Portugal's North: Lonely country behind a green coast

Portugal's North

Green, lonely and wild: Portugal's north

Green, lonely and wild: Portugal's north

Lonely country behind a green coast

North of Porto Portugal is sparsely populated. The reason for this is the border between Spain and Portugal; for centuries no exchange was possible. Beyond the Rio Lima, the world had come to an end. Today, this region is particularly attractive. North of Porto begins the Costa Verde, which looks green and fresh even in summer. Since the water is colder than in the south, there are not many tourists even in midsummer. In the hinterland, the country rises quickly to the Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês on the border with Spain.

Attractions Portugal's North

Arcos de Valdevez

Historic center on the Rio Vez

The village on both sides of the river Vez invites you to stroll along the shore and across the bridge. In the center is a parish church from the 14th century, which has gained its present appearance under King Manuel. The historic center as a whole is also a listed monument. Casa do Terreiro, an 18th-century city palace, now houses the Municipal Museum and City Library. It is also the site of exhibitions and other activities, and therefore also called Casa das Artes.

Bom Jesús do Monte

Most beautiful pilgrimage church in Portugal

Besides Fátima, the pilgrimage church near Braga is the most popular pilgrimage destination in Portugal. The neoclassical church is situated in a park with old trees, lush flower beds and a small lake. A cross stood on the site of the present church as early as the 14th century. After several chapels were no longer able to accommodate the growing stream of pilgrims, a large church was finally erected in 1784, which with its mountain terrace and baroque staircase is considered Portugal's most beautiful pilgrimage destination. The enormous flight of stairs begins in Braga and leads over 581 steps to the forecourt of the church. Some pilgrims climb up all the steps on their knees. The cable car, built in 1882, offers a more comfortable ride.


Dam in the south of Peneda-Gerês National Park

In the district of Braga the river Cávado and its tributary Rio Gerês are dammed to a four-armed reservoir. In the middle of the artifical lake, where the Rio Gerês originally flowed into the Rio Cávado, the lake is crossed by two bridges. The area to the north is covered by the Peneda-Gerês National Park, which also protects part of the lake area. Upstream is the next hydroelectric power station on Cávado the dam Salamonde.

Costa Verde

Sandy beaches and secluded inland region

The Portuguese “green coast” is located in the northernmost part of the country between the Minho and Douro rivers. Its wide sandy beaches and white dunes, which are occasionally interrupted by rocky cliffs, become increasingly secluded the closer you get to the Spanish border. The area further inland, with its shady pine forests, gains in altitude quickly. Due to the relatively low water temperatures and frequently strong winds, the Costa Verde has been less developed for tourism than the southern coast of Portugal.


Portugal's first capital city

This town grew up around a fortified monastery built in the year 960 and became the first capital of Portugal in 1140, thereby earning the epithet “the cradle of the nation.” Today, the historic old town surrounding the main medieval square, the Largo da Oliveira, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also the European Capital of Culture in 2012 and is home to three exceptionally interesting museums: the Museu Alberto Sampaio (religious art), the Museu de Arte Primitiva Moderna (modern naïve art) and the Museu da Socidedade Martins Sarmento.

Parque Natural do Litoral Norte

Windmills atop white sand dunes

This nature park protects the large sand dunes at the mouth of the Rio Cávado. It is over 18 kilometers long and only sparsely vegetated, yet the plant life here is sufficient to keep the sand from blowing away. The dunes form a natural barrier to the Atlantic storms that frequent the area and which power the numerous traditional windmills. One can understand why many consider this nature park to be the most beautiful landscape in Portugal, especially when the midday sun bathes it in a soft, warm light. Most visitors come to watch the migratory birds or to go for a swim. If you walk several hundred meters inland, you will quickly find yourself alone in a fragrant pine forest.

Ponte da Barca

Picturesque town on the Lima river

The town on the shores of the Lima river is located on the old pilgrimage route to Santiago di Compostela and is a good starting point for trips to the Peneda-Gerês National Park. Ponte da Barca looks especially beautiful from the bridge, which crosses the river since the 15th century. Worth seeing is the church in the old town with panelled ceiling and a silver cross of King Manuel I.

Ponte de Lima

Roman bridge over the Lima

The Romans called this river the “Lethe” and it was the subject of eerie legends. It was said that people would lose their memories upon crossing it, which is why Roman legionnaires refused to ford it. The proconsul Decimus Lunius had to show them that their fears were unfounded by swimming across the river and then calling out the names of his soldiers. In the 2nd century, a bridge was built over the Lima for a major Roman road. The town of Ponte de Lima then grew up around this strategically important location. The Roman bridge is still stands to this day.

Santo Tirso

Art and pottery in the shadow of a baroque church

The place on the river Ave is surrounded by dense forests and has a long history. The Benedictines founded in 978 one of the oldest monasteries in Portugal, which possessed a huge area of land. It took a few centuries to build the opulent Baroque church. It is richly decorated with sculptures. The decline of the monastery began in 1822, when its lands were nationalized in the Liberal Revolution. Many citizens of the city make a living from the arts and crafts or pottery. A walk through the cobbled streets is worthwhile.

Viana do Castelo

Scenic city on the Rio Lima

This port city has just over 50,000 inhabitants and is located north of where the Rio Lima pours into the Atlantic. The harbor was founded by the Greeks, yet remained insignificant well into the Middle Ages. The city did not experience prosperity until the voyages of exploration, which brought wealth through the cod-fishing industry off the coast of Newfoundland. One of the most beautiful squares in Portugal is the Praça da República, which features a three-tiered Renaissance fountain designed by João Lopez-o-Velho. For centuries, it was the only source of drinking water in the city and, thanks to its location in front of the old town hall (Paço do Concelho), was a major social gathering place.

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Canicada National Park

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Douro Valley

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