For a 2017 holiday that offers a wealth of European culture, alongside beautiful scenery and long sandy beaches, it has to be North Portugal. A playground for adventure sports enthusiasts, its countryside is also dotted with UNESCO World Heritage sites, cities with cobbled streets and plenty of old world charm, plus a staggering amount of picture-postcard beaches. A surfer’s paradise, the breezy Atlantic coast welcomes all types of water sports enthusiasts. Party animals revel in Porto’s bustling streets and clubs, and culture vultures head to the town of Guimaraes, which brings together the country’s culture and heritage in its winding streets.
On a holiday to North Portugal you’ll discover gastronomic delights tucked away in small family run restaurants, see traditional seafaring lives still being lived in the quiet coastal towns, and enjoy some of the very finest European architecture. Historic town squares are home to grand places of worship, hidden quirky cafés and craft stalls selling locally made goods. Long road trips take you through the ever-changing landscape before returning to your hotel. With a huge range of superb places to stay, your only problem will be deciding whether to enjoy a day by the pool, or head out for another day of adventure and discovery.
Top resorts in North Portugal
Porto from £151 pp
Taking a holiday in Northern Portugal gives you the chance to explore the region’s cities, along with their history and heritage. From the large city of Porto to the small town of Aveiro, every stop has a wealth of treasures to discover. No trip to Northern Portugal would be complete without a journey to Guimaraes, a Portuguese city that encompasses a rich blend of the country’s history, gastronomy, culture, art and architecture. With many river cruises, tours and city guides available across the region, there are plenty of ways to explore. Water sports and beach lovers will adore the west coast, with its never-ending beaches and Atlantic breezes keeping the temperatures comfortable in the hot summers.
If you’d rather spend time further inland, the rivers, mountains and wooded areas of the countryside offer a playground for thrill-seekers and visitors who want to enjoy the lush, green views at a slower pace.
Wine and Dine
A holiday to North Portugal is a foodie’s heaven, especially if you like fish. Priding themselves on having some of the best catches in the world, the north of the country benefits from the west coast’s ocean catches and the fish caught in the region’s fast-flowing rivers. Far from the Portuguese cuisine made popular by the Nando’s chain, the cuisine tends to favour simple ingredients, cooked well. A fantastic example is the popular polvo à lagareiro dish found on many menus. Octopus is cooked whole, boiled then roasted, with garlic and olive oil bringing out the flavours. Served with potatoes, it’s one of the simplest but tastiest dishes you’re likely to order.
If you’re keen to explore international dishes as well as authentic Portuguese recipes, you won’t be disappointed. With everything from fast food chains to world-class gastronomic venues, the menus include flavours from across the globe. Portuguese dining culture usually means you’ll be brought a small sharing plate before your meal. Usually including bread, cheeses, prawns and butter, this is a chargeable item, so be sure to say if you don’t want it.
Families are given a very warm welcome on a holiday in Northern Portugal. Family time is a key part of Portuguese culture and sees businesses, restaurants and attractions include children every step of the way. If you can persuade the kids to leave the beach behind for a day or two, they’ll discover plenty of adventures inland and within the various cities in the region.
Porto’s park is a green haven for children and older visitors within the cityscape. Hop aboard the tram to see the whole park or spend time feeding the ducks, swans and geese that have made the park their home. Visitors of all ages will love Porto’s sea life centre, with its impressive shark tunnel and interactive rock pools where you can get hands on with a selection of friendly sea creatures. Away from Porto, the region’s rivers offer adventurous families a whole host of activities, including fishing, canoeing and white-water rafting. With plenty of museums and historic attractions, inquisitive minds can be kept occupied, too.
Action and Adventure
With a beautiful coastline and expansive stretches of countryside, holidays in Northern Portugal give you the chance to explore in a variety of ways. Hikes and horse riding trails give visitors to take in the scenery at a leisurely pace, while golfers can enjoy the well-manicured courses that line the coast. Atlantic north-westerly winds cause your shots to behave unpredictably, adding another dimension to your game. Those same winds whip up fantastic swells that see surfers from across Europe heading to the coast to try and conquer the sometimes-giant waves.
For water-based adventures inland, head to the Minho region where five rivers are waiting to challenge white-water rafters. Calmer stretches of the winding waterways are accessible by canoe and are home to several fishing hotspots. Geotourism is popular in the north, with the Geopark of Arouca being particularly popular. Tours of the park explain the natural, cultural and gastronomic heritage of the region, while other operators offer canyoning, mountaineering, tree-climbing and mountain biking expeditions.
Life's a Beach
Beach-goers looking for sun, sea and sand on a holiday to North Portugal will love the wealth of options on the west coast. Known as the Costa Verde, or the ‘green coast’, much of the shoreline is protected from development, ensuring unspoiled beaches and fantastic views. Beaches and their resorts towards the very north of the country are smaller and less affected by tourism. Still retaining their seaside traditions and ways of life, a beach trip here offers insight into the real Portugal.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic northwesterly winds and swells create a fantastic playground for surfers. Whatever the weather, you’ll find passionate surfers taking to the waves to practice their sport. If you’re staying inland, but are still keen to take to the water, you have a range of options. River cruises take in the best of the north’s riverside towns and sights, while water parks offer visitors of all ages the chance to make a splash in the sun.
Much of Northern Portugal’s nightlife can be found under the neon lights of Porto’s clubs. This bustling town is home to the region’s best clubs. To dance into the early hours, head to Porto’s bustling nightclub strip. Here the party spills out onto the streets, where revellers wanting to chat and drink can mingle with friends while dancing divas enjoy the thumping bass of the best beats inside.
Away from the hedonistic clubs, a glitzy night of chic glamour can be found in the region’s casinos. If Lady Luck is shining down on you, the roulette tables and slot machines could be a winner. If the bustling city of Porto is a bit too lively, the smaller resorts offer the chance to pull up a chair on an outdoor terrace and enjoy the balmy summer nights with a cocktail or two.
Renowned for landscapes that have inspired everyone from poets and painters, to musicians and writers, North Portugal’s scenic views set the ideal scene for a romantic getaway. From quaint seaside fishing villages and architectural highlights in Porto’s old quarter, to the natural wonders in the countryside, there are plenty of places to enjoy a laid-back stroll hand-in-hand. Whether you want to get lost in the crowds in the bustling cities, or escape it all and head into the woods with a picnic, Northern Portugal was made for true romantics. Spend lazy days together on the beach or dip a toe in the Atlantic waters. Candlelit tables are waiting to welcome you in one of the many authentic Portuguese ‘marisqueiras’. Specialising in seafood, these upmarket restaurants are tailor-made for special dinners, celebrations and intimate meals.
A region famous for its history and tradition, the North of Portugal offers a holiday packed with opportunities to discover the nation’s cultural highlights. From the Baroque architectural treasures in Porto to the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the region, there’s so much to explore. Porto’s old quarter is home to Gothic churches, cathedrals and wonderful examples of architectural excellence dotted along its winding alleyways.
For an art gallery with a twist, the outdoor art gallery at the Archaeological Park of Vale do Côa is not to be missed. Home to the largest outdoor site of Paleolithic rock art in the world, this World Heritage site has rocky river banks which are decorated with paintings and engravings. Join a guided tour to discover this treasure trove of ancient art. For a more contemporary look at Portugal’s art world, head to Rua Miguel Bombarda in downtown Porto. Home to exhibition spaces for contemporary art, the displays change through the year and surrounding galleries sell some of Portugal’s top artist’s work.