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Authored by Jorge & Cláudia Bastos

Portugal has been at the center of world tourism for a while now, particularly Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto. And while these destinations are undoubtedly worth visiting, it’s Northern Portugal that largely remains an unknown gem.

Portugal is the perfect destination for a road trip, and the country’s north is one of the most authentic regions, often completely forgotten by international tourists.  So this road trip itinerary will take you through undiscovered parts of the country.

You’ll start and finish in Porto, the gateway to (and biggest city in) the north. This itinerary will take you to UNESCO Heritage sites, beaches and the often forgotten interior. You’ll also discover what is arguably the country’s best food!

Road Trip Itinerary for Northern Portugal

Itinerary at a Glance

Itinerary at a Glance

➤ Porto – Guimarães

➤ Guimarães – Braga

➤ Braga – Viana do Castelo

➤ Viana do Castelo – Gerês

➤ Gerês – Chaves

➤ Chaves – Bragança

➤ Bragança – Douro Internacional

➤ Douro Internacional – Foz Coa

➤ Foz Coa – Douro Valley

➤ Douro Valley – Peso da régua

➤ Peso da régua – Porto

Start in Porto

Portos-Ribeira

Recommended: 2 Days

Despite being the biggest city in the north, Porto’s city center is relatively small. You can easily walk and use public transportation for longer trips within Porto, including to/from the airport.

This means you don’t need a car in Porto, so you should rent it only after visiting Porto. Decide how many days you want to spend here, and then pick up a car at the end.

Porto’s historical center is a UNESCO heritage site, which includes two of the most famous sites: Ribeira and D. Luis Bridge. Ribeira is Porto’s riverside area, arguably the city’s most beautiful district.

Crossing the river Douro is D. Luis Bridge, a beautiful iron bridge that also serves as one of the best lookouts in Porto. You have so many historical attractions that you will need at least 2 days to visit the city. The top historic attractions you must visit include:

Things to do in Porto

➤ Clerigos Tower and Church – a 76 meters high baroque tower that you can climb.

➤ Stock Market Palace – palace where the old Porto’s stock exchange was that has some beautiful rooms, particularly the famous Arab room.

➤ Lello bookshop – One the most beautiful bookshops in the world and an inspiration for Harry Potter’s books.

➤ Port wine cellars in Gaia – You can do a port wine tasting and tour through the cellars.

Porto – Guimarães

Guimarães

Recommended: 1 Day

From Porto to Guimarães is a very quick drive, less than one hour on the highway. If you want to really enjoy Guimarães, we advise you to spend a full day there.

Guimarães historic center is also a World Heritage Site (since 2001), but more than that, it’s the birthplace of Portugal and our first capital city.

The old town is well preserved and filled with beautiful squares, cobbled streets, quaint alleys, and churches. Furthermore, in Guimarães you can also visit the majestic castle and the wonderful Palace of the Dukes, an XV century manor house.

Very close to Guimarães is the Penha Sanctuary which you can easily visit by car. From there you have a beautiful view of the city and it’s a great place to have a picnic and explore the huge granitic rocks and caves.

Image: Turismo En Portugal / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Guimarães – Braga

Braga Portugal

Recommended: 1 Day

After visiting Guimarães we suggest you continue north to Braga; the biggest city north of Porto, and a very lively one. It’s a very short drive, only 30 minutes.

Braga is another historic town; it was the capital of Gallaecia during the Roman times. Once here we suggest you park the car, walk around the old town and explore its historic center to visit the many churches, admire the houses and historical buildings.

Within Braga, you really have to visit the Cathedral, which is the oldest in Portugal and it’s usually called the “treasure museum”. On the outskirts of Braga, there are two important sanctuaries, Bom Jesus and Sameiro Sanctuary.

Both sanctuaries offer great views to the city and surroundings. They are somewhat similar to each other, so if you do have enough time, visit both, but if you don’t, Bom Jesus has better views.

Image: Feliciano Guimarães / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

 Braga – Viana do Castelo

Viana do Castelo

Recommended: 1 Day

Viana do Castelo is located on the mouth of Lima River, close to several beautiful beaches. The whole coast between Viana do Castelo and Caminha further north is gorgeous, but it’s quite cold! You need to be brave to dive in there.

The drive from Braga is around an hour, and once there, you have two nice attractions, the Santa Luzia Basilica with its panoramic views (yes, there are a lot of religious attractions located on mountaintops in this region), and the Gil Eanes, a former hospital ship converted into a museum.

The Gil Eanes may sound like a bit of a weird tourist attraction, but it’s really interesting.

Viana do Castelo – Peneda Gerês National Park

Peneda-Geres-National-Park

Recommended: 2 Days

From Viana do Castelo to Peneda Geres is only about one hour, which means you can do the trip early in the morning and still have the full day to explore Geres. You can do this as a day trip if you wanted to stay based in Viana do Castelo.

Geres is the only National Park in Portugal and it’s truly a natural wonderland. The park is full of lakes (natural and manmade), mountains, trails, waterfalls, lookouts, and even historic villages and imposing castles.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that the park is quite big and every part of the park has plenty of things to see and do! Those who love nature should spend (at least) 2 days (and one night) in the park.

Some of our favorite spots in Geres include:

Things to do in Geres

➤ Castro Laboreiro – it’s further north but the castle is rather unique and very fun to visit.

➤ Lindoso – a village with a well-preserved castle and

➤ Caniçada Dam – great spot on summer days to have a swim and other water-related activities. Probably the best place to find a hotel/hostel.

➤ Mata de Albergaria – the heart of the park and probably the whole reason why the park was created.

➤ Tahiti falls – beautiful waterfall where you can swim in the lake.

➤ Pedra Bela lookout – in our opinion the most beautiful lookout in park

➤ Pitões de Junias – a somewhat forgotten village which hosts both an impressive waterfall and the ruins of an old XI century monastery.

Gerês National Park – Chaves

Chaves Portugal

Recommended: 1 Day

After crossing Geres National park and continuing further east to the interior of Portugal you’ll find the old frontier town of Chaves. It’s roughly an hour from the Eastern edge of the national park.

Besides being a frontier town, Chaves was the first defense against invaders and the old castle, tower and wall are good tourist attractions. Although our favorite part of Chaves is the wonderful riverside and the ancient Roman bridge, which is still used as a pedestrian bridge today.

Chaves is also known for its thermal baths. These baths are known since Roman times and are now being revitalized. The whole region around Chaves has several hotels, Spas and Thermal baths for you to choose from.

Image: Vitor Oliveira / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr

Chaves – Miranda do Douro

Recommended: 2 Days

After visiting Chaves we are heading to Miranda do Douro! This is probably the longest drive you’ll do as Miranda do Douro is right on the edge of Portugal. It should take you between 2.5 to 3 hours.

If you feel this is too long, we suggest you make a stopover in Bragança. This is roughly half way; about an hour and a half from Chaves, and an hour from Miranda do Douro.

Miranda do Douro is a typical frontier, fortified town, with some peculiarities, like the cathedral and the ruined castle. It’s also the gateway to Douro international natural park, an area where Douro river is astonishing with a huge natural wall forming an impressive gorge.

This is also the place for meat lovers eat the famous “posta mirandesa”, an extremely tasty and large veal steak.

Miranda do Douro – Foz Côa

Miranda do Douro – Foz Côa

Recommended: Detour en route to Porto

After Miranda do Douro, head south, along the Douro river enjoying the views and this hidden side of Portugal. Foz Côa is on the south rim of Douro River, on the mouth of Côa River, an hour and a half away.

Foz Côa’s story is an interesting one. About 20 years ago while doing an environmental study for the construction of a Dam in the Côa River, the researchers discovered an astonishing collection of Palaeolithic art.

This collection soon became famous, and the dam had to be canceled so that the whole region could be enlisted by UNESCO as a World Heritage site! Can visit today and enjoy the rock-carved images with thousands of years of history.

Image: Vitor Oliveira / CC BY-2.0 / Flickr

Foz Côa – Douro Valley

Recommended: Detour en route to Porto

After detouring to the Côa valley to see the Paleolithic paintings, you should continue driving through the Douro valley. You are now driving east, starting your return to Porto.

This is the high Douro Valley, where most of the Port wine is produced. The wine vineyards built on the hills surrounding the river create an unforgettable setting.

These vineyards have huge cultural value and there’s archaeological evidence for winemaking in the region. Yet, it was only in the 16th and and 17th century that the now famous fortified port wine started to be produced and exported.

The whole Douro valley is also listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, and this is a great region to drive through purely to enjoy the scenic views. We do encourage you to stop a few times. Pinhão, Peso da Régua, and São Xisto are some of the spots you should keep in mind.

Douro Valley – Amarante

Amarante

Recommended: Detour en route to Porto

You are now almost back to Porto, but still have time for one last, small detour, Amarante.

Amarante is located on the banks of Tâmega River, about 60 km from Porto. This picturesque village grew around a narrow part of the Tâmega where the Saint Gonçalo bridge was built as well as the wonderful church right next to it.

Amarante has a medieval charm, with its balconied houses and small cobbled alleys. The park by the river and close to the bridge give it the final touch.

This another great place to park your car and discover by foot, and while doing so, don’t forget to try the local conventual pastry. Note: they are very sweet, like most of the Portuguese pastry!

Image: Ana Matias / CC O / Flickr

Return to Porto

From Amarante, you may return to Porto and return your car.

When we plan road trips like this, we usually leave exploring the big destination until to the end. In this case it would mean not visiting Porto when you arrive but leave it to the last two days.

It’s up to you really, either way, you’ll have a great time traveling in Portugal!

OUR FAVORITE PORTUGAL TRAVEL GUIDES: CLICK PHOTO ↓

Portugal guide Amazon

Hidden Gems of Portugal 

Portugal guide Amazon

Lonely Planet Pocket Lisbon

 Portugal guide Amazon

Lonely Planet Portugal

Jorge & Claudia are bloggers from Portugal who love to travel. They lived in Angola for 3 years and are currently traveling the world.

Their mission is to keep on discovering new countries and sharing their tips on smart and budget traveling. Check their site Travel Drafts to follow their adventures.

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