Start by discovering coastal Minho going from Porto to Viana do Castelo by car or train. Enjoy the monuments of the historic centre and the contemporary buildings of the city considered the Mecca of architecture by the British magazine Wallpaper in 2009. Be sure to go up Monte de Santa Luzia to enjoy the magnificent view of land, river and sea. Here you can also visit the Basilica, which was inspired by the Sacré Coeur Cathedral in Paris.
Don’t leave the city without walking through Praça da República and seeing the Renaissance granite fountain, the building of the former City Hall and the Misericórdia building. From the historic centre, head towards the River Lima and to Praça da Liberdade, and continue along the river bank until you get to the Municipal Library, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, one of the most renowned Portuguese architects and winner of the Pritzker prize.
Leave Viana do Castelo behind you and head towards Ponte de Lima, probably the oldest town in Portugal. Its landmark is the medieval bridge with pointed arches over the River Lima and Largo de Camões, with its fountain that used to supply water to the population. You can also see the tower of the old jail house (Torre da Cadeia Velha) or of Porta Nova, from the 14th century, now hosting temporary exhibitions.
Ponte de Lima is considered one of the most typical cities in Minho and it is the perfect spot for trying Minho cuisine. Try the arroz de sarrabulho (rice with various types of meat), a local dish, with the typical seasoned chunks of pork and the red Vinho Verde which you drink from porcelain bowls. But there are other specialties you can’t afford to miss, such as caldo verde (kale soup) and lamprey rice. To help you digest your lunch, take a stroll along the centuries-old sycamore-lined streets along the river bank.
If you really want to feel the pulse of the city, visit it during the traditional Feiras Novas festivals, held in September, with folk dance groups, concerts, livestock competitions, Garrano horse races, parades and the traditional procession in honour of Nossa Senhora das Dores.
“The birthplace of Portugal”
Guimarães is popularly known as “the birthplace”. There are several reasons for this: the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, was born here and the battle of São Mamede was fought close by, gaining independence from the kingdom of Castile and Léon, and the formation of the Condado Portucalense, later called Portugal. Since these events took place here, how can we deny that being in Guimarães is like travelling back in time and feeling part of the history of Portugal?
Visit Guimarães Castle, built in the 10th century, and become part of medieval times. If you want to feel like a real king, visit the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, a magnificent manor house from the 15th century inspired by French architecture, showcasing tapestries, furniture and pottery, among other objects. The walk from the castle to the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança only takes three-minutes. At the entrance door, notice the bronze statue of D. Afonso Henriques and immortalize the moment by taking a picture next to the first king of Portugal.
Continue to walk down to the historic centre, classified as World Heritage, and lose yourself in the narrow streets and squares that resemble medieval scenarios. Be surprised by the beauty of Padrão do Salado, a Gothic balcony in Largo da Oliveira. Then walk to Praça de Santiago, and rest for a while at one of the outdoor cafés while you admire the well-preserved 17th and 18th century houses.
Don’t leave the city without visiting the tower of the ancient city wall with the inscription “The birthplace of Portugal” (in Largo do Toural, one of the most important squares in the city), or visiting Monte da Penha. Catch the cable car in Rua Aristides Sousa Mendes (next to Largo das Hortas and 5 minutes away from the historic centre of Guimarães) and climb about 400 metres in just a few minutes, where you’ll be amazed at the view overlooking the centre of the city. Don’t forget to visit the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Penha.
Religion and architecture
When the locals want to refer to something that is very old, they use the expression “Older than the Cathedral of Braga!” It is true that Braga has the oldest Portuguese cathedral, built in the 12th century by order of the parents of the first king of Portugal, D. Henrique and D. Teresa, who are buried there.
If you like religious architecture, then Braga is going to be like paradise for you. The city has several buildings of different architectural styles: the Episcopal Palace of Braga and the Palace of the Archbishops of Braga, near the Cathedral, churches all around the historic centre and, like a challenge for the pilgrims, the monumental stairs of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus. At the top you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view over the city and the Church of Bom Jesus. Enjoy the bucolic, green surroundings and rest from the climb before visiting the Sanctuary.
If you’re interested in experiencing the religious spirit of the city, we suggest you book your trip for the Easter period. Holy Week is the most important event of the city, and the Ecce Homo evening procession on Maundy Thursday is the highlight of the week.
In addition to religious architecture, Braga also boasts buildings from Baroque times (the most striking period in the city’s heritage), for example the Biscainhos Palace, in the downtown area. You can also see the Roman remains showcased in the D. Diogo de Sousa Museum of Archaeology, as Braga is closely connected to this period, having been founded more than 2000 years ago and was the administrative centre of the Roman Empire.
But the architecture of Braga is not just about the past. Save some time to visit the Braga Municipal Stadium, designed by Souto Moura, one of the most prominent Portuguese architects and Pritzker Prize winner.
How to get there
There are several direct connections to Porto. If you opt for low-cost flights, you can fly from London (Stansted and Gatwick), Birmingham, Paris (Beauvais, Orly, Vatry and Charles de Gaulle), Marseille, Dole, Lille, Strasbourg, Tours, St. Etienne, Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Madrid, Barcelona El Prat, Valencia, Milan Bergamo, Rome Ciampino, Brussels (Charleroi and Zaventem), Eindhoven, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Geneva, Basel/Mulhouse, Dortmund, Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe Baden, Nuremberg, Hamburg Lübeck , Munich Memmingen and Dusseldorf Weeze.
In summer, low cost companies fly from Liverpool, Dublin, Bologna, Toulouse, Clermont Ferrand, Carcassonne, La Rochelle, Limoges, Rennes, Las Palmas, Palma de Majorca, Tenerife and Bremen.
Traditional airlines fly to Porto from London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, and Paris Orly, Caracas, Geneva, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Milan Malpensa, Zurich, New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels Zaventem, Rome Fiumicino, Toronto, and Luanda. In summer, you can also fly from Montreal, Brest and Brive.
At the Francisco Sá Carneiro International Airport you can rent a car and drive to Minho on the following roads: the A28 will take you along the coast to Viana do Castelo; the A3 goes straight to Braga and Ponte Lima. From the A3 you can take the A7 to Guimarães. Alternatively, you can catch the train to Viana do Castelo, Braga and Guimarães at the downtown station in Porto: take the underground to Campanhã railway station and, from there, take the train.