A relatively small city of about 300,000 inhabitants in the northern part of Portugal built on the mouth of the Douro River on the Atlantic Ocean. Porto is a very pretty, very picturesque city that has kept its colour and is not filled with cunning apartment blocks. A city with beautiful streets, nice buildings, great food and a lively nightlife. The temperature at noon reached 25o C and made the weather perfect for freshening up the city.
The city is built on a hill and therefore has many hills which makes it difficult to walk. But it also offers places where the views of the Douro River are spectacular. Therefore you should be prepared for a lot of walking and properly equipped with comfortable shoes.
We landed at Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport which is located 15km from the city centre. The first surprise was that as soon as we passed through security we were handed out a map of the city completely free of charge. Outside the airport we took the metro which cost €1.80 + €0.50 and took us to the city centre. We could also have taken a bus whose ticket cost €6, but I wouldn’t recommend it because apart from being more expensive it is also much more time consuming as the traffic in the city is heavy.
We stayed at the Quality Inn Porto Hotel, on Praça da Batalha, at the end of Rua Santa Catarina, the most important shopping street in the city. The hotel was about a 5-minute walk from the city’s main station, Sao Bento. Our room on the sixth floor overlooked the square, the National Theatre building and the beautiful Igrega Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso church.
We arrived early in the morning and after settling into the hotel we decided to start our walk around the surrounding buildings. First a walk to Praça da Batalha in the centre of which is the statue of Dom Pedro V King of Portugal from 1853 to 1861 and then the Igrega Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso decorated with blue azulejos (this is the name of Portugal’s famous tiles which are painted with stories of kings, wars, explorations etc). The church both outside and inside is very beautiful. Then we started walking down the commercial street of Santa Catarina. For the most part Santa Catarina is pedestrianized and your street will definitely take you there, if not for shopping, then for coffee at Port’s most famous café, Café Majestic. Café Majestic opened in 1921 and has an impressive interior with wooden embossed mirrors, marble arches, encaustic painted ceiling and is generally a typical example of Art Nouveau. For these reasons it is also very, very expensive.
After the stop at the Majestic we continued on to the Mercado do Bolhão which is a large open-air market. There we sat down for the first glass of Porto of the many we had on the tour. The market had a total of 4-5 shops serving fresh fish or simple tapas with wine. We chose a variety of Portuguese cheeses and prosciutto, olives and white Porto. The cost was about 12 euros for 2 people. Generally the prices in Porto are quite similar to those found in the shops (food shops and bars) in Thessaloniki.
We left the Mercado do Bolhão and made a stop at the Capela das Almas located on Rua Santa Catarina another church “dressed” both inside and outside with the famous Azulejos. Then we continued to Avenida dos Aliados which is located in the heart of the old town centre, has many cafes and restaurants and is also the street where the Town Hall is located which is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Also don’t forget to see the statue of the equestrian king D. Pedro IV. Also next to the Town Hall is the tourist information office which has maps of the city and very helpful staff to solve any questions you may have. We stopped to catch the Sunday metro service that would take us back to the airport.
At the end of Avenida dos Aliados is the São Bento railway station (we had basically made a big circle from our hotel) the main train station, which is one of the city’s attractions since it was built around 1900 and their walls are adorned with about 20,000 azulejos.
We then wandered through the alleys of the old town and walking along Rua das Flores, a pedestrian street and many interesting cafes and restaurants, we headed down to the banks of the Douro River, in Ribeira. Up Rua das Flores, which is a pedestrian street with many interesting cafes and restaurants, we made another stop to visit the Igreja de Miserocordia, another of Porto’s most famous churches.
The Ribeira is the part of the city on the banks of the river and has been declared a UNESCO heritage site. It is filled with restaurants, cafes and bars and is always full of people. Ribeira is also home to the Casa do Infante which is the house where Prince Henry the Explorer was born. However the whole area has amazing buildings called “old houses of Miragaia”. The Casa do Infante is now a museum.
Opposite Ribeira is Ribeira de Gaia, home to the wine cellars of the famous Porto (Port Wine Cellars). We crossed into Gaia via the Dom Luís I Bridge the most famous bridge of the 6 that join the two sides of the Douro, which is also the most famous attraction in the city.
It was time for one of the most interesting parts of the trip. A visit to one (or rather some) of the Wine Cellars is a must for anyone visiting the Douro. After all, Porto wine is the most famous export product of the city. There are dozens of cellars offering tours and tastings. In total we visited 3 cellars. Two on Friday and one more on Saturday.
Our first stop was the newest (founded in 1981) and one of the most remote since it is located at the end of Gaia, Churchill’s. The tour was very short and not very worthwhile. However, the wine tasting included 3 different Porto and cost 5euros per person. All 3 wines we tasted were amazing. We started with a White Port Aperitif before moving on to the Reserve Port and from there to the 20 year old Tawny Port. All 3 were very good. The second stop was at Kopke House which is the oldest cellar. It is located about halfway down the Gaia waterfront and is a three story building. Unfortunately there is no tour and the tasting is pretty stingy compared to the others. We tasted 5 wines for 17euros. The big advantage of this cellar is that the wine is served alongside the famous Portuguese chocolate Arcádia.
After visiting the cellars we walked to Gaia and crossed the Dom Luís I Bridge again to rejoin Ribeira. So, we began our wanderings through the old town, sat down for a coffee on Rua das Flores and then started looking for a traditional eatery to eat at (the shops we ate at, drank coffee at, etc. will be presented in a separate paragraph all together). After eating we headed back to the hotel, it was almost midnight.
The next day started with a visit to the Clérigos tower to climb its 240 steps and see the city from above. The ground floor of the Clérigos tower is a church and we were very lucky because there was a wedding that day. The ticket for the Clérigos tower is only 3 euros, but for 5 euros you can also buy a ticket for the rooms of the Cathedral and that’s what we did. The view of Port from the Clérigos tower is very nice as you will see from the photos I have uploaded.
We left the Clérigos tower to go a few meters away where the Lello Bookshop (Rua das Carmelitas 144) is located, which is one of the most beautiful bookstores in Europe. The bookshop has a 5 euro ticket and visitors can deduct the ticket price if they buy a book. Of course the books cost a lot more than in other bookstores. Unfortunately we did not enjoy our visit to the bookstore because although it is very beautiful, it was very crowded. My advice is that even if you don’t go in you won’t miss anything.
After the Lello Bookshop we continued our walk in the city heading towards Sao Bento as very close by is the Porto Cathedral which like all the churches in the city has an impressive interior full of ‘azulejos’. Se do Porto began to be built in 1110mX and was completed in the 13th century and is one of the oldest monuments in the city. As well as the interior of the Cathedral we also visited the Cloisters which we entered as we had already paid a ticket to the Clérigos tower. The view from the square in front of the Cathedral is wonderful as it gives a panoramic view of the city. Next to the Cathedral there are other attractions of the city such as the statue of Pelourinho, the Medieval Tower and the Archaeological Museum of the city which we did not go to.
After the Cathedral we crossed the upper floor of the Dom Luís I Bridge from which we took very nice pictures of both Ribeira and Gaia and then we started to climb up to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pillar which has the best panoramic view of Porto.
After the necessary stop for photos we descended towards Gaia. Although there is a teleferic that takes the visitor down and costs 2,5 euros one way, we chose to go down the narrow streets to see the area. At 3.30pm we had booked a tour & tasting at Sandeman Cellar. The visit to Sandeman Cellar was well worth it. It cost £6 and included a tour and tasting of 2 glasses of wine, a White Port Aperitif and a 20 year old Tawny Port. We finished just before 5 and decided to walk down to the ocean to watch the sunset.
We set off for Foz. We walked all the way alongside the Douro River until we came out at Foz.do Douro. This route can also be done by tram, we decided to walk it even though it takes about one and a half to two hours. Towards the end of this route and just before the lighthouses at the mouth of the river is a palm tree lined road called Passeio Alegre which is very beautiful. After getting to the edge of the waterfront to watch the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean, we took the bus to the Matosinhos area which (supposedly) has some of the best restaurants in town. We encountered a very empty and relatively ugly area of the city, without a particularly wide variety of restaurants and certainly without anything that caught our attention. So we decided to take the subway and head back downtown and have dinner in one of the alleyways in the old town. After dinner, we took a walk through the area where most of the bars are located to get a private view of Porto’s nightlife.
Another way to get to Matosinhos is to cross the Parque da Cidade to Castela do Queijo (Castle of Cheese) and from there the whole beach front to Pérgola da Foz. It’s a longer route, but you will see part of Boavista.
The next day started with breakfast at a beautiful cafe called The Traveller. So we’ll talk about that and all the other places we ate at below. Then walking around the city and down streets and alleys we hadn’t seen the previous two days, we set off for the Palácio de Cristal which is now an indoor stadium, but the attraction is Porto’s most beautiful gardens with an amazing view of the Douro River and Villa Nova de Gaia. They are worth a visit and are free of charge. Within the gardens of the Palácio de Cristal is the Museu Romantico, a house where the King of Italy stayed during his exile.
From there we descended again towards Ribeira, specifically downhill to the baroque church of São Francisco. The interior of the church is magnificent and in several places it is covered with gold leaf which was brought by Portuguese explorers from Brazil when Portugal was in its heyday and sending expeditions to the ends of the world. After the church of São Francisco we passed by to see the Palácio da Bolsa building (which has been used as a stock exchange) located just outside a square in which stands the statue of one of the pioneering Portuguese explorers, Henry the Navigator. The Palácio da Bolsa is home to the country’s most famous Arab Room, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit it.
The reason was that we wanted to take a boat trip on the Douro. Boats leave every half hour from Riberia, cost €12.5 and take exactly one hour. It starts from Ribeira and goes all the way to Pinhão and it is a ride that is well worth it as we heard the story of each of the six bridges that connect the two sides of the Douro and also saw the city through the water which always gives a different perspective.
After the cruise we headed down to the city centre for a last glass of Porto accompanied by Portuguese tapas. It was now late afternoon and our flight was at 9pm to London.
Places we didn’t go
Porto is not a big city, but it has several museums that would have been impossible to visit in three days. Porto’s Casa de Música is something like the Opera House in Sydney. The building was designed by Rem Koolhaas, on the occasion of Porto being the European Capital of Culture in 2001. It is open to the public and every afternoon at four o’clock there is a guided tour of the building and its rooms with a 5 euro ticket.
Another great museum in the city is the Serralves Modern Art Museum which is also located, like the Casa da Música, in the Boavista area. The Serralves Modern Art Museum, apart from the exhibitions (temporary and permanent), also has a lovely park with an art deco villa in the centre. On Sunday morning admission is free.
We also saw the building that houses the Centro Português de Fotografia, which is a few hundred meters down from the Clérigos tower, but we didn’t go inside the museum.
Another museum we didn’t go to is Soares dos Reis housed in the Carrancas Palace, which is the oldest museum in Porto and contains collections of 19th and 20th century Portuguese art.
Finally another of the museums we did not visit and therefore I cannot have an opinion is the Museum of Sacred Art and Archaeology of The Higher Seminary of Oporto which is housed inside the Church of St. Lawrence. The museum contains mainly statues and paintings of religious content and costs 2 euros.
Another Porto attraction is the Castelo de Sao Joao da Foz which we only saw from the outside when we arrived at the mouth of the Douro.
Restaurants – kitchen
The inhabitants of the city are also called Tripeiros (“tripe eaters”, Greek for those who eat offal) because during the 15th century, any money they made was given away to fund exploratory expeditions. So they ended up eating the entrails of animals. Even today, offal is still the speciality of the city’s cuisine, known as ‘Tripas à moda do Porto’.
Porto is famous for its restaurants. Guides say that the best restaurants are found in the Matosinhos area on the beach side near the port called “Porto de Leixões”. However, we didn’t find them there, but in the city centre. The local cuisine includes fish, but also the trademark of Porto which is “Tripas à moda do Porto”. Also a typical local dish is the “Francesinha”, which is a sandwich containing many different kinds of meat and on the outside it has a layer of cheese and is covered in a beer and tomato sauce.
Our first introduction to the city’s cuisine was at the Mercado do Bolhão. We had two options, the first was to eat fresh fish at one of the two or three shops serving food that, to be honest, both looked and smelled great, and the second was to just sit down for a glass of port accompanied by local cheeses and charcuterie, which we did. I would recommend stopping by the Mercado do Bolhão and sampling the local delicacies. In the afternoon of the same day we sat for coffee at Jeronymo on Rua das Flores and then went to Cana Verde (Rua dos Caldeireiros 121) where we had the best meal of the weekend, in an amazing atmosphere, a typical Portuguese place without any tourists. The menu had few things, no one spoke English, but everything we tasted was really delicious. Don’t forget to get the entrails of course.
The next day we got some fried cod sandwiches from one of the dozens of bakeries downtown. Immediately after leaving Clérigos tower, however, we went ten metres up the road to the famous Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau to get a… Pastel de Bacalhau. It’s expensive for Pastel de Bacalhau (3.5euros for one), but it’s delicious and is one of the most renowned dishes in Porto. There’s no way you’ll miss this place since besides being next to Clérigos tower, there will be about 50 people in line.
In the evening we ate at Yours Guesthouse, again on Rua dos Caldeireiros which was also excellent although quite a bit more expensive than Cana Verde. It had a good menu though, fresh fish, very well presented dishes and excellent wine.
The next day we had breakfast at The Traveller which is 100 metres above Café Majestic. It was a very good little place that served different breakfasts already and fresh fruit juice. On the minuses is the slow service, but that’s because everything is prepared at that time, no “display” of ready-made sandwiches. Our last meal, on Sunday afternoon we had it at Mercearia Contemporânea which is a delicatessen that also serves food, which was very good and I recommend it if you are looking for something for a light meal. We also picked up some tinned fish pate and various other bits and pieces from there.
The nightlife is in the city centre around the “Galerias de Paris” near Avenida dos Aliados. All the streets around the Clérigos tower and in particular the streets around the Galeria de Paris and Rua Miguel Bombarda are full day and night and it is the most beautiful area of the city centre. However beautiful bars can also be found in Cais de Gaia which is the area in front of the Douro river and of course in Ribeira which is the opposite side of the river.
As I mentioned above the town is very hilly. We generally walked it, but there is the option of either the metro or the funicular dos Guindais. The latter connects Ribeira to Batalha square in the centre of town and offers very nice views of the Duoro river. There is also the Ascensor da Ribeira which starts from Largo da Lada near Ponte D Luís and also offers nice views.
If you plan to use public transport it is essential to get an Andante card which you use to pre-pay for your trips.
I read that there are two groups (the Porto Walkers and Pancho Tours that offer free walking tours of the city. Both groups start from Praça da Liberdade next to the statue of Pedro IV. The first tour is at 10.45 and 15.30 and the second group at 11.30 and 16.30. We didn’t go on either one because the tour was done by the two of us, but I wrote this down as an FYI since you might be interested.
There are many wine cellars in Villa Nova di Gaia. We may have visited these three (Kopke, Churchill and Sandeman), but we had researched many more. Below I write down some that had caught our attention. One of them was Caves Ferreira which cost 9 euro for a tour & tasting and what caught our attention were the photographs we found of the place where the Porto tasting takes place. Caves Croft is quite high up, but the wine tasting is free and the reviews we read were very good. Caves Offley also had great reviews and cost 4euros. Caves Burmester located just behind D. Luis I cost 6euros for a 30 minute tour and the tasting of 2 wines. Also Caves Graham’s which cost 10euros, and also Taylor’s which we however turned down because their wines can be found in most major supermarkets in London and we had tasted them.
Porto is a beautiful city and I think 4 days would have been enough to visit some of its museums. But even in three days the visitor gets a very good taste of the city. Anyone who likes these tours would recommend it as a destination. Of course, from Greece, perhaps an 8 day excursion where 4 days would be in Porto and the other 4 in Lisbon would be preferable.
Porto’s public transportation may be frustrating owing to the crowds, which make it time-consuming and exhausting. If you want a more pleasant choice, Welcome taxis are the best way to go from Porto airport to your accommodation. Taxis are always accessible at the airport and provide a quick and dependable service.
The cost of a taxi from the Porto airport.
Only metered taxis are available at the Porto airport taxi ranks, therefore there will be no set fee for your journey to your hotel or destination. There may also be extra costs for your luggage or time spent waiting. It is recommended to reserve your Porto airport cab in advance to prevent these situations.