Visit the north of Portugal from Porto
Visit the north of Portugal from Oporto
The northern region is the birthplace of Portugal- it was here that the country was formed. Today, it is an area filled with cities steeped in history that sits surrounded by a backdrop of breathtaking natural scenery. It is a region fed by superior gastronomy and world famous Port wine.
Here, the historic blends with the contemporary, in a perfect marriage. For each of the several ancient monuments to be known, there are equally as intriguing contemporary Portuguese architectural landmarks-like the Casa da Música or the Serralves Museum. Emblematic cities like Braga or Guimarães have centuries of rich history and culture behind them.
From Oporto, there are many ways to travel to the mountainous, National Park filled northern region, and experience it first-hand. This World Heritage city is the perfect starting point to set off to discover places like the Douro, Minho and Trás-os-Montes; to meet their people, and to marvel at baroque architecture, built from granite and gilded woodwork, in the north of Portugal.
Douro, World Heritage
The Douro region is defined by its unique landscape. From the farms and wineries where the best wine of the region is produced to its historic villages, it is easy to see why the Alto Douro Wine Region, the first to be demarcated in the world, is considered a world heritage site by UNESCO.
The terraced slopes of the Douro valley, where the vines are planted, welcomes visitors to a place so beautiful it is impossible not to be impressed. There are several centenary farms here dedicated solely to the production of wine. You can do a wine tasting or let yourself be tempted by local gastronomy. Choose between traditional spicy sausages, cow and sheep’s milk cheeses or the bôla de Lamego – a local favorite. Other local delicacies include eirós stew, roasted lamb or cozido à portuguesa. For those who enjoy sweets be sure to try Santa Clara pastries or the large variety of convent sweets (traditional sweets made by local nuns) the region offers.
If you visit Douro between September and October, during harvest time, you can witness all of the traditions that have passed from generation to generation in a region rich with culture.
The historic cities of Minho
Braga is a city in Minho known for a vibrant history and strong religious character. Its importance in history dates back to the 2nd century BC during the Roman occupation. It was as early as the 3rd century that the Archdiocese of Braga was created. This powerful city had jurisdiction over all the region’s diocesesand was able to maintain its stronghold to such an extent that today it is known as the most religious city in Portugal. Its main tourist attractions are the historic center and the Cathedral. However, Braga is also a cosmopolitan and young city, thanks to its university. Upon arrival at the city, be sure to visit its two Sanctuaries, Bom Jesus and Sameiro, and, after exploring its various streets and alleys, have lunch in the historic center. Have a taste of Bacalhau à Braga, famous to this area, or roasted lamb and finish your meal with a traditional Abade de Priscos pudding.
Travel from Braga to Guimarães is only 25 kilometers. In this city, seen as the birth place of Portugal and known to be the European Capital of Culture, start by exploring the historic center, classified as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2001.
The city of Guimarães combines the medieval heritage of its past harmoniously with baroque avenues and modern neighborhoods. In the historic center, you will find Guimarães Castle and Duke of Bragança Palace, which should be considered mandatory visit points for their beauty and splendor. The church of São Miguel, from the 12th century, is another must-visit place, as it was there that D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was baptized. The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Penha is also worth a visit, and from the top of the Serra de Santa Catarina, the views of Guimarães are breathtaking. Upon your return to the city center, have lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants in Nossa Senhora da Oliveira Square, where you can find the church of the same name and the Standard of Salado, built to celebrate the victory in the Battle of Salado in 1340. Taste traditional Minho rojões and finish your meal with a slice of sweet Toucinho do Céu. Be sure to accompany your meal with a wonderful bubbly white wine from the region.
Viana do Castelo is another city definitely worth visiting. From the avenue of Combatentes da Grande Guerra, a major thoroughfare cutting through the city, explore the narrow streets of the historic center. As a final site to be sure not to miss, the Sanctuary of Monte Santa Luzia, whose Basilica was completed in 1943, is a monument with a view that will leave you amazed.
Gerês National Park
This National Park is undoubtedly one of the wonders of Portugal. A truly natural sanctuary where the verdant shades of green that make up the landscape are only interrupted by waterfalls, rivers and the animals at home in their natural habitat. With an area of over 70,000 hectares, this is Portugal’s only National Park and is located on the border between Minho and Galicia. In Gerês there are also more than 500 historical and archaeological sites of interest - such as the remains of the Roman road linking Braga to Astorga, better known as Geira.
If you leave early enough in the morning, you will be able to reach Chaves from Porto by midmorning. The city is renowned for its famous thermal hot water and park. Its historic city center and the waterfront of the Tamega River are welcoming places to walk around and take in the city.
Visit Montalegre Castle, where you can find the Military Museum and enjoy the best views of the city. Inside the walls are the Vias Augustas, a set of narrow streets lined with houses painted in an assortment of bright colors. The Roman Bridge over Tâmega is another major attraction of this city. Your tour of Trás-os-Montes is only complete once you have tasted some of the city’s traditional dishes such as Chaves pastries, folar de carne (a pork-stuffed bread), or Bísaro porc.
Two hours away from Trás-os-Montes is Bragança, a city that captivates its visitors with its medieval center, cobblestone streets and ancient feel.
In the Citadel of Bragança, visit the impressive Castle Keep, stone Pelourinho sitting precariously on a Lusitanian berrão (or pre-historic granite pig), and the uniquely architectured Domus Municipalis . Also worth seeing are the castle of Bragança, dating back to the 12th century, and the Church of São Vincente, where, according to legend, our then future king D. Pedro I married Inês de Castro against his father’s wishes.