When visiting Porto, there is no shortage of sights, attractions and foods to keep you more than occupied. But another great reason to visit Porto is the chance to see more of northern Portugal using the city as a base. The number of different Porto day trips is probably immeasurable, but there are some that just shouldn’t be missed. What follows are the best day trips from Porto that should be right at the top of your list.
A great place to start when looking to explore more of Portugal from Porto is with the Douro Valley. If you follow the Douro river upstream out of Porto you enter a place of raw beauty that also happens to be the country’s wine mecca. Sure you can taste port wine in Porto, but if you really want to dig deeper, head to the source. With its wine and scenic valleys, the Douro Valley has to be one of the best day trips from Porto.
The two main stops for travellers in the Douro Valley are the towns of Regua and Pinhao. Both towns offer scenic views of the river as well as opportunities to sample the region’s delicious goods. If you want to learn more about the process of wine-making, as well as the local olive oil industry, then head to D’Origem Wine and Olive Oil Museum. There’s an abundance of other wineries in the hills along the valley, so feel free to take your pick.
Another popular activity in the Douro Valley is taking a river cruise out of Pinhao. Traversing the valley by water offers a completely new perspective on things and is exceedingly soothing. Overall the region is a great place for some R&R, getting you away from city life for even just a little.
Getting There: To make the most of all the Douro Valley has to offer, it’s best to take a tour like I did when visiting the Douro Valley.
Braga in northern Portugal is the nation’s third largest city and quite different to places like Porto and Lisbon. Whereas those cities are blends of old and new for the most part, the neighbourhoods of Braga are quite clearly defined. In Braga, the historic inner core is surrounded by the modern city and each has its points of interest.
Starting with the city’s more modern side, it’s hard to go past the extensive Avenida da Liberdade boulevard that passes much of the city’s popular boutique and department stores. And then, a stone’s throw away, you’re in the historic district of the city, admiring the Episcopal Palace, the Gardens of Santa Barbara and the Braga Cathedral. Braga is a particularly good city to explore on foot and has a nice low-key atmosphere.
The main draw to Braga though for many is the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary and the spectacular staircase that leads up to it. Removed from the inner city centre, a visit here is well worth taking the time it takes to get out there.
Getting There: Braga is an hour train ride at the end of the Linha de Braga. Of course, there are Braga tours as well.
With a trip to Portugal, it seems almost sacrilege not to visit the place where the country is said to have begun – Guimaraes. This northern city is home to a UNESCO-recognised medieval Old Town and is considered the birthplace of Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques. A day trip to Guimaraes may well be the best Porto day trip thanks to its castles and chance to delve into the past.
Two highlight attractions of the city are the classic medieval castle and the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. Neighbours on a hill at the edge of the Old Town, both offer a glimpse into the past within their impressive walls. The Old Town isn’t exactly dull either, with its antiquated cobblestone streets and traditional houses. Then there’s the magnificent boulevard of Largo Republica do Brasil that leads up to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos.
If you have the time, it’s well worth venturing out of the city centre and heading up to Montanha da Penha. This mountain offers superb views across the entire region, as well as magical trails through mossy boulders. Plus you have your choice of cable car or hiking getting between Guimaraes the mountain top.
Getting There: Guimaraes is a 70 minutes train ride train on the urban Linha de Guimaraes line. There are also Guimaraes tours available.
Not so much a full day trip as a rapid-fire half day trip is the village of Miramar just south of Porto. It’s actually part of the municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia, the city that looks back at Porto from across the Douro River. What I’m trying to say is that it’s close by.
Anyway, the reason you visit Miramar is for the village’s picturesque beach. Sure there are beaches in Porto like at Foz do Douro, but none quite like at Miramar. Truly, the thing that makes Miramar so special is the gorgeous Capela do Senhora da Pedra. This seaside chapel is perched on a collection of rocks and cuts an incredible figure, especially at sunset. Looking across the sand dunes to the chapel, the sea and the sky, it makes for one hell of a view.
Getting There: Miramar lies 20 minutes away on the urban train line the Linha de Aveiro, although it’s also a great place to cycle out to if you’re so inclined.
The town of Lamego in the middle of northern Portugal isn’t really a big destination. Its modest size though conceals one of the region’s more inspiring attractions. And when you lay eyes on this landmark, you’re bound to feel that the visit was a success.
At the end of the Dr. Alfredo Sousa Avenue sits the monumental staircase to the Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. It’s hard to fathom how large this staircase is until you try to climb it. The mosaics, fountains and statues all keep you entertained until you reach the church. Here you’re rewarded with not only this elegant house of worship, but also the staggering view back to town.
As part of the famous Douro region, it’s another place you can sample some stellar wine. Lamego is also home to a church and castle that really flesh out the town’s attractions. It may be one of the less well-known Porto day trips, but I think once you climb the town’s staircase, you’ll agree it’s a good one.
Getting There: Unfortunately, public transport from Porto to Lamego is pretty awkward, involving first getting to the town of Regua. It’s far more straightforward to do the 90 minute drive or take a tour, as Lamego is often included on tours to the Douro Valley.
It may be a perfect place to stop en route from Porto to Lisbon, but this grand old university city is also one of the more recommended Porto day trips. Coimbra was once actually the capital of Portugal and now the country’s fourth largest city. Sat by the Mondego River, this city has one hell of a cityscape as it sprawls over a large hill.
No surprise that with such great history, Coimbra has some great historic landmarks. Walk the Rua Ferreira Borges and visit the city’s many old churches and you get a real sense of Coimbra’s longevity. But the main attraction and crown jewel of Coimbra is the city’s ancient university atop its central hill. Housed inside many buildings, including the grand Royal Palace, the university is getting closer and closer to its 500th anniversary in Coimbra. Oh and don’t miss the university library!
Away from the university you’ve got the scenic Mondego riverfront and across the river, even more history. There you’ll find the remains of a medieval monastery as well as its 17th century successor. A day trip to Coimbra is going to be a full day, as there’s just so much to see here.
Getting There: You need to take a regional train to Coimbra which makes it a much more expensive ticket, even though the journey is only 1 hour 20 minutes. Buses however, are a little cheaper and take just as long. Then there are Coimbra tours to look into.
A small city way off inland, Vila Real doesn’t see too many tourists out its way. In fairness, it isn’t overflowing with tourist attractions, but what it does have to offer is the marvelous Portuguese landscape. As with the Douro Valley, it’s further proof that the hinterland of northern Portugal is just as pretty as the country’s epic coast.
With mountains in the distance and majestic valleys in and around the city, there’s little dull about the Vila Real landscape. While the Miradouro da Vila Velha viewpoint let’s you admire the dynamic countryside, walking through the terraces along the Corgo River is pretty special. Descending down to the water’s edge leads you to some truly serene spots that you likely won’t find back in Porto.
The city itself does have a small Old Town area paved with typical Portuguese tiles, plus a few churches. The small park on Carvalho Araújo avenue is also quite striking when its gardens are in bloom. Maybe not a classic tourist destination, but insightful and majestic nevertheless.
Getting There: Although Vila Real does have a train station, the 1.5 hour bus ride is likely to be your best option for getting there from Porto.
South of Porto along the country’s coast lies the exceptionally different city of Aveiro. This modest city in central Portugal is home to some scenic tiled streets and old traditional tiled houses. But what truly sets Aveiro apart from other destinations is the city’s canals that run in and around the city and link up to the nearby coastal lagoon.
Visitors to Aveiro can enjoy these canals and see where they lead with rides on the local equivalent of gondolas, known as moliceiros. These colourful boats can fit quite a few people and take you both through the city centre but the city’s outskirts.
Beyond the canals, Aveiro is home to some beautiful architecture tucked away in its small streets. Best of all, it’s only a short bus ride out to the beaches of Costa Nova. This getaway has long stretches of beach, plus adorable painted houses.
Getting There: Aveiro is under an hour by train on the urban line from Porto, aptly named the Linha de Aveiro. There are also a number of tours that include Aveiro on their itineraries.
Tips for Porto Day Trips
It’s important to note that when taking trains from Porto that the city has two main train stations – Porto Sao Bento and Porto Campana. While urban trains to say Braga and Guimaraes leave from both, regional trains like to Coimbra only depart from Porto Campana. So it’s best to check which station you need to leave from.
Now I think the trains in northern Portugal are great, but naturally there is the option to take buses as well. And naturally driving your way to these sites is a great way to explore with a degree of freedom. But for those with limited time or simply looking for an easy experience, then day tours are the way to go.