Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Porto and northern Portugal

Do you want to know who the real Portuguese are? Do you want to immerse yourself in the national tradition, without the patina and modernity? Then you need to go to the north of this amazing country.

This is where Portugal was born and where it declared its independence. It was here that the unruly tribes, which were hard to give to the Romans and Moors, lived.

Cities and villages of the region


What is the north of Portugal

Douro river valley

Like a vein of gold, the Douro River runs through northern Portugal, making the country of Port wine famous the world over. Endless wine kintas envelop the river valley. The vineyards of the northern region, have given the country a favorite drink on a hot day: green wine.

The north of the country is more traditional, if you can call it that, with land cultivated and cows raised with wondrous beauty. Sometimes traveling through the north of Portugal, there is an incredible sense of time travel effect: stone houses, people in traditional attire, herds of horses in the middle of the road, springs of drinking water, and good-natured responsive people.

Towns like medieval castles, with ancient churches, and weekend fairs. The northernmost provinces are less loved by Russian tourists, probably because no one tells about the incredible beauty of nature hiding in the Jerez National Park, the Minho River valley and the romantic area of Traz-Uzh-Montes.

The main cities of the region

View of Porto

Perhaps the most famous city of the northern region is Porto, the city that gave its name to the country. Porto is like an old man with grey in the head and no man in the ribs: dilapidated houses stand side by side with luxuriously restored ones, the great number of Vila Nova de Gaia wine cellars beckon for a moment’s peace and the endless number of cafes on the waterfront say stop and sit and admire the splendid view of the bridge and the river.

Many beautiful azulejos are scattered around Porto, as well as many beautiful and interesting sights. Porto is a good place to wander around like a labyrinth, looking through narrow streets and stumbling upon interesting stores and quaint houses.

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Braga - Bom Jesus

Do you know which city was the first capital of Portugal? I won’t keep you in suspense – it’s not Porto, it’s Guimaraes. This city is called the “cradle of the nation” because the first king of Portugal proclaimed it as his capital.

Much time has passed since then, but the city keeps the spirit of the Middle Ages. The center of the city is well preserved old houses, with narrow streets. Although Guimaraes can not be called an old spirit, rather the opposite, it is a city of young soul, not for nothing it was elected the European Capital of Culture in 2013.

On Friday nights, the central square is transformed into one big bar, with many tables right outside, sangria and beer flowing, different music coming from the windows of the bars, and people’s voices merging into a single melody. In the morning there is no trace of the old fun. Only awake tourists curiously look at the medieval streets.

But the religious center of Portugal is Braga. It is a compact historical center consisting of churches, cathedrals and theological seminaries. And the morning here begins with a beautiful church chime. No wonder the most spectacular religious festivals take place here. On a high hill a few kilometers from Braga stands Portugal’s beautiful religious shrine, Bon Jesús. In addition, in the vicinity of Braga there is a unique monastery Tibaes, where you can see how and what the monks lived.

About the north of Portugal we can talk endlessly, it is multifaceted. Beautiful nature – mountains, mountain rivers, waterfalls and lakes. And if you really want to understand the spirit of Portugal, then you must go on a trip, so unspoiled by tourists this region.

Julia Smaglia

Julia Smaglia

Loves and knows Portugal. Creator of the Discover Portugal project. Insta-blogger. The author of many articles about Portugal. Drives author’s walking tours of Lisbon.

Details 4421 Published: June 06, 2020 Last updated: June 07, 2020

Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

This region of Portugal is just north of the city of Porto and north of the Douro River, extending to the Spanish border. Despite beautiful mountain scenery and long, sandy beaches, few tourists come here.

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Portugal also has its own Venice . Aveiro is a city that was one of the largest ports many centuries ago.

The cool waters of the ocean are certainly not conducive to swimming, and strong currents make it difficult to swim calmly. It is a completely different land than other regions of Portugal. Sometimes it feels like you are in a completely different country. In winter we can expect freezing temperatures, in summer if we are lucky the maximum is twenty degrees or more, in spring and autumn a few degrees.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Most days, however, even in summer, are spring or fall, with frequent rains and cold winds . Rainy and cloudy days mean that the main colors depicted are green and gray. The sky is gray because it’s overcast every day. Vegetation is green because heavy rains cause it to be exceptionally lush.

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, located on the banks of the Douro River, with a charming, colorful old town listed as a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage . The city itself has almost 300,000 inhabitants, and the entire agglomeration has about 2 million.

The jewel of the historic center is the coastal district of Ribeira. Opposite, on the other side of the river, is the traditional wine city of Vila Nova de Gaia. Porto is called the city of six bridges, and the most famous is the iron bridge of Louis I with a two-level structure.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

The historic São Bento station is one of the most visited tourist spots in the city because the walls of the building are lined with azulejas and represent historical events from the region’s history.

The Lello bookstore has been recognized as one of the three most beautiful in Europe, and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. The interior has two floors and is full of old carved book furniture. It was this interior that inspired the creator of Harry Potter to write his famous novels.

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The Chapel of Senhor da Pedra is an amazing church located on the beach in Miramar, a few minutes south of Porto.

Barcelós is a charming city famous for the legend of the rooster, which is a symbol of Portugal. In every Portuguese gift store you can buy roosters with a red coat of arms, which became popular thanks to a local legend. The pilgrim was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Before his sentence was carried out, he asked for a defense speech before the judge, who was about to eat a rooster. Pilgrim pointed to the bird, saying that if he was innocent, the rooster would get up off the plate and scream. And so it happened – the rooster came to life and cried out, and saved the unjustly convicted pilgrim from death. From that moment on, the rooster became a folk hero.

The town of Barcelus and its twin, Barcelonos, on the other side of the river are connected by a medieval bridge of the fourteenth century.

Braga is the most religious city in Portugal, with the oldest cathedral in the country, making the term “old as Braga’s cathedral” part of the colloquial language. But Braga’s greatest attraction is the Bom Jesus do Monte pilgrimage center on the outskirts of the city. The stairs lead up to a monumental temple that is more interesting than the church itself. As you climb the stairs, you can relax on the many terraces with decorative fountains and admire the beautiful view of the panorama of the city below.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Lamego is one of Portugal’s main pilgrimage centers thanks to the Basilica of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, which is accessed by a Baroque staircase modeled after the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Lamego is also famous for the best Raposeira sparkling wine in the country.

Guimarães is known as the birthplace of Portugal because it was the country’s first capital. It is a charming old town with many cafes listed by UNESCO.

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Vila Real is the main monument of Casa de Mateus, a manor house 4 km from the city. The residence, which is eagerly visited by tourists, also has impressive gardens.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Amarante is a charming town of 12,000 inhabitants that is worth visiting because of its beautiful location on both sides of the river. The most important sight in the town is the historic Romanesque bridge that bears the name of São Gonçalo, the patron saint of lovers and good spirit of Amarante.

Viana do Castelo is a town on the Costa Verde, the furthest stretch of the Portuguese coast, in a picturesque location at the mouth of the Lima River to the ocean. Above the city towers the famous Basilica of Santa Luzia, modeled on Paris’ Sacré-Coeur .

Hence the very popular symbol of Corazão de Viana, the heart of Vana . Heart-shaped ornaments, also called filigree, are usually made of gold and worn as jewelry: earrings or necklaces.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Praia de Cabedelo is the most famous beach in the Viana do Castelo area.

Ponte de Lima – The name of the town comes from Ponte Romana, the bridge over the Lima River, which is the main attraction of the town, along with the square with its fountain and the beautiful apartment buildings that form a charming old town.

Estoraos, a small village with a charming stone bridge and a mill, is a view characteristic of the region.

Chavez – The main attraction is the 1900-year-old Roman bridge in the center of the city and the old town with beautiful apartment buildings with decorative balconies. The city is also a resort because of the thermal springs located here.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Caldelas – Northern Portugal is famous for the production of a magnificent white wine called Vinho Verde.

Ponte de Barca is a town located on the Lima River. The city’s name refers both to the bridge (ponte) and to the period before the bridge, when boats crossed the river (barca). The most important advantage of the town is the proximity of the Peneda Gueres National Park.

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Arcos de Valdeves is a town called the gateway to the Peneda Gueres National Park with its characteristic northern stone bridge.

The Peneda-Gueres National Park is arch-shaped, stretching along the Portuguese-Spanish border . It is the only national park in Portugal. It protects both mountain landscapes and nature, as well as the traditional way of life of the inhabitants of more than 100 villages, among which the most popular among tourists: Fafiao, Soaho, Lindoso, Campo de Jerez. Time has stopped here! Visiting the villages, we will see old stone houses with thatched roofs and granaries, characteristic of the area crowned by a cross called espigueiros.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Bragança is the first town after entering Portugal from the northeast, located at the foot of a magnificent citadel with a castle tower and a Romanesque town hall.

The Montesinho Nature Park north of Braganski occupies one of the wildest areas of this part of Europe. The park is a typical mountainous region, cut by deep valleys formed by rivers. The highest peak is Montesinho (1,486 m above sea level).

Rio de Onor is the most interesting town in Montesinho National Park because it crosses the state border. One part of the village is Portuguese and the other is Spanish. Residents move from one part of the village to the other without any restrictions and use a certain Portuguese-Spanish dialect.

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Discovering the amazing secrets of Portugal’s northern region

Gimonde is a village with an attractive Roman bridge with stone spans.

Serra do Alvao – one of the mountain ranges in central northern Portugal, more than 1200 m above sea level.

Pova de Varzim is a northern resort with many hotels and restaurants.

Vila Cha is one of the tiny fishing villages on the northern coast.

Vila do Conde is a port town connected by metro to Porto. Visit the St. Clare aqueduct and the long sandy beaches, which are some of the best on the north coast.

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