Northern Portugal is a beautiful destination and one that you will want to explore as much as possible. While the south of Portugal is getting busier with tourists, the Northern part is waiting to be discovered.
Packed with history, culture, traditions, and beautiful scenery there are many reasons why you need to plan a road trip to Northern Portugal as soon as possible.
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Old villages with fascinating stories to tell, vineyards where the country’s best wine is made, and breath-taking views all around, are just a few of the reasons to book yourselves on the next flight to Porto.
While getting around by public transport can be fairly simple and there are connections between most cities, I would still recommend hiring a car as this will give you more freedom to visit as much as possible. Driving in Portugal is easy, motorways don’t have rush hour, roads are safe and parking is great too.
In this itinerary I include overnight stays in Porto for 3 nights, Guimarães for 2 nights and Viana do Castelo for 2 nights. This will ensure you see the most important locations in Northern Portugal and the surrounding areas.
You will only need a car at the end of your stay in Porto. Porto is one of the biggest and busiest cities in Portugal, so getting around by foot or public transport is the best option. You can book car hire in advance for pick up before you leave for your second destination.
You will keep the car with you until the end of your trip and drop off the car at the airport. When searching for car hire, make sure to choose Porto Downtown as the pickup location and Porto Airport as the drop-off location.
How to get there:
Many countries have direct flights to Porto. If you are flying from London you can use either Gatwick or Stansted airport for a direct flight.
Alternatively, if your nearest airport does not offer a direct flight you will need to book an indirect flight with a stopover in Lisbon or sometimes Faro airport. You would then fly directly to Porto.
Day One – Porto
Arrive at Porto airport and take your pre-booked transfer or pick up a taxi outside the airport to your accommodation. Transfer to Porto city centre takes approximately 15 minutes.
Once you have checked in and settled into your room, take a walk through the town centre and along the river Douro. This is the best way to get to know the city.
Stop at Sao Bento Railway Station to admire the walls from top to bottom. Covered in blue and white tiles with historical artwork designed on them. These tiles are called ‘azuleijo’ and are an important part of the city’s culture. Stopping at a train station just to look inside might not be your typical activity on any trip, I promise, you will want to stop and see this one.
Keep an eye out for the amazing artwork on buildings across the city. I am not talking about random words and drawings scattered around the city. I mean proper, detailed designs from real artists.
It’s easy to see how beautiful Porto is while taking a stroll through the cobbled streets and along the river. But do you want to go to the one place that will offer incredible views of the whole city? Then you need to go to ‘Torre Dos Clerigos’. This is the highest bell tower in Portugal. You will need to go up a lot of steps to get to the top, but don’t let that put you off. Once at the top, it will all be worth it. Tickets cost 6 euros per person and you can buy them on arrival.
There are 6 bridges in Porto, but only one of them is the famous icon of Porto. Luis I Bridge, built in 1883, connects the city of Porto to its neighbour town Vila Nova de Gaia. You have probably seen pictures of this metal arch bridge every time you search on the internet for anything Porto related. Take a walk on the bridge to get panoramic views of the Douro River and its surroundings. Don’t forget to take a picture on the bridge too. It’s a great spot to get those perfect Instagram shots.
If you cross the bridge and go into Vila Nova de Gaia, go on the cable cars for more spectacular views of Porto. It is a 5-minute journey (each way) and tickets cost 9 euros. Most of the time, at the ticket office you are also given vouchers to visit wine cellars. They are worth checking that out too.
I recommend taking the ‘Six Bridges Cruise’. This 50-minute small boat cruise will take you past all six bridges that connect Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Each bridge is beautiful and unique in its own way. This tour is a great way to learn about the city’s history while admiring Porto from the Douro River.
After all that walking and exploring, have a drink in one of the many bars/cafes along the Douro River while admiring the views. I recommend ‘Café Do Cais’, situated right on the riverfront close to Luis l Dom bridge. They have a big outdoor patio seating area so it’s impossible to miss this café. Try one of the local wines or have a taste of some of the delicious tapas. It’s the perfect way to end your first day here.
Day Two – Porto
After breakfast, get ready for another day of exploring Porto. This morning, join a group tour of the city. This is the best way to learn about the history and culture while making sure you do not miss any of the city’s must-see places. You can pre-book a 3-hour walking group tour. Viator.com is a great place to book tickets in advance and prices depend on which tour you book.
I recommend the ‘Essential Porto Walking Tour’. This tour will take you through the most important parts of Porto, like the Old Town, Porto Cathedral, Lello Bookstore, and ‘Centro Português de Fotografia’, a building that used to be a famous prison.
If you prefer to discover Porto on your own and at your own pace then use the hop-on-hop-off bus. The bus will stop at all the important spots while giving you the freedom to explore on your own. It even takes you out to the coastal area of Matosinhos. Tickets cost from 13 euros and are valid for 24 hours.
For lunch head over to ‘Café Majestic’ located in the city centre on Santa Caterina Street. One of the oldest cafes in Porto, offering tasty traditional food. If you want a taste of what locals eat, try Porto’s famous ‘Francesinha’, a meat sandwich with delicious sauce. Don’t bother asking for the recipe, it is one of Porto’s best kept secrets.
One of the best things in Portugal is its amazing gastronomy. Porto is a great city to taste amazing food while drinking some of the best wine.
This afternoon, go on a guided Food and Wine tour. You will start the tour with a coffee and a custard tart (pastel de nata). Then continue the tour around Porto having a taste of traditional foods while drinking great port wine. This is the ultimate experience to get a real taste of Porto.
If you have time, go check out Matosinhos beach. Only 15 minutes away from the town centre. Either use the hop-on-hop-off bus or get a taxi. This is the easiest way as buses take a longer detour and take nearly an hour to arrive. Matosinhos Beach is Porto’s largest beach and offers views to the most beautiful sunset, a perfect way to end your day.
Time for dinner. Go back to the riverfront where you will find a big selection of great restaurants. With stunning views of Porto at night, enjoy the relaxing atmosphere while sipping on local wine and eating another traditional dish. If you cross the bridge and go into the Vila Nova de Gaia side you will find more selections of amazing restaurants to try out.
Day Three – Porto/Day trip to Douro Valley
Today, leave Porto for the day and go on a tour of the Douro Valley. The Douro is one of the highlights of Northern Portugal so you can’t give this place a miss.
The tour will start from your accommodation with a duration of 9 hours. You will be picked up on a minibus and travel for approximately 77km. On arrival you will be met with incredible views of the Douro River surrounded by vineyards.
Your first stop will be ‘Quinta da Roeda’. After taking a tour of the vineyard you will get the chance to taste a variety of Port Wines. Then onto the most exciting part of the trip, a boat ride on the Douro River. This gives you the chance to see the incredible Douro Valley and its panoramic views. The river cruise takes 1 hour and will take you to the village of Pinhao.
Once you arrive you will explore more vineyards, have lunch, and of course, continue to taste more amazing wines.
You will also learn about the history of producing wine in Portugal. At the end of the tour, you will be taken back to your accommodation.
For dinner, take in all of Porto’s beauty one last time before moving on. Head over to Vila Nova de Gaia and try out one of their great restaurants overlooking the historical town of Porto.
If you are looking to relax after dinner, then go to Dom Henrique Hotel and have a drink in their bar terrace. You will be met with more panoramic views while enjoying one (or two) of the many drinks they have to offer. What better way to end your perfect trip in Porto?
Day Four – Guimarães (With a stop over in Amarante)
It’s time to say goodbye to Porto and make your way to the historical town of Guimarães. After breakfast, pick up your car hire from the town centre (check address with the car hire company you booked with), and start your journey towards Guimarães, where you will be staying for the next two nights.
Before arriving into Guimarães, you will stop in the mediaeval town of Amarante. Approximately 40 minutes East of Porto you will find this charming town surrounded by dreamy villages and beautiful historic buildings. Amarante is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
When you arrive in Amarante, be prepared to spend a few hours walking. Start at the Ponte de São Gonçalo, a stone bridge standing over the Tamega River, the icon of Amarante. Take some time to admire the views from the bridge.
Right next to the Ponte de São Gonçalo, you will see the Church of São Gonçalo. A beautiful 15th century church with a 16th century renaissance doorway. Take a look inside to see the tomb of Saint Gonçalo – a saint from Amarante that is celebrated every year in June.
On the right side of the church you will see a steep road. Climb to the top to see incredible views of the town.
Around the corner from the church, you will find a selection of pastries. Take a break and get yourself a tasty treat.
Further down the road, you will see ‘Solar dos Magalhães’ – what used to be a manor house is now ruins caused by the French invasion in 1809, and today, it is a memorial. Take a look from the outside and read the information board to learn more about the conflict and how the lawn area around the ruins is used today.
Go back towards the River Tamega and go for lunch at one of the restaurants offering amazing local dishes at affordable prices.
After lunch and weather permitting, rent a canoe and go for a one hour trip along the river and see Amarante from the River Tamega. I promise the scenery will not disappoint.
End your time in Amarante surrounded by nature. A short walk from the Tamega River, you will find ‘Parque Florestal de Amarante’. A small forest with many different types of exotic trees planted in the 1920s and some wild animals (in large cages). For a more relaxing afternoon, get away from city life and take a stroll through the forest.
Once you are done exploring this stunning town, it’s time to continue your journey to Guimarães. Head North of Amarante and make your way to your accommodation. This journey will take approximately 40 minutes. Check in to your room and settle in.
Have a relaxing evening, grab dinner at your hotel or nearby and rest up for the busy days ahead of you.
Day Five – Guimarães and Braga
This morning, get to know the city where Portugal was born, Guimarães. It was the birthplace for Portugal’s first king, making it a town packed with history.
First stop will be the Guimarães Castle. It was built to protect the monastery from being attacked by the Moors and Norsemen in the 10th century. During the 11th century, the first king of Portugal was born in this castle. Here is where the history of Portugal begins, making this castle one of the most important monuments of the country.
After being left abandoned for centuries, Guimarães Castle is now open to the public. People from all over the world have the chance to see this landmark from the inside as well as from the outside.
Take a walk inside the castle and see how it was left for so many years. There are also information boards around the castle talking about the history. This is the perfect place to learn about Portugal.
Next, opposite the castle, you have the Church of Sao Miguel do Castelo. Another important monument for the Portuguese people. This medieval church was also abandoned for centuries until it was finally restored in the 19th century. By the 20th century, the Church of Sao Miguel does Castelo was declared a national monument.
Do you want to feel like you have travelled back in time? Take a walk down Rua Santa Maria.Guimarães, one of Guimarães’ most historical streets. Admire the medieval architecture and get a sense of how the town of Guimarães was many years ago. This street has not changed since.
After exploring the historical and cultural parts of Guimarães, head over to Largo da Oliveira Square, named after an olive tree that was planted right in front of the church many years ago. Have lunch and a coffee here before moving on to the second part of the day.
This afternoon it’s time to explore Braga. A beautiful town North of Guimaraes. Take a 20 minute car journey and arrive in this charming place known as the most religious town in Portugal.
First place to see is Bom Jesus do Monte. Visit the most popular site in Braga, the sanctuary. Although, the sanctuary isn’t the only must-see attraction in Braga. It’s the beautiful zigzag stairs with Baroque Sculptures and beautiful fountains at every turn.
While admiring the elegant stairs and sculptures, climb up 100 metres to be met with incredible views of Braga. The sanctuary was a pilgrimage site where devoted pilgrims would climb up the stairs on their knees. This was to show their loyalty to God and is something that has been done since the 14th century.
Before climbing the stairs to the top, take a walk through the beautiful gardens around Bom Jesus do Monte. Here you will see different types of beautiful flowers, especially if you are visiting in the spring or summer months.
Next, get the complete Braga experience and take the Bom Jesus do Monte Funicular down the hill. This railway funicular was installed in the 1880s and uses the water balance system to move up and down the hill. It is also the oldest funicular in the world to still function this way. Appreciate the beautiful nature around you on this 5 minute ride to the bottom.
Once you leave the Funicular, take a walk through the centre of Braga and spend some time exploring everything this historical town has to offer. You have the Braga Cathedral which is the oldest Cathedral in Portugal and has a mix of styles, including Gothic and Baroque features. A must see if you want to learn more about the history of Portugal.
If you enjoy spending time in beautiful gardens then take a walk through the ‘Garden of Santa Barbara’. A garden named after Saint Barbara where a statue of the Saint can be seen in the centre. Enjoy the beautifully cut hedges, colourful flowers and different types of birds.
To end the day, relax with a coffee and a treat in the main square – Praça da Republica surrounded by traditional old buildings. There is outdoor seating so enjoy your drink and the weather before heading back to Guimarães.
Have dinner either in Braga or Guimarães. Both towns offer great restaurants with delicious local food at good prices.
Day Six – Viana do Castelo – With a stop in Barcelos and Esposende
Time to say goodbye to another city and head over to the final part of the trip. After checking out of your accommodation start your journey towards Viana do Castelo.
Locals describe Viana do Castelo as one of the most beautiful cities in Northern Portugal. This is thanks to its historical attractions and lovely beaches. Although it is definitely worth visiting, it is possible to see everything in one day. So, I have left exploring Viana do Castelo for day seven and on route you can stop in Barcelos and Esposende. Two towns you will want to see.
After leaving Guimarães drive to Barcelos, a journey of approximately 35 minutes. Barcelos is known for being one of the most cultural towns in Portugal. It is home to the famous giant rooster that symbolises Barcelos as well as Portugal.
Pottery and ceramics are also a big thing here. Check out the shops selling handmade items as some of the locals really do make beautiful and unique things.
If you like pottery items then visit the ‘Museu de Olaria’. A pottery museum showing pottery made from around Portugal.
You will also find the biggest market in Portugal and an important part of their culture. You will find handicraft items, clothes, ceramics and fruit & vegetables. Unfortunately it is only open on a Thursday, so definitely take a look if you visit on this day.
Torre do Cimo da Vila was once a mediaeval tower with a gate that was used for cars to drive through to travel from one side of the country to the other. Today, it’s still standing strong and you can even go inside. There is an elevator that will take you to the top where you will find stunning views of Barcelos and the surrounding mountains.
Before heading to your next destination, take a walk through the town centre and admire the historical sites and also see the locals hard at work making the pottery and ceramics.
Once you are done exploring Barcelos it’s time to make your way to Esposende, a little hidden gem of Portugal.
To the west of Barcelos, 16km away, you will find the coastal town of Esposende. While Northern Portugal is known for its stunning cities and interesting history, not many people would think of Esposende for a beach holiday.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, everybody always thinks of Lisbon or the Algarve, but Esposende is proof that Northern Portugal is also a great destination if you are looking to catch some sun.
Take a break from all the exploring and spend the afternoon relaxing at the beach.
One option is Praia de Ofir (Ofir Beach). This white sand beach between dunes and pine trees is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in Northern Portugal and is a popular choice for locals wanting to do water activities such as surfing. There are also cafes and restaurants along the beach making it a great choice to spend the afternoon.
Being a coastal town, Esposende is blessed with amazing seafood restaurants. Give one a try either for lunch when you arrive or for dinner before you go to Viana do Castelo.
At the end of the day drive into Viana do Castelo. This journey will take approximately 30 minutes along the motorway.
Arrive at your accommodation, check in and settle in for the next two nights.
Day Seven – Viana Do Castelo
Today you will be exploring the historical town of Viana do Castelo.
Start your day at the Praça da Republica – The old town square. Experience your last day in Portugal like a local and have breakfast in one of the cafes, enjoy a pastry and coffee.
Praça da Republica is surrounded by old buildings and is home to the town hall, a building with beautiful architecture which was built around the 16th century. Opposite this building you will see the incredible fountain built in the 15th century and is now one of the most admired landmarks of Viana do Castelo.
Take a 7-minute walk down to the port where you will find Gil Eannes. Gil Eannes was a Portuguese hospital ship that was ready to set sail in 1955, heading off to Greenland and Newfoundland. After 20 years of service, the ship was left abandoned and today it is a museum where you can visit and learn about the ship’s history. The museum is open daily and tickets are 4.50 euros per person.
Like all the other places visited previously, Viana do Castelo is also known for its amazing cuisine, so stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants in the town centre.
After lunch take a ride on the Funicular de Santa Luzia. Its first journey was back in 1923 and goes up a steep hill climbing up to 650 metres high. This will take you to Citania de Santa Luzia where you will be met with stunning views of Viana do Castelo and the Lima River.
Citania de Santa Luzia is described as an archaeological site and is known for the fortified settlements from the iron age. You can also see proof that people used to live here during the Roman Times.
Head back down to the town centre. On your way admire the incredible architecture and see why Viana do Castelo holds a place as one of the most beautiful cities of Portugal.
Arrive back at the main square Praça da Republica and go to one of the many cafes for a well deserved sweet treat and shot of coffee.
Once you are done, visit the Museu do Traje. At this museum you can see traditional clothing items worn by local women (mainly from the surrounding villages) over the years showing their culture and heritage.
To end the day, why not take a walk along one of Viana do Castelo’s beautiful beaches while watching the sunset.
One of the closest beaches is Praia Norte, a great beach to enjoy some relaxing time, have a drink at one of the cafes or to go for a stroll taking in the breath-taking views.
The most popular beach and a family favourite is Praia do Cabedelo. It is surrounded by dunes and a pine forest. You will feel like you are miles away from the city centre, yet you are so close.
Have an amazing dinner at one of the restaurants near the beach and try one of Viana do Castelo’s local dishes. Don’t forget to order some of that lovely Portuguese wine too.
An incredible trip has come to an end and time to say goodbye. Head off to the airport giving yourself enough time to drop off the car hire. The journey from Viana do Castelo to Porto is 66km.