Characterised by its rocky terrain, world-famous vineyards, and stunning towns, the North of Portugal remains one of the best-kept secrets of Western Europe. Home to a plethora of things to do for every taste, budget, and time-scale, here’s your guide to the most breathtakingly beautiful places to visit in Northern Portugal…
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The town of Amarante
Pretty as a postcard, the town of Amarante should easily top your list of must-see locations in this area of Europe. Home to delights such as a wealth of local Portuguese architecture and stunning surrounding landscapes, during our short visit I was particularly impressed by the 18th-century Ponte de São Gonçalo and the 16th-century Igreja de São Gonçalo.
For those with a little more time to explore, a self-guided town tour of the city’s many cobbled lanes and historic churches is absolutely essential. Otherwise, Confeitaria da Ponte produces some of the best sweets in town! And if you’re looking for a wonderful little lunch spot in the city to sit en terrace and overlook the River Tâmega flowing below, there are plenty of restaurants and eateries dotted on either side of the fast flowing waters.
Monastery of Travanca
Nestled amongst swathes of vineyards, the Travanca Monastery is one of the most unusual examples of Romanesque architecture to be found in Northern Portugal. And not just because it’s constructed in a symmetrical style, but also because an adjacent medieval bell tower sits directly unattached from the rest of the ecclesiastical complex.
Though not in the Romanesque style, an adjoining sacristy is a stunning beautiful Baroque masterpiece filled with treasures such as an ornately painted ceiling depicting symbols of Christ and Chinoiserie furniture. As can only be expected from such a location, the sacristy is also home to gems such as icons of various saints and a selection of centuries-old ecclesiastical clothing.
Neolithic sites of Aboboreira
Dolmens, tumuli, and ancient cairns litter the otherwise barren landscape atop Mount Aboboreira, a towering peak that dominates the landscape surrounding the pretty town of Amarante. Easy to reach by car (or you can book a jeep tour like this one if you so prefer), these highlands are home to granite ‘tors’ (i.e. rocky outcrops) deposited due to the intense ice shifts during the last ice age.
The gorse and grassy landscape is also home to a plethora of evidence of human inhabitation from Neolithic times to the Bronze Age. Some of the most significant sites of historical importance atop the mountain include the Chã de Parada (from the Neo-Chalcolithic period) and the Meninas do Crasto 3.
The historic city centre of Porto
Traditional tiling can be found in abundance across the up and down hilly city of Porto. And as the second largest city if Portugal, it should come as no surprise that there’s no shortage of things to do in this historic town, particularly if you love history and culture.
Some of the top Porto attractions you can’t miss during your visit include the Livraria Lello, which many allege to be the inspiration for a wizarding staircase in the Harry Potter series, the ornate tiling of the São Bento railway and the Baroque Clérigos Church, together with its Clérigos Tower.
Quinta da Aveleda Gardens & Winery
A historic mansion covered in trailing ivy lies less than half an hour’s drive from the city of Porto, Quinta da Avelada is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Portugal. Surrounded by a vineyard from which local wines are produced, once at the property, you can take a guided tour of the expansive gardens, sample some of the wine, or simply relax and watch the world go by.
Each year, Quinta da Avelada produces an impressive 19 million bottles of wine, while the garden is full of 19th-century follies and has no less than forty varieties of Camellia. You’ll have to pay a fee to visit the grounds, though a combination ticket for a small wine tasting and a garden tour starts as little as from €10.
Port wine tasting in a traditional cellar in Porto
For a true taste of local cuisine during your time in this region of Europe, you can’t miss out on the opportunity to go wine tasting. Easily one of the best things to do in Northern Portugal, during our time in Porto we enjoyed a guided tour of the Porto Cálem wine cellar.
The guided tour takes around an hour and can be experienced in English, Portuguese, French, or Spanish. This chance to learn about the history and production of Port wine is set against the backdrop of centuries-old wine cellars and afterwards, you’ll get the opportunity to sample several port wines!
Casa Da Viuva Restaurant & Wine Bar, Quintandona
Hands down, one of the best places to enjoy local cuisine paired with local wine is in the picture perfect village of Quintandona. Well-known for its abundance of slate houses and small interpretation centre, what is perhaps most surprising about this tiny village of just a few hundred residents is the quality of its wine bar and restaurant.
Surrounded by sunny fields and typically rural Portuguese countryside, the ever-so-friendly staff of Casa Da Viuva serve a selection of traditional Portuguese food with a modern twist. Easily some of the best food you’re likely to find anywhere in Northern Portugal, the tapas-style dishes are made for sharing. Think quail eggs on beds of baked noodles, authentic crusty bread, and plenty of fish dishes!
World-famous on account of its wine production, the peaks and troughs of the Douro Valley are simply gorgeous to look at and even better to drive through. Magical and enchanting, the landscape follows the Douro River, one of the main rivers of the Iberian Peninsula.
Close to the border with Spain, highlights of the Douro Valley include, as you can well imagine, plenty of water-based activities. From kayaking to river cruise, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the delights of these world-famous waters. Otherwise, for drinkers of vinho, a sample of the local tipple is an absolute must! Head to Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta do Vallado for some of the most authentic experiences in the region.
Monastery of Saint Peter of Cête
Situated in a tiny village characterised by its many slate houses, the Romanesque Monastery of Cête is made all the more magical by the presence of a tiny cloister with plenty of greenery. The construction of this ecclesiastical building is typically attributed to Gonçalo Oveques, who is now buried in a chapel on site.
Today, what is perhaps most unusual about this Romanesque monastery is the sheer number of Gothic features to be found within the space. Indeed, this is the most Gothic of all Romanesque buildings in Portugal. You see, much of the upper half of the monastery was renovated during the 13th and 14th-centuries, resulting in a Romanesque foundation topped with Gothic features such as arched windows.
Lousada Country Hotel
With an indoor and outdoor pool as well as some rather lovely surrounds, for a true taste of luxury when it comes to Northern Portugal, the Lousada Country Hotel is likely calling your name. The spacious property is set amongst vineyards and is around a fifteen-minute walk on foot from the town of Lousada, a town that’s home to many bars, cafés, and of course, the interpretation centre for the Romanesque.