Many Portugal road trip itineraries only make it as far north as the lovely (yet undeniably touristy) city of Porto. Don’t make this mistake. Continue on a bit further and you’ll discover the historic region of Minho Portugal. Here, rolling vineyards, charming towns, and golden sand beaches combine to set the scene for a romantic escape.Known for its hospitality, the Minho region is the ideal spot to sip Vinho Verde at a sidewalk cafe, travel through time as you visit some of Portugal’s most historic landmarks, or even enjoy a day of sun, sand, and sea via any number of water sports.
Though our stay in the Minho region was short, the spots we did visit were some of our favorite on our entire road trip. We even added one city to our ongoing “I could live here list.” Whether you’re planning a similar road trip through Portugal or you’re just looking for a semi off-the-beaten-track spot for your next European adventure, here are a few things to love about the often overlooked Minho region:
Table Of Contents
Things to do in Viana do Castelo
Things to do in Peneda Geres National Park
Wining and Dining in Minho Portugal
Highlights of The Minho Portugal
The Minho Region comprises the northwestern province of Portugal and gets its name from the River Minho. Considered the birthplace of Portugal, the Minho is also the home of Portugal’s famed wine “Vinho Verde.” It’s possible to take a day trip to some of the region’s top attractions, but we recommended allowing at least a few days to fully do the Minho justice. Here’s a look at our top picks to include on any Minho region itinerary:
Considered the birthplace of Portugal, it was here that revered King D Alfonso Henriques was born and later declared Portugal’s independence. Visit the medieval Castle of Guimarães to see Alfonso’s birthplace, also the site of many key battles in Portugal’s early history.
While you’re there, you won’t want to miss the Historic Center of Guimarães, a UNESCO World Heritage Site revered for its beauty and preservation. We recommend grabbing lunch amongst the gothic buildings in the lovely Largo da Oliveira, then taking the time to amble through the many winding alleyways.
Guimarães is a favorite day trip from Porto, so if you want to experience the city without the tour groups, it’s well worth spending a night. Alternatively, visit later in the day when many groups are gearing to return to Porto.
Things to do in Guimarães—the heart of the historical Minho Region
1. Guimarães Castle
Dating back to the 10th century, the Guimarães Castle is thought to be the birthplace of the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques—and because of this largely considered to be a national shrine. The audio tour provides excellent information on the history of Portugal.
2. Explore the Duque of Bragança Palace
A national monument, this palace is located at the foot of the Guimarães Castle. It dates back to the 1420s and was the home of the first Dukes of Braganza. Visit for the exquisite stained glass windows and 16th century furniture on display.
3. Largo da Oliveira
The historic square in Old Guimarães is also home to some of the most iconic attractions in the city. Here you’ll find the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, a former monastery home to the Museu de Alberto Sampaio. In front of the church is the iconic Padrao do Salado, a 14th-century Gothic shrine commemorating the Battle of Rio Salado.
Viana do Castelo
If we were going to move to Portugal, Viana do Castelo would be high on our list of cities to consider. We immediately fell in love with the lovely town, in large part because of its flower-lined walkways, proximity to good surfing, and few fellow tourists.
We initially added Viana do Castelo to our itinerary as we wanted the iconic photo of Santa Luzia perched on a hill, with sweeping views of the coastline. (Note that you need a drone to get this picture.) Unfortunately, the Basilica was undergoing construction and covered in scaffolding, which meant we weren’t quite able to achieve the photo we wanted.
Luckily, Viana do Castelo surprised us with its charm and beauty, so we were hardly disappointed with our choice to visit. The Igreja da Misericórdia is particularly breathtaking, with remarkable Portuguese azulejo panels.
After wandering the city and taking in the views from Santa Luzia (which was deemed by National Geographic to have one of the most beautiful panoramic views in the world), head to the nearby Cabedelo Beach.
Top things to do in Viana do Castelo—the jewel of Minho, Portugal
1. Praça da República
You can’t miss this large city square in the center of Viana do Castelo’s historic old town with its stately Renaissance fountain. IPraça da República is the perfect jumping-off point for further exploring Old Town and its medley of historic buildings.
2. Gil Eannes Hospital Ship
Once a Portuguese hospital ship helping cod fishing fleets, the Gil Eannes is now a unique museum on the docks of Viana do Castelo. It’s well worth a visit to understand the life of hospital workers at sea as well as to learn more about the Gil Eannes’ 20 years of service.
3. Praia do Cabedelo
Just across the Lima River, this golden sand beach is ideal for water sports or sunbathing. It’s considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Minho Region—and somewhere Dan could easily have seen himself surfing on the regular.
4. Santuário de Santa Luzia
The iconic Basilica just outside of Viana do Castelo. Head there for the expansive coastal views, verdant pine tree forests, and, of course, to admire the impressive Byzantine-inspired architecture of the church. The funicular (Portugal’s longest) is an easy and fun way to arrive.
Ponte de Lima
While Guimaraes is called the birthplace of modern Portugal, Ponte de Lima is considered the country’s oldest village. The city is small but enchanting, with a distinctive medieval bridge that plays music during the day and lights up at night.
The history behind the Ponte de Lima Bridge is unique; when the Romans were first marching through Portugal, they incorrectly believed the River Lima to be the River of Oblivion, a legendary river said to wipe away all your memories. The captain only convinced the army to cross by saying the spell would be broken if he called out each of their names. Of course, the idea worked, and the bridge was later built. Along the banks of the river are 24 soldier sculptures still commemorating the Legionnaires.
Ponte de Lima is small, but it’s the perfect place in the Minho Region to sip Vinho Verde at an outdoor cafe or soak in the fresh air via a long river walk. The city feels very authentic, surprisingly devoid of typical tourist groups. Apart from a few people walking the Portuguese Caminho de Santiago, the town tends to attract Portuguese travelers looking for a weekend escape.
Top things to do in Ponte de Lima—the most charming village in Minho, Portugal
1. The Ponte de Lima Bridge
Stroll across this Medieval bridge dating back to 1368
2. Relax at a riverside cafe
The riverside is where most of the action happens in Ponte de Lima. Sip Vinho Verde, the Minho Region’s signature grape, while enjoying the laid-back pace of the city.
Other Popular Destinations in Portugal’s Minho Region
With limited time in Minho Portugal, we didn’t have a chance to visit all the “must-sees.” Here are a few other spots of interest to consider adding to your Portugal travel itinerary:
Photo via Antonio Alelu
Portugal’s third largest city, Braga feels both old and young. It’s home both to historical plazas and churches, as well as a bustling University. While you’re here, don’t miss:
– Eating frigideiras at Frigideiras do Cantinho. Dating back to 1796, the oldest running restaurant in Braga is also where you’ll find frigideiras cooked to perfection following the centuries-old recipe.
-Visiting the Braga Cathedral. Portugal’s oldest cathedral, this architectural gem in northern Portugal is surrounding by winding cobbled alleys
-Take a daytrip to Bom Jesus do Monte. This sanctuary is located just outside Braga. The pilgrimage site is famed for its 116-meter Baroque staircase
Peneda Geres National Park
Photo via Graeme Churchard
Located along the border with Spain, this is Portugal’s only National Park. There are many walking and hiking trails. If you’re feeling burnt out, it’s also possible to arrange a driving tour to see some of the highlights. Wander past ancient Celtic villages and, if you’re lucky, keep an eye out for the Iberian wolf and royal eagle.
Photo via Renata F. Oliveira
This small city is famed for its large outdoor markets held each Thursday. As the name suggests, it’s also home to the legend of the Rooster of Barcelos, which in turn inspired the colorful ceramic roosters that are so common throughout the country. As the story goes, a dead rooster helps a falsely accused man escape his death sentence.
Apart from the weekly market, there isn’t a ton to do, though the pottery museum comes highly recommended.
Wining and Dining in Minho Portugal
Northern Portugal is known for its generous hospitality, and this extends into the restaurant scene. This is a place where family-owned restaurants serve up centuries-old recipes—and they’re delighted to share these farm-to-table dishes with guests and travelers. Here are a few traditional Portuguese dishes you won’t want to miss on your trip through the Minho Region:
Caldo Verde: Portugal’s national dish originated in Minho. It’s made of cabbage, potatoes, olive oil, garlic and onion, served with chorizo and hearty bread
Bacalhau: The Portugese word for cod, it can be salted and dried or served fresh (bacalhau fresco).
Vinho Verde: Vinho Verde translates to “green wine,” but don’t expect a verdant color—the wine actually gets its name from the Vinho Verde region. Outside of Portugal, you’ll typically find Vinho Verde is a blend of white grapes with a characteristic light fizz. But while you’re traveling around Portugal, especially in the Minho Region, you’ll soon find red Vinho Verdes to be especially popular.
Where To Stay In The Minho
You’ll need a rental car if you plan on doing the Minho Region justice, Otherwise, it’s just too difficult to easily hop from place to place at leisure. However, once you have a car, then many of the region’s attractions are easily accessible from just about any base. For the ultimate in luxury at a family-owned boutique hotel, we highly recommend Carmo’s Boutique Hotel. This is where we stayed, and it was absolutely magical. To learn more about Carmo’s, read our full review here.
When planning your Portugal vacation, the Minho Region in north Portugal is a no-brainer. With its signature combination of history, culture and beauty, the idyllic cities throughout the Minho Region promise a romantic European gateway at any time of the year.
Have you been to Portugal’s Minho Region? What was your favorite part?
love your article on Portugal. Great country to visit. Please explore the Portuguese islands of the Azores and Madeira.