Back in November 2016, Mr Fletche and I spent our November wedding anniversary in slightly more southern climes than usual, exploring the city of Porto. You can read more about our day to day activities here but here’s A Brummie Home and Abroad’s itinerary for the perfect 48 hours in Porto.
Churches, avenues and hills
Once you’ve had a hearty breakfast – in our case champagne-fuelled at the Hotel Teatro – it’s time to burn off some of those calories and create buns of steel by traversing some of Porto’s famous hills. Hopefully you’ll be so in awe of the fantastic architecture that you won’t notice the stairmaster-like workout. If you haven’t had breakfast – champagne-fuelled or otherwise – you could start your morning at Majestic Cafe, a 1920s cafe regularly voted as one of the most beautiful in the world.
From Majestic Cafe, you are spoilt for choice for beautiful churches covered in amazing blue and white azulejo tilework. Exit and turn left to the 18th century Igreja de Santo Ildefonso at Batalha, or turn right to the stunning Capela das Almas whose facade depicts cheery scenes such as the death of St Francis of Assisi. From here it’s a stroll to Câmara Municipal do Porto – Porto’s impressive City Hall – and to Avenida dos Aliados, a wide tree-lined boulevard which ends in Praça da Liberdade (which is probably where you will convene for any walking or hop-on-hop-off tours).
It’s time to start walking downhill now via São Bento railway station to check out the intricate tile displays depicting notable events in Portugal’s history including the Battle of Valdevez (1140) and Conquest of Ceuta (1415). You can then either take the steps down from Rua do Miradouro, or (if those thighs are starting to burn) take the funicular from near Batalha down to Avenue Gustavo Eiffel for €2.50.
Riverside and on the water
Congratulations, you made it down those hills! You can look up now from Ribeira to the colourful buildings seemingly teetering over the quayside. Have a drink at one of the riverside bars, or a spot of lunch – it’s a good time to try Porto’s signature Francesinha – meat, cheese and a beer-based sauce.
After lunch, how about a boat trip? We took the Six Bridges cruise, which is a great opportunity to get gorgeous views of both Porto and Gaia on the other side of the Douro, and to hear the stories of the (yes, there are six) bridges which span the river. Tickets can be booked online – just Google “Porto Six Bridges Cruise” or bought onsite; typical costs are around €13 for an hour’s trip.
Vila Nova de Gaia
It time to cross one of those bridges you’ve just sailed under – the famous Luis I Bridge. The bridge was originally named Dom Luis I Bridge after the then king; however when he failed to turn up when it was inaugurated in his honour, locals dropped the “Dom”. The bridge can be crossed on either a lower or upper level, but if you’re on the waterfront it makes sense to cross at the lower level to Vila Nova de Gaia.
Gaia is best known as home to numerous port wine producers and tasting rooms. I suggest you hold off on your official tasting til Day 2 but there’s no reason you can’t have a cheeky sample of the goods on offer from one of the waterfront terrace bars – we chose Sandeman but there are plenty of other places available. You can find out more about the guided tours later on!
It’s a lovely stroll along the bustling riverside and from here you get fantastic views of Porto on the opposite bank. And if you’re wondering the best way to get to the upper level of the Luis I Bridge from here then it’s time for a trip on the Teleférico de Gaia cable car (€6) where you get a birds eye view of the wine lodges and the rooftop bars, and all the way out to the ocean.
Nightlife in Porto
Porto’s not particularly famed for it’s nightlife – and it was particularly quiet when we visited at the end of November – but Praca da Ribeira and Rua de Santa Catarina both have a busy strip of cafés and bars. There are small no frills bars all around the old town if you know where to look for them (mainly in the Sé district near the cathedral), some which have breathtaking views over the Luis I Bridge and the Douro river – look out for Guindalense in particular.
This fabulous map was put together by the folk at Portoalities and I wish we’d had this before we went!
Beautiful bookshops and tower-climbing
Bom Dia! It’s time to do a bit of shopping, and where better to start then the bookstore that is rumoured to have inspired JK Rowling? Livrario Lello has a stunning art nouveau interior with a beautiful sweeping staircase; cameras are meant to be prohibited but this doesn’t stop hundreds of tourists trying to get a selfie or posed picture or ten on the carpeted stairs. It’s no wonder that there is a small admission fee to enter (redeemable against any purchase) and it is absolutely recommended to go first thing in the morning so you can actually get to enjoy browsing the books and souvenirs themselves rather than shuffling through with the crowds.
Whilst you’re in the area – and if you haven’t had enough of a workout already climbing up and down Porto’s hills – you can ascend the 240 steps of Torre dos Clérigos for views over the old town and the river Douro.
Lets go to the beach!
Take a stroll down to the Miradouro da Vitoria viewpoint for more picturesque views of the town and river below, and then continue down towards Palácio da Bolsa, the Porto Stock Exchange. In front of the gothic Igreja de São Francisco on Rua Infante Don Henrique are the tram stops to Foz, a Porto suburb where the river Douro meets the Atlantic ocean. It’s a 20 minute ride on a classic (slightly boneshaking) tram to Passeio Alegre, from where you can walk the length of the 3km promenade to Castelo do Queijo – Castle of the Cheese. Buses pick up from both ends of the promenade, or it’s a lengthy walk back down to the tram stop.
If you fancy even more beach, you can take the train from São Bento to Espinho, a seaside town 25km south of Porto.
Sampling the port on a wine cellar tour
You can’t come to Porto and not sample the local speciality port wine. It’s difficult to avoid in the bars and restaurants, but it’s definitely recommended to take a tour and find out about the stuff you’re drinking. There are familiar names such as Taylors, Grahams and Sandemans, as well as smaller lodges, and most of the wine cellars are located over in Vila Nova de Gaia. Some are up in the hillsides, with terraces overlooking Porto, others – like the aforementioned Sandemans – are riverside (handy if you’ve had enough of hills by this point)
A tour will typically take you through the dark, cool cellars, whilst a guide explains about the careful processes which ensure that the wines age slowly and acquire their distinctive taste. The differences between tawny, rubys and vintage will be explained before you are spat out in a tasting area where you get the opportunity to sniff, swirl and finally swallow your port samples. Of course, there will be ample opportunity to purchase bottles of too; we come out of Sandeman happily swinging a yellow bottle bag bearing the shady-looking Sandeman character and containing a 10 year old tawny (that we quite possibly could have purchased cheaper elsewhere).
Tours with Grahams and Taylors should be pre-booked where possible; we were able to walk in and join the next tour at Sandeman for €12.00pp.
Eating and Drinking in Porto
There’s more to Porto than port of course. There are the pastéis de natas, the francesinha, the bifanas and the beloved bacalhau – the dried and salted cod that appears on every menu in Porto. Porto is unsurprisingly rich in seafood, and is also home to the “piri piri” sauce – familiar to Nandos fans as peri-peri sauce. It also uses a lot of offal in cooking, a throwback from when good cuts of meat were exported, leaving just the cheaper cuts for the locals.
During our three days in Porto we ate at Casa Santo Antonio (petiscaria – Portugese tapas, they keep serving til you tell them to stop), Chez Lapin (riverside, touristy, inexpensive and decent Portugese fare), BH Foz (oceanfront, Mediterranean and sushi dishes, nice terrace), and Bacalhau (many different kinds of codfish). The petiscos at Casa Santo Antonio was definitely my favourite meal of our trip.
Flights: We flew from Bristol to Porto with Easyjet. Ryanair, British Airways and TAP Air Portugal all also fly direct from the UK. Our flights cost around £73 per person including all surcharges and one checked bag (all prices November 2016)
Accommodation: We stayed at the 4-star Hotel Teatro on Rua Sá da Bandeira, close to São Bento train station, Avenida doe Aliados and Mercado do Bolhão. Our nearest metro stop was Bolhão. We booked through Expedia – gaining cashback via Quidco – and for three nights bed and breakfast we paid £242. There are also plenty of AirBnB rentals in Porto – if you’re interested in trying out AirBnB in 2018, use this link and you can get money off your first booking!
Travelling around Porto: Porto is a relatively small city, with most of the major sights within walking distance of each other. We opted for a Hop-on, Hop-Off 48 hour ticket on the Blue Line, which allowed us to take a 2 hour audio tour around the city, and also utilise the bus whenever we had enough of the hills. Our only complaint is that the last tour is around 18:45 – meaning you still have to walk in the evening! Our 48 hour pass cost around €17.00pp and was well worth the money.
If you choose to use the public transport you will need to purchase a blue Andante card (€0.60) from a ticket machine or vendor which can then be used to load and re-load pre-paid journeys. A 2-zone day pass – which will cover the whole of the central area – is €4,15. This will cover the metro and buses.
The metro covers most of the city, and is mostly overground; there are six lines – A-F, all handily different coloured on the map. The ticket machines are simple to use, and announcements and signs are all in English as well as Portugese. Trains can be used to reach the outer suburbs of Porto, fares are inexpensive and tourist passes are also available if you’re planning on making multiple trips.
There are three historic tram lines running throughout Porto, including the Route 1 tram that we took to Foz. You can use your Andante card, or pay €3,00 on board
How to get from Porto airport into the city: There is dedicated metro line which serves Porto airport, calling at 21 stops before terminating at Estádio do Dragão in around 35 minutes. A reloadable Andante card can be purchased from ticket machines, the cost for a single journey from the airport to the city centre is €1.85 plus €0.60 for the card. We found there were plenty of staff around to help people use the machines.
When to visit Porto: We visited in November – because that’s when our wedding anniversary is – and the good news is that flights are relatively cheap around this time! We had one cooler day with a bit of drizzle – and then a lovely sunny day where we sat drinking beer by the beach on an outdoor terrace! Porto is a year-round destination but the weather can be a little unpredictable. It’s near the Atlantic so its never quite as warm as the Meditteranean resorts, but never freezing either.
So these are my hints and tips for spending 48 hours in Porto, Have you been to Porto? How does it compare to Lisbon – still on my travel wishlist? Do you have any more ideas or suggestions for future trips – leave them in the comments below!