What to do at the Weekend:
Our Weekend in Porto, Portugal
In April, we popped over to Portugal for the weekend to celebrate Ben’s birthday without knowing much about the city.
So, what is there to do in Porto? What are the best things to do in Porto?
Our Experience of Porto
We’re going to start off by saying that we think Porto could actually be one of the most underrated cities in Europe.
So, we booked this weekend away on a bit of a whim for Ben’s birthday, hearing the odd rumour in passing about it ‘being good’ somewhere at the back of our minds, from the isolated person that had visited.
Safe to say, we can fully endorse this place ‘being good’ – it was bloody brilliant.
Amazing Things to See in Porto
Undoubtedly, one of the best things about Porto is that everywhere you look, there is something amazing to see.
Whether it be the medieval architecture, the ornate churches, the incredible views over the city, or the narrow winding streets highly reminiscent of Rome or York (closer to home).
Even the train station feels like a work of art with its incredibly, ornately finished murals in the same blue and white artistry that is an ever-present throughout the city.
It was just 100 metres from our hotel and well worth a visit.
Our base for the weekend, was a hotel right in the middle of Porto.
We stayed right in the middle of the old town at Porto Royal Bridges – a fabulous hotel that, inexplicably, only set us back around 60 pounds per night.
Stylish décor, comfortable rooms, great walk-in shower, highly recommended.
Finding Things to do in Porto
Outside of the main attractions, finding things to do and see in Porto is not difficult.
We recommend just having a wander.
In Porto’s old town area for example, you’ll be greeted with narrow and winding cobbled streets that only add to the quaint character and overall charm of this place.
Steep inclines lead up to ancient churches and lookouts that reward your worn-out legs with spectacular views over the cityscape.
Views over the river Douro, which cleaves the landscape in two (Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia), are breathtaking.
Drinking Cocktails and Port in the Sun
As we found out, the River Douro provides the perfect picturesque backdrop for a quick bite to eat along its banks.
We stopped off in one of the many small cafes and bars lining the river for a cocktail and a few glasses of Port (well, when in Rome and all that).
Despite forecasts to the contrary (BBC strikes again), we were lucky with the weather – 20+ degrees and extremely sunny.
And so, we sat in the sun on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro at a small bar named Uva Cálem – so named we supposed for its proximity to the famous Cálem Port brewers – whilst the old town loomed high on the other.
A myriad of vibrant yellow, sun bleached white, and terracotta.
Amongst the bar chit chat, came the odd knock from the small wooden barges docked at the riverside, ladened with Port barrels bobbing gently in the chop.
Like stepping back into an older, simpler time.
Food in Porto by Tanith
Pastel De Nata
Any post about Porto is not complete without mentioning Pastel De Nata.
Being an avid Pastel De Nata lover, these were obviously on my list to consume while in Porto.
I didn’t waste any time, and on our first morning we popped to a local café for breakfast, which in my case entailed a latte and a fresh, warm Pastel De Nata.
Sat on a quiet street in the sun seemed the perfect place to consume this delicious treat.
Its velvety, creamy filling and flaky pastry that didn’t disappoint.
They are far better than any mimics you get at home!
Trying Francesinh for the First Time
After consuming a couple of beverages in the sun – or several in Ben’s case – we went in search of some lunch.
While doing a quick bit of research before our trip, I learnt that a common local delicacy is a sandwich dish known as Francesinh.
So, after seeing it on the menu absolutely everywhere, we had to give it a go.
Now, I’m all up for trying the local cuisine, but in this case we both found the dish slightly odd.
Honestly, there was nothing inherently bad about it at all…it was just a bit strange (I don’t really have a better way to describe it)!
What is a Francesinh made from?
Francesinh is made of bread, filled with wet-cured ham, linguiça (a type of Portuguese sausage), steak or roast meat with a fried egg on top. It’s then covered with melted cheese and a thick tomato and beer sauce.
As I say, all the components of this concoxion are things I like…it just seems like an odd combination all together!
Worth giving it a try if you’re in the city though, all the locals were eating it.
**Ben said – it reminded me of student food. A mixture of things you might have in your fridge thrown together in a sandwich.
Drinks in Porto by Ben
Well obviously, Port springs to mind when I think of Porto – but that’s probably because I like my drink!
I tried a local sampling menu, which consisted of three very different, but equally delicious, versions of the fortified wine.
This was a premium tasting menu, so it cost me 14 Euros (12 ish Pounds).
Not too bad, I thought.
Now then, onto the beer.
Super Bock is the local brew and it’s everywhere.
As the native portuense cab driver taking us back to the airport said:
“If you visit a bar or restaurant that doesn’t sell Super Bock, it is not a real place. Don’t go there.”
It’s a reasonable beer and after a fair few, you don’t really care anyway.
Our cab driver friend also reckoned that we should have been paying a couple of Euros each… after we’d been paying four Euros a bottle in the hotel (needless to say, he laughed).
Things To Do in Porto
1. Igreja do Carmo
Built in the mid-1700s, the Igreja do Carmo church is situated at the corner of Praça de Carlos Alberto and Rua do Carmo.
It sits next to another church – Igreja dos Carmelitas – with the two separated by only a one meter wide house.
The right side of the church is decorated with ornate blue and white azulejo tiles, which show a scene of the founding of Mount Carmel and the Carmelite Order. An impressive work of architecture well worth a view.
2. Livraria Lello Bookshop
Seen as one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, Livraria Lello can be found on Rue das Carmelitas – only a short walk from Igreja do Carmo and the famous Torre dos Clerigos.
A big attraction in the city, it is thought that the bookshop is one of the locations author J.K. Rowling found inspiration for Harry Potter.
Because of this, it is best to visit early doors as it gets exceptionally busy with queues trailing the length of the street outside.
3. Dom Luís I Bridge
An iconic piece of architecture, the Dom Luis I Bridge was built in the 1880s and spans the width of the Douro river, connecting Porto with the district of Vila Nova de Gaia.
Taking a walk across the bridge gives you breathtaking views over the river and Porto skyline – a fantastic place to take in the sights
4. Sé do Porto
Sat in the upper area of Porto overlooking the city and the river Douro in all its glory, Sé do Porto is a cathedral dating back to the 12th century.
A national monument, the cathedral is one of Porto’s main visitor attractions, with a mix of architectural styles due to areas of the building being rebuilt over the years.
Even if you don’t step foot inside, the cathedral is well worth a visit if just the views alone!
5. Parque das Virtudes
The Parque das Virtudes is – as the name gives away – a park located in the heart of Porto.
Located in a very unassuming part of the city, the park is a hidden gem we stumbled across during our final afternoon.
What makes it so special is the vertical nature of the landscape, with different levels and terraces that work their way down the hill providing unparalleled views over the river and the Vila Nova de Gaia district.
It is a peaceful haven frequented by the locals, and the perfect place to rest your legs after a walk around the city.
What we really like about Porto
The scenery in Porto
The City is absolutely breathtaking seemingly at every turn and there are just so many things to do in Porto.
As a rule of thumb, head for high ground and look around, you won’t be disappointed.
Just remember to keep your phone full of charge for the photo ops! But it’s not just the impressive landscape to write home about.
It’s just a very photogenic place in general – the houses, areas of greenery (Parque das Virtudes for example), and even the streets, are beautiful.
Just have a wander around, see what you find.
A Treasure Trove of Hidden Gems
There is lots to explore here and we are under no illusions that we only scratched the surface during our visit.
There are so many of those ‘well, that’s not something you see everyday moments’ here, that you won’t come close to uncovering half of them over one weekend.
The city is laden with bars, cafés, and restaurants and no matter where you go, the people are warm natured, friendly, and speak an excellent standard of English (with an American sounding twang).
On the second day, we ate at a pretty unassuming place on Rua do Breiner called LM art – a tiny looking café from the outside but a virtual tardis inside, extending out to a pretty back garden area.
Good food, pleasant service, and only Portuguese voices.
I tend to think that if the locals go there, it’s a decent place.
Not too busy
Even though we did the bulk of our exploring on Saturday, it never really felt too busy.
This is something I appreciate as dodging people is frankly the bane of my existence.
As we mentioned earlier, there is so much incredible architecture in Porto, from the 18th century baroque Igreja do Carmo church to the iconic São Bento train station – to name a couple.
All across the city’s buildings you’ll see beautiful azulejo tiles which each tell a story in the most intricate and vibrant of ways, helping to bring to life the building they’re adorned to.
In the train station for instance, you’ll find approximately 20,000 tiles covering the main hall as you first step foot through the doors.
Everywhere we looked, we spotted a different detail on the amazing tiled canvas – it was truly breathtaking!
I have to say, there aren’t many places I’ve visited where the people have been as friendly as they were in Porto!
And, I’m not just talking about the odd person here and there, everyone we spoke to was incredibly kind and happy to help, genuinely interested in what we’d been up to.
I got a massive sense of pride from all the Portunese locals, who were excited we’d chosen to explore their city.
Scenery and landscapes
As Ben said, the scenery across the city is insane.
What I particularly loved was the contrast of incredible colours everywhere you looked, from the terracotta tiled roofs, the blues, whites and other colours of the azulejo tiles, to the greens of the city’s numerous parks.
The whole place is a feast for the eyes.
We were blessed to have glorious sunshine the two days we visited which only added to the gorgeous colour palette, but I think even on a cloudy day, it would be hard not to fall in love with Porto’s beauty.