Porto was love at first sight for me, and even spring showers did not make the city any less beautiful. Everything from the lively riverfront, to the quirky street art, to the colorful azulejos made me smile. I loved wandering down old alleyways and looking up at charming apartments that were just a little rundown. I loved relaxing on the bench at Jardim do Palácio de Cristal, taking in the sunshine and the view. I loved sitting in the rickety tram, watching seagulls soar over the Atlantic and breathing in the bracing ocean air. There are many things to do in Porto, most of which are free:
1. Go on a self guided walking tour of central historic Porto and hit up a few of the notable sights. Check out our map for detailed descriptions of each place.
Cost: Map – Free, Admission Cost – Varies
2. Walk across the Dom Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia and see the city from the other side. The iconic Dom Louis is a double-decked metal arch bridge that spans the Douro River. On the other side, you’ll find many of the top Port wine houses with their cavernous cellars – a fixture in Porto for many centuries . Along the riverfront, there are many cafes and restaurants with perfect views of the bustling Ribeira district.
The bridge was completed in 1886 by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. The complex ironwork that makes up the arch framework shows distinct similarities to the Eiffel tower, having the same antecedent. The top deck is reserved for pedestrians as well as the city’s metro lines while the bottom deck supports a two lane road for regular traffic, as well as narrow walkways for foot traffic. The walk across the bridge provides a stunning view of the river and the historic riverfront area of Porto.
3. The city of Porto is well known for its fortified wine made from special grapes produced in the Douro Valley. Most of the old Port lodges are located across the river on the Vila Nova de Gaia side. Some of the old names like Taylors, Sandeman, and Cálem have been around for centuries, with their barrel-lined cellars recently opened for tours and tastings. The tours are usually given in multiple languages at various times throughout the day.
Taylor’s up on the hill is one of the favorite port houses for many visitors with their impressive wine caves and large selection of vintage, not to mention the beautiful terrace overlooking the river where you can sit and sip your port. It’s important to remember that the last tour at Taylor starts at 5pm. Since we were late, we opted to go to the Cálem Cellars which are located right on the river front. Cálem Ports have been around since 1859, and have received many international awards. A six Euro tour will get you in to see the wine caves as well as a good history lesson on Port wines. The tour ends with a wine tasting, a nice way to cap off our knowledge of fortified wines.
Cost: € 6
4. Spend the morning at Porto’s gorgeous botanical garden overlooking the Douro River. Sitting atop a hill, Jardim do Palácio de Cristal is one of Porto’s most beloved oases. The park’s name is a little misleading because it came from the 19th century iron and glass Crystal Palace that once stood there. In 1956, the palace was torn down and replaced by a domed pavilion that serves as a sporting arena and concert venue.
Entering the park you’ll be greeted by lush green lawns surrounded by a well-maintained garden. The open space is dotted with lovely sculptures, ponds, and topiaries. Head away from the domed pavilion towards the left where you’ll find sun-dappled paths leading down to a terrace overlooking the river. Lovely magnolia, tall cypress, and gnarly olive trees provide much welcomed shade for the visitors. The mosaic gardens are built on the side of a hill, and have stunning views of the city and river. The layout of the park provides pockets privacy making it the perfect haven of tranquility in the middle of a busy metropolis. On any given day, you’ll also see a few peacocks roaming the grounds.
The gardens are very popular with the locals on the weekends. The best way to get to the Crystal Palace is via metro to the Aliados stop on the D line or the Carolina Michaelis stop, which services the A, B, C, E, and F lines. Or you can walk, it takes about 15-20 minutes from the Ribeira area. The gardens are open daily until dark and are free to explore.
5. When you are tired of the city, head over to Foz do Douro, an affluent suburb northwest of Porto where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The tempestuous ocean provides a perfect backdrop for a seaside walk along the esplanades. Foz do Douro used to be a fishermen port, and you’ll still see many fishing boats along the harbor. There are many bars and restaurants on the nearby road, making this area very lively during day or night time.
While walking along the shore, you can’t miss the Pergola da Foz, a neoclassical structure overlooking the ocean. This balcony is one of the most romantic spots in Porto, every couple has walked underneath the pergola at some point, professing their undying love for each other. Another notable sight in Foz is the lighthouse situated next to the mouth of river Douro, battered by the stormy Atlantic Ocean.
To get to Foz, you can take the #1 tram or the #500 bus that leaves from the Church de Sao Francisco. The tram only takes you to Foz while the bus will take you all the way to Matosinhos. The train and bus usually come every 10-15 minutes and cost 2.50 Euro per person. As a bonus, the spacious double decker bus has wi-fi hotspots in case you’re in a pinch and need to get on the internet. On a nice day, it’s possible to walk, but the journey from Porto center to Foz takes over an hour and is about the same distance from Foz to Matosinhos.
6. The path along the seashore winds between Foz to Matosinhos. The impressive mile-long promenade reminds me of Ipanema beach in Rio with a similar mosaic pattern on the sidewalk. The only difference is that the brisk icy Atlantic water is not as inviting, although there are quite a few people braving the cold. The wide sidewalk is the perfect place for people to run, bike, and rollerblade. Or you can just sit by one of the benches and watch the kids explore the rock pools at low tide. At the end of the hour long walk, head over to Rua Heróis de França for some fresh seafood
Check back next week for our look at the miradouros of Porto.
Length of Stay: 3 days
Accommodation: AirBnB – $349 for 3 nights
Flight: Delta Airline – $440 rountrip NYC to London, Ryanair – $300 rountrip London to Porto