Never lose your welcoming charm.
When planning our Portuguese road trip, Porto was always at the top of our list. We’d visited Lisbon as a mini-break last year and immediately knew Porto was a must.
A former colleague of mine, who has a Portuguese husband, had stayed in Porto on many occasions & really couldn’t believe that Gary and I hadn’t previously visited, knowing the type of cultural breaks we enjoy. So, armed with her advice, we were off to discover Porto.
There is so much to see & do in Porto, where shall we start?
Like most ancient cities, the best way to find all those little gems of everyday life is to take a stroll around.
The Portuguese architecture is so appealing, little wrought iron balconies clinging to the side of colourful tiled homes. And ladies peering out from their windows, chatting over their washing, hanging between them.
Porto feels like a very proud city and loved by its locals.
We found that a good place to start was at Praça da Liberdade, this is a lovely bustling square where friends and families congregate, and it’s surrounded by some very elegant buildings.
A reference guide
Our recent new found love is Portugal, it is such a beautiful country. While planning our trip, I used the DK Eyewitness books. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our north to south Portuguese road trip, now you can grab the revised copy.
A short wander from the square, and you’ll notice Porto’s São Bento train station, even if you’re not catching a train poke your nose into the entrance hall and take a look at the wonderful azulejo.
The tiles are amazing and depict some of Portugal’s historical past.
Make the climb
One of Porto’s most important buildings and one of its oldest, is Sé do Porto. The Romanesque cathedral was completed in 1737 and sits high above the city.
Within the cathedral is a peaceful Gothic cloister, which if you climb above and wander around the top you’ll see the blue & white Baroque azulejos, which were added from 1729 -1731.
We saved money here by using the Porto Card.
Take ‘em to the bridge
One of the most iconic views in Porto must be the Dom Luís I Bridge. The double deck iron bridge spans high above the Douro River, and it’s a fantastic sight.
Built in five years between 1881 & 1886, the top level is now used by metro trams and pedestrians, and the lower level is used by general traffic and pedestrians.
You must take a walk across to the Gaia side of the river, to appreciate the impressive view back over Porto.
Just that little bit more of a climb & you’ll reach the former Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, which was built in the 16th century and forms part of Porto’s UNESCO site.
From this viewpoint, you’ll also grab a shot of Dom Luís I Bridge, from a different angle.
Now you’ll definitely want to stay on the Gaia side of the Douro & head down to the river edge below. However, do you stroll down or take the Gaia cable car which opened in 2011….mmmm, well we actually did both. (there’s a saving with your Porto Card).
The cable car gives you a great view across the Douro, while slowly crossing the red rooftops of the Port cellars below.
Once at the bottom jump off and take a stroll along the shores of the Douro and see the lovely Rabelo boats.
These flat-bottomed wooden boats are so synonymous with Porto. They were used to transport Port Wine, from the Douro Valley vineyards into Porto. This type of cargo boat is unique to the Douro region.
So, which Port house do you choose to take a tour in?
Don’t rush, sit back, relax & sample a few tipples. We had a little taster of five Ports with Quinta do Noval.
We had a stroll a bit further along and considered Taylor’s, Ferreira, Dow & Graham’s however, we decided to take a cellar tour with Sandeman.
You have the option of different types of tours, although the Classic Tour was the only one available that afternoon. It lasts about 1 hour and includes a guided tour through the cellar, a movie on the background of Sandeman & a couple of Ports to enjoy at the end.
We saved 30% each off the tour price by using the Porto Card (percentage varies seasonally)
A little detour
It had to be done
To return back to the Porto side of the river we chose the more sedate option of the Douro River Taxi (and to save my legs) it costs €3 for an adult single ticket.
A wander along the Ribeira is a must, even though at times it may be busy there is a bustling, friendly atmosphere day and night.
Just a façade
There are some beautifully ornate churches around Porto; it’s amazing, and that’s just the décor on the outside.
Head to Praça de Gomes Teixeira to see Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas, two churches built next to each other one for nuns and one for monks. All that separates them is a 1 metre wide house.
Here are just a few to spot on your wanderings.
Have a rest
If you fancy taking the weight off your feet jump on one of Porto’s Heritage Trams. Route 22 is a circular route and takes you through some of Porto’s popular spots.
Or if a little bit of elegance is the order of the day, head to the Majestic café, full of Art Nouveau character and charm.
All around Porto are some incredible styles of different architecture, Gary & I particularly love the Art Nouveau & Art Deco eras, and Porto isn’t short on examples of these.
Where we ate
We had a couple of food recommendations from a friend of mine, luckily, she knew we weren’t vegetarian.
The first dish she said we should try is the dish native to Porto, and that’s the Francesinha, this is certainly not a dish to choose if you just want a light snack.
It’s fundamentally a sandwich, however, inside is ham, smoked sausage, regular sausage, steak, cheese then a tomato & beer sauce. If you’re feeling hungry, you can also add an egg (we didn’t)
My friend’s Portuguese husband said Café Santiago serves the best in town.
The second dish recommended to us was suckling pig, not obviously to everyone’s liking, but we certainly enjoyed it, along with a glass or two of vinho verde.
The restaurant to find this dish was at Casa Ribeiro.
Where we stayed
Our accommodation for the three nights we were in Porto, was in an apartment named ‘Bragas Cozy Apartment’. Only about a 10-minute walk to the town, it had all your essential facilities and also its own underground parking space.
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Inspired to visit Porto?
Explore the streets of Porto or while away some time enjoying a glass of Port by the Douro River. Porto has so much to offer.
For further information on things to see and do in Northern Portugal, take a browse around Visit Porto & The North local tourist website.
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