They say a good place is a “land of milk and honey”. Well in Porto, it’s a land of “wine and sunny”. We heard great things about Porto but didn’t know what to expect. Needless to say, it was beyond our expectations. Many vacation spots in the world have beaches, others have history and culture, others are known for wine & food. Porto has ALL of that, and amongst the best anywhere in the world.
1) Find a hotel close to where the action is. In our case, we stayed 15 minutes away from the city centre, so we had to use Uber every time.
2) If your hotel has plenty of bus tours and assuming you are not in a rush, be sure to have breakfast at the hotel after the people on the bus tours have left. If you have breakfast at the same time as them, you risk losing an arm to ravenous tourists, especially if the breakfast is a buffet. If in doubt, ask the hotel front desk when the tours usually leave.
There are so many things to do and see in Porto. But if you’re only here for a limited number of days, we would recommend the following:
With its picturesque villages, meandering Douro river, and scenic landscapes, no wonder this place is on everyone’s bucket list.
We highly recommend seeing the Douro Valley with an organized tour. It’s an hour and half drive from Porto, and you’ll be relaxing in an air-conditioned vehicle, able to fully enjoy stunning landscapes while listening to the narratives of your tour guide. The tour typically includes visiting 2 or 3 wineries for wine tastings, a visit to an olive oil factory, and a visit to a quaint and picturesque town called Pinhao, where you will embark on a relaxing cruise on the Douro River. Pinhao is also famous for its historic 19th century railway station – where the walls are lined with 24 blue tile mosaics (portraying the Douro landscape), a local specialty known as azulejo tiles. We were given 30 minutes to look around and take photos of the railway station.
Every day in Porto, we watched the sunset at the Douro River. This was one of the highlights of our trip. We sat down, had some famous Porto wine, and watched boats passing under the Dom Luis bridge while waiting for the sunset. Be sure to charge your camera’s battery.
Situated along the banks of the Douro river lies the Ribeira district with colourful houses. This is one of the oldest and most picturesque districts in Porto. This is also one of the best places to eat. The best time to come here is late in the afternoon where you’ll see the place come to life. Find a good restaurant facing the river, enjoy a bottle of Porto wine while waiting for the sunset, or just enjoy the company of others.
This is a popular, scenic 50-minute riverboat cruise using the old boats which used to carry Porto's wine called the rabelo boats. Depending on the company you choose, you can either start at Ribeira’s quay (in Porto), or in Vila Nova de Gaia’s quay (the opposite side of the Douro River). You can book it online or buy it directly from the tour company by the Douro River.
I would recommend booking it online to avoid the long lines (especially during summer). Print the ticket (do not scan it using your cellphone or there’s a chance you could be turned away) and show it to the ticket taker on any boats departing from Ribeira. Arrive at least 10 minutes early to get a good spot (either on the bow or in the first row). Be sure to bring a light scarf as it gets very windy.
If you want to know about the history, evolution, and the production process that makes the Port wines unique and special, then visiting Porto's wine cellar is a must. After visiting the Douro Valley, my curiosity about the Port wines intensified.
The majority of the wine cellars are located on the opposite bank of the Douro River, in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia (aka Gaia). We booked our tour with Calem Cellars. We selected an hour tour which included an interactive museum tour and a premium wine tasting. At the end of the tour, we bought several bottles of wine at their gift shop. The idea of having people exit the tours by going through the gift shop was a brilliant idea by Calem, but a sad idea for our wallets :)
If you want get an idea of the main attractions in in Porto. The majority of them have wifi but very spotty so don’t expect much.
The one thing that surprised me about Portugal in general is that it's famous for fresh seafood, especially sardines. If you love seafood, what better place to satisfy your cravings
than in Matosinhos. To get there, you can either;
a) Take a city bus from the centre of Porto, and it only takes 15 minutes to get to Matosinhos
b) Take the Hop on Hop off Yellow bus. You won’t miss Matosinhos as it’s the final stop. The bus stops where the sea food restaurants are and you will smell it as you’re approaching:)
Buy a combo ticket that included 2 days’ access to 2 HOHO bus tours, 1 Douro river cruise and 1 tour of the Calém Port Wine cellars.