The main cities in Portugal are wonderful to visit. History, culture and a lively atmosphere makes it pretty easy to ignore the rest of the country. But just a little bit away is the countryside, gorgeous natural landscapes, authenticity and small towns lost in time. This is the case of Arouca, just an hour-drive away from Porto. Of course, Douro Valley is also very close and I’d never suggest you miss it. But if you have one more day, this is a great choice. On a day trip from Porto, you can see several beautiful sight: the 516 Arouca Bridge, Paiva Pathways, Arouca village and Arouca Geopark.
This is indeed a very rewarding day trip from Porto. However, it is also one of the hardest to do without joining a tour, especially if you don’t have a car at your disposal. Before making a choice on how to get there, compare the amount you’d be spending if you go by yourself or join a guided trip. For us it was almost the same. So we decided it was not worth it and joined a guided tour.
Highlights of a days trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Walkways
Arouca geopark is located in Northern Portugal, around one hour and a half south of Porto. The nearest town is Arouca, hence the name of the park. It is also an UNESCO Geological site. The area is mostly known for extreme sports and the authorities have taken great care to protect it and increase its accessibility. In total, there are 14 hiking trails in the park. Paiva Walkways is just one of them and 516 Arouca Suspension Bridge is a nice addition to an already wonderful geopark.
The 516 Arouca Suspension Bridge
Since 2021, Portugal is the proud owner of the longest suspension pedestrian bridge in Europe. In the world, some say that another one in Nepal is even longer. Arouca Bridge is 516 meters long and has an elevation of 175 meters above ground. It connects the two banks of the Paiva River Gorge. The bridge was nominated for Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction Development Project 2021.
A team of mountain climbers accepted the challenge to build the imposing structure in three years. In order to suspend the metal walkway, steel cables were used, in Tibetan style. The new attraction draws many adventure lovers. Crossing the bridge from end-to-end takes around 10 minutes. While on the bridge, you can also take in the panoramic views of the canyon and Aguieiras Waterfall below.
Crossing the spectacular bridge is an incredible adrenaline rush. The experience is not for the faint hearted. One can see through the metal grid all the way to the fast-moving river below and the walkway woobles. If you’re afraid of heights, this can easily become a nightmare. Will you dare?
Visitors can extend their visit to the park with a hike along the wooden Paiva Walkways, to explore the river beaches and pristine nature.
The Paiva Walkways
The Paiva Walkways or Passadiços do Paiva is an 8.5 kilometer long wooden path opened in 2015, between Areinho and Espiunca. Since then, it has been awarded several times at the World Travel Awards. The walkway goes up and down the rocky left bank of the Paiva river. It was built in such a way that it interferes as little as possible with the surrounding environment and wildlife. However, the boardwalk tamed the rugged natural beauty and made this part of the park accessible to more people.
At the end from Areinho, when you succeed to get to the top of the 400+ steps at the beginning of the route, one gets a sweeping view over the valley and the Aguieiras waterfall. This is also where the bridge is located. After that, the descent starts and the route becomes more accessible. At the middle of the path, there’s the river beach of Vau. If you wish to rest for a bit, this is the perfect spot. In summer, you can even go for a refreshing dip. There’s also a much smaller suspension bridge that gives you the chance to watch the river upstream and downstream. From this point on, the river bed get wider and the landscape changes. If you wish, the path can be completed on water, by rafting.
Some of the highlights on the path include the famous zig-zagging staircases, idyllic waterfalls, riparian forests and impressive cliffs. On the route, there are also some informational panels to help visitors appreciate the geological features and wildlife of the region.
Arouca, the closest town is also charming, surrounded by green forests and perfect to relax and enjoy tasty traditional food. Some of the local delicacies are Castanhas doces, Barrigas de Freira and posta arouquesta, a veal chop that comes from local certified cattle. The village is also known for its local sweets. If you go for a walk, take a moment to look at the beautiful 17th century monastery built on top of one from the 10th century.
Where to stay if you want more than a day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Walkways
I think a one day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Pathways allows you to see the best of the area. However, if you decide to go on your own, the time might seem too short or you might want to dedicate more time to the area. In this case, here are some nice accommodation options:
15 tips for a day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Walkways
If you do decide to go by yourself on a day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Pathway, definitely keep in mind the following tips:
1. There is no direct bus or train
Unfortunately, there is no public transportation from Porto to Espiunca or Areinho, the two ends of Paiva Pathway. If you have a car and are used to narrow and curvy roads, you can drive there (compare car rental prices here). If not, your best bet is to join an organized tour, let somebody else worry about the administrative details for one day and just enjoy your day trip. One more thing! The Paiva Pathways is not difficult, but it is long. At the end of the day, you might be a bit too tired to want to drive back to Porto.
If you don’t have transport and don’t want to rent, there is a small group tour from Porto. This is also the tour that we took. The guide is exceptional. You’ll start the trail from Areihno, but skip the uphill stairs and he will pick you up at the other end or midway. As you’ll probably be pretty hungry, he’ll take you for a hearty traditional lunch and then to Aveiro to relax on a colorful moliceiro. I have to say the value we got for the money was pretty high in this case.
2. Check the opening times while planning a day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Pathways
The ticket for the bridge includes access to the pathway and is valid for one day. You can also purchase access only for the trail. However, the opening timeframe for the bridge and the path changes depending on the season:
- May to September: from 8:00 to 20:00 (last entry at 17:00) – still try not to do the trail between 12 and 15 as it can get really hot and there are parts of the path where there’s no shade
- November to March: from 9:00 to 17:00 (last entry at 14:00) – it might get pretty windy and snow is also possible
- April and October: from 9:00 to 19:00 (last entry at 16:00)
The best time of the year to walk the Paiva Boardwalk is during spring and autumn, when temperatures are more forgiving.
3. It can get crowded
On weekends, public holidays and summer time, this is one of the favorite places of the locals. You might want to avoid those days, in order to better enjoy the natural beauty of the place and its tranquility.
4. 516 Arouca Bridge is optional
The 516 Arouca Bridge is set next to the Areinho entrance of Paiva Walkways. It is not part of the path. It was an incredible experience, but if you’re afraid of heights, you can skip it. You can even buy tickets only for the path. (The entrance to the path is included in the one for the bridge. There’s no need to buy an additional ticket in this case.)
5. Buy your tickets in advance
The entrance to both Paiva Walkways and Arouca Bridge is limited to a specific number of people per day. For the track, the number of persons allowed is 2500 and you’ll probably be able to get a spot even last minute. This was not the case a few years ago, when it was first opened, but now it’s not that crowded anymore. However, Arouca Bridge is one of the newest attractions in Portugal and the longest suspended pedestrian bridge in Europe. It is very popular among locals and tourists and you should purchase your tickets online in advance. You can’t buy them anyway on site. Besides, the time of the visit also needs to be booked previously. Roughly every half an hour, only 70 people can cross the bridge, 35 from each end.
6. Make your backpack the night before going on a day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Pathways
In order to enjoy the day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Pathways, without regretting your choice while there or the following days, you should have an essential toolkit with you. Make sure it includes comfortable hiking shoes, sunscreen, sun hat, sunglasses, snacks, at least 1.5 liters of water and last, but not the least, trash bags. If it’s a very hot summer day, you might also want to have your swimming suit with you. In case you missed anything, there’s a small cabin selling drinks halfway, but this is all there is.
7. Consider your fitness level
The path is not difficult, but it’s pretty long. It takes around 2:30-3 hours each way. Also, there are several flights of stairs on the way (even if you somehow manage to skip the 400 steps at the beginning). I’d say it’s ok for somebody with a normal condition. After doing it one way, I wouldn’t have done it the other way round. Luckily for us, our guide was right there to pick us up and take us for a traditional lunch.
There was also an older man in the group with light mobility issues and he succeeded to do half of the path in around 2:30 hours. The guide knew about the issue from the beginning and picked him up from there. So this might be an option, if you’re not able to do the entire trail. If your mobility issues are serious or you’re in a wheelchair, you won’t be able to do the path. But you can still cross the bridge, which is allowed.
8. Decide if you’ll do the path one way or return
Paiva Pathways stretches for 8.5 km runs between Espiunca and Areinho. If you go by yourself, you’ll have to return to the car somehow. You can take a taxi (around 15 EUR) or return on foot. In this case, you’ll actually be walking 17 km. But you can stay all the day long and relax at one of the river beaches, like Praia Fluvial do Vau. The ticket is valid from sunrise to sunset.
9. Choose your starting point before you leave on your day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Pathways
You can start either from Areihno or Espiunca and both of them have parking lots. If you’re doing both Arouca Bridge and Paiva Walkways, I’d suggest starting from Areihno. This way, you won’t be on a rush to get on time for the bridge.
If you’re just doing the path, keep in mind that in Areihno, if you don’t have the luck of a knowledgeable guide, in order to access the bridge and the path, you’ll have to climb more than 400 steps. Our guide knew a place that was just 10 minutes away from the bridge where he could leave the car. So we got to the beginning of the path without being already tired. If you plan to do the trail just one way, you might want to start from Espiunca and climb the flight of stairs at the beginning instead of climbing them right at the end, when you’re already tored. If you plan do go both ways, I’d start from Espiunca and go only up to the bridge, without descending the last segment. Arouca bridge is at the Areinho end.
10. Paiva Boardwalk and Arouca Bridge are part of UNESCO Arouca Geopark
Like anywhere in the middle of nature, but even more in a protected area, do not damage nature, take your garbage with you until you get to the first bin and do not collect small souvenirs, like endemic plants or rock samples.
11. Children under 6 years old are not permitted on the bridge
12. Entry is forbidden to animals, bicycles, prams and any kind of motor vechicles
13. You can’t cancel without a penalty, but you can rebook your tickets
In case you find out the weather will not be your friend on the chosen date or there’s any other reason, you are allowed to rebook for another date until 2 days before. Cancellations are also accepted up to 48 hours in advance, but there’s a 50% penalty.
14. It can get very slippery
Especially after a rainy day or when the air is humid, it can get slippery. We were there on a beautiful October day, but the previous days were not so nice. The wooden path was wet and at times very slippery. A girl fell pretty badly and I had to pay more attention in some parts. A good pair of hiking shoes come in handy.
15. There are emergency phones along the way
If you slip or feel unwell, you can get help. But I do hope this won’t be the case.
Guided day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Walkways
I loved this day trip as it combines hiking with some unique sights, good food and the countryside. For me was the perfect mix. However, I am glad we chose a guided trip and we still think this was the best for us. If we counted the cost of renting a car, insurance, entrance, taxi from the other end of the path and lunch, we got almost at the same amount. When we saw that there was a day trip that combined Arouca with a tour of Aveiro, including a ride on a moliceiro, we just decided instantly. On paper this was great value for money. And this time also in reality.
When we tried to book the tour, there weren’t two spots on any of the ten days we were planning to stay in Porto. So I wrote to the guide asking if there was any option to do it and he agreed to give up on one of his free days and do the tour. Do I still need to say that in just a few days the other spots were also occupied? Norberto was simply great from start to end. He picked us up right in front of our accommodation. The group was small, just 6 people besides us. He was very friendly, knowledgeable and gave us a lot of tips. Everything was taken care of by him and we didn’t have to worry about anything.
How our day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Walkways went in a few words
Norberto drove us on winding roads and through traditional villages for a little over an hour, until we got to the bridge. There, we didn’t have to climb the first enormous flight of stairs as he knew a shortcut. We crossed the bridge and walked along the beautiful path at our own pace. Two persons in the group were picked up at the middle of the path, close to the Vau beach. At the end of the path, he was there to pick up the rest of us and take us to restore our energy with a delicious lunch and glass of wine. Both the food (veal roasted in clay pots, fish or vegetarian) and the view were simply wonderful, the restaurant being set in a slate stone village.
After that the day continued with a pleasant walk around Aveiro, some shopping time and a ride on a moliceiro. We were also given sweet eggs to taste. Next, Norberto took us to Costa Nova and told us the stories behind the colorful striped wooden cottages. At the end, on our request, he dropped us close to Jardim do Morro in Porto, our favorite place to see the sunset in the city. The perfect end to a perfect day.
It was our choice to take a guided tour and if you prefer to go independently, this guide provides enough information to do so, but if I were to go a second time, I’d still choose Norberto’s tour. He was the best guide we had while in Portugal. He is also a traveler himself, having travelled for almost a year around Africa.
Day trip from Porto to Arouca Bridge and Paiva Walkways: Do it or not?
If you’ve read this long article, you probably already know the answer to this question. This was a 5-star trip and I’d recommend it to anyone as a day trip from Porto. It included some Portuguese unique sights, culture, nature, modern and traditional architecture. If you’re looking for a place to take a break from the big city and enjoy some great views, look no more! A day trip from Porto to 516 Arouca suspension bridge and Paiva Walkways in an unforgettable experience.
No time? Pin this post for later!
Travel With A Spin contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for reading!