When researching about Porto, I discovered that the city is a getaway to numerous sights in Northern Portugal including coastal towns, gorgeous river valleys and mountainous villages.
Located north of Porto, the Minho region is one of the most beautiful areas we visited in Portugal. Due to its easy access from the port city, we visited two of its well-known historical towns - Guimarães and Braga - and in between them, explored a magnificent mountaintop sanctuary.
Exploring the Medieval Streets of Guimarães
Driving from Porto to medieval Guimarães should take approximately 40 minutes. This picturesque walled town was settled in the 9th century, eventually becoming the country’s primary city and the residence of the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques.
As you first enter Guimarães, you will see a split-up of old and new: The city outside of the walls is mostly modern while inside, primarily historical.
I recommend starting your visit at Castelo de Guimarães and explore its remaining, mostly hollowed fortified ruins. Paço dos Duques de Bragança is another highlight nearby and where you can tour its immense interior.
This fortified medieval palace was built in the 15th century and has 35 brick chimneys - I actually tried counting them all as we stood in its large courtyard.
The best part of Guimarães is walking along its major pedestrian street, Rua Santa Maria, located down the hill from the palace. Relatively unchanged from when it was first built, the street cuts through different plazas lined with several historical buildings.
As we walked through the old town center, we noticed that many of its historical buildings had been converted into shops and restaurants, giving the area a lively and enjoyable atmosphere.
Tip: Make sure to visit Jardim do Largo da República do Brasil, a mostly modern, busy plaza in front of the old town’s main entrance. You will see a tall church at the end of a meticulously maintained garden. Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos sits as a background to this garden, featuring a crisscrossed green lawn, filled with flowers.
This church is considered the post-card of the city and one of the most striking spots that we visited in Guimarães!
The Mountaintop Sanctuary
From Guimarães, it should take a 30 minute drive to reach the historical town of Braga. But before you arrive in town, make short stop at Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte, located only 10 minutes away from the city. The pilgrimage sanctuary sits on top of a high mountain and offers incredible views of the towns and landscapes of the region.
Bom Jesus do Monte’s highpoint is its long zigzagging staircase, leading down the mountain to a few open terraces. The walk down hill will provide magnificent views… but remember, you will have to walk back up!
Tip: To reach the sanctuary’s whitewashed church, you will have to drive to the top of a mountain and venture onto some winding roads. When we arrived to the summit, we were afraid of not finding parking, but if you are patient, you will find some spots nearby the church.
The Last Stop: The Lively Braga
We arrived in Braga in the evening and spent the rest of our day exploring the city before nightfall. What is distinct about Braga is its mixture of historical and modern architecture, instead of a wall dividing the two areas, as seen in Guimarães.
I would highly recommend that you purposefully get lost inside the town’s busy, medieval streets as they house several historical buildings that are open to visitors.
Our Short Route: We started in Braga’s main square, Praça da República, which at the time was filled with residents, tourists, street performers and a very busy commerce. We then explored the nearby pedestrian street, Rua do Souto, until we reached an 18th century entryway - Arco da Porta Nova - that used to serve as Braga’s main entrance.
As you walk along Rua do Souto, you will find some interesting sights: Torre de Menagem, a remnant of the towns fortification, Sé de Braga, the country’s oldest cathedral and Paço Arquiepiscopal, a vestige of a once fortress that now overlooks a beautiful garden.
Tip: Depending on the time you leave Braga, your drive back into Porto can be quite challenging. We were lucky to have just missed rush hour and arrived in central Porto after a 45 minute drive.
- Want to see the full trip and plan your next? Check out our Portugal Two Week Itinerary!