We’ve spent close to a month in Portugal, and we’ve really loved the country. The Algarve had such a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, even if the tourist presence was a bit on the high side. Lisbon was completely underwhelming, although I was glad we found some redeeming areas before we left. Then we arrived in Porto. What a perfect place to finish our time in Portugal!
We traveled by train from Lisbon and arrived in the late evening. It was chilly and drizzling, yet there was something inviting in the air as we stepped off the metro station’s escalator. Even though we couldn’t really see any of the city, there was such a great vibe I couldn’t wait to get out the next day and explore.
Getting Around Porto
One of the things about Lisbon I didn’t enjoy as much was its transportation system. The metro only covers part of the city, and that’s only the beginning of the hassles.
I loved Porto’s metro system instantly. Not only does it provide great access, but the major sections are accessible by four different lines. That really cuts down on the wait times and need for transfers. Every metro train we saw looked new and modern.
It’s also a fairly pedestrian city and quite easy to get around.
If you like port wine, you’ll want to do a pilgrimage here. I did a port wine tasting of three different varieties, and they were fabulous. I had never known port wine comes in a white variety, and it’s dang good! There are so many places to do tastings. Bring some snacks, though. Port is a fortified wine, and my three tastings left me a bit tipsy since I had an empty stomach.
There are so many places offering these tastings that you won’t have a hard time finding them. Most of them are concentrated on the other side of the river. Friends recommended Offley, but as I was already buzzed we didn’t go there.
You may be wondering about the connection between Harry Potter and Porto. Well, Rowling lived here for a couple of years while writing her first book, and there are some local sources of inspiration that show up in the books. If you’re a Potter fan, stop by the Livraria Lello & Irmão. The interior looks like something you’d find on Diagon Alley (and even if you aren’t a fan, it’s worth checking out). The university students with their black capes probably inspired the black robes the Hogwarts students wear.
Porto has so much old world charm. The historic section represents at least a few different eras, but there is something just in the air. When the sun is shining, you are drawn to sit at one of the outdoor cafes sipping an espresso while people watching.
On the weekends at least, the section by the river is quite lively with street performers, people dancing, and all kinds of vendors. Even in the springtime you’ll be able to find chestnuts roasting on an open fire. And servings of cotton candy that are bigger than your head.
Porto easily transports you to a happy place. You’ll find yourself smiling as you walk through its ancient alleyways and streets.
Things to do
We only spent a few days here, unfortunately, so most of our time was spent just walking around the various neighborhoods, an impressive cemetery, and down by the riverside. We also had fun on the brief cable car ride from the riverside to the top of the hill overlooking the city (€5 per adult one way (roundtrip is discounted), and kids are half off).
If you do the cable car ride, I’d recommend doing that when you’re done exploring the riverside. There is a metro station up at the top, so you can explore that area and take the metro back into town.
Obviously, I’d recommend the port wine tastings.
We really enjoyed exploring the riverside area across the bridge. It was a completely different atmosphere. If you follow the signs leading to the caves, you’ll get to see the historic cellars and learn more about the area’s history, as well as of port.
Porto is part of the Douro Valley region which has some rather beautiful villages and small towns. They’re easily accessed by train or car hire.
If you can, definitely plan more than just a few days to spend here. Three days was nowhere near enough for us.
I’d love to give you more recommendations, but we didn’t engage in any of the many tours and activities offered in the city. Trust me, though. You’ll want to make sure you add Porto to your Portugal itinerary.
Have you been to Porto? What activities or sites would you recommend?