Porto, located in northwest Portugal along the Douro River is an absolute must visit if you are planning a trip to Portugal. Famous for it's port wines, colorful red tiled buildings lining the hillsides along the Duoro River, beautiful bridges and it's charming medieval cobblestone streets - this city is a pure delight to explore! Once a hidden gem, this booming city has become a hot spot of European tourism and it's easy to see why! After spending a few days exploring this wonderful city, we fell in love with this region of Portugal! Here is how we spent two days enjoying beautiful Porto, Portugal.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
GETTING TO PORTO
Day 1: Flying into Europe, we first arrived to Lisbon. After collecting all our luggage (and traveling with a toddler means we had a ton of luggage), we headed off to catch the metro from the airport to Oriente Station. Upon arriving to Oriente Station, we stopped to enjoy the architecture of this incredible modern train station. Designed by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava this giant station houses the Metro, train and bus terminals all under the stunning glass and metal roof top and is a main hub of transportation in Lisbon. From here we caught the high-speed Alfa Pendular train to Porto which takes about 2 1/2 hours.
PRACA DA LIBERDADE
Arriving into Porto at about 2:30 in the afternoon, we quickly hurried to our hotel - the Porto Ibis Centro to check in and dump our luggage so that we could begin exploring this amazing city! Setting off, we headed to the city center of Porto with a quick fifteen minute walk. Our first stop was in Praca da Liberdade (Liberty Square). Located between the old town and newer side of Porto - this is one of Porto's most important squares serving as the cultural hub for everything from protests, to new years celebrations, to sporting event rallies. Today grand buildings line the square and a statue of King Pedro IV - a hero from the 1832 Civil War watches over the stately square.
CLERIGOS CHURCH & TOWER
Continuing on, we stopped at the Clerigos Church & Tower. Designed by Nicolau Nasoni in the 18th century - this iconic tower can be seen throughout the hills of Porto. It is free to enter the church, but requires a fee if you want to climb to the top of Clerigos Tower. For €3 you can climb the 225 steps to the top of the tower where you can enjoy beautiful views out over the red roofed city of Porto below. This was a great introduction to the beautiful city of Porto.
PRACA DE GOMES TEIXEIRA & CARMO CHURCH
The next area we stopped to see was the Praca de Gomes Teixeira. This beautiful square is located next to the University of Porto and features the beautiful Fountain of Lions. Our son enjoyed looking at this fountain and then spent some time chasing the pigeons thru the square! Also of interest along the square is Carmo Church which is covered in Portugal's famous blue and white 'azulejos'. If you look closely this is actually two churches that are connected by one of the world's smallest houses - it is only one meter wide and was actually lived in until the 1980's. On right side is the Carmo Church (built 1768) and the left is the Carmelitas Church (built 1628). If you have time - pop inside and enjoy the lovely interiors of these historic churches.
EAT A FRANCESINHA
As it was now after 7pm and we had a hungry toddler with us - it was time for dinner! Looking around the area we happened upon a great Portuguese restaurant called Casa Braganca. For our first meal in Portugal we enjoyed experiencing the wonderful Petiscos (Portugal's version of tapas) that are automatically brought to your table - just remember, these are NOT free. You will pay for whatever you eat, if you don't want something just say no. We loved getting to experience different Portuguese tapas such as olives, marinated carrots and croquettes! For our main course we enjoyed the famous francesinha which is a Portuguese sandwich that originated in Porto and is made with various meats, melted cheese and covered in a rich beer sauce - wow! To top off this wonderful meal - don't forget the Sangria or Port wine! With full bellies and jet-lag starting to kick in - it was time to head back to our hotel and get some shut eye!
SAO BENTO TRAIN STATION
Day 2: For our second day in Porto - we explored the Lower Porto and Riberia Waterfront areas. First stop of the morning was to view the Sao Bento Train Station. Inside the station is where some of Portugal's finest azulejos are on display. The scenes that are portrayed on these tiles tell Portugal's history. Over 20,000 Portuguese tiles cover the walls in this unique train station.
PORTO CATHEDRAL & CLOISTERS
A quick five minute walk to the south, takes you to the beautiful Porto Cathedral. The cathedral dates back to the 12th century and has been rebuilt numerous times over the years giving the cathedral a mix of Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic styles. Porto Cathedral is the most important religious site in Porto and has been the host of numerous royal Portuguese weddings over the years. Built on the highest point of Porto, this Cathedral stands tall over the city of Porto and actually has a fortress like feel as you approach the Cathedral. Just in front of the entrance to the Cathedral stands a column, which we thought was some sort of decorative feature but in fact it turns out this is a gallows that was used to hang criminals in the past.
Once inside, we headed to take a peak inside the cathedral itself and then we went to explore the cloisters. While it is free to enter the Cathedral itself, there is a small fee to enter the cloisters - but it is well worth it! Strolling thru these cloisters you are able to enjoy the fantastic white and blue Portuguese tiles that are covering many of the walls and depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. Make sure to head up to the second floor of the cloisters to enjoy the beautiful outdoor portion of the cloisters!
Before leaving the Porto Cathedral - stop by the overlook area off the main square and enjoy the view out over colorful Porto out towards Clerigos Tower and the City Center area of Porto.
PRACA DO INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE & SAO FRANCISCO CHURCH
We then began to wind our walk down towards the waterfront district of Riberia, along the way stop in Praca do Infante Dom Henrique which contains a large statue that pays tribute to Henry the Explorer who kicked off Portugal's maritime voyages in discovering the unknown world. Just a bit further down the street is Sao Francisco Church. The church was completed in 1410 and is the most lavishly decorated church in Porto. Inside, the interior walls are covered in carved wood panels that are covered with a layer of gold leaf and are absolutely breathtaking! It is believed that over 650 pounds of gold was used to cover the interior of this church! Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside this stunning church!
Continue a few more minutes south and you are now in the Riberia area of Porto. Situated along the Douro River, the Riberia is the most picturesque and authentic area in Porto. Wander the cobblestone streets and get lost along the windy streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once a working port, today the Ribeira (meaning riverbank) is the most scenic area of Porto. Wander along the Cais da Ribeira and enjoy the view of the historic colorful houses along the waterfront and view the 'rabelos' moored along the water. These type of boats are were used to transport wine from the Douro Valley to the many wineries located along the river.
DOURO RIVER SIGHTSEEING CRUISE
After a cloudy, cooler start to our morning, the sun was starting to break through the clouds as we headed to hop on our Porto Six Bridges River Cruise. These hour long sightseeing boat tours offer a relaxing way to take in the sights. Make sure and look for the six famous bridges that span the Douro River while taking in the picture perfect views of the colorful, historic hillsides of Porto and the neighboring Vila Nova da Gaia, which is home to numerous port wineries. For us, this was a great family activity that our toddler son really enjoyed too!
VILA NOVA DA GAIA & PORT WINERIES
For the rest of the afternoon - head across the river to Vila Nova da Gaia, home to Portugal's Port wine industry. Choose from numerous wineries and spend an afternoon enjoying some cellar tours and tastings. To reach Vila Nova da Gaia - from the Ribeira area, take a ten minute walk cross the Dom Luís I Bridge. We choose to start at Calem Winery (established in 1859) where we ordered a sample flight of port wines and sat outside on the patio as our son fell asleep in his stroller for his afternoon nap - perfect timing for mom and dad to enjoy our wine tastings!
With a sound asleep baby, we continued onto to Sandeman and we were able to take a cellar tour and learn about the history and process of Sandeman port wines. Founded in 1790, Sandeman is known world-wide for it's wonderful port wines and it's cape-clad icon on it's bottles. At the end of the tour, a sample of three different ports were provided for tasting - all were delicious!
Continuing on, we headed to a third location and choose to visit Croft. Here we were able to enjoy another flight of tastings just as our son was waking up from his nap - perfect timing! For us, three wineries was plenty in an afternoon and with our son now awake again, it was time to switch gears and find an activity that he could enjoy with us.
TELEFERICO DE GAIA (CABLE CAR)
Nearby was the Teleferico de Gaia cable car offering views over the area - this was a perfect thing to do to entertain our son for a bit - he absolutely loved riding in the cable car! The views while in the cable car were fantastic, providing views over Porto and Vila Nova da Gaia. Getting off the cable car, we walked to the Serra do Pilar Montesary which offered more amazing views over both Porto and Vila Nova da Gaia. If you happen to be in this area during sunset - the views from up at Serra do Pilar Montesary are spectacular!
DOM LUIS I BRIDGE
To return back to Porto, we crossed the Dom Luis I Bridge. This double decker bridge is an icon of Porto and can be crossed either on top or bottom for pedestrian traffic. Built in 1886, this bridge was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel Tower). Walking back along this bridge you are rewarded with fabulous views over the entire area of Porto and Vila Nova da Gaia - spend some time just taking it all in! For us, this was the end of a long wonderful day exploring this amazing city! Amazing views, amazing food, amazing wine and amazing people make Porto a must visit destination! We hope to return one day to this wonderful city!
Interested in planning your own trip to Porto, Portugal? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Day 1: Arrive Lisbon, catch a taxi or use metro from Airport to Oriente, then Alfa Pendular train to Porto/Campanha. Grab a taxi or Uber to hotel in Porto. After checking into hotel: Explore the City Center area (plan on about 3 hours): walk along the Avenida dos Aliados/Praca da Liberdade, Clerigos Church/Tower (open til 7pm - €3), Carmo Church (open til 7pm)
Day 2: Porto - Lower Porto & Riberia Waterfront: Sao Bento Train Station, Porto Cathedral, Rua das Flores, Praca do Infante Dom Henrique, Sao Francisco Church €4, Ribeira (Cais da Ribeira & Praca da Ribeira). If time, hop on an hour long Douro River cruise, then walk across the lower level Dom Luís I Bridge, Calem Winery, Sandeman Cellars, Croft Port Wine Cellars, Teleferico de Gaia cable car up to Serra do Pilar Montesary for amazing views over Porto. Then walk back across the Dom Luis I Bridge on the top level.
*Eat a francesinha while in Porto!