I love nothing better than taking a couple of days out to explore one of Europe’s beautiful cities. Last summer I enjoyed my first city break to Portugal; I spent an amazing few days in the capital city, Lisbon. From getting lost in the picturesque district of Alfama, to sampling some local cuisine in Bairro Alto, to just relaxing with an ice cold drink at one of the cities many miradouros whilst taking in the breath-taking views. I had enjoyed Lisbon so much that after only being home a matter of days, I had already booked another trip to Portugal, but this time to the city of Porto. Porto is located on the banks of the River Douro, to the north of the country, and is most famous for being the home of Port.
Getting to Porto
Living in West Sussex on the south coast spoils me for choice when it comes to airports. With many airports very close to my home, including Gatwick and Heathrow, it’s not hard to find suitable flights to almost anywhere. British Airways flies to Porto a couple of times a week from Heathrow, but only during the summer months. As I had planned my trip during the winter, I flew with easyJet as they have a daily service to Porto from Gatwick, operating all year round.
Somewhere to stay
I had booked to stay at the Carrís Porto Ribeira Hotel. The Carrís Porto Ribeira is located in the old quarter of Porto, just a stone’s throw away from Ribeira Square and the river. The hotel has been recently renovated and comprises of five old buildings. This collection of historic buildings has been renovated in quite a modern way by adding glass and metal walkways, and yet retaining many of the original features and stone walls, and this creates a beautiful contrast and some interesting seating areas in the reception.
Again, the rooms have been modernised in a similar way, leaving as many original features as possible and adding contrasting modern touches here and there. As it was going to be my birthday while I was in Porto I treated myself to one of their suites. My suite was laid out over two floors, with a lounge area on the lower level, and a large balcony that had some beautiful city views. A contemporary steel staircase led to a bright and airy bedroom and bathroom on the upper floor. From the bedroom I had a stunning view over this vibrant district of Porto, as well as the over the river and the many Port lodges located in the Gaia district of this city.
If breakfast is included in my room rate I generally will eat breakfast in the hotel, mainly for convenience. My room rate at the Carrís Porto Ribeira Hotel included breakfast, and their offering was extremely good. Ranging from a full cooked breakfast, to pastries, fruit, cereal and a large selection of cold meats and cheese. To drink there was a generous selection of fresh juices and teas, as well as filter coffee. If you fancied something else you could also order a latte, cappuccino or espresso. Although I didn’t have an evening meal in the hotel restaurant, I did order room service on the first evening. I enjoyed a beautifully cooked veal steak, served with bok choy and melted cheese in filo pastry parcels. An unusual combination, but one that worked perfectly. All in all, I have to say it was one of the best room service meals that I have had to date.
My top must-do things while you are in Porto
Take a walk along the River Douro and relax in the sun with a Super Bock
I landed in Porto just after midday and after a short taxi ride to the hotel I decided to go and explore Porto. The Carrís Porto Ribeira Hotel is located just two minutes from the River Douro and nothing will get you in the ‘holiday mood’ quicker than an early afternoon stroll along Ribeira Quay. From Ribeira Quay you have some beautiful views over the river, over the many Port lodges that are located on the other side, as well as the stunning metal arched Luiz I Bridge. The Luiz I Bridge was built in the late 1800s and designed by Téophile Seyrig, who co-designed the nearby D. Maria Pia Bridge with Gustave Eiffel.
Even though it was January I enjoyed the warm rays from the sun beating down on me, and what could be better than a brief stop at one of the many cafes and restaurants along the water’s edge to enjoy a chilled refreshing Super Bock. Super Bock is a Portuguese beer produced in nearby Leça do Balio. As well as the many cafes and restaurants along the water’s edge, you will also find many market stalls selling various types of souvenirs and arts and crafts. I came across some beautiful paintings on one stall, one of which I simply had to have, and also some interesting products made from cork, including wallets!
It goes without saying that when you visit Porto at least one Port tasting should be at the top of everyone’s list. Well-known names such as Taylor’s, Warre’s, Dow’s, Cockburn’s and Graham’s and some of the lesser-known brands like Sandeman, Ramos-Pinto, Calem and Quevedo, all offer tastings at their lodges, which are located in the Gaia district of the city. To read about my afternoon of Port tasting click HERE.
Ride the Funicular Railway
The Funicular dos Guindais runs down a steep cliff from the Batalha district of the city, to Ribeira Quay, terminating by the Dom Luís I Bridge. The Funicular railway has a single track with a passing point halfway along the track. The length of the track is 922 feet and descends from a height of 200 feet. The lower part of the track has a much steeper gradient than the upper section, and to cope with this each of the two cars that run along the tracks are self-levelling to keep the floor horizontal at all times. The upper section of the track runs through a tunnel until it arrives in the upper station.
Each car can accommodate 25 passengers, and by travelling at 5m/s makes the trip a mere 3 minutes. A one-way trip cost just 2.50€ and is definitely worth it for the spectacular views over the intricate architectural design of the Dom Luís I Bridge as well as the river and the Port lodges of Gaia.
Take the river cruise to see the six bridges of Porto
River cruises can be booked from many tourist information offices and from some of the city’s bigger hotels, or from the ticket vendors that are located on the river bank at Ribeira Quay. The six bridges cruise lasts 50 minutes, costs 12.50€ pp and runs every 30 minutes. Dinner and lunch cruises can also be booked if you wish.
You will board a traditional Rabelo and first head inland. You will not only get breath-taking views of D. Luís I Bridge, Infante Bridge, D. Maria Pia Bridge, S. João Bridge, Freixo Bridge and Arrábida Bridge, which are the six bridges connecting Porto to Gaia, but you will also pass some of Porto’s famous attractions such as the Monastery Serra do Pilar, the Port lodges of Gaia and some absolutely stunning views of Ribeira Quay.
Try some local food
I’m not one for visiting somewhere new and eating in places that I could eat in at home or ordering ‘safe options’. When I’m away from home, part of the fun of travelling for me is to sample new things. Most destinations will have a speciality dish or a type of food for which they will be known for, not trying any of these during a visit would be a crime.
Porto is famous for a sandwich called a Francesinha. In the 1960s the Francesinha was invented by Daniel da Silva. After returning from France, he wanted to create a Portuguese take on a ‘croque-monsieur’, and so ‘Little Frenchie’ or Francesinha was born. The sandwich is made up from two slices of bread filled with ham, sausage, steak and roast meats, all of which is then covered in melted cheese and served in a hot tomato and beer sauce. Perfect for lunch and best accompanied with French fries and a beer.
Porto, and Portugal in general, is famous for its fresh fish in particular its sardines. The best way to enjoy them is grilled and served on a bed of salad; many restaurants will also serve boiled potatoes with them. These can be enjoyed as a light lunch or even as a starter. Either way, they should be at the top of your list to try!
Pastel de Nata is a Portuguese egg tart that can be found all over Portugal and now even in countries with Portuguese influence. These are best served straight from the oven, dusted with either sugar or cinnamon, and to be enjoyed with an espresso.
I hope my top things to do in Porto have inspired you to make a visit, I know I will be returning as soon as possible, not only to sample some more Port, but to explore more of this fabulous Portuguese city.