If you’re visiting Portugal, then there is a good chance that you’re spending time in the city of Porto. Although Porto isn’t the largest city in the country, an honor that goes instead to the capital of Lisbon, it is a destination with a rich heritage and a vibrant culture. Full of winding cobblestone streets, a fascinating wine trade and a warm climate, Porto is an appealing getaway spot for everyone. There are all sorts of day trips from Porto, which is perfect for you if you want to explore as much of Portugal as possible on your next vacation.
Head south along the Atlantic Coast from Porto until you reach Coimbra, a bustling university city with a medieval center, countless museums and wonderful food. To get a spectacular view of the Mondego River, which runs right through the city, enjoy a short hike up to University Hill for an excellent vantage point. Stroll back down to the medieval city center of Coimbra, and set off on a walking tour of the area’s highlights. You won’t want to miss the exhibitions in the Machado de Castro National Museum, and you should definitely make time to see the new and old cathedrals of Coimbra and the gorgeous gardens of Penedo da Saudade. Head to the baixinha, or downtown area, after dinner for the nightlife and the local drinks like the Bairrada wine and the sweet liquor called licor beirao.
A scenic coastal journey just 45 minutes north of Porto brings you to Viana do Castelo, arguably one of the most architecturally important cities in all of Europe. Stunning buildings, many of which are hundreds of years old, are found just minutes from the white-sand beaches along the coast, and the green hills that serve as the backdrop to the city only emphasize the stunning skyline. Make sure you visit architectural landmarks like the early 20th century Basilica of Santa Luzia, the 16th century former city hall building, the city’s Gothic-style cathedral and the Fountain at Praça da República, which boasts intricate carvings and dates back to the 16th century.
South of Porto, and just minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, is Aveiro. The city is home to the beautiful campus of the University of Aveiro, and it is well known for its many canals and bridges. You can even ride on a gondola through the city, which helps explain why Aveiro is also known as the Venice of Portugal. During your time in Aveiro, you might want to tour the Aveiro Cathedral, admire the beautiful São Gonçalinho Chapel, stroll through the Santo António Park or watch the surfers enjoying the waves from beaches like Barra and Costa Nova.
Your day trips from Porto definitely aren’t limited to destinations within Portugal. In fact, one of the most appealing day trips is over the border to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. This Galician capital is important for religious reasons, since St. James is purported to have been buried there, but it has a lot more to help boost its appeal. Start in Praza do Obradoiro, the center and heartbeat of the city, which is surrounded on all sides by landmarks like the famous baroque cathedral, the Rajoy Palace and the Gelmírez Palace. The city’s culinary scene is defined by its signature dish called pulpo, or octopus, so be sure to try it if you spot it on a restaurant menu in Santiago de Compostela.
To see the first city in Portugal, and what is known as the city where Portugal was born, head an hour from Porto to Guimarães. The city is one of the Seven Portuguese Wonders, thanks to its history and architecture that date back to the 10th century. Start your trip outside of the city at Penha Mountain, where a short hike offers amazing views. Then, head into the center of Guimarães to see architectural wonders like the 12th century Guimarães Castle, the Dukes of Braganza Palace and Sezim Manor.
The city of Braga is only 50 km (30 miles) north of Porto, but it has a distinctly unique atmosphere. One of the main attractions in Braga is the cathedral, which is more than 1,000 years old and offers guided tours to visitors. If you’re a sports fan, you might want to check out the Braga Municipal Stadium, which was used in the 2004 European Football Championships. The Bom Jesus funicular, which operates by water balancing, is a fantastic way to reach new heights and admire the views of the city below. Braga may be known as the Cidade dos Arcebispos, or Archbishop’s town, but the religious buildings are just one component of what the city has to offer.
The Douro is one of the major rivers running through Portugal, and surrounding it is the Douro Valley, a magnificent and scenic spot just an hour from Porto. On the hillsides next to the river, vineyards dominate the landscape, which means that wine lovers are in the right spot. Vineyards and wineries offer tours and tastings, letting you sample the sweet, rich wines for which the region is known. Escape the hustle and bustle of the city on a scenic boat ride along the Douro River, which allows you to soak in the scenery, enjoy the warm weather and admire the lush greenery all around you.