Overview

Introduction

No one place is typical of Northern Portugal. It is a region of contrasts, where the cultures and traditions shift and change with the landscape; a region of terraced vineyards and granite villages, lush river valleys and mountains snow-capped in winter, cool deserted beaches and medieval alleys, urban bustle and remote, isolated communities, vinho verde and toucinho do ceu (“bacon from heaven”), and even the sound of bagpipes (gaita transmontana). On the eastern coast, the vibrant city of Porto; in the west, rock engravings from Paleolithic times.

Known as the “city of bridges”, Porto stands where the river Douro flows into the Atlantic. The historic base of the port wine trade, Porto has always been an energetic commercial centre, typified by the noise and bustle of its markets, whether on the streets along the waterfront or inside the covered Mercado do Bolhao in the city centre. In the old quarter of Ribeira, a jumble of narrow cobbled streets lead you past bars and restaurants, with offerings of freshly caught fish and local tripas a moda do Porto.

Directly across the river, Vila Nuova de Gaia has a stunning waterfront promenade, overlooked by a steep maze of warehouses with distinctive terracotta roofs. The nearby fishing village of Afurada, bedecked with azulejo tiles, still maintains many of the old traditional ways.

Beyond Porto, the region seems to retire into a different space. On the northwest coast, along the Costa Verde, the less reliable, cooler climate ensures its long sandy beaches become almost your own personal domain.  It is no surprise that so many Portugese regard the fertile Minho area as the most beautiful in the country. Streams and rivers tumble from the various Serra ranges, lush green valleys are rich in flowers and wildlife, while small stone villages are connected to an older age. Ideal for walkers, providing easy progress with spacious views, the paths follow the slow progress of bygone ox-drawn carts.

Lively and compact, the original capital of Portugal, Guimaraes – known as Cidado Berco, the “cradle city” – retains its medieval piazzas, cobbled streets and alleys. Its 10th century castle with its distinctive battlements still overlooks the city. Nearby Braga is Portugal’s main religious centre, where for once you may suspect there are fewer shops than churches, built in an abundance of architectural styles. There is evidence of round stone huts, roads and cattle sheds belonging to an ancient  Celtic settlement at the Citania de Briteiris, and extensive Roman remains at the Bacara Augusta. Vila Real is home to the fabled Mateus Palace, one of the great jewels of baroque design, which has dazzled visitors since 1745.

Over the centuries, the Tras Os Montes area in northeastern Portugal was almost left to its own devices (“Those who rule are those who are there”), and consequently has a unique culture of folkloric traditions. Seasonal festivals with extraordinary costumes remain regular events among the scattered villages. Vast plateaus and river valleys are a perfect invitation to hikers, who can often find themselves on their own for hours, apart from the company of the occasional wandering goat. Along the border with Spain, a series of castles hark back to a more turbulent past.

25,000 years ago, our paleolithic ancestors made engravings on the dark schist rocks to be found around Foz Coa, and these extraordinary carvings can be viewed today – though advance booking is advised, as visits need to be accompanied by a guide.

Central to the region, however, and crucial to its character, is the great river Douro. As it meanders its way towards Porto, the endless terraces filled with vines provide a memorable backcloth to any journey. Whether the sun rises or the sun sets, a glass of port is at hand, and the tranquility and timelessness of the Douro remains.

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Highlights

Barcelos Market
This lively Thursday Market takes place in the town square and sells everything from clothes to livestock, wicker ware to vegetables, ceramics to cakes and the inevitable Barcelos cockerel.

Port Wine
Visit the lodges at Vila Nova de Gaia, where famous port wine families including Calem, Offleys, Taylors, Sandeman, produce their wine.

Heritage
The region boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the historic centres of Porto and Guimaraes; and the Alto Douro Wine Region.

National and Natural Parks
The region boasts stunning parks at Peneda-Geres, Alvao and Montezinho.

Festivals

Holy Week, Braga (7 - 16th April)
A colourful festival during which street-side altars are filled with flowers and lights.

Festival of Sao Joao, Porto (June)

This festival celebrates the Patron saint of Porto, Saint John and includes musical entertainment, street parties and a wonderful fireworks display.

Medieval journey to Santa Maria da Feira (02 - 13 Aug)
This 10-day fair sees the Rossio square of Santa Maria da Feira, south of Porto,  transported back to medieval times with street entertainment, handicrafts stalls and food sellers.

Feast of Nossa Senhora da Agonia (17 - 20 Aug)
This three day festival in Viana do Castelo is in celebration of the Virgin of Agony, an  inspiration for fisherman.

Note: Dates subject to change.      

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Porto is great city with a combination of sightseeing tours, historic sites, great view points, wine tasting (and the wine of course) and excellent shopping opportunities means that there is something for everyone. Perfect as a city break or the start/end to a longer touring holiday. Northern Portugal is a captivating area to visit and it is impossible to travel far before wanting to stop and take a picture.

Michelle Vincent
Michelle Vincent
Best time to go
  • JAN
  • FEB
  • MAR
  • APR
  • MAY
  • JUN
  • JUL
  • AUG
  • SEP
  • OCT
  • NOV
  • DEC
Time Difference

GMT + 0

Currency

Euro

Language

Portuguese

Average flight times

2 hours 35 minutes

  • Average temperature

    Average rainfall

Talk to our Northern Portugal expert

Michelle Vincent
Michelle Vincent

Porto is great city with a combination of sightseeing tours, historic sites, great view points, wine tasting (and the wine of course) and excellent shopping opportunities means that there is something for everyone. Perfect as a city break or the start/end to a longer touring holiday. Northern Portugal is a captivating area to visit and it is impossible to travel far before wanting to stop and take a picture.

Call one of our experts to discuss your next holiday with Sunvil on

020 8758 4722

We open today at 9:00 AM

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Douro Valley, Northern Portugal

Northern Portugal

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We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

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