Located on the Atlantic coast in the north of the country, Porto is Portugal’s second largest city. Just 2 hours by plane from Luton and in the same time zone, Porto is the ideal destination for a short low cost winter break.
Chris and I had 3 days to explore the steep narrow cobbled streets of what is also Portugals oldest city and this included a day at the beachside suburb of Foz do Douro.
The Douro River splits the city in half with buildings towering above its steep sides. Six bridges cross the river and dominating the landscape is the Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge.
You can cross the bridge by foot on both the top and the lower levels. Trams and pedestrians cross along the top and cars and pedestrians cross along the bottom. The top enables tremendous views of the city, especially at sunset.
The Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river is lined with port wine lodges, bars and cafes and from here for around 15 euros each you can board a boat trip from where you can admire the views from the river.
Porto is famous its port wine and the Vila Nova de Gaia District has many port wine lodges where you can take a cellar tour of famous brands such as Cockburn, Taylors and Sandeman. Alternatively you can sit outside and enjoy a glass of port or two for around 3 or 4 euros.
A typical Porto lunch of freshly grilled sardines and a glass of port!
Street art (above) found in the Vila Nova de Gaia district. The rabbit on the right is 3D art, made with bits of old recycled car parts! Apparently it can also be seen from the gondola above which takes you on a ride high above the roof tops.
Back over the river (via the lower level of the Dom Luis bridge) is the lively Ribeira district lined with outside cafes and street entertainers. With its tall colourful 18th century townhouses this area is full of charm and character.
Venturing into the old Mediaeval city we came across delightful squares with stalls selling vintage goods including collections of vinyl records.
The Livraria Lello is a bookshop once frequented by Harry Potter author JK Rowling. JK Rowling lived in Porto in the early 1990’s and its thought the elaborate interior inspired her Harry Potter novels. We didn’t get to see the interior as there was a massive queue just to enter the bookshop. No thanks! We just appreciated it from the outside and continued exploring…
Porto is also famous for tiles with many buildings having elaborate tile decorations. With approximately 20,000 tiles one of the best places to see them is the main central station at Sao Bento.
Jardim do Palácio de Cristal is free to visit and with its well cared for gardens and peacocks wandering around it’s worth popping into if you’re passing.
Not so much worth a visit is the Botanical gardens. These were also free but a bit ‘tatty’ and in our view not worth an extra effort to get there.
With its huge stock of antiques the Armazem vintage shop is interesting to visit. Bursting at the seams with ancient suit cases, books, retro furniture and even a Chopper bike you can have a rummage and also relax in the bar and cafe of this old converted warehouse.
The Casa Da Musica (House of Music) is located in the Boavista district. This modern cultural centre was built in 2005 and this is where you might be able to watch a concert or take a tour.
Our hotel was located along Boavista about half way between the heart of the Old City of Porto and the coast. One day we walked the nearly 3 miles from the hotel to the sea taking a detour through the expansive Parque da Cidade, the largest park in Porto.
Upon reaching the coast, near to the Sea Life Centre we had a look around the Fort de Sao Francisco Xavier which was built in 1661.
You can follow an attractive coastal path south towards the town of Foz or you can walk along the beach if you prefer. There are several bars and cafes overlooking the huge breaking waves which are really pleasant in the sun while you enjoy a glass of sangria.
Foz do Douro is located at the point where the River Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean, about 5 miles from centre of Porto. You can take a historic tram if you don’t wish to walk.
We walked up to the lighthouse at Foz where from behind the safety of a solid brick wall you can get up close to the huge swirl and crashing waves. This area is sometimes closed especially during a storm when the waves whip up right over the lighthouse!
In a rather more calm and serene setting, in the afternoon we made our way back towards our hotel following the river, again along a pleasant walkway.
Compared with many cities Porto has decent accommodation available for a reasonable cost. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza located along Boavista in the business district about halfway between the Old Town and the beaches of Foz. This was fine for us as we were happy to walk to and from both. We walked around 9 – 10 miles on each of the 3 days we were there.
We would highly recommend the Mendi Indian restaurant which is next door to the Crowne Plaza. Not the cheapest however we enjoyed one of our best ever Indian meals.
The Crowne Plaza wouldn’t be ideal if you don’t like walking too far and would prefer to be in the heart of the action. In this case it would be best to stay either in the Old Town or in Foz and take the historic tram or a bus between the two.
Porto has a metro system which is also connected to the airport a few miles to the north of the city. We brought a metro card from the tourist office when we arrived at the airport and took the metro into the city. We didn’t use it after that, as mentioned we walked everywhere! The taxi back from the hotel to the airport was 18 euros.
Great to visit a city where you can soak up the culture and history of the Old Town and also visit the gorgeous beaches and wild coastline a short distance away. While you can’t guarantee the sunshine Porto will almost certainly be a few degrees warmer so travelling in February offers a fab little break from the UK’s cold and dreary winter.