Where to go in Portugal? Porto and its surroundings.
You are planning your vacations or a weekend in Portugal and you are wondering about the most beautiful places to discover? Portugal, between sea and land, next to Spain and open to the Atlantic Ocean, offers a variety of landscapes and unexpected climates.
In this article, we propose you to discover the city of Porto in a few days during a long weekend but also to show you all the richness of the northern region of Portugal.
- A weekend in Porto.
- Visit the Sé of Porto
- Visit the Bolsa Palace
- Discover the Ribeira district
- Contemplate the Igreja do Carmo church
- Stop at the São Bento train station
- Climb the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar
- Take a walk along the docks of Vila Nova de Gaia.
- Cross the Dom Luis bridge
- The fish restaurants of Matosinhos
- The Palacio do Freixo
- 10 days in Porto and its surroundings.
- The Douro Valley
- The Peneda-Gerês National Park
- The beaches of Northern Portugal
- Guimarães, the cradle of Portugal
- Braga, the Portuguese Rome
Porto, a strategic position, also for tourism.
The city of Porto is located in the North of Portugal, at the mouth of the Rio Douro, near the Atlantic Ocean. It is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon and is considered the capital of the North. Porto is very well served by an international airport, a dense network of highways and a rail network that puts it at 3 hours from the official capital, Lisbon.
Porto is a historic city that can be visited in a few days, but it also offers a good location for a longer stay to discover historic Portugal, natural Portugal and the great beaches of the Atlantic.
★ A weekend in Porto.
The history of the city has its roots in antiquity. The Phoenicians were the first to occupy the mouth of the Rio Douro in the 8th century BC. Later, the Romans built a port on the right bank and named it "Portus Cale". This port became a major commercial center.
After centuries of invasions: Normans, Vikings, Moors... the city developed and found itself in the heart of the County of Portugal within the Kingdom of Castile. In the 11th century, Alfonso I Henriques was the architect of the independence of the County of Portulacense and, legitimized as King in 1143, he consolidated the independence of Portugal.
In the 14th century, the great Portuguese discoveries enriched the Kingdom and the ports of Porto and Lisbon became the centers of European maritime trade.
In the 18th century, the economic power of Porto reached its peak and the city built many baroque and neoclassical buildings that are still today the architectural characteristic of Porto .
View of Porto from the Sé - Credit Luisa Paixão
Before leaving, do not hesitate to inform yourself, on the internet of course, but also by trusting the real Portuguese of Porto who wrote the book: Porto, voyages et histoires. (translated into English)
1 - Visit the Sé de Porto
Fortress built in the 12th century like the first ring of walls of Porto, the church has preserved the vestiges of its origin and in particular its buttresses, its portal and its magnificent rose window.
In the 18th century, the Sé de Porto became a cathedral and was adorned with a baroque loggia and an altar with sumptuous pieces of gold and silverware.
Sé de Porto - Credit Luisa Paixão
The result is a heterogeneous building combining Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles which makes it unique.
If you visit the Sé, don't miss the "Casa do Calbido" where the cathedral's treasure is exposed, made up of religious goldsmith's objects. Even more singular, in the center of the square stands a column that was used to hang criminals.
Take the time, also, to turn around as you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Rio Douro and much of the city.
2 - Visit the Bolsa Palace
The Port merchants' association, originally created to settle commercial disputes, grew in size thanks to the Royal guarantee. With the development of trade with Brazil, then with England, and finally with the development of Port wines, the manifestos published by the association were brought together in what would become one of the first commercial codes.
On the ruins of an old convent, the merchants' association decided to build its headquarters in 1842.
The most important element of the building is its inner courtyard, which was built in the open air and then covered with a glass roof in 1880. This inner courtyard is decorated with the coats of arms of the 25 countries that trade with Portugal and is equipped, of course, with a clock, but also with a barometer whose measurements are useful for navigation on the Douro.
Please note that this palace is still the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce of Porto and therefore remains in activity. Therefore, the number of visitors is limited.
3 - Discover the Ribeira district
In the lower part of the city, along the river, is the Ribeira district. The ideal place to stroll and enjoy the atmosphere of Porto.
We advise you to spend an evening there. The quays are very animated, the choice of restaurants is very important but especially the lightings, the presence of the bridge Louis 1st and the sight on the quays of Vila nova de Gaia is enchanting.
Ribeira from Villa Nova de Gaia - Credit Destino Portugal
4 - Contempler l'église Igreja do Carmo
Famous church already mentioned in our article "Discover the history of Portuguese Azulejos" covered with nearly 16,000 azulejos evoking the life of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine.
In fact, if you look at the facade of the church, it is composed of 2 churches juxtaposed and separated by a narrow construction of less than a meter wide. The igreja do Carmo is the church on the right.
Take the time to sit in front of its facade, the abundant baroque style will reveal all its details one by one. Walk around it to discover the more recent facade of azulejos.
5 - Stop at São Bento station
The station of São Bento "Estação de Porto São Bento" in Portuguese, is located in the center of Porto is a building, built in 1896 and without real architectural or historical interest.
However, its hall is decorated with majestic azulejo panels depicting Portuguese historical scenes such as the capture of Ceuta by Henry the Navigator.
Sáo Bento station - Credit Noticias ao minuto
The tiles of the São Bento train station are figurative tiles from the 18th century, of which you can get faithful copies in our tile collection.
6 - Climb the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar
Probably the viewpoint that offers the most beautiful and wide panorama on the city of Porto. The Mirador de Serra do Pilar is located on the side of Vila Nova de Gaia, on the left bank of the Douro River.
Miradouro da Serra do Pilar - Credit Time off
7 - Take a walk along the docks of Vila Nova de Gaia.
Vila nova de Gaia is located in front of Oporto, on the left bank of the Douro River to which it is connected by the Dom Luis Bridge. It is the city of the Port wine producers and the cellars of the most important merchants are located there.
It is probably from the banks of Vila nova de Gaia and from the docks that you can admire the most beautiful views of Porto
8 - Cross the Dom Luis Bridge
Porto is known for its medieval architecture, its monuments of baroque style but it is also one of its bridges that is emblematic of the city: the famous Dom-Luís bridge.
Built in 1886 by the engineer Theophile Seyrig, student of Gustave Eiffel and inaugurated by King Louis I of Portugal, the Dom-Luís Bridge is a metal arch bridge supporting a beam. The lower level is accessible to cars and pedestrians (which allows you to go easily to Vila Nova de Gaia), the upper level is reserved for the subway but also accepts the passage of pedestrians.
In Porto, here are also 2 places very different from each other that we like very much.
Fish restaurants in Matosinhos
The streets of Porto are full of restaurants that will serve you the typical dishes of the region: Francesinha (see our article "The real recipe of the famous Francesinha"), tripe Porto style for the amateurs... But what we prefer are the dishes based on fresh fish.
The best way to do this is to move a few kilometers to Matosinhos, the fishing port. There you will find all the fish restaurants, behind the fishing port, with a particularity: In the street Herois de Franca, the fish barbecues are made in the street.
Matosinhos is also the main fishing port of Northern Portugal and is home to the main canneries that produce what many consider to be the best cans of sardines in the world.
A beautiful hotel: The Palacio do Freixo
The hotels are numerous and allow everyone to stay according to their means and desires, but one hotel particularly surprised us: The Palacio do Freixo, one of the most significant examples of Portuguese baroque architecture. Its facilities and location on the banks of the Douro make it a perfect destination.
When you leave Porto, you will probably want to talk about it and convince your friends and family to also visit this fantastic city. Why not give them a Portuguese gift box about the city of Porto?
★ 10 days in Porto and its surroundings.
If you are planning to spend more time in Porto, why not spend the summer holidays with your family and children, the region is full of extraordinary activities.
1 - The Douro Valley
The main attractions of this valley are its landscapes, its incredible hills and valleys where the vineyards are located. This valley can be discovered by car, train or boat.
By car, we recommend you to reach the city of Régua by the A24 and then follow the N222 to Pinhão. This route follows the river and offers magnificent views of the terraced vineyards. From this road, it is always possible to take one of the many small roads that will take you to the top of the hills.
By train, an original way to discover the landscape, you have to reach the city of Régua and then take the historical train of the Douro Valley that leads to Tua through Pinhão. This route is a real trip back in time, as the few vintage cars are pulled by an authentic steam locomotive.
By boat, the point of departure is the same: the city of Regua is the starting point of many cruises of a few hours that allow to discover the Douro shores from an exceptional point of view. The offer of cruises is very varied, from the excursion of a few hours on a typical boat to the exceptional cruise with gastronomic lunch.
2 - Peneda-Gerês park
To the northwest of Porto, on the Spanish border, you have the possibility to discover the wild hills of the Peneda-Gerês Park.
While walking around, with luck you might see a deer or its predator, the Iberian wolf, but these are shy animals that are rarely seen. On the other hand, you are sure to come across the "garranos", small wild horses that roam freely on the mountains or the wild cattle of the "barrosã" race and the dogs of Castro Laboreiro that guard the herds.
This protected park is full of hiking trails for beginners as well as for the more experienced which will allow you to discover the 2000 year old military milestones of the Roman road, menhirs and dolmens as well as medieval castles and monasteries.
3 - The beaches of Northern Portugal
The beaches around Porto are not well known, but they are among the most beautiful and natural in Europe.
Senhor da Pedra beach, south of Villa Nova de Gaia, a few kilometers from Porto, is known for its hexagonal chapel, but it is also a beautiful natural beach easily accessible from Porto.
For those who prefer developed beaches with a recreational offer, the long beaches of Matosinhos, all accessible by public transport, will do.
4 - Guimarães, the cradle of Portugal
Cradle of the Portuguese Nation, the city experienced, in 1128, a series of political and military events that led to the recognition of Alfonso Henriques as the 1st King of Portugal.
A historic medieval town with a magnificent heavily fortified castle, a magnificent gothic monastery and a town center made up of a maze of cobbled streets and charming squares.
Guimarães is easily accessible from Oporto by road or by train and one day is not too much to visit it.
5 - Braga, the Portuguese Rome
Born more than 2000 years ago, the city of Braga is considered as the Portuguese Rome because of its magnificent cathedral, its numerous churches and its two sanctuaries, the one of Bom Jesus and the one of Sameiro.
Braga deserves, by itself, a blog article as there are so many religious buildings. The gastronomy and the nightlife are also very present and deserve an article... To be continued.
6 - Barcelos
In the heart of Minho, the city was the seat of the Dukes of Bragança and the Count of Portugal before the official birth of the country. Historical city, it is also famous for its craft industry always very alive. Discover the Minho region, the city of Barcelos, its crafts and its famous rooster in our blog post.
On this occasion, do not hesitate to discover our collection of ceramic roosters of Barcelos: traditional, modern, large, small, in all colors