Last Thursday I flew to Porto, and found the perfect city for a long weekend. Smaller and, so I was told, more soulful than Lisbon, Porto is interesting enough to fill three days, but not so large that you have to race around ticking things off your to-do list. You can take your time, stop for long lunches of drinks without feeling guilt, and return home feeling like you’ve actually been on holiday. My Porto itinerary actually fitted very neatly into three days – here’s what I got up to.
Day 1: The Sights
My friend and I both arrived in Porto early on Thursday morning and set out with the plan of getting our bearings, having a big lunch with wine and figuring out our day from there, but ended up accidentally stumbling upon most of the city’s main sights. We started on the Ribeira, the colourful riverfront district where you can get lovely views of the Dom Luis I Bridge and sit outside in the sunshine with a big glass of Duoro Valley wine (we did both).
From Ribeira Square it’s easy to get pulled into the narrow cobbled streets that surround it, and we wound our way through the alleyways towards Clerigos Tower, Porto’s defining landmark where you can pay just 3€ to admire the city from above. It’s a tight spiral staircase where you’ll definitely have a few close moments with strangers coming in the opposite direction, but it’s totally worth it for the panoramic views from the top.
Just across a large garden area from the tower is the Livraria Lello – a must for book lovers. It’s one of the the world’s most beautiful bookshops, and is said to have been one of J.K Rowling’s inspirations for Harry Potter. Despite the crowds of tourists fighting to get a photo of themselves on the red staircase, it really is a beautiful building that’s been well-maintained and stocks some gorgeous books. It costs 3€ to get in, but if you buy a book the entry fee is discounted from your purchase!
From one of the world’s prettiest bookshops to one of the world’s most beautiful train stations – our next stop was São Bento. Not many trains run from here, but the crowds come to see the beautiful blue and white tiled walls that depict stories from Portugal’s history. We finished our day at Porto Cathedral, not one of the most spectacular I’v ever seen but still worth a stop for its towering columns and stained glass windows. One huge error we made was missing São Francisco Church; we passed its unassuming facade without realising what an amazing gold interior it had. Learn from my mistakes people!
Day 2: The Port
Porto is right next to the Duoro Valley, a huge wine region and the exclusive producer of the world’s port, so it would be almost impossible (and downright rude) to visit Porto without spending a day exploring the port houses that dominate Gaia, the neighbourhood across the river. After a lovely breakfast of nata tarts and coffee, we kicked off our day with a walk across Dom Luis I Bridge, a double-decker metal arch that’s unlike any structure I’ve ever seen. Its scale is huge, and it’s hard not to feel completely dwarfed as you walk along its upper walkway that pedestrians share with a Metro line.
We settled on Taylor’s as our port house of choice; neither my friend or I are port connoisseurs so going with one of the world’s most famous Port producers seemed like the safest shout. We were given an audio tour handset at the entrance and guided ourselves around the port house, which started in a huge barrel room where the air was thick with the aroma of port, and continued through galleries depicting photos and videos of the production process and a brief history of the company.
The real wow factor of Taylor’s is the tasting room; after the tour we found our way through some lovely gardens to the bar, which is furnished in dark wood with port barrels as tables and has the most amazing circus top-style multicoloured roof. We were given two tastings, one white and one tawny port – as a red wine fan I preferred the red, while the white was more like a dessert wine that was tasty but almost too sweet for me to finish.
We made our way back down the steep hill to the riverside, where we got a bite to eat before heading to Sandeman’s. The inside of the building was impressive and I’d heard that the tours were led by guides wearing the trademark black hat and cape of the Sandeman logo, so we were disappointed to find that the only tour left was in French and there was no option to purchase just a tasting session. Not to be defeated, we went outside to the Sandeman riverside bar and had our own tasting session, trying a ruby and a 10-year Vintage port as well as a port Sangria cocktail. This ended up costing us less than the tour would have, so it’s a good option if you’re not interested in the port house tour.
Day 3: The Beach
We had some gorgeous weather while we were in Porto, so on our last day we decided to head out to Foz, the beach neighbourhood on the edge of the city that looks out over the Atlantic. Porto has a gorgeous vintage tram line running out to the coast, and the half-hour tram journey is a lovely way to see the river scenery without getting any blisters.
There’s not a lot to specifically do in Foz, but it’s a peaceful upscale neighbourhood that’s a great place to chill out, escape the city and enjoy the ocean views with a drink in hand. We really enjoyed walking along the stone pier where the lighthouse is; it was a windy day and the waves were crashing against and occasionally over the walls of the pier, sending us running for cover when the spray threatened to rain down on our heads.
Is it bad to admit we spent most of the rest of the afternoon sunning ourselves at a bar? I’m going to admit it anyway. We found a bar right on the beach called Praia da Luz where the service was slow but the views were good, and whiled away the hours eating caprese salads and sipping white wine. As much as I love filling my days with activities on a city break, we’d both had draining weeks at work and it was lovely to take some time just to sit and enjoy the simple pleasure of doing nothing at all.
So there you have it – my recommended itinerary for three days in Porto! Have you been? What did you think of it, and did I miss anything?