Scouting Portugal can be a game-changer when it comes to making the big decision of relocating. Sure, a lot of people rave about Portugal being an awesome place to move to, but everyone has different needs and priorities. What works for one family may not work for another. That’s why I strongly recommend doing a scouting trip before making any major decisions. It’s a crucial step in the decision-making process that can help you figure out if Portugal is the right fit for you and your family.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. With all its charm and history, it isn’t surprising so many people are drawn to make it their new home. Even within Porto itself, there are so many options to choose from. This post explores options throughout Northern Portugal including Porto, Braga, Aveiro and Viana do Castelo so you can decide which places to put on your scouting list.
Is the Greater Porto Region of Portugal a Good Place for Us to Live?
We are visiting Portugal for about a month and visiting some great places in northern Portugal to see if they would meet our needs.
Who are we?
We’re a married couple in our 40s living in the tech hub of Silicon Valley, California. Chris is in the tech industry while Emily works in education and writes about moving and traveling with pets. One of our goals for relocating to Portugal is to slow down a bit, but we’ll probably still work part-time online and get involved in local education-related activities.
Relocating to Portugal with Dogs
Our little family includes two terrier dogs who are an important consideration for this move since they are used to having plenty of outdoor space. Moving to Portugal with our pups may involve some bureaucracy, but it’s definitely doable. Since one of our dogs is small, flying with them in the cabin won’t be a problem. However, flying with our dogs in excess baggage might be a bit tricky, although there are several airlines, including TAP, that offer this service.
Our Housing Preferences
When it comes to housing, we want what a lot of Americans want but might not be so easy to find: a house with a small yard, good public transportation access, and walkability to daily destinations. We’re particularly drawn to large towns and small cities with plenty of greenery, nature, and charm. We also want to be close to the airport and international schools, just in case Emily decides to work in the schools.
The Weather in Portugal: Where is Right for You?
Weather is a big deal for us. Emily’s not a fan of anything above 90F, and while we don’t mind a little rain, it can be tough to navigate without a car on the slippery, hilly cobblestone streets which is common in Porto. If you’re scouting Portugal, make sure you take into account your own weather preferences, because it can make all the difference in finding the right spot for you.
Disclaimer: These are our opinions. I would expect other people to have different opinions and priorities.
Check out my review of the Silver Coast if that’s another region you are considering.
Porto is absolutely charming. We stayed near the historical center. I liked the area from the center to Bonfim quite a bit. It seemed very walkable, easy to access everything you could possibly want, and it is well connected to the metro and buses. It is a more touristy area, and that would probably get annoying in the summer.
Since it is in the middle of the bustling heart of a major city, It is loud. You would want to get a place with good soundproofing. I think it would be really fun to live there for about 1 year, but based on my stage of life, I’m pretty sure I would get tired of it after a while.
During my stay in Porto, I got my hair cut. I mentioned to the stylist that I liked Porto, but I didn’t know if I could live there because I need a yard for my dogs.
He showed me a photo of the street his shop was on from Google Earth.
He pointed to the charming row houses across the street and said, you would never guess, these houses have a yard and a pool. The house next door also has a yard. Apparently, there is a whole world of greenery hiding behind the historical buildings. He said sometimes the yard belongs to the first floor. Other times it is shared by everyone in the building.
This information made me totally reconsider Porto as a serious option.
Matasinhos has been recommended to me numerous times by other expats, so we visited thinking it was going to be a good contender for a place to move. Instead we found a dreary beach with 60’s style concrete box apartments across the road. It had an industrial feel and smelled like fish. We decided not to waste any more time there and ordered a Bolt.
The driver told us he lives in Gaia. He said it is an easier place to live than Porto. He recommended we go to a beach there instead.
We took the Bolt driver’s advice and fell in love with Gaia. It was stunning. It smelled amazing (like the sea instead of rotting fish). The area had some infrastructure like bike paths and boardwalks. The neighborhoods around included single family homes with yards. They are not walking distance to everything, but the train to Porto stops at the outskirts and with the bike paths, it wouldn’t be too hard to get around with a combination of bikes and walking with a train to get into the city.
This place made it onto our short list. Thanks Bolt Driver!
The Douro Valley
We visited the Douro Valley for a fun side trip. It is not on our list of potential places to relocate, but it is beautiful.
We drove ourselves instead of doing the tour. That was not the best decision. We may have saved a little money, but not much, and it was much more stressful with the narrow winding roads.
While we weren’t considering the area to relocate, we did find a place that could have amazing potential for people who want an affordable large town/small city in the Douro Valley surrounded by nature and delicious produce.
For people who are interested in small cities a little inland and surrounded by nature but not as well known, Vila Real should definitely be on your list as a place to check out. It could be just the right fit for someone reading this.
We stayed the night in an amazing place, Casa Agricola da Levada Eco Village. The hotel was so beautiful, relaxing and friendly.
I’d heard many wonderful things about Braga. I wasn’t sure about it because it seems like it has higher summer temperatures than I prefer and more rain than I would like. But, it also looks beautiful and has the nature we appreciate, so we decided to visit.
Braga is in a valley bowl, so it is completely surrounded by nature. However, it didn’t have trees mixed into the city itself quite as much. Although, the city landscapers do incorporate flowers everywhere, so the pops of color were a nice touch.
From my perspective, I would not choose Braga over Porto unless I found a price for housing that makes it worth it. However, I know many people have moved there and loved it, so that’s why you have to visit the area on a scouting trip and decide for yourself.
Guimaraes was a place we visited as a tourist destination rather than a potential place to live. It is about as quaint and magical as European villages come.
I figured it wouldn’t be a practical place for most people to live in the historical center. Outside of the center was actually a much bigger town than I realized, so it might have potential for some. If you go on a day trip to Braga, add this to your list for sure as a tourist and potentially as a place to live if you love historical charm.
Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo is a magical little place. Thank you to the FB group member who lives there and recommended it.
If we were going to retire completely, I think it would be our top choice. I loved the green and the ocean and the charm of the historical district all rolled into one.
Not far out of town, you can rent a detached home with a yard for $1600 and bonus, you get to drive through the tree canopy to get there.
While it does have a train to Porto, the train takes more than 90 minutes, so it would be challenging if you want to leave on any kind of regular basis which we probably would. It is currently on our short list, but after we do more soul searching and narrow down how we will spend our time, it may have to come off the list.
Eat Famous Portuguese Chicken Between Porto and Viana do Castelo
The hairstylist was a very helpful person. He told me I have to eat the best chicken in Portugal at Casa dos Frangos. I looked it up on a map and it is in some small town about 30 minutes outside of Porto in Povoa de Varzim
I thought we were going to a small hole in the wall secret place. The joke was on me. It was definitely not a secret. There was an hour’s wait for a table, and it seemed that half of Porto drove up to get their chicken.
While Chris was waiting in line, I went in to use the bathroom and discovered they have a to-go counter, so I ordered a chicken, chips and salad to go. They served the chicken right off the rotisserie skewer and 5 minutes later, we were ready to go.
We drove 10 minutes to a stunning beach and had ourselves a little picnic. The only problem is they didn’t have any utensils to give us, but we figured it out.
So, make this a go to stop for any places you are visiting north of Porto.
Aveiro is a fascinating small city.
I’m not sure why, but tons of money is getting poured into infrastructure development right now. There is a lot of construction going on which means lots of options for housing.
This small city has lots of positives. It’s less than 1 hour from Porto by car. Although I think it’s closer to 90 minutes by train.
It has oodles of historical charm, but the new buildings are right there as well. If I wanted to live in an apartment, this might be a good place because many of the apartments are newer, but they are right there in the mix of the downtown bustle.
What Americans think of as duplexes with yards are also available right outside of town with nice bike paths that would provide easy access to town. The main con is that I saw a lot more to buy than rent. For us, it has the same problem as Viana do Castelo of being a little farther away from Porto than I would prefer, but it did seem like an easier place to live without a car.
Useful Info we Observed about Portugal That Will Help You to Have a Successful Scouting Trip
How Much English Is Spoken in Porto?
A number of people ask the questions about how important it is to speak Portuguese. Based on my own conversations, in the greater Porto area, about 70% of the people we tried to talk to spoke English. In addition, I am grateful for my Spanish skills especially when it came to reading Portuguese because there are a lot of cognates that means I could understand all the signs and menus much more easily. Unfortunately, Spanish isn’t as helpful for listening/speaking because the way the words are pronounced are so different from each other. Although, I did have had 2 conversations in Spanish because that was the language we had in common.
You won’t need to rent a car to scout Porto itself, but if you want to explore the larger area, it will be very useful.
If you rent a car, pay extra for the toll road transponder. You won’t be able to get around without it. Signage for roads and public transportation is mostly clear and easy to follow.
Driving around outside of the cities is simple and congestion free with many marvels of engineering. Driving in cities like Porto isn’t for the faint of heart.
Final Thoughts: Is Porto or the Northern Region of Portugal a Good Place to Live?
The Porto Region of Portugal would be an amazing place to live. There’s something for everyone. If you want to live in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a major historical hub, Porto would be fantastic. If you want to branch out to smaller cities or even tiny villages, there are incredible places to choose from. In reality, our problem was less about not enough good places to pick from. Instead, it was about narrowing things down from all the incredible options to what would fit us best.
Emily & Chris Wilson
These Californians Moving To/Living In Portugal Group Members have just completed a 26 day scouting trip in Portugal.