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Best Small Cities to Visit in Northern Portugal

Best Small Cities to Visit in Northern Portugal


While I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Lisbon, I was eager to explore more of Northern Portugal. Porto, the region’s biggest city, is growing more popular every year with tourists. However, there are some equally charming smaller cities about an hour outside of Porto that are very worth exploring! The three cities I’m focusing on include Guimarães, Amarante, and Braga, which all offer fascinating history, charming locals, luxurious hotels, and beautiful surroundings.

#1 Guimarães

The historical city center of Guimarães is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city itself is often referred to as “the birthplace of the Portuguese nationality”. If those two reasons aren’t enough to make you want to visit, I don’t know what will!

My recommendation is to head straight to Pousada de Guimarães Santa Marinha, a former XII Century Augustin Monastery, beautifully set on a hill overlooking the city. Our tour guide described it as an incredible monument with a museum inside, and I have to agree. The Pousada is now a luxury hotel to stay in but open to the public for visitors, and the ancient gardens that belonged to the monks hundreds of years ago are a must-see. These gardens boast a stone staircase, built by the monks, from the 16th century. The whole property remains rather untouched in order for visitors to enjoy how they were enjoyed hundreds of years ago.

Guimarães Castle, a medieval castle from the 10th century is another notable landmark in this historic town. The castle is a military fortification and was built to defend the monastery from attacks by the Normans and Moors. Nowadays, it’s open for the public to explore. The exterior is still intact and you can explore the ruins inside and climb the towers for wonderful views of the city.

My main recommendation is to simply explore the cobbled streets of Guimarães on foot. You’ll discover several churches, old balconied houses, tiny cafes hidden on winding streets that eventually open up to two town squares that locals and visitors alike can enjoy a lazy afternoon in. A visit to Guimarães shouldn’t be rushed, as there are so many hidden gems to discover.

#2 Amarante

Amarante is a place to escape to when you need a break from the bustling cities of Lisbon or Porto. The old center of town is filled with boutique shops, restaurants, and extremely tempting bakeries, but the main star, and a building that’s hard to miss is the Church of Sao Goncalo. Perfectly situated alongside the Tamega River, it can be reached from the main street of town by crossing a medieval bridge. The exterior of the church is a fantastic blend of Baroque and Renaissance, and the interior is equally impressive with an elaborate altar and ornate wood carvings. There is no entrance fee and my only recommendation would be to visit in the later afternoon when the light is strongly shining through the church windows!

Casa da Calçada, located in the center of town, is a romantic hotel with a vast history which dates back to the 16th century. Both locals and tourists flock to the hotel’s restaurant, Largo do Paço, as its the only restaurant in Northern Portugal to be awarded a Michelin-star. In a small city of barely 60,000 people, that’s very impressive!

This hotel felt more like a museum to me, and in a good way. I loved exploring the different rooms that were kept in tact from hundreds of years ago, as well as the ancient artifacts scattered throughout the property. Personally, the most memorable aspect of Casa da Calçada are the incredible views of the town that can be enjoyed throughout the hotel. While I’d highly recommend a romantic, weekend getaway to Amarante, the town’s accessibility from Porto (and the Douro Valley) make it a great day trip as well.

#3 Braga

Last, but certainly not least, is Braga. Braga is the oldest town in Portugal and one of the oldest Christian cities in the world. Founded in the Roman times under the name of Bracara Augusta, the city has more than 2,000 years of incredible history.

It’s easy to get lost in the winding, narrow streets of Braga, but getting lost in an ancient city like this is very enjoyable. Take time to stroll around the pedestrian areas with its modern shops and impressive monuments including the Cathedral, Sta. Barbara Gardens, and the Bishop’s Palace. Braga definitely deserves at least two days, especially if you want to drive up to see the famous Bom Jesus.

This Catholic pilgrimage site, situated on a hilltop, is known as Bom Jesus do Monte, meaning Good Jesus of the Mount. While you can climb 577 steps up this unique staircase, I’d recommend a ride on the funicular or driving to the top! With the time you saved, you can enjoy a nice picnic lunch with beautiful views. Interesting fact: Bom Jesus was elevated to a Basilica status on July 5, 2015 by Pope Francis, something that the Portuguese are very proud of, and it’s easy to see why.

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About the author

Carmen Edelson is the Founder of Carmen's Luxury Travel. Carmen has been traveling the world for over a decade. Her travels allow her the opportunity to pursue her itch to travel to the best luxury destinations, and experience those first class tastes from around the world.


  1. Emma
    April 26, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    Thanks so much for showing us some other places to explore outside of Porto.

    • Carmen Edelson
      May 2, 2019 at 4:50 pm

      Of course, it’s a beautiful country!

  2. Cathy Roberts
    April 27, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Thank you for this! I can absolutely see myself wandering about the cobblestoned streets enjoying a latte in a hidden cafe, especially if there’s outdoor seating! The castle though, that and the churches, but mostly OMGosh a CASTLE!

    • Carmen Edelson
      May 2, 2019 at 4:49 pm

      So many beautiful castles!

  3. Madison
    April 29, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    I’ve been wanting to return to Portugal for ages as I only visited Sintra and Lisbon. These are awesome recommendations! Bookmarking this post.

    • Carmen Edelson
      May 2, 2019 at 4:48 pm

      Thanks, Madison! I hope you get to explore North Portugal!

  4. Nic
    April 30, 2019 at 1:15 am

    Wow, these towns are just so quaint and historic. We’ve only visited Lisbon and even that was pretty laid back for a European capital, so I think we would love exploring these smaller cities. It really makes us want to get back to Portugal!
    Nic recently posted…Penang Itinerary: What to do in Penang in 3 days. A Guide to this Beautiful & Historic Town in Malaysia.My Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      May 2, 2019 at 4:02 pm

      I agree with you about Lisbon! I hope you can explore more of Portugal 🙂

  5. Kimberly Croisant
    May 1, 2019 at 9:30 am

    WOW – how beautiful! I would love to visit this country. I’ll take your tips with me if I should ever get to go.

    • Carmen Edelson
      May 2, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Thanks so much, Kimberly!

  6. Andreea
    August 7, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    I’m actually in the middle of planning for my first trip to Portugal. I know I want to see the Azores, but I’m still unsure about what to visit on the mainland. This post is a great inspiration as lately I’ve been drawn to smaller, more unique and off-the-beaten-track cities.
    Andreea recently posted…Best way to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park waterfallsMy Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      August 10, 2021 at 3:37 pm

      I hope you have a wonderful time, don’t skip the north 🙂

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