Where to visit in Minho region of Portugal

Exploring the Minho Region of Portugal
Exploring the Minho Region of Portugal

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My trip to Portugal on behalf of Rough Guides allowed me to explore different regions such as the Douro Valley (famous for its wineries) and the amazing, almost pre-historic Geres National Park – Portugal’s only national park.  Another area – also where Geres National Park is located  –  is known as the Minho region of Portugal.  About 100km (62 miles) from Porto (the nearest city), the area takes its name from the Rio (River) Minho and encompasses the entire northwestern province of the country, the river winding its way to the Spanish border in the northeast.

Picture postcard landscapes, mountains, vineyards and historic towns await

Let’s take a look at some of the towns and places to visit in the Minho.  Some of them are possible by day trip from Porto and this will be indicated, but why not book a stay in the Minho region?

Guimaraes – Minho region of Portugal

Guimaraes is the place where Portugal’s first monarch – Dom Afonso Henriques – was born in 1110. Its medieval monuments, cobbled streets and old-fashioned squares give the place a sense of grandeur and it’s easy to see why Guimaraes in the Minho region has been awarded UNESCO World-Heritage status.

Town of Guimaraes in the Minho region of Portugal
Town of Guimaraes in the Minho region of Portugal
Castle

For me, the piece de resistance of Guimaraes is the castle; castelo in Portuguese.  It was built in the 10th century to protect the people from attack by the Moors and Normans. After a long period of being abandoned, in the 19th century it was used as a prison for debtors and was rebuilt in the 1940s.  It’s interesting to ramble amongst the walls and ramparts and battlements.  Take a look:

The castle at Guimaraes - Minho region of Portugal
The castle at Guimaraes – Minho region of Portugal

Cable car

Guimaraes also has a cable car that takes you to the peak of Penha hill, with magnificent views over Guimaraes and surrounding district.  The peak is surrounded by woodland and it’s a favourite Sunday pastime for the locals to take a picnic up there to eat and enjoy the view. It’s €5 return to take the cable car – a five minute walk from the edge of the old town.

Getting there: Guimaraes is approx. 50k northeast of Porto and can be reached easily by car (although park outside of town and walk in), by bus (1 hr from Porto; bus station 15 mins walk from the centre) or by train (1hr 10 min journey from Porto; ten minute walk to the centre).

Braga – Minho Region of Portugal

Braga is Portugal’s most important religious centre and one of the country’s oldest and most fought over towns.  It’s thought its name came from the Iron Age Bracari people who are supposed to have founded the city, but then it fell into Roman hands.  It was recaptured (eventually) by the Portuguese in the 11th century

Now you can expect a beautiful traffic-free boulevard with numerous coffee shops, restaurants and a rather unfortunate 1970s office block, but ignore that one blight on the landscape and Braga will offer you numerous choices of places to stay, both in and out of the city – and amazing churches.

Braga Cathedral - Minho Region of Portugal
Braga Cathedral – Minho Region of Portugal

Getting there: Braga is approx. 60km northeast of Porto and about a 45 minute drive up the motorway. You can catch the bus (one every 30 mins from Porto – journey time approx, 1 hr) or by train (one every half an hour from the centre of Porto, journey time 55mins to 1hr 10 mins.  Train station is about a 20 min walk to the Old Town).

Bom Jesus do Monte – Minho Region of Portugal

Bom Jesus isn’t a town in itself – it’s a Baroque stairway and pilgrim church that lies in woodland 5km east of Braga.  There are plenty of activities do to around here if you choose to locate yourself in one of the many hotels; horse riding, hiking, formal gardens and hidden grottos to visit and boating lakes.  If you’d rather save your legs, a hydraulic funicular (€2 return) can take you from the bottom of the stairway to the church at the top.

Bom Jesus do Monte Collage- Minho Region of Portugal
Bom Jesus do Monte Collage- Minho Region of Portugal

Barcelos – Minho region of Portugal

Barcelos isn’t all that spectacular on first glance…but it has an enormous square which houses an open-air market every Thursday which rivals any big open market in Europe, let alone Portugal.

barcelos portugal photo
Photo by GOC53
The Barcelos Cock – Minho region of Portugal
The Barcelos Cock - the famous symbol of northern Portugal.
The Barcelos Cock – the famous symbol of northern Portugal.

Not only does Barcelos sport a magnificent market, it also sports a magnificent cock, I kid you not. Now before you go thinking I am getting all phallic on you, it truly is a cock(erel). There’s a history behind it…to do with pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela, wrongful arrests, last meals involving a cockerel and the bird flying away from the dinner table.  Any visitor will see the emblem of the cock throughout Portugal: statues, key rings, on dishtowels, rooster-shaped ceramic figures…just about anything!

Monte de Santa Luzia – Minho region of Portugal

Monte de Santa Luzia - Minho region - northern Portugal
Monte de Santa Luzia – Minho region – northern Portugal

And my last recommendation for this region is the magnificent basilica of Monte de Santa Luzia, nestled above the Minho region town of Viana do Castelo.  This town is on the Minho river coast – where the river meets the Atlantic ocean.  The basilica can be reached by funicular railway from the town – just past the hospital (are you recognising a pattern here in Portugal, to reach landmarks?!) and saves you a good 30 minute walk uphill. €2 one way, €3 return.

It’s worth it to see the views over the river valley below, and out to the Atlantic.

This is Viana do Castello in beautiful northern #Portugal, looking out to the #Atlantic ocean. Stunning – with @cooltour_oporto

A photo posted by Rebecca Hall – Travel Writer (@beyondbex) on

Getting there: From Porto by bus and train takes approx. 1hr 45 mins and there are 3-5 daily.  By car it’s a one hour drive up the coast from Porto.

Town of Viana Do Castelo - Minho Region
Town of Viana Do Castelo – Minho Region

I hope this has given you a taster of what to expect if you come to the Minho region of Portugal. Make Porto your base and discover things to do in Porto as well, and come and explore the Minho region.  Discover where to stay in Porto and book hotels.

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What to do in the Minho region of Portugal
What to do in the Minho region of Portugal. Bottom picture Praça_do_Municipio_Braga” (CC BY 2.0) by TurismoenPortugal

Explore theMinho region of Portugal

 **This was originally written and posted in SEP16.  Revised and updated in SEP17**

24 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t wait to visit Portugal one day! It seems like a perfect place for road trip! I would love to visit all those places where they make perfect wine and see stunning beaches. I had no idea you can also find there some castles! That’s pretty cool!

    • There is so much more to Portugal than just sea and sand, as I hope you saw through my article. Yes, it is a beautiful place.

  2. Fantastic post – love the look of the architecture in Braga! Just stunning. I’ve never been to Portugal mainland (only Madeira island) but would love to some day

  3. Unfortunately, I did not make it to the Minho region on my last trip to Portugal. I hope to make another trip so will add it to the list. The architecture looks really impressive.

  4. Portugal is definitely on my list of places to go next when I am in Europe. I have heard that the food and drink there is very unique as well as the historic and colourful culture.

    • I highly recommend the country. There is so much more to it than just sea and sand. It’s so varied too: the north gets quite windy and cold as it’s on the Atlantic coast – very rugged, making for ‘rugged people’. I love all their tiled architecture.

    • Thanks Louise. Yes, I agree; there’s so much to discover when you dig beneath the surface in Portugal, and architecture is one of the things to discover!

  5. I love the architecture so much, and it’s hard to go wrong with a castle! I really need to plan a trip to Portugal. Thanks for feeding the wanderlust a bit. 🙂

  6. I see we have traveled to almost all the same cities and towns in this region. I lived in Galicia for a year and a half so it was just like a hop and skip over the border. Love Braga a lot and all the smaller towns along the River Minho/Miño are just so fun to explore. Real everyday life can be witnessed for instance, more so than Porto or Lisboa. Great photos too!!

    • Thanks Ariana. And another favourite is Geres National Park – which I have posted about on my site too. We feel the same about this region I think. It is gorgeous isn’t it; so much tradition.

  7. Guimaraes looks beautiful! I always try to make sure to visit World Heritage Sites if they’re anywhere near where I’m traveling. I would love to visit that open-air market in Barcelos. The Duoro Valley and Geres National Park also sound incredible!

  8. We are leaving in a few weeks for our trip to Porto and Lisbon. We will take a day to visit the Minho region. It is going to be wonderful – Please share some of your favorite dishes – we love to try local food favorites when we travel.

    • I think you will have a wonderful time Nancy.

      I loved the Francesinha Sandwich: bread, ham, sausages and steak. Typically covered with melted cheese and an egg on top. The secret sauce of hot tomato sauce and beer to dip it in makes it special though.

      Enjoy!

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