A UNESCO World Heritage site, full of colourful buildings, delightful streets, with a great food and wine scene. Choose Porto for your next city break.
Not only is Porto visually beautiful and excellent value for money, but it also easy to get to, a pleasant 2 hour 20 minute flight from Dublin with Ryanair. Considering Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, it is surprisingly underrated. It was voted Best European Destination this year, but not many people seem to know that. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing. I’m sure once the word gets out, it will no longer be €2.50 for a glass of wine along the Ribeira (Porto’s equivalent to Venice’s St Mark’s Square). Although there are many magnificent churches and landmarks to see, what I loved most about Porto was wandering around it’s dreamy streets. ❤️
Porto’s colourful buildings:
On our first morning we woke to blue skies and warm sunshine – the perfect combination to really appreciate this colourful city. The first thing that stuck me was how compact the city was and within minutes we were crossing the famous Dom Luis bridge. This offers the picture postcard view of the Ribeira, the colourful riverside promenade in Porto, which is packed with shops, bars and restaurants. We found ourselves stopping constantly to take photos, each one better than the next. We were lucky to have blue skies to help us but I do believe it must be impossible to take a bad photograph of this view!
While the Ribeira district has an endless display of colourful buildings, these can also be found throughout the city. Many buildings are covered in vibrant azulejos (hand-painted tiles) which make the buildings seem more dramatic. Even the metro stations have walls covered in tiles! Many of Porto’s famous churches, the Saõ Francisco, Saint Illdefonso and Capela Das Almas have blue azulejos, I was in Instagram heaven!
Porto’s must sees:
When we crossed the Dom Luis bridge we arrived in the pretty town of Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite side of the Douro river. An array of Portuguese restaurants greeted us, as well a wide selection of port cellars offering tastings. If you want to try some Port, this is the place to do it! Guia is also the best place to take a short cable car ride and a river cruise along the Douro river. If the weather is good, the boat trip is a nice way to chill out for an hour, but you can get similar views from the shore. We spent a full morning in Guia before walking back across the bridge to Porto.
The Sé Cathedral is located in the heart of the old town and is definitely worth a visit. Construction started in the 12th century but it wasn’t finished until 1737, which results in many different types of architecture coming together. The stunning Saõ Francisco church was one of my personal favourites. Don’t be put off by the mundane exterior, once you step inside, you find a lavish interior that is completely covered in gold. We were not allowed to take photographs inside but you will have to trust me, don’t miss it! Not only is the church itself magnificent but the catacombs in the basement are worth exploring too.
Another highlight for me was climbing the Clérigos Tower, one of Portugal’s tallest towers. We did have to wait in line for 45 minutes, but the view from the top was worth it. It has a narrow spiral staircase, that felt a little claustrophobic, but the climb itself isn’t too taxing. There are also lots of openings in the wall on the way to the top, which show off the red roofs of Porto in the optimum way.
After visiting most of the highlights on our first day, we chose to relax on day two and just enjoy the city. We took one of the old trams, which turned out to be a great idea, as we found places we missed on our walk the previous day. We stopped at the famous Lello Bookshop, considered by many as the most beautiful bookshop in the world. It is here that JK Rowling got the inspiration for Hogwarts, while she was living in Porto. Despite the €4 entrance fee (you can offset this against a book if you buy one) there was a large queue outside. We also wandered down Rua das Flores which is one of Porto’s prettiest streets. Filled with souvenir shops and quaint cafés, this tall, narrow street is another place to admire Porto’s beautiful architecture. We enjoyed watching the street artists perform and stopped for a bite of lunch on it’s busy square.
Shoppers will love the main street Rua Santa Caterina which is full of famous high street stores, with prices at least 20% less than at home. If you fancy a coffee after a few hours at the shops, check out Café Majestic, Porto’s oldest and most famous coffee shop. It is a landmark and is also considered one of Europe’s top historical coffeehouses. Note it closes on Sunday.
After visiting three churches, a cathedral and walking the length and breadth of Porto, we decided we better do something a bit more child friendly! We opted for the interactive Museum of Discoveries. I had read great reviews on tripadvisor so in we went. We met the most enthusiastic host who was dressed as Vasco de Gamma, who duly showed us the highlights. The kids learned all about the places Portugal discovered and were genuinely amazed at the history. The museum also has a boat trip inside, similar to a theme park ride (although very slow!) which Luke (10) and Alex (7) enjoyed, but it is probably more suited to younger kids.
Sadly we didnt have time to visit the beach town of Matosinhos, which is only 15 minutes drive from Porto. I am told the seafood is incredible and unbelievably cheap! I also found myself wishing I had another day so I could take the daytrip to the Douro Valley to see the winelands – I guess I’ll just have to come back to do this another time !
TOP TIP: Porto is quite hilly with lots of steps, make sure you wear appropriate footwear. If you find the steps too much, don’t panic, just hail a tuktuk or taxi back to your hotel, it will only cost a few euros.
Porto: The Foodie City:
Our flight arrived in the evening time so after a quick check-in we opted to dine somewhere close to our hotel. The concierge recommended La Ricotta a Portuguese restaurant with an Italian influence. What an incredible first impression! The food and the service were superb. My prawn risotto was delicious and included one of the largest prawns I have ever seen! The kids were delighted with their pasta and overall it was a fantastic gastronomic experience.
Porto is a renowned ‘foodie’ city, with a wide array of Portuguese fish restaurants, tapas bars as well as some fine dining options including four restaurants with michelin stars. The value is hard to beat. Every meal we had was excellent with prices to match. A glass of wine is €2.50 and you can get a set dinner menu for €10. I did try their famous Francesinha (little Frenchie). This is a sandwich of fillet steak, chorizo and ham covered with cheese and a spicy sauce, and served with chips. For me it was something that I would fancy at 3am after a night out, rather than over lunch, but each to their own! What I loved about dining in Porto was the variety on offer. As well as top class food at low prices, there is a great choice of dining options to choose from. There are modern brasseries as well as family style Portuguese restaurants. The al fresco eateries in the Ribeira offer stunning sunset views along the Duoro River.
One of our favourite meals was in a small tapas bar, Tababento. This was recommended to me by a few people and has rave reviews on tripadvisor. However when we arrived we were a little taken aback. The location (beside the train station), the exterior and even the interior, weren’t exactly inviting! Once we sat down, everything changed. The service and the food were absolutely impeccable! Everything we had was delicious but the fois gras toastie (€13) and the wild tuna tataki (€12) stole the show! For anyone visiting Porto – you must go here!
TOP TIP: We tried to go to Tapabento for the first two nights of our trip and it was fully booked. In fact many restaurants we tried were full, so I would recommend pre booking any recommended restaurants before you go.
Where to stay:
We stayed in the NH Collection Porto Batalha hotel, an excellent four star hotel that was once an 18th century palace! Although quite modern, thankfully it has managed to keep some of the old world charm. Complete with a stunning red painted facade and stone walls in the lobby, it is a beautiful hotel. There is a small indoor pool and a spa offering a wide selection of treatments. Rooms are modern and spacious and if possible, try to get a room on the 4th floor which offer city views from the balcony. Read my review on the NH Collection Porto Batalha here.
TOP TIP: If bringing kids on a city break, try to book a hotel with a pool. It is a nice reward for kids at the end of a long day sightseeing.
Of all the city breaks I have taken in the last few years, Porto has surprised me the most. Choose Porto for your next city break and fall in love with this colourful city and its mouthwatering cuisine!