Northern Portugal's major city, Porto, is a great place to jump and explore the rest of the region, particularly the famed Douro Valley where Port wine is produced.
Porto is on the west coast of Spain, which means there are three ways you can go from here:
- North to Braga and Guimaraes or Santiago de Compostela in Spain: These two cities are just 25 minutes apart and are the most attractive places to visit in the north. Santiago is the most popular city in northwest Spain and the destination for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
- South to Coimbra and Aveiro: If you are planning on going to both Lisbon and Porto, you could break up your journey by visiting Coimbra or Aveiro, which lie between the two cities or visit them as day trips.
- East to the Douro Valley: Port wine, though it is finished in Porto, starts its life on the vines of the Douro Valley. The riverboat journey there and back is a day trip in itself.
Braga and Guimaraes
Braga and Guimarães are two cities around an hour's drive north of Porto. Their proximity to each other makes them ideal to visit on a single day trip, though you'll probably want to take a Tour of Braga and Guimaraes rather than trying to plan such logistics by yourself. Alternatively, stay in Braga for a night.
Braga is Portugal's third biggest city, but don't be fooled into thinking it is a sprawling, noisy metropolis. Braga feels distinctly provincial, a pleasant and walkable city with a 12th-century cathedral and lots of medieval churches.
But the biggest attraction here is the Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary, just outside of the city and easily reachable by local bus. The sanctuary, which is perched on a hill, has a church and gardens that can be accessed by funicular or the zig-zagging baroque staircase. A favorite sightseeing location for tourists in Portugal.
This sanctuary is perched on a hill that overlooks Braga, affording great views of the city. There is an impressive, zig-zagging staircase that leads up to a church with gardens surrounding it and a pond. Take the funicular up and walk down the stairs since each landing has something to see.
Braga's Cathedral is the oldest in Portugal. It took hundreds of years to complete and reflects many architectural styles including Manueline, Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic.
You can get to Braga from Porto by train, with several departures daily. The trip takes about an hour (or under) and costs around 7€.
The bus costs about 6€ and takes a bit over an hour.
This university town has plenty of history, including a medieval center and a 1,000-year-old castle. You can also take a cable car up to Penha Park, which is perched on a hill that looks out over the town.
The journey takes an hour and 15 minutes and costs about 3€ one-way when taking Porto's urban train. The almost hourly train departs both the Sao Bento station (in Porto's center) and Campanha station. There is an IC (Intercidades) train that will save you about 10 minutes, but it will cost you 4 times the amount. For schedule and price information, see the CP Rail website.
The bus from Porto to Guimaraes takes about an hour and costs around 6€ round trip.
How to Get Between Braga and Guimaraes
The bus from Braga to Guimaraes takes about 25 minutes and costs around 6€ round trip.
The Douro valley straddles the Douro river in inland Portugal and is one of the principal wine-producing regions of the country. The Douro Valley is most known for the production of port wine. Portugal's world-famous sweet fortified wine starts its life here before being transported down to the city of Porto.
Travel along the river by boat or alongside it by train and take in the terraces where the vineyards are found before popping into a quinta to see port being produced. If traveling by train, Pinhao is one of the more popular jump-off points.
Take a tour of the vineyeards. You'll be taken to all the best viewpoints throughout the valley and get to try some port wine.
Porto to Douro Valley by Guided Tour
A guided tour is a great way to see the Douro Valley. You can certainly go on your own but a guide will organize everything from confirming that the best Quintas (wine estates) are open and taking you to ones accessible only by car.
Porto to Douro Valley by Train
The train from Porto to Regua takes about 2h and costs about 10€ one-way when using the InteRegional trains. Additionally, you can also get from Regua to Pinhao in less than 30 minutes by train, which has great views of the river. Book from Rail Europe (book direct).
Porto to Douro Valley by Bus
There are several buses a day to Vila Real in the Douro Valley. From there, it's another 30-minute bus ride to Regua. However, there are only a couple of buses to Regua a day, so plan accordingly. The journey from Porto to Regua takes around 2 or, 2 and a half hours and costs around 15€ one-way. Book from Rede Expressos.
Aveiro is ambitiously referred to as the 'Venice of Portugal', due to its canals and the 'molceiro' gondolas you can ride for about five euros. There are nowhere near as many canals as its Italian equivalent, but the city is still a charming place that is easily explorable by foot (though the center is about a 15-minute walk from the beautifully tiled train station).
One of the nicest spots in Aveiro is the Museu de Arte Nova. The town has many Art Deco buildings and this one plays host to a museum and tea house. The tea house is located on the ground floor of the building and spills out into a serene courtyard.
If you want to learn more about Aveiro's history, see this Aveiro Tour from Porto. It includes a ride on the gondola-like moliceiro through it's canals.
You can take the urban train to get from Porto to Aveiro. However, if you want to combine your trip with a trip to Coimbra, or if you want to visit Aveiro en route between Porto and Lisbon you can take a train, bus, or car.
Portugal's oldest university lends both old and new to this interesting and charming city. The campus is worth the trip alone to the city but strolling through the old city is quite nice. Coimbra is also home to one of Portugal's two forms of fado music.
Consider this guided Day Trip to Coimbra from Porto, which includes a stop in Fatima, home to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary where it is said that apparitions of Mary had taken place.
AddressSantiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Spain
Santiago de Compostela is the most popular destination in Galicia, northern Spain. In fact, people will walk 1,000 kilometers (sometimes more) to reach it, as it is the end-point of the Camino de Santiago.
You can walk from Porto to Santiago (in a variant of the Camino called the Camino Portugues) but the city is only a little less rewarding if you take motorized transport to get there. St James's tomb is open for visitors whether you walked there or not and Santiago's old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Or take a guided tour of Santiago de Compostela from Porto and you'll also visit the town of Viana do Castelo and visit its basilica.