Porto is one of the most vibrant, appealing cities in Portugal, and although it has more than its fair share of attractions, a trip to Portugal isn't complete without taking some time to explore the surrounding area as well. Visit one of the charming medieval towns in the north for a change of scenery, admire the architecture in Viana do Castelo or the town of Fátima, or head to one of the many nearby beaches for some fun in the sun. If you like wine, consider touring the Douro Valley or the stunning Vinho Verde Province.
Sitting on the shore of a lagoon known as the Ria de Aveiro, Aveiro is a colorful city known for its art nouveau buildings and its many canals. The top attractions include the beautiful Cathedral of Aveiro, the bustling fish market, and the monastery of Jesus, which also houses the city museum. After you've seen the sights, the historic old town center is a wonderful place for an afternoon stroll, but you also shouldn't miss the change to take a ride through the canals on one of the cheerful painted boats traditionally used to harvest seaweed.
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A charming medieval town in the north of Portugal, Barcelos is the proud home of the Rooster of Barcelos, the country's unofficial symbol. The best day to come is on Thursday, when the famous Feira de Barcelos takes place in the center of town, but you certainly won't be disappointed if you visit on a different day instead. The Monastery of São Martinho de Tibães is a must-see for anyone interested in architecture, while the nearby Northern Littoral Natural Park is perfect for nature lovers. The Museum of Pottery is another great stop, especially if you have time to take a class.
Home to Portugal's oldest cathedral, the beautiful city of Braga is widely regarded as the country's religious and spiritual center. The city has more than its fair share of spectacular historic and religious buildings, but the highlight is the Bom Jesus do Monte, a massive 18th-century pilgrimage complex that features a magnificent baroque stairway, a funicular, and a wonderful viewpoint. Other architectural and religious highlights include the medieval Braga Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Holy Cross Church, but if you're looking for something different, you can stroll through the Santa Barbara Garden, browse the shops on Avenida da Liberdade, or visit the Biscaínhos Museum.
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Nestled in a bend of the Mondego River, Coimbra is a vibrant university town with an incredibly rich history. Not only is it the country's former medieval capital, but it's also home to the oldest university in Portugal, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a magnificent baroque library and an 18th-century bell tower that offers stunning views of the city. After touring the university, you can learn about the city's fascinating history at the Machado de Castro National Museum, admire the beautiful Quinta das Lágrimas gardens, or relax at a cafe with a delicious Santa Clara pastry.
Portugal is known for its spectacular beaches, and although many of them are found in the Algarve, Costa Nova is a picturesque seaside destination less than an hour away from Porto. The beautiful sandy beach is perfect for sunbathing on a sunny day, but it's best known for the colorful striped houses that line the shore, which were originally built by fishermen who needed to store their equipment. The area still has a strong fishing presence, but these days, it's also a popular vacation spot, and there's a convenient wooden boardwalk that runs along the sand.
Carved out by the Douro River as it flows from Portugal down to the sea, the Douro Valley is known for its enchanting scenery and its many vineyards. The winding roads are perfectly suited to a road trip, and although the magical landscapes have the potential to be the highlight of your day, there are plenty of other things to do as well. Stop at a few wineries to sample the region's excellent port, tour the vineyards, and perhaps even crush grapes if it's harvest season. If you feel like getting out of the car, you can also take a scenic cruise down the river.
Another beautiful beach within easy driving distance of Porto, Espinho is a bustling resort town that provides a stark contrast to the sleepy fishing village atmosphere of Costa Nova, and it's the perfect place to spend the day if you want some holiday-style sun and sand. The strong waves mean that the water here is generally better suited to surfing than to swimming, and boards and wet suits can be rented on the beach if you don't have your own. There are also plenty of nearby restaurants serving freshly caught fish and other delicious local dishes.
Set at the junction of the Cávado River and the Atlantic Ocean, Esposende is a charming seaside town that doesn't attract nearly as many tourists as other beach towns like Espinho and Costa Nova. However, the white sand beaches here are truly spectacular, and the water is perfectly suited to watersports like surfing and standup paddle boarding. If you get tired of the beach, you can rent a bike and explore the historic city center, go for a walk on one of the trails in the Northern Littoral Natural Park, or visit the fort of St. Lourenço.
If you're interested in religious history, few destinations are as worthwhile as the town of Fátima, the proud home of a famous Catholic pilgrimage site called the Sanctuary of Fátima. The sanctuary marks the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1917, and it boasts two beautiful basilicas, a massive main plaza, and a chapel. The best time to visit is on the 13th of each month between May and October, but no matter when you come, you can admire the architecture and visit the Museum of Sacred Art and Ethnology next to the sanctuary.
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10.Figueira da Foz
Conveniently located halfway between Porto and Lisbon, Figueira da Foz is a cosmopolitan resort town with a glitzy casino and a spacious beach lined with lounge chairs, restaurants, and bars. Spending some time at the beach is a must-do, but the city boasts a handful of other wonderful attractions as well, including the extravagant Sotto Mayor Palace, the fascinating municipal museum, and the Fort of Santa Catarina. If you want to do some shopping, you should also stop by the Engenheiro Silva Municipal Market, where you can pick up some local produce and fresh flowers.
Widely regarded as the birthplace of Portugal, Guimarães is a charming medieval town with an incredibly well-preserved historic center. The downtown core is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it's likely that you'll want to spend the bulk of your day exploring the sights in this area, which include the 11th-century Guimarães Castle, the historic Oliveira Square, and the French chateau-style Dukes of Bragança Palace. If you have time, you should also take the cable car up to the Santuário da Penha church, where you'll get some spectacular views of the town and the surrounding region.
Tucked amidst the beautiful terraced vineyards of the Upper Douro Valley, Lamego is an elegant city dotted with baroque buildings and religious monuments. The Lamego Cathedral, the 18th-century Episcopal palace, and the ancient Chapel of São Pedro de Balsemão are three must-see spots, and if you have any energy left, you can climb up the breathtaking stairway on St Stephen’s Hill to see the Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies. The city is also known for its delicious sparkling wines, which are aged in underground caves and can be sampled at many of the local wineries.
If you're looking for a day trip that won't take you too far out of the city, Matosinhos Beach is a wonderful choice. Only 15 minutes away from the center of Porto, it boasts a wide stretch of golden sand and medium-sized waves that are perfect for surfing. Surf boards can be rented on the beach, and the water tends to be quite chilly, so many surfers choose to bring or rent a wetsuit to stay warm. There's a small selection of cafes by the water, but if you want a full meal, you're better off heading into the nearby town of Matosinhos.
Av. Norton de Matos, 4450-208 Matosinhos, Portugal, Phone: +35-19-15-22-55-92
Miramar Beach is only seven miles away from Porto, but it doesn't attract nearly as many people as Matosinhos Beach, and it's much more popular with the Portuguese than with international visitors. The water is excellent for swimming during the warmer summer months, but in the winter, it becomes much more popular with the surfers who flock here to take advantage of the many waves. You'll also want to snap a few photos while you're here, as the beach features a picturesque 17th-century chapel set on a rocky outcropping that juts out into the ocean.
Meandering along the banks of the scenic Paiva River, the Paiva Walkways are a gorgeous place to go for a hike. The 5.5 miles of wooden walkways run between Areinho and Espiunca, and although they get quite steep in places, it typically takes visitors approximately two and a half hours to walk the whole route. Cafes and parking lots can be found on both ends of the trail, and there are several small beaches along the way. If you'd like to turn the hike into a more educational experience, you can book a guided tour with a local company instead of going on your own.
16.Peneda-Geres National Park
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Established in 1971, the Peneda-Gerês National Park encompasses approximately 270 square miles of beautiful forests dotted with medieval ruins, rushing waterfalls, and rugged cliffs. There are plenty of hiking trails for visitors to enjoy, and if you travel deep into the forest, you might have the chance to spot wild ponies, Spanish ibexes, or eagles. There are also hundreds of charming granite villages scattered through the park, and even if you came here primarily for the nature, it's worth stopping in Castro Laboreiro village to see its magnificent castle and visiting the Vila do Gerês to soak in the thermal baths.
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17.Ponte de Lima
Named for its location next to ancient Roman bridge on the languid Lima River, Ponte de Lima is one of the oldest and most beautiful villages in Portugal. The village's namesake medieval bridge happens to be one of its most impressive sights, but there are plenty of other attractions as well, including the stunning Igreja da Misericórdia church, the town's picturesque flower gardens, and a unique museum showcasing Portuguese toys and their history. A massive town festival takes place every September, and once every second Monday, the town also hosts a sprawling outdoor market along the riverbank.
18.Povoa de Varzim
Occupying a beautiful stretch of golden sand on the Atlantic Coast, Povoa de Varzim is a modern beach town that has been attracting tourists since the 19th century. There are more than 5.5 miles of continuous coastline in the town, but the Avenida dos Banhos and Enseada da Lagoa are the two best beaches if you're looking to swim, relax on the sand, or visit restaurants, cafes, and bars. Surprisingly, there's not much to see in the town itself aside from the beautiful town hall and the town square, but a large bullfighting event takes place here every July.
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19.Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Although it's located in Spain rather than in Portugal, the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral makes for a fabulous day trip from Porto, particularly if you love architecture or religious history. The cathedral is an important pilgrimage site, but its breathtaking beauty draws plenty of non-pilgrims as well, although it's worth noting that tourists are discouraged from visiting when the pilgrims' mass is being held. However, outside of this time, visitors are welcome to admire the elaborate High Altar and medieval statues, descend into the crypt where the ashes of Saint James the Great are kept, and take a guided tour of the cathedral rooftop.
Praza do Obradoiro, s/n, 15704 Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Spain
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Encompassing 18 hectares of land right in Porto, Serralves Park is the perfect day trip if you don't have a car or if you're traveling with children. The park was designed in the 1930s, and with its magnificent gardens and its hundreds of different plant species, it's widely considered to be the first garden of its kind in the country. You could spend hours meandering through the grounds and admiring the many trees, gardens, and sculptures, but there's also a wonderful contemporary art museum on site, where you can see beautiful pieces of artwork created by both local and international artists.
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21.Viana do Castelo
Sitting right where the Lima River meets the Atlantic Ocean, Viana do Castelo is one of the best cities to visit on Portugal's Costa Verde. It has a decidedly maritime atmosphere, but it's best known for its spectacular architecture, which ranges from the 16th-century city hall building in the main square to the iconic 20th-century Santa Luzia church that sits on top of a hill behind the city. The best way to explore the town's beautiful architecture is on foot, but to get up to the church you'll need to take a historic 1928 funicular.
Situated just over the Portugal-Spain border, the city of Vigo is a fantastic place to go if you're longing for a little taste of Spain. It's best known for being the home of the largest fishing fleet in Europe, but it's far from being a bland industrial city, particularly if you spend the day in the historic Old Town. Architectural highlights include the Church of Santa María and the ruined Castro Castle, but if you're more interested in archaeology, be sure to visit the reconstructed dwellings at the ancient Castro de Vigo site as well.
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23.Vila Do Conde
Formerly one of the most important shipbuilding centers in the country, Vila Do Conde is now an inviting resort-style beach town. There are plenty of beaches to choose from, but highlights include Praia Azul, which is known for its family-friendly rock pools, and the beautiful Praia do Forno, which is backed by the majestic 17th-century Forte De São João. You might want to spend the entire day at one of these beautiful beaches, but if you'd like to learn about the city's maritime history, you can visit the fascinating Shipbuilding Museum or marvel at the replica 16th-century ship moored on the Ave River.
Tucked away in the hills of the historic Tras-o-Montes province, Vila Real is a charmingly rural town with a sleepy atmosphere. The historic town center is home to a handful of majestic cathedrals and churches, but the biggest attractions here are found outside the city center. The elaborate Baroque Palacio do Mateus just outside town is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful country homes in all of Europe, and the grounds and gardens can be seen by guided tour. If you're able to venture a bit further, the mountainous Parque Natural do Alvão is a hiker's paradise.
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25.Vinho Verde Province
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You'll likely get your fill of port wine while you're in Porto, but if you'd like to sample some excellent red and white Portuguese wines, you should consider paying a visit to the Vinho Verde Province in the country's far north. It's the largest wine region in Portugal, and many of the vineyards welcome visitors to tour their properties, taste their wines, and perhaps even participate in the harvest if it's the right season. When it's time for lunch, it's worth stopping in the charming town of Melgaço to enjoy some locally made smoked sausage.
25 Best Weekend Getaways and Day Trips from Porto, Portugal
- Aveiro, Photo: Rafael/stock.adobe.com
- Barcelos, Photo: Lia Aramburu/stock.adobe.com
- Braga, Photo: whitelook/stock.adobe.com
- Coimbra, Photo: Elena Kharichkina/stock.adobe.com
- Costa Nova, Photo: mehdi/stock.adobe.com
- Douro Valley, Photo: kite_rin/stock.adobe.com
- Espinho, Photo: David/stock.adobe.com
- Esposende, Photo: Appreciate/stock.adobe.com
- Fatima, Photo: Jose/stock.adobe.com
- Figueira da Foz, Photo: moedas1/stock.adobe.com
- Guimaraes, Photo: peizais/stock.adobe.com
- Lamego, Photo: vouvraysan/stock.adobe.com
- Matosinhos Beach, Photo: Belikart/stock.adobe.com
- Miramar Beach, Photo: joyt/stock.adobe.com
- Paiva Walkways, Photo: Friedberg/stock.adobe.com
- Peneda-Geres National Park, Photo: Mandy Raasch/stock.adobe.com
- Ponte de Lima, Photo: TMAX/stock.adobe.com
- Povoa de Varzim, Photo: Bruno/stock.adobe.com
- Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Photo: LENTEJA/stock.adobe.com
- Serralves Park, Photo: TasfotoNL/stock.adobe.com
- Viana do Castelo, Photo: tsuguliev/stock.adobe.com
- Vigo, Photo: jmubalde/stock.adobe.com
- Vila Do Conde, Photo: Barry/stock.adobe.com
- Vila Real, Photo: yorgen67/stock.adobe.com
- Vinho Verde Province, Photo: Pedro M Ferreira/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: saiko3p/stock.adobe.com