The best independent guide to Porto
The best independent guide to Porto
Porto is a wonderful destination for a city break, but it can also be a great location from which to explore the northern region of Portugal.
Surrounding Porto are bustling cities, historic towns and picturesque villages, all of which can be easily reached using the inexpensive public transport. These enjoyable day trips can greatly extend a stay within Porto, and create a memorable holiday.
Braga is the religious centre of Portugal and is a fascinating city
The Porto region boasts a wide variety of day trips; some are more famous and more accessible than others.
The following table summarises the most popular day trips, along with some of the lesser-known destinations, and the best means to travel to them.
Note: Please click on the underlined links for a detailed tourism or day trip guide
"beach" – This indicates a day trip where a portion of the day will be spent on the beach
Below is an interactive map of the locations of the day trips from Porto. The most popular day trips are marked in yellow, while the lesser known destinations are highlighted in green.
Guimarães is the oldest city of Portugal and the best day trip from Porto
With so many possible destinations, it can be a little overwhelming to identify the best day trips and compile a sensible order to visit them. The following is our suggested order, and is how we have shown the region to friends and family:
1) Guimarães 2) Braga 3) Douro Valley 4 )Lamego 5) Aveiro 6) Vila Do Conde
All of these day trips can be reached using public transport (train or bus).
Advice: Before embarking on day trips from Porto, plan at least two days to explore the city.
Related articles: 2 days in Porto
Vila Do Conde combines a delightful town with great beaches
Both Viana do Castelo and Coimbra are major cities and are a comparatively long distance from Porto. They can be visited as day trips using public transport, but due to the time travelling and the number of tourist attractions, we would recommend spending a night in each.
Our advice: Viana do Castelo is a wonderful city, but is almost unknown by foreign visitors. If you wish to escape the tourist masses, this is the city to head too.
Related articles: Viana do Castelo - Coimbra guide
Santuário de Santa Luzia, Viana do Castelo
A rental car allows more of the region to be explored, and can also combine multiple destinations in a single day.
Our suggested order for day trips with a rental car is:
1) Guimarães 2) Braga 3) Douro Valley and Lamego 4) Viana do Castelo 5) Aveiro and Costa Nova 6) Ponte de Lima and Ponte da Barca 7) The upper Minho (Monção, Valença and Cerveira)
Advice: A rental car is not needed while exploring the cities of Porto, Braga or Guimarães; consider renting it just for the time when you will use it.
Guimarães is considered as the birthplace of Portugal
The northwestern coast of Portugal offers dramatic scenery, beautiful beaches and traditional resort towns. If you wish for a day trip from Porto which combines beach time with a characterful resort town, consider these locations:
1) Vila Do Conde 2) Miramar 3) Espinho 4) Povoa de Varzim
Advice: Matosinhos is the largest and most popular beach close to Porto, but it is located near a major port and the cruise terminal. The beach is good, and the sea waters are clean, but its natural setting is very poor.
Related articles: Porto beach guide - Vila Do Conde - Miramar - Espinho - Povoa de Varzim
Praia de Brito, Espinho
Organised tours are ideal for visitors who are limited for time, as they often combine multiple destinations in one day. The other advantage is that they provide a knowledgeable guide and eliminate the hassle of public transport.
Generally, the standard of tours in Portugal has greatly improved, and now cater for more worldly and clued-up tourists.
Over the last few years we have worked with Getyourguide.com, and some of their best tours from Porto include:
The following section provides a short overview of each of the day trip destinations
Guimarães is a charming and historic city, which is regarded by the Portuguese as the birthplace of their country.
This ancient city was the first capital of Portugal and was where the first king of Portugal (Afonso Henriques 1109-1185) was born.
The early Portuguese dynasty was ruled from the ancient castle that stands at the northern side of Guimarães, while the close by is the Paço dos Duques de Bragança (Palace of the Dukes of Braganza), an imposing medieval palace.
The historic centre of Guimarães is a joy to explore, as it is filled with traditional houses and characterful plazas. After visiting the historic sights, you could take the cable car to the top of Monte da Penha (Penha Hill), which provides pleasant hiking routes and stunning panoramic views of the city.
Guimarães is connected to Porto by a direct train service (1h15min, €6.20 return)
Related articles: Guimarães Introduction – Porto to Guimarães - Guimarães day trip guide
The sombre Duques de Bragança palace dates from the 15th century
Braga is the third-largest city of Portugal and the religious centre of the country.
The city’s extensive religious heritage is reflected in the diverse selection of magnificent churches and ornate religious buildings, among them the oldest cathedral in Portugal. There is a lot to see and do in Braga, and though many of the tourist attractions are of a religious nature, it makes for an enjoyable day trip nonetheless.
Close to Braga is one of the most iconic monuments of northern Portugal; the Bom Jesús do Monte Church. This church is positioned at the top of a steep hill, and is reached via a decorative Baroque staircase, which signifies the ascent into heaven.
Porto is connected to Braga by a direct train service (1h10min €6.00 return).
Related articles: Braga introduction - Day trip to Braga
The third flight of steps to the summit of Bom Jesús do Monte Church
The Douro Valley The Douro River valley offers some of the most beautiful landscapes of Portugal.
It is a region formed of steep hills and terraced vineyards, with the slow-flowing Douro River meandering through the valleys.
The vineyards of the Douro Valley are the sole source of grapes used for the production of Port. This demand for Port (and the handpicked grapes) has transformed every available piece of land into vineyards, with terraced vineyards being carved into the steep hills.
Along the banks of the Douro River are the pretty towns of Pinhão, Peso da Régua and Tua, which are centres for grape growing and cultivation. Connecting these towns is the Linha do Douro railway, and the section between Peso da Régua and Pocinho is regarded as one of Europe’s most scenic railways.
There is an equally scenic road (the N222) which follows the Douro River, and with a car allows you to explore the picturesque region around Pinhão and Tua. Another option to experience the Douro Valley is to join one of the relaxing river cruises, as they slowly travel along the river.
Related articles: The Douro by car - The Linha do Douro railway
The Linha do Douro railway as it follows the river upstream
Aveiro is a likeable Portuguese town that is situated on the edge of a wide lagoon. The town is crossed by a series of canals, and along these waterways, traditional fishing boats (which resemble gondolas and are called Moliceiros) provide boat tours to tourists.
These gondolas and the Art Nouveau style of architecture found within Aveiro, often have the town being referred to as the Venice of Portugal.
Close to Aveiro (and often combined in the day trip) is the charming resort town of Costa Nova, which is famed for its delightful stripe painted holiday houses that line the beach and harbour front.
Related articles: Aveiro introduction
The Moliceiros boats of Aveiro
Lamego is one of the most scenic towns of the Douro region, and contains some excellent tourist attractions.
The Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios church stands high above the town, and is reached via a grand baroque staircase that climbs the side of the hill. At the opposite end of the town is the ancient castle, and a grand avenue extends along the length of the town.
If you have a rental car the day trip to Lamego could also include the ruins of the Mosteiro de São João de Tarouca, the oldest monastery in Portugal, and the pretty village of Ucanha with its ancient stone bridge.
Lamego is often combined with a visit to Peso da Régua. This town is the location of the Museu do Douro, an informative museum that details the heritage of the region, and the departure location for many of the Douro River cruises. Régua is connected to Porto by the Linha do Douro railway and there is a bus service from Régua to Lamego.
The historic centre of Lamego as seen from the Castelo de Lamego
Vila Do Conde is a small fishing town, which combines a charming historic centre with wonderful beaches, and is ideal for a beach day trip.
The skyline of Vila Do Conde is dominated by the Mosteiro de Santa Clara (Saint Claire monastery), and from the rear of the monastery are the ancient stone arches of the aqueduct. At the centre of the town is the gothic Igreja da Matriz Church, while close to the harbour front are traditional fishermen’s houses and the Nau Quinhentista, a replica of a 16th-century Portuguese sailing ship.
The golden sands of Vila Do Conde beach extend 3km northwards to the modern resort town of Povoa de Varzim. To the south of the Ave River is the pristine and natural Praia da Azurara beach.
Note: Povoa de Varzim has better beaches than Vila Do Conde, but Povoa de Varzim is without the charm and sights of Vila Do Conde.
Related articles: Vila Do Conde - Povoa de Varzim
The Mosteiro de Santa Clara, as seen from the Ave River
Coimbra is the ancient university home of Portugal and is a city that is steeped in history and traditions. The university students, dressed in their customary black gowns, can be seen throughout the city.
On a map, Coimbra may appear too distant for a day trip from Porto but it is connected to the express rail service, the Alfa Pendular, which makes the journey in less than an hour.
These train tickets must be pre-booked. It is also viable to include Coimbra as a day trip option when travelling between Porto and Lisbon.
Related articles: Coimbra guide