Travel News European Charm Meets Modern Culture in Northern Portugal

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European Charm Meets Modern Culture in Northern Portugal

Old-world European charm and modern culture mingle in the streets throughout Northern Portugal. Quite literally, a walk along cobblestone roads may lead you to a trendy restaurant serving local fare. But Northern Portugal is also a destination where you can explore a medieval castle by morning and enjoy a world-class orchestral performance in the evening.

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Why Should You Visit Northern Portugal?

The blend of tradition and modernity in the region offers a uniquely Portuguese experience. Porto, the country’s second-largest city, is a destination with fascinating architecture—like its Baroque buildings covered in iconic azulejo tiles—as well as an alluring array of fine restaurants and luxury hotels. Not to mention the dozens of port wine cellars that operate on the south bank of the Douro River, just beside the iconic bridge Ponte Luiz I. 

Outside of Porto, the rural reaches of the Douro region are absolutely worth a day trip or longer. It’s an opportunity to escape into nature and marvel at the rolling hills of the winegrowing Douro Valley by train, kayak, or river cruise. The landscape is most stunning during the harvest season of late September and early October, but there’s never a bad time to visit this beautiful region.

For adrenaline-pumping activities like an alpine coaster and zip lining, escape to Pena Adventure Park (Ribeira de Pena), just an hour outside of Porto. 

Northern Portugal is also home to dozens of picture-perfect villages and cities. Discover the Gothic chapels and cathedrals of Braga, a city famous for it religious festivals, or take in a panorama of medieval Guimarães from the 10th-century castle that still stands above it. As you travel throughout Northern Portugal, one thing remains constant: the warmth of the locals. You’re sure to be amazed by the legendary hospitality of locals, who are known as the most welcoming people in the country.

Amazing Northern Portugal Itineraries

One Week in Northern Portugal

If you can manage to spend a week in Northern Portugal, you’ll be able to visit some fascinating destinations and truly understand what makes the region the sought-after destination that it is today. Use this suggested itinerary as a foundation to form your Portuguese adventure.

Explore Every Nook of Charming Porto 

Porto makes a great base for traveling throughout Northern Portugal, but it’s certainly a destination in and of itself. Discover the city with your feet by wandering through the narrow streets of Porto’s old town. 

Some travelers will want to immerse themselves in architectural gems like the São Bento Railway Station and the tiled facades of the riverside Ribeira districts, while others will spend afternoons on the beaches at the mouth of the Douro and evenings inside the port wine cellars that sit on its south bank in Vila Nova da Gaia. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience a performance at Casa da Música, a gorgeous concert hall in the heart of Porto.

Read More: 10 Perfect Reasons to Visit Porto

Sip port and see nature in the Douro Valley

While there are many port wine cellars to be enjoyed in Porto, it’s best to experience this sweet, fortified wine starting at its origin in the Douro Valley. An excursion to the port wineries of the Douro Valley makes for a perfect addition to a weeklong Northern Portugal itinerary. 

The picturesque journey to the valley—whether by train or car—is among the most scenic in Europe. Once there, you can tour vineyards, meander through the valley on a river cruise, and soak in the scenery along a marked hiking trail. Popular wineries like Quinta de la Rosa and Quinta da Pacheca operate their own guest houses for those who want to turn a day trip into a two-day (or longer) trip.

Stay overnight in Braga or Guimarães

Many travelers who only have a few days in Porto take day trips to explore outlying cities and villages. Consider a trip to Braga, which is home to Portugal’s oldest cathedral and iconic religious structures, and another day trip to Guimarães, Portugal’s first capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an imposing medieval castle. If you have the time, stay overnight in one of these charming cities to experience the relaxed pace of life and friendliness of the locals.

10 Days in Northern Portugal

For those lucky enough to stay longer in Northern Portugal, you can add other enchanting villages to your itinerary or just slow down the pace of your travel to ensure maximum enjoyment. Try some of these activities and experiences.

Relax onboard a Douro River cruise

Assuming you have at least 10 days in Northern Portugal, consider following up your vineyard stay with a cruise along the Douro River. Some travelers enjoy a day or two out on the water, while others prefer to sail the entire river—you could easily spend your entire 10 days in Northern Portugal on the water.

Soak in nature with a hike

The most mountainous parts of the country are in the north—and not surprisingly, it’s home to some of Portugal’s best hiking. If this option interests you, it’s best to make sure you have a rental car, as many of the most stunning trailheads are difficult to access using public transportation. 

Nature takes center stage in vast reserves such as Peneda-Gerês National Park and the Natural Park of Alvão, while hikes along the waterfalls and cliff faces of Arouca Geopark start and end at a storied monastery.

Go beyond Braga and Guimarães

If you’d like to explore more destinations outside of Porto, consider the quaint riverside town of Amarante, with its historic bridge, church, and old town. Or travel to Lamego to enjoy its Baroque architecture, including an ornate “stairway to heaven” with more than 600 steps that lead to the 18th-century church that this city is known for.

Travel to Trás-os-Montes

Trás-os-Montes is a gorgeous region in northeast Portugal, bounded to the north and east by Spain. This is old-world Portugal at its most pure, where the rustic beauty of isolated historic villages remain unaltered. Bragança is one of the main towns in this region and the perfect spot to base yourself for further exploraton. For an interesting architectural contrast, visit Bragança’s 15th-century citadel in the morning and its contemporary art museum in the afternoon. From Bragança, you’ll also have easy access to Montesinho Natural Park, with its verdant meadows and abundant wildlife.

Northern Portugal Travel Advice

When to Visit Northern Portugal

There’s never a bad time to visit Northern Portugal. September and October are particularly nice months that blend the warmth and sunshine of the Portuguese summer with the grape harvest in the Douro Valley. Off-season will give you a look into the local life when you’ll find relatively few other tourists around, especially in rural areas and smaller cities and villages.

Where to Stay in Northern Portugal

Although fewer travelers stray off the beaten path in Northern Portugal, a wide variety of accommodations exist throughout the region, from five-star hotels in Porto, to unique vineyard villas in the Douro Valley, to hotels and guesthouses in small towns and cities that range from stylish B&Bs to understated pousada guesthouses. When you’re looking for somewhere to stay, browse Skyscanner to see hotels for every budget and taste.

Getting Around in Northern Portugal

Get the most out of your trip by renting a car. It will give you the flexibility and freedom to really explore the region. Search Skyscanner to find the perfect rental car for your trip.

Alternatively, public transportation is a reliable option if you’d prefer to leave the driving to someone else. Many of Northern Portugal’s cities, towns and even rural areas are connected by trains, buses and other affordable local transportation. In particular, the Linha do Douro scenic railway route that connects Porto to the Douro Valley is a picturesque way to explore Northern Portugal.

Time to Travel

Start planning your Northern Portugal itinerary today. The region’s alluring blend of tradition and modernity (not to mention the renowned hospitality of its locals) makes this a perfect destination for any traveler, from those on the hunt for world-class culture and cuisine, to adventurous vacationers seeking riveting hikes and stunning panoramas. By the time your trip is finished, you’ll surely be thinking of ways to explore even further the next time go come back!

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