For those seeking sun, history, and plenty of quintessentially local cuisine, a road trip through Northern Spain and Portugal may well be the answer. After all, a little off the beaten tourist track in comparison with plenty of other European destinations, this seven-day adventure is the perfect way to experience stunning architecture and oodles of culture. Here’s your perfect guide on how to spend one week in Northern Spain and Portugal itinerary…
#ad | This post is sponsored by TRANSROMANICA, the Romanesque Routes of European Heritage as ceritfied by the Council of Europe. All opinions, words, and photos, remains those of the editor.
Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain
Stay | 1 Night
Located a couple of hours north of Madrid, the pretty town of Santo Domingo de Silos is the perfect way to begin any road trip through Northern Spain. After all, it’s home to a stunning Romanesque Monastery complete with well-preserved cloisters, several breathtaking reliefs, and plenty of traditional architecture.
Other highlights of the town include the viewpoint from the Ermita de la Virgen del Camino, as well as the 18th-century Iglesia de San Pedro. A short drive away from the town, the Desfiladero de La Yecla gorge is a stunning natural treasure characterised by its metallic walkway wending through the winding crevices. Underfoot, a small river has carved out the rocks over the centuries, while eagles and vultures swoop overhead.
Stay | 1 Night
Hands down one of the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Spain, no visit to this region of Europe would be complete without dedicating at least a few hours to exploring the wonderful city of Burgos. The final resting place of the legendary El Cid and his wife, their tomb can be found within the most famous monument of Burgos, the UNESCO listed Cathedral.
Reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris thanks to a Gothic façade, the ecclesiastical building boasts no less than twenty chapels and several dozen stunning altarpieces. Otherwise, be sure to enter the historic city centre by passing underneath the Arco de Santa Maria.
This is the most ornate of 12 original medieval gates which would have guarded the entrance to the historical city and now provides the perfect introduction to Burgos. For those who are seeking out a laid back experience, purchase yourself a ‘Tinto de Verano’ (red wine and soda mix) in the town square, sit back, and relax watching the world go by.
Stay | 1 Night
Self-proclaimed to be the ‘Romanesque’ capital of Spain, Zamora is the capital city of a region of the same name and around 60,000 inhabitants reside within the city limits. Our first glimpse of Zamora came in the form of a jaw-droppingly narrow drive through this ancient city’s historic heart, a taste of the narrow winding lanes that characterise this quintessentially Spanish city.
Zamora lies alongside the River Duero and has no less than two dozen Romanesque churches. Among some of the best ecclesiastical buildings in Zamora are La Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena, the Iglesia de Santa Maria de la Horta, and the Cathedral of Zamora.
If you make it your mission to enjoy just one Romanesque place of worship while in the town, choose the cathedral. After all, once inside, you’ll soon discover the highly detailed tomb of Grado and the sparkling altarpiece that glitters from every angle. For the best view of the Cathedral’s crowing cupola, simply head to the nearby ruins of the Castle of Zamora, from which the rest of the town can be spied below.
Stay | 1 Night
Pack up your bags and prepare some entertainment because the drive between Zamora and Amarante will be the longest stretch of your road trip yet. But once in Amarante itself, you’ll soon discover that the drive between Northern Spain and Northern Portugal is well worth it!
That, and the contrast in scenery is not only interesting (who doesn’t wish to drive through the Douro Valley at golden hour?) but will provide a great selection of backdrops for all of your holiday snaps! The stunning city of Amarante itself is home to the likes of plenty of pretty architecture and great Portuguese cuisine.
For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to the Confeitaria da Ponte pastry and sweet shop is an absolute must! Producing traditional regional sweets since the 1930s, local delights include the São Gonçalos and the Papos de Anjo. The café even has outdoor seating where you can enjoy your sweets together with a cup of coffee and admire the 18th-century Ponte de São Gonçalo bridge.
Stay | 1 Night
Not far from the city of Porto, Lousada is a small Portuguese town with a population of less than 50,000. And thanks to its position between Porto and the rest of the Portuguese countryside, the settlement makes for a great place from which to explore the wider region. For a true taste of luxury while in Lousada, be sure to book a room at the Lousada Country Hotel, where amenities include an indoor and outdoor pool and vineyard views.
Otherwise, the top attraction in this sleepy town is the Interpretation Centre of the Romanesque. New, modern, and recently opened to the public, this exciting space is not quite a museum (though has beaten plenty of museums to win some pretty prestigious cultural awards) and is a fun and interactive way to learn all about the Romanesque. Perfect for all ages on account of its many quirky exhibition spaces, there are six theme-based rooms to explore.
Another incredible place close to Lousada (a mere fifteen-minute drive away) is the Quinta da Aveleda Gardens and winery. Set aside a few hours en route to Porto to visit the beautiful botanical gardens (filled with follies, hydrangeas, and even a ‘goat tower’), the gardens can only be seen on a guided tour. While at the winery, take the time to sit back, relax, and sample some locally produced wines (or vinhos as they are known in Portuguese)!
Stay | 2 Nights
Finish your stay the right way by taking the time to enjoy Porto. As one of the largest cities in Portugal (second only to Lisbon), this stunning city is best-known for its wealth of tiled façades, cobbled up-and-down lanes (so be sure to pack your comfiest shoes to walk in!), and of course, Port wine production!
Though you could easily condense your visit to Porto into just 24 hours, this is one European city that deserves extra time to be explored. Some of the top attractions you should make time for during your visit include a wander inside the wizarding famous Livraria Lello, as well as a stroll around the historic city centre so as to enjoy all of the beautiful architecture to be found there.
And for the wine drinkers out there, while in Porto, be sure to set aside the time to take a Port wine tasting tour. For example, visit the Cálem Cellars and you’ll learn all about the history of this famous Portuguese tipple, as well as get the opportunity to go on a little tasting for yourself. Purchase tickets in advance here.