7 Days in Oporto and the North
A whole week in Oporto and Northern Portugal will conquer it, by the architecture - with a focus on the religious buildings - by natural landscapes and protected by the food and the wines, famous abroad.
You will discover a land with easy access and in which the main destinations and points of touristic interest are within one, two, three hours away from each other. After getting to know Oporto - or before visiting the capital of the North, as your trip is organised - go to Braga - the "City of the Archbishops" -, Guimarães - the birthplace of the Portuguese nation -, Viana do Castelo, Caminha, Monção and Melgaço - which produces the famous Alvarinho wine, genuine business-card of the Vinhos Verdes Region -, Vila Real and Bragança - two cities of the beautiful Trás-os-Montes region.
Three days are enough to get to know the essentials of Oporto, which is also known as Invicta [Invincible], but let us warn you that your stay here will leave you wanting to return to get to know the city even better.
The historic center of the city, classified as a World Cultural Heritage Site since 1996, Serralves - with the Contemporary Art Museum designed by Siza Vieira - "Casa da Música" [the House of Music] and the wine cellars of Oporto, are a must see.
The downtown Oporto, where there are many tourist accommodations - including hotels, hostels, guesthouses and apartments - will stay in the retina of those who enjoy dynamic and cosmopolitan cities. By day, go up the Tower of Clerics, visit Lello bookstore and go shopping in shops and workshops of young creators in traditional markets, in Rua de Santa Catarina and the Bolhão Market - on weekends, do not miss the various markets and urban fairs, almost everywhere downtown. Regain your strength at a historic café - choosing among Café Majestic, Guarany, Progresso and/or at Café D'Âncora (better known as "Piolho", which is a café for students).
In the evening, try the fine cuisine of our talented chefs, drink a glass of Port wine or a sparkling Portuguese wine at one of the several wine bars from what became known as the zone moved or 'galleries of Paris' (because of Rua Galeria de Paris, where the new downtown life began). Catch a concert in one of the downtown theatres - or take a trip to "Casa da Música", the House of Music; the subway takes you to Boavista in the blink of an eye - and dance to the rhythm that suits you best in one of the local clubs.
Take the tram and go along the fringes, with the river Douro as company, to the region with beaches. Take a walk at the City Park, a true "green lung", with its 83 hectares. Have lunch at one of various restaurants with terraces facing the Atlantic.
On the other side of the Douro river, do not miss the wine cellars of Oporto. All have organised visits and welcoming spaces where they receive visitors and visits include, as a general rule, a generous tasting of their famous wine.
Braga and Guimarães
Rent a car to go to Braga and Guimarães in the heart of Minho - the train is a good and economic alternative, but a car will give you greater freedom to manage your itinerary in the region. In Braga, a city of a great religious fervor, one must visit the Sé Cathedral and climb to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. At the historical center, have lunch in one of the typical restaurants and try the famous Braga codfish, roasted goat and the Abade de Priscos pudding. For the road, take with you frigideiras - a traditional pastry stuffed with beef -, fidalguinhos and talassas - the latter are typical sweets.
Guimarães, which was the European Capital of Culture in 2012, is only 25 km from Braga. The main reason for interest in the city is its historic centre, which UNESCO classified as World Cultural Heritage in 2001. Also visit the Castle, the Palace of the Duques de Bragança and the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Penha - you could go up there by car, but if you take the cable car that connects the city centre to Penha, you will have a unique perspective of the birthplace of Portugal. In one of the local restaurants, ask for the traditional "rojões à minhota" and a dessert called "toucinho-do-céu".
The Coastal Strip
Located between the Atlantic and the local mountains, the Northern Coast is beautiful. In Viana do Castelo, explore the old town and visit the Sanctuary of Monte de Santa Luzia. The panoramic view is a must-see.
In Caminha, where the river Minho - natural border with Spain - kisses the Atlantic, eat a grilled fish at the most central town square, Praça Conselheiro Silva Torres - or "by the fountain" -, and eat ice cream or drink a coffee at Praia Fluvial da Foz do Minho, an exciting locale at the entrance of the National Camarido Forest and overlooking the mountains of Santa Tecla, which already is the territory of nuestros hermanos [our brothers].
In the walled city of Monção and in Melgaço, further north, try one of several dishes of lamprey - local specialty - and the Alvarinho wine, the most appreciated of our Vinhos Verdes (Green Wines), enjoy the pleasant local countryside and visit the religious heritage. Around Monção, it is worth visiting the Palace of Brejoeira, which produces Alvarinho and an excellent old liquor.
Four hours away, to the Northeast, and across the National Park of Peneda-Gerês, one of the major natural attractions of Portugal, you will come across Bragança. The city maintains a unique medieval city centre.
Vila Real, gateway to the Alto Douro Wine Region, also has an interesting medieval core. It is worth climbing to the top of Calvário, in order to enjoy the views that extend up to the mountains of Marão and Alvão.
In Trás-os-Montes, try the famous Barroso-style cozido, sausages, ham, and Barroso honey.
The region, where religiosity is a sensitive matter and is mixed with magic and superstition in various celebrations, is particularly interesting during the Carnival. If you walk along Trás-os-Montes at that height, see Entrudos de Lazarim (Lamego), Vinhais (Vinhais) and Podence (Macedo de Cavaleiros).
From Trás-os-Montes to the heart of the Alto Douro Wine Region is a little jump, and the path - either one of the main municipal and/or regional roads - is a dream trip. The landscape of the wine region demarcated as the oldest in the world, the birthplace of the famous Port wine, is idyllic, which is why it was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2001.
Visit and explore the farms that produce the generous nectar but also the excellent DOC Douro wines. In addition to tasting the wines and participating in visits and other events organised by the farms - at the harvest periods, for example, with programs offered by various producers for tourists -, go up to the viewpoints of the region, take a tour by boat and/or train - the historic CP train is a unique experience, in the summer months - and meet the wonderful facet of the Douro, which 'hides' a huge and very interesting religious heritage.
At the table, order the best of the regional cuisine, especially the goat dishes and the conventual sweets.