year round.
During the warmer summer months you can hop into the river for a quick dip to cool off. The rest of the year you’ll want to stop at one of the many cafes or wine bars that you come across. This is going to give you an opportunity to try some world-class local wines and relax with an amazing view of the valley surrounding you.
If you're looking to escape from busy city life and you want to explore somewhere that many tourists don't get a chance to see then you're definitely going to want to head to the Douro Valley. It's one of the best places to explore and a total hidden gem here in Northern Portugal!
Best Place to Stay : Six Senses Douro Valley *****
Top Activity To Do: From Porto: Douro Valley by 4x4, Wine Tasting & Picnic
5. Wine Tasting in Douro Valley
A trip to Portugal isn’t complete for any wine lover without a trip to Douro Valley, a region in northern Portugal known for its stunning views and for the country’s famous port wine. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage where wine has been growing for the last 2000 years and is the only region in the world where port wine can be grown.
But if you’re not a fan of the sweet port there are plenty of table wines made here too, as well as honey and olive oil.
Douro Valley is a day trip from Porto where you can bask in the sun as you cruise along the river that runs through the valley, taste test honey dipped on fresh bread and enjoy a glass of port with views of rolling hills covered in vines.
Best Place to Stay Near the Sight: The Vintage House - Douro *****
Top Activity To Do: Douro Valley Full-Day Wine Tour with Lunch and Tastings
The village of Pinhao is approximately a couple of hours along the river from Porto, along the famous Douro Valley. No matter which way you get there, whether by train, car or by cruise boat, the journey takes you through breathtaking landscapes.
The Douro Valley is one of the oldest demarcated wine growing regions in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hills on both sides of the valley offer a majestic setting, with the hillsides carved into terraced vineyards where the port grapes are grown.
And yes, Pinhao is all about the cultivation of vines, so make sure you pay the railway station a visit to admire its ancient tiles dedicated to the art of wine growing. But the best thing to do here is to get to the top of the hill to the Double Viewpoint De Loivos, and get taken aback by one of the best views you will see in your life.
Best Place to Stay: Quinta Nova - Luxury Winery Houses
Top Activity To Do: Pinhão and Douro Valley Day Cruise from Porto
7. Peso da Regua
The town of Peso da Régua is the largest one of the Douro Valley which grew into a major port-wine entrepôt in the 18th century. Thanks to its highways, it quickly became the neuralgic centre of Porto's back country. Most visitors stop by to get information on the best wineries and things to do in the Douro Valley. Due to its strategic position, it's a convenient base to explore the best wineries in the area.
Situated along the riverside, Regua played a major role in the production and sale of Port wine. It's from here that the barrels were transported in the peculiar boats known as barcos rabelos to Porto, where the wine was transported to the wine lodges in order to age.
As most towns in the Douro Valley, Regua has some view points which will enchant you with the best views on the valley. São Leonardo at Galafura and Santo António do Loureiro are probably the most known ones.
Favourite Place to Stay: Casa de Sao Domingos
Top Activity To Do: Régua and Douro Valley Scenic Rail and Sail from Porto
Not far away from the Douro river, you'll find the charming town of Lamego. Surrounded by a breathtaking mountainous landscape, this quaint, baroque-infused town is mostly famous for its imposant Sanctuary.
Atop one of its two hills stands the castle from the 13th century. The Porta dos Figos gateway arch leads into the narrow streets of the inner town. The 18th century Episcopal palace now houses the town's museum, containing works from Vasco Fernandes (Grão Vasco). The principal church, the Sé, built in the 12th century by the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques.
Did you know that it was in Lamego that his ascension to the throne was announced and where he assembled the original courts of the newly independent Portuguese nation? Although little of the original Sé is left, but the intricate stonework of the exterior and the cloister make it worthy of a visit.
However the most striking sight of Lamego is the sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Remedies which thrones above the town. Hundreds of zigzagging stairs, decorated with tiled friezes and surrounded by lush gardens with a large variety of trees, will bring you up to the sanctuary. It's very similar to the Bom Jesus church in Braga.
Don't be afraid to climb up all these stairs, you'll have a view of a lifetime!
Best Place to Stay Near the Sight: Hotel Rural Casa dos Viscondes da Varzea
Top Activity To Do: Private Tour: Douro Vinhateiro from Porto with Wine Tasting (incl. Lamego)
9. Castelo Rodrigo
I loved the old walled town of Castilo Rodrigo in northern Portugal which I visited on a shore excursion from a river cruise on the nearby Douro River. This small town dates back at least to the 1100s and has been part of Portugal since 1297. Like all of Portugal, it was annexed into Habsburg Spain in the 1600s.
When locals learned that Portugal had regained its independence in 1640 they set fire to a large palace of Philip II of Spain in the town. These ruins can still be seen next to the castle in the town.
This is a quite site, meant to be lingered and explored. It is not so much that the village has one must see landmark than that the village, as one of the best preserved villages in the area, is a great peak into the history of the region.
This is a spot of photographers like me who love to take pictures of old buildings, centuries past their prime, ruins and vistas. The village has great views of this northeast corner of Portugal into Spain.
Best Place to Stay: Hospedaria do Convento d'Aguiar- Turismo de Habitacao
Top Activity To Do: Serra da Estrela Full–Day Nature Tour
10. Montanhas Magicas
By A World To Travel
Just back from this stunning region from Portugal, I still can't make my head around the fact that it took us so long to uncover Montanhas Magicas (Magic Mountains) after dozens of Portuguese adventures and trips to our neighbor country.
However, I am really happy to share with you today the gorgeousness of these mountain ranges in the North and Porto region of the country.
They are comprised of valleys, mountains, villages, and rivers that will delight every outdoors fan out there.
I know we fell for them as well as for their gastronomy and locally sourced products, warm locals and traditions. And a bunch of other things I will leave you to discover on your own.
So make sure you put the Magic Mountains of Portugal on your travel list now!
Best Place Place to Stay: Douro Palace Hotel Resort & SPA ****
Top Activity To Do: From Faro: Douro Valley Full-Day Wine Tour with Lunch and Tastings
11. Cinfaes & Bustelo da Lage
Cinfaes and Bustelo da Lage are located amidst the Montanhas Magicas and some of the prettiest villages in the area. Both localities are situated on eighth highest elevation of Portugal: Mount Montemouro. The landscaped is shaped by Bestança river which created a rich natural habitat and biodiversity which is unique in its kind. It's a paradise for hikers and outdoor lovers.
Cinfães is full of high historical and cultural values. Pre-Celtic megalithic vestiges as a church in the Middle Ages and Romanesque temples can be found in the town. Cinfaes is the perfect base to explore the natural gem of Montanhas Magicas and is famous all over the region for its gastronomy and handicrafts.
Bustelo da Lage is located on the slope of the Montemuro Mountain. The village is famous for its singular threshing-floor formed by a large single slab of granite. Bustelo maintained rural and community traditions such as community use of Eira da Laje, where the inhabitants share agricultural tasks. The maize harvest and grain drying. The village has many hiking paths and is the perfect place to immerse with Northern Portuguese culture and its warm-hearted people.
Best Place to Stay: Quinta Nova - Luxury Winery House
Top Activity To Do: Hiking in Montanhas Magicas
Not far from Porto, you’ll find the beautiful city of Braga. Braga is relatively small, easily walkable, and full of lovely squares and gorgeous churches. You likely only need a couple of days here to get a good feel for the city.
Spend those days exploring its colourful streets, in high season the main promenades and squares will be full of people, but once you get off the main pathways you’ll have the streets mainly to yourself.
Just outside the city, you’ll find Bom Jesus Do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mountain), a sanctuary and pilgrimage site. We didn’t have a rental car, so we took a taxi to the site. We were dropped off below the church, and we’d highly recommend doing the same. You’ll then have to walk up the incredible staircase, but if your mobility allows it, it’s absolutely worth it. Once at the top, you’ll have the most gorgeous views of the entire city.
To get back down you can either have a taxi pick you up at the top, or have the funicular take you back down.
Best Place to Stay: Hotel do Parque ****
Top Activity To Do: From Porto: Braga and Guimarães Full-Day Tour
By Diana Miaus
There are three must-see monasteries that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites at the north of Lisbon:
- Convent of Christ in Tomar
- Alcobaça Monastery
- Batalha Monastery
It’s possible to visit them all in a road trip, but if you don’t have time enough and if you’re a photography geek I would suggest you to stop at Batalha Monastery: there’s so much to visit in only one place.
Batalha Monastery offers many different spaces to discover. Firstly, the church, which is colorfully illuminated thanks to its stained glass windows. Next to the church, you'll find the founders chapel, which is home to the tombs of the Portuguese royal family, surrounded by arches, sculptures and again, stained glass windows adding some beautiful colors and lights.
The Cloister, which is huge, is located next to the chapter house, where the tomb of an unknown soldier is guarded all the time to honor the memory of the soldiers who died in the World War.
My favorite place in Batalha Monastery are the unfinished chapels (also known as Capelas Imperfeitas) and as you can imagine by now, the monastery was not finished! The unfinished chapels are beautiful and also home for the royal pantheon. Besides, they have the highest ceiling in the world!
To sum up, head to Batalha if you enjoy architecture, history and photography: this place is amazing! The town itself is really small but his place really makes the visit worth it!
Best Place to Stay: Hotel Casa Do Outeiro
Top Activity To Do: Fatima, Batalha, Alcobaça, Nazare and Obidos: The Blue West
14. Peneda-Gerês National Park
Dense oak forests, open water swimming, an abundance of wildlife and copious amounts of hiking trails; Peneda-Gerês National Park is the perfect place to wander and explore Northern Portugal.
As Portugal’s only national park, this beautiful landscape is spread over 700-sq-km all the way to the mountainous Northern border with Spain. Dotted with tiny villages as well as countless hiking trails through valleys and up peaks it’s the perfect place to explore on foot whether you want a short wander in the woods or an off-road multi-day adventure.
The park is easy to reach by either bus or train, from Braga or Porto, and there are numerous guesthouses and campsites to recuperate in after a day adventuring. Attracting more Portuguese tourists than international travellers Peneda-Gerês National Park is the perfect place to experience local culture and be immersed in nature.
Best Place to Stay: Pousada Mosteiro de Amares – Small Luxury Hotels of the World
Top Activity To Do: Gerês: Full–Day Peneda-Gerês National Park Tour
15. Costa Nova
Take the cheerful atmosphere of a traditional Portuguese fishing town and merge it with the charm of a series of small, colorful houses painted in vertical stripes of yellow, red, green and blue and you will find yourself strolling around the streets of Costa Nova.
Located not too far from lovely Aveiro, Costa Nova is the perfect destination for those who are traveling around Northern Portugal and want to have some fun on the beach and why not, spending some time at one of the several traditional restaurants serving local delicacies.
Costa Nova became a very popular local summer destination during the 19th century. Its typical structures were originally used by fishermen for storage purposes; later on, they started painting their facade with glittering colours in order to give a better appeal to the structures.
Since then, these houses became the symbol of Costa Nova, attracting visitors, travellers, and Instagrammers from all over the world.
Do not miss a visit to the local market and take a look at the pottery shops, which are one of the main attractions of Costa Nova.
Best Place to Stay: Costa Nova Hotel ***
Top Activity To Do: Aveiro: Half-Day Tour from Porto or Gaia with Cruise
16. Apulia Beach
We hadn't planned to go to the beach that day, but there was a heat wave in Portugal and after having climbed the steps of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, we were craving a sea breeze and some cooling down.
We hadn't heard of Apulia before and honestly could have well ended up in another beach town, because all we did was take the map and draw a straight line from Braga to the coast. Apulia was the spot on the map our finger ended up on.
And what a pleasant surprise it was! There was almost nobody at the beach and the other people present were clearly locals. We popped into the small beach bar for a drink and an ice cream before taking a walk along the dunes. We didn't keep that up for long, though, as the beach was calling to us and so we laid down our towels and our overheated bodies. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the occasional breeze.
Of course, we also plunged into the sea. Well, I dipped my toes in and Boyfriend went for a proper full-body splash :-)
If you'd like to visit Apulia too: there's public parking right by the beach. You do need coins to pay at the meter.
Best Place to Stay: Hotel Suave Mar ***
Top Activity To Do: Barcelos and Ponte de Lima Day Tour from Porto
Fatima is a town and Parish located 142 km North of Lisbon and is one of the most important catholic Virgin Mary shrines in the world. Each year, Fatima’s Sanctuary welcomes millions of pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.
The story behind it is known by every Portuguese citizen: Our Lady of the Rosary appeared to 3 shepherd children - Lucia and her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. Between May and October of 1917, the 3 children witnessed several apparitions. The last one was confirmed by a miracle witnessed by 60,000 people known in the catholic world as “the day the sun danced”...
Best Place to Stay: Hotel Santa Maria ****
Top Activity To Do: Fátima: Half Day Tour
Coimbra boasts one of the world’s oldest universities but the city is no historic relic, it is an affluent city that is both liberal and forward thinking, in part due to the large student population.
Coimbra will enchant you with many surprising sights. It's packed with fascinating historical monuments but equally has a lively, young atmosphere and a vibrant nightlife. Although Coimbra is often overlooked by foreign visitors, it will reveal itself as a truly enthralling town for those who defy convention.
Best Place to Stay: Sapientia Boutique Hotel ****
Top Activity To Do: Fátima and Coimbra Full-Day Tour from Porto