Guest Post: Exploring Northern Portugal

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Today's guest post comes to you from Sofie Couwenbergh, a freelance writer and founder of the travel blog Wonderful Wanderings. From researching and writing for the Belgian Press Agency Belga, she switched to reporting on the many places her wanderlust takes her. She’s also an avid dancer who functions best on tea and chocolate. You can connect with Sofie on Twitter or Facebook.


People traveling to Portugal often head towards the Algarve for a beach vacation or Lisbon for a city trip. Although the city of Porto is starting to gain in popularity, they usually don’t think of going north.

And yet, it was the north that attracted us when we started to plan our road trip through Portugal last year. Images of green vineyards, small villages and calm beaches made us decide to spend most of our time there. Doing so, we fell in love with the region and its friendly people.

The tranquility of the Douro Valley

Douro Valley

I think we made a smart choice by starting off in the Douro Valley. This place is all about enjoying the moment. On both sides of the river Douro that splits the valley in half, you’ll find nothing but vineyards. There’s a train that follows the river and takes you to Pinhão, just a small village but famous for the interior of its train station, which is covered in azulejos. There’s also a tiny harbor in Pinhão, which is actually not much more than a dock. From there you can take one of the many cruises on the river or hire a private sailboat — with or without a captain.

Don’t rush through the valley in a day, but rather spend a night there in one of the many quintas, like we did. You can go port tasting or simply enjoy a romantic dinner overlooking the vineyards.

The city of Porto


After a good night’s rest it’s time to drive on to Porto. Although it’s the largest city in the north of Portugal and gaining traction, Porto is definitely not as touristy as Lisbon. Its hilly streets will train your calves while you’re walking from the center down to the water and back.

Foodies have to reserve a table at DOP Restaurant, run by master chef Rui Paula. I assure you I’ve never had a dinner as exquisite as I did there. Book lovers won’t be disappointed in Porto either, as it’s home to the Lello bookstore, famous from the Harry Potter movies.

And if you need a break there’s always the beach. Porto has a long coastline with a path that runs along the beach, at a lower level than the road. It’s ideal for taking a stroll and working on your tan afterwards.

The historical center of Guimarães


Porto is a good base for those wanting to explore the north of Portugal as it provides easy access to some smaller towns, like Guimarães. This town is probably mostly known for the beautiful Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos, but the historical town center and the castle of the Dukes of Bragança shouldn’t be missed either.

The steps of Bom Jesus do Monte

Bom Jesus do Monte

Half an hour from Guimarães lies Bom Jesus do Monte, outside the city of Braga. It’s a Portuguese sanctuary that is known for its large Baroque stairway and beautiful church. You can leave your car somewhere in the middle of the mountain and take the funicular up, or drive all the way up, like we did. The views from on top of Bom Jesus do Monte are spectacular, but you should definitely also take the stairs all the way down to the small platform there, which offers some great views as well as was less crowded when we were there. Of course this also means that you’ll have to take the stairs back up again afterwards…

The food


But no worries if you’re using up a lot of energy, because there are plenty of places in the north of Portugal — and in the whole of Portugal, actually — where you can regain that energy by having some delicious food. Fresh fish dishes are abundant here and not more expensive than a meat dish. Another thing Portugal is known for are its pastries and the cakes they serve for dessert.


You see now why I think you should visit the north of Portugal? There’s the calmness of the Douro Valley, the culture of Porto and the delicious food you’ll find all over the country. I had an amazing time there and I’m pretty sure you would too.


Do you have any other tips for Portugal?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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18 Comments on “Guest Post: Exploring Northern Portugal

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  1. Portugal is truly different class!
    I am a frequent traveller, I spent sixteen days in Porto in March this year and was truly amazed by the beauty and scintillating atmosphere of the city.
    Now i am planning to visit the Portuguese capital this year… I hope to have the same or more enjoyable experience..

    Hey Sofie (and Amanda).
    I’m glad you gave Portugal a shot and liked it so much! While I’ve never been a fan of living here (and shall leave soon), I must admit Portugal does have its beauties and delicacies (tell me you’ve tried a pastel de nata).
    Hope you get to visit Lisbon soon, too! While I love Porto, for me Lisboa takes the cake. 🙂

      Of course I tried a pastel de nata! Mmm! But I did feel like you guys rock at making “Boules de Berlin” 😀

    We did a day trip from Porto to the Drouro Valley including wine tasting, also a boat trip at Pinhao on a traditional boat they historically used for transporting the barrels of wine. The experience was awesome.

      Yes the rabelos, we did a boat trip in one of those as well:) I preferred sailing though.

    I spent five nights in northern Portugal seven years ago and I enjoyed my time. I was based in Porto so of course, I explored that city and I enjoyed my time there.

    But I would recommend Coimbra, a famous university town. It was a pleasant town to walk around and being a university town, it would probably be very vibrant. I would also recommend Espinho, a beach town not far from Porto.

      We actually spent two nights in Coimbra. We’d flown to Lisbon, hired a car there and then made our way up north, passing through Coimbra.

    have always really wanted to go to Porto. Great post

    Great post. Port tasting sounds like my kind of activity 😉

      I didn’t really like it (but I don’t drink wine either), but boyfriend willingly worked through my glasses as well:D

    Hey Amanda, thanks again for featuring me! The article looks nice on here:)

      My pleasure! Makes me really want to go to Portugal.

        You should definitely get there one day:)

    This area looks so beautiful! My grandparents spend half the year in Portugal but they don’t take pictures or anything (they’ve been going for 20 years) so I always wondered what it looked like 🙂

      I loved it there Rika.
      Can’t you go and visit them some time?:)

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