The roots of Portugal lie in its northern region, with the city of Guimarães considered to be the country’s birthplace. Given its historical importance, it’s unsurprising that the northern region of Portugal has so many historic sites and cultural monuments, both within the bigger cities and smaller towns. Northern Portugal is also home to the country’s second biggest city, Porto, and the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, the Douro Valley.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and thanks to investment in the city over recent years, Porto has gained a huge amount of interest from both tourists and foreign investors. Porto’s old town is very pretty, with winding cobbled streets and colourful houses. A lot of money has been poured into Porto’s Ribeira district (old town) to help rejuvenate it.
The Ribeira has been Porto’s commercial centre since Roman times, and is home to some of the city's oldest buildings, including the house where the renowned Portuguese explorer Henry the Navigator was born in 1394, The historic centre of Porto was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996, due to its medieval architecture and baroque buildings.
Porto, like Lisbon, is hilly. An advantage of this is that there are many incredible viewpoints from where you can gaze over the city and the Douro river. Despite being such a historic city, Porto has all the modern facilities and services you could need, including a large, international airport and a fantastic university.
Porto, and the northern region of Portugal as a whole, is famous for its hearty cuisine and rich wines. You can try out the local cuisine for a reasonable price in many of the eateries in the city or take a browse around the city’s local shops and markets.
Braga is another fascinating city in northern Portugal. It’s regarded as the religious centre of the country and is Portugal’s oldest city. The first cathedral in Portugal was built in Braga, with construction starting at the beginning of the 11th century, and the city to this day has the highest number of religious buildings of any city in the country.
The centre of Braga is full of charming plazas, busy shopping streets and pretty city gardens. There are also plenty of bustling outdoor markets to browse, dotted around the city. The University of Minho is one of the largest universities in Portugal and has the majority of its campuses in Braga. The university is one of the best in the country and the relatively high student population brings a lively and youthful energy to this historic city.
Slightly south of Braga you will find Guimarães, which is one of the country’s most historically important cities. Guimarães is considered the birthplace of Portugal as it is where Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born.
Afonso Henriques was born in the city’s 10th century castle, considered one of the city’s and country’s most important cultural and historical attractions. The city itself has plenty of pretty streets, cafés and medieval plazas.
The northern region of Portugal, like the centre, offers some incredible scenery and dramatic landscapes. The region is very mountainous and is home to several natural parks including the Douro Valley, famous for its wine production, and the picturesque Peneda-Gerês National Park, home to a diverse array of wildlife including deers, wolves and golden eagles.
The Douro Valley is not to be missed out on in northern Portugal. Beyond just being famous for its rich red and porto wines, the Douro region is home to diverse flora and fauna. The region has a variety of hiking trails you can follow through vineyards, olive groves and charming villages all the way up panoramic viewpoints including Casal de Loivos, São Leonardo de Galafura, or São Salvador do Mundo. From these viewpoints, you can look out over northern Portugal’s countryside and take in the incredible nature of the region.
The north of Portugal is full of charm. It is perfect for those looking for a slightly cooler climate, in a place with plenty of culture and history. Porto and Braga are wonderful options for those looking for slightly bigger and livelier cities, but there are plenty of smaller towns in rural areas for those looking for a tranquil setting.