On the right bank of the Douro, Valbom is a small town just upriver from Porto. You can be in the centre of the city in the blink of an eye, sightseeing, appreciating art and architecture, tasting Port wine and exploring historic neighbourhoods. Valbom has its own appeal though, as goldsmith artisans have been crafting delicate filigree jewellery here for centuries.
The Douro waterside has also been regenerated with a trail that curls past river beaches and lets you look across to the high, wooded bank on the south side. There are beautiful old properties by the water, some to see from a distance, and others that let you in for tours.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Valbom:
This World Heritage City is at your door in Valbom so there’s no excuse not to enjoy as much as you can.
There are markets, museums, churches that glimmer with gilt-wood, postcard monuments and animated old quarters.
The metallic Dom Luís I Bridge is an enduring landmark, erected in the 1880s and soaring above the Ribeira neighbourhood.
This has a vibrant quayside and square that are the heart of the world-famous São João celebrations in June.
You’ve also got to stroll along the Atlantic at the Foz, marvel at the Art Deco house at Serralves, scale the Baroque Clérigos Tower and be wowed by the extravagant Palácio da Bolsa.
And that’s just for starters!
2. Quinta de Villar d’Allen
This pleasure house has been in the same family since 1839, when the English businessman John Allen snapped it up in an auction.
The house was redesigned in the Eclectic style that was in fashion during Portugal’s Romantic period.
You can come for a tour given by Allen’s descendants, when you’ll see the family museum and richly furnished interiors.
But the fragrant parterre gardens are best of all, particularly when the camellias are in bloom in summer.
This is a mini camellia plantation and you can buy one from the estate, as well as a bottle of the Allen family’s port wine from their cellar.
3. Lugar do Desenho
The 20th-century painter Júlio Resende was born in Valbom and during his career he amassed some 2,000 pieces of graphic art.
These are presented in themed exhibitions at the Lugar do Desenho, which is run by his foundation.
On the first and third Saturdays of the month you can also peek inside Redende’s atelier-home, designed for him in 1962 by the architect José Carlos Loureiro.
Resende worked here for the next 50 years until he passed away in 2011.
4. Casa de Gramido
In the 2000s the dilapidated Casa Branca de Gramido (White House) in Valbom was renovated, with a tourist office installed, as well as a cafe, reception room, offices and exhibition space.
The reason this building was chosen to be saved is because in 1847 the agreement to bring to an end the Patuleia, a short civil war between the Septemberists (liberals) and Cartistas (conservatives), was signed in this very building.
It’s in a splendid setting too, just above the Douro, and is one to keep in mind if you’re into Portuguese history.
5. Rota da Filigrana
Valbom is indelibly associated with fine goldsmithery.
This tradition extends back to when there were Roman goldmines in the Serra das Banjas mountains to the east.
But from the back end of the 1700s the surrounding Gondomar municipality became a dominant force in this craft, and it shows in the glimmering traditional costume worn by women during festivals.
Five of Portugal’s eight biggest goldsmiths are in the area, and around 60% of gold jewellery production in the country happens here.
A lot of this is in small, family-run workshops using ancestral techniques, and you can see some pieces in showcases at the Casa da Gramado.
6. Prado do Repouso
On the east side of Porto next to the Douro and under ten minutes from Valbom, the Prado do Repouso is the city’s largest cemetery.
And while this may sound like a sombre activity for a day out, there are many dazzling statues and mausoleums from the 19th century.
These were fashioned by the likes of Soares dos Reis and António Teixeira Lopes, two of the period’s preeminent sculptors.
In particular, try to track down the cemetery chapel and the charnel house for the Benedictine nuns of the Avé-Maria convent.
7. Zona Ribeirinha de Gondomar
Starting at the Casa Branca in Gramido and running up to the Ribeira de Abade on the eastern edge of Porto is a five-kilometre riverside nature trail.
Heading east to west, you’ll start in what feels like countryside, with only a few houses amid the forest on the left bank.
Slowly Porto will hove into view as you approach the Ponte de São João, built in 1991. Just around the bend from that bridge is the 19th-century Ponte Maria Pia, which was made from wrought iron and designed by the Eiffel Company.
The Quinta do Passal in Valbom is on the route and rents out bicycles for free.
8. Museu Nacional da Imprensa
A minute or two from the Allen property is Porto’s National Press Museum.
This is filled with elaborate contraptions from different eras and organised into three exhibits: Typesetting, printing and finishing.
A cool thing about the museum is that many of the displays aren’t just static; you’re invited to get involved and operate the machinery.
And you contrast the labour-intensive days of manual typesetting with the automatic devices that took over in the 20th century.
There’s also a small room recalling the story of Porto’s Rodrigo Álvares, who became Portugal’s first printer in 1497.
9. River Beaches (Praias Fluviais)
One of the benefits of being upriver from Porto is that the Douro is quiet and clean, with only the occasional tour boat chugging past.
And moments from Valbom are some of the best beaches to be found on the river.
If you fancy a day of doing nothing much it’s easier than trailing across to Matosinhos, the nearest ocean beach, while the river is much safer for swimming.
Zebreiros, Lomba and Melres are all beaches close by and open from June to September.
Lomba is the standout, taking up a meander in the river, with a large sandy area, patrolled by lifeguards and with deep pine forest to the rear and on the opposite bank.
10. Estádio do Dragão
Moments away on the east side of Porto is the impressive home of the city’s top football team.
FC Porto are the second best side in Portugal’s history, and have also won the European Cup/Champions League twice.
The Estádio do Dragão has a capacity of 52,000 and was erected in time for Portugal’s Euro 2004. Unless Benfica or Sporting Lisbon are in town home matches almost never sell out, so you could come for some top-level football between August and May.
The rest of the time you can take a tour of the stadium, as well as the museum, which showcases the club’s silverware and tells the story of its European triumphs in 1987, 2003, 2004 and 2011.
11. Vila Nova de Gaia
High on the left bank of the Douro, opposite Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia is a separate city and is where the famous port cellars are located.
We’ll come to those later, but in the meantime you have to cross the Dom Luís I Bridge to savour the best view of Porto.
This is at the terrace of the Serra do Pilar monastery, where the Ribeira, the bridge and the skyline of the upper town are all laid out before you.
Gaia’s riverside quay is one of the places to board a tour boat, while Vila Nova da Gaia is also known for its Atlantic beaches with several Blue Flag winners on the coast down to Espinho.
12. Zoo Santo Inácio
On the other side of the Douro from Valbom is a fun day out for younger members of the clan.
It opened in 2000 and was devised with animal welfare in mind, so the habitats are expansive, and whole park is sheltered in pine woodland on an old wine estate.
A new attraction to check out is the glass tunnel in the lion enclosure, which gives you a privileged view of these beasts as they like to sleep on top of it! Around the zoo you’ll get close to more than 260 species, counting meerkats, capybaras, pygmy hippos, Humboldt’s penguins, all sorts of reptiles and insects and African herbivores like zebras and giraffes.
13. Douro Cruises
On the river in front of the printing museum there’s a small marina, where several of the boat tours running along the Douro will dock.
This is the Marina do Freixo, taking its name from the magnificent palace that faces the water here.
The 18th-century palace was designed by the feted Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, and is now a stately Pousada (luxury historic hotel). A typical cruise will last around 45 minutes and guide you under the six bridges on the Douro.
Or you could make an evening of it and take a dinner cruise when the city is in lights.
14. Port Wine
This fortified wine is made by adding grape spirit to wine, disrupting its fermentation.
in Vila Nova de Gaia, climbing up the slope are the cellars that have been storing Port for 200 years or more.
Until it became easier to haul the wine by road, casks would be shipped down on rabelo boats from the Upper Douro Valley and brought ashore at the quay.
If you’re a connoisseur there’s a long big roll-call of distinguished lodges and cellars, with more than 20 welcoming you for tours.
Newcomers can get the inside story on this beverage and find out the difference between tawny, vintage, colheita and garafeira.
15. Local Gastronomy
In these parts, lamprey (lampreia) is plentiful, and they’re in season from January to April.
There’s even a gastronomic event in March in to celebrate this fish.
It can be prepared in a risotto or in a stew with red vinho verde wine.
Gondomar’s Festas do Concelho in September and October are time for caldo de nabos, a vegetable broth with turnip, beans, potato and carrot.
Vinho verde is also produced around Valbom and it’s a young wine, with fresh and sharp whites and light, elegant reds.