Nestled in the stunning landscapes of Northern Portugal, Vila Real is a city that attracts few travellers, others than those passing through. But although the small city may not have the obvious appeal of nearby cities like Braga, Amarante, or Porto, the capital of the Trás-os-Montes region makes up for that with Portuguese authenticity and a rich history. It may not be something that you should go out of your way to visit, but if you happen to stop off here, there are a handful of interesting things to see and do. More importantly, it gives you a chance to see a small Portuguese city that hasn’t been as influenced by tourism and internationalism as the likes of Porto or Lisbon.
Founded in the 13th century, Vila Real has a storied past that adds depth and character to the city’s aura. Its name, meaning ‘Royal Town’, is a nod to its origins as a retreat for Portugal’s nobility, a legacy that can still be felt today as one wanders the city’s charming, narrow streets lined with historic manor houses. Visitors can experience this rich history firsthand, from the medieval architecture of the city centre to the majestic Mateus Palace, which stands as a stunning example of 18th-century baroque architecture.
Beyond its historical appeal, Vila Real’s geographical location provides a gateway to the breathtaking beauty of the Douro Valley, one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world. Situated between the peaks of the Marão and Alvão mountain ranges, Vila Real offers picturesque views and a wealth of outdoor adventures. This fruitful region, renowned for its Port wine and distinctive Vinhos Verdes, offers visitors the opportunity to explore vineyard-clad hillsides, visit local wineries, and immerse themselves in the time-honoured art of winemaking. In fact, you’ll even see examples of these vineyards right in the centre of Vila Real on the valley that separates the two sides of the small city.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Vila Real
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Vila Real.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Vila Real.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Vila Real and the surrounding Northern Portugal region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airport to Vila Real is Porto Airport.
Where to Stay
- Borralha Hotel, Restaurante & Spa: One of the top-rated places to stay in Vila Real, Borralha Hotel Restaurante & Spa offers quality accommodation in a rural setting. As the name suggests, there’s also a restaurant and spa.
- Quinta da Cumieira: For a more rural and unique stay, Quinta da Cumieira is a 16th-century farm turned bed and breakfast in the heart of Douro Wine Region. It’s an ideal base for wine enthusiasts and those seeking a serene and authentic Portuguese countryside experience.
- Casa Agricola da Levada: A charming eco-friendly farmhouse with unique rustic rooms, some of which are adapted from former agricultural buildings. It offers a great chance to connect with nature and enjoy an organic breakfast sourced from their own gardens.
What to See & Do
There are a small handful of things to see and do in Vila Real, both inside the city centre and outside.
Regarded as a significant emblem of the city, Capela Nova, also known as Igreja de São Paulo, is a must-visit when in Vila Real. Built in the 17th century, this beautiful baroque-style chapel is an architectural gem that represents the religious and artistic heritage of the city. Its ornate gold altars, intricate woodwork, and painted ceiling frescoes narrate tales of the city’s historical and spiritual journey.
The exterior is equally captivating with azulejos (traditional Portuguese blue tiles) that cover the façade, depicting biblical scenes. The bell tower, with a clock that chimes the hour, adds to the church’s historic charm. Located in the city centre, this chapel is not only a place of worship but also an integral part of Vila Real’s identity and history. It’s worth taking the time to admire the detailed artwork and the tranquil ambiance that this unique chapel provides.
Casa de Mateus
A hallmark of baroque architecture in Portugal, Casa de Mateus is an iconic 18th-century manor house that is a must-see attraction in Vila Real. Commissioned by António José Botelho Mourão, this elegantly constructed residence features a grand façade adorned with intricate stonework and beautifully shaped windows. Its symmetrical design, with two prominent corner towers, exhibits the essence of the era’s architectural splendor.
Inside, Casa de Mateus houses a museum where a collection of period furniture, family portraits, and valuable relics reflect the opulent lifestyle of Portuguese nobility in the past. Its well-preserved library holds an array of antique books and manuscripts. Surrounding the house are expansive manicured gardens with sculptured hedges, reflecting pools, and vineyards that produce the famous Mateus Rosé wine.
Miradouro da Vila Velha
Miradouro da Vila Velha, situated just outside Vila Real, provides an unmissable vantage point over the captivating Douro Valley and the rolling landscape of the region. This scenic viewpoint gives you a sweeping panorama of vineyards, olive groves, and the tranquil Douro River that snakes through the valley. It’s an ideal spot for photography enthusiasts or anyone seeking a quiet moment to absorb the natural beauty of Northern Portugal.