Exploring beyond Porto’s parameters

The Portuguese city of Porto is packed with things to visit, from its architecture adorned with decorative tiles to historic port houses and the famous Dom Luis Bridge. However, don’t forget to explore the city’s surrounding areas too. With the help of a hire car, you’ll find that you can reach many of the attractions outside Porto within the hour, which is perfect if you’re planning to fit in a few day trips during your stay.

Whether you’re taking a drive through the enchanting Douro Valley, visiting picturesque medieval towns or exploring the coastline, there are lots of reasons to start your engine and venture outside the city.

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Here are my six favourite locations to seek out, outside of Porto’s parameters.

Matosinhos Beach

If you want to combine your city break with some time at the beach then you’re in luck. Matosinhos Beach is a short 20-minute drive from the heart of Porto.

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This huge, sandy beach is backed by a promenade lined with restaurants and cafés. Aside from the obvious draw of the sand, I recommend wandering over to the south side to see the 17th century Castelo do Queijo (roughly translating as Cheese Castle!) It towers above the bay, and is constantly pounded by the sea below.

For those looking to get out on the water itself, the beach is a popular spot with surfers. So, don’t forget to bring a board if you want to catch some waves.

Douro Valley

Another fantastic day trip from Porto takes you into the outskirts of Porto and beyond into the Douro Valley.

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First stop is the beautiful Baroque style Frexio Palace, which is perched on the banks of the Douro River and surrounded by lush gardens.

By taking the whole day to explore, you’ll have time to venture further into the Douro Valley. Here, take in the tiered vineyards and gorgeous green countryside – with plenty of attractive places to stop en route. Take the scenic N222 road towards the riverside town of Peso da Regua, home to the Douro Museum, and discover the history of this winemaking region.

Aveiro

Aveiro, dubbed the ‘Venice of Portugal,’ is a charming town to get lost in for hours. Its three waterways weave their way through pretty tiled buildings, as its rich birdlife dart from one bridge to the next.

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Aside from walking, the best way to take in the scenery is with a tour on one of the colourful Moliceiros boats, which were originally used by seaweed farmers. As you meander through Aveiro’s alleys and waterways, take time to explore the Museum of Art Noveau – host to some exquisitely decorated tiles. The Museum of Aveiro is also worth a visit, and housed in a magnificent 15th century building.

Viana do Castelo

Perched on the Costa Verde, this seaside town features beautiful scenery tapering out towards tranquil beaches. The sandy stretches are a brief drive away from the medieval town centre.

Be sure to visit the hilltop Santuario de Santa Luzia basilica for wonderful views of the town and the mouth of the Lima River. I’d recommend stopping for lunch in the fishing port, where you’ll find local seafood restaurants with ocean views.

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Braga

To the northeast of Porto, you’ll find the small city of Braga. Home to the country’s oldest cathedral, the medieval Braga Cathedral features its own art museum.

Wander the winding streets and you’ll stumble upon gothic churches alongside shops and laidback cafés, which are ideal for whiling away an afternoon in the sunshine. Don’t miss the Bom Jesus do Monte church, just five kilometres outside the centre, with its celebrated baroque stairway.

Peneda-Geres National Park

This national park is just over an hour’s drive north of Porto. As well as the stunning natural scenery within the park, you’ll get lovely views of the countryside on your way there.

Pack your hiking essentials in the car so you can explore the trails, leading you through rugged landscapes and along Roman roads. Keep an eye open for roaming wildlife in their natural habitat, including deer and boar. Stop off at the historic villages too, such as Castro Laboreiro with its castle ruins and Peneda which is backed by a stunning waterfall

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Whether you want to keep Porto as your base or a hotel hop along the way, hiring a car will give you the freedom to discover the delights of the Douro region in all its glory. With historic villages, sumptuous parks and sweeping beaches waiting for you, you can easily explore these attractions beyond the pretty city of Porto.

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