When we were planning our Portugal trip in autumn I knew beaches were out of the question, so we settled on Lisbon and Porto. Read all about Lisbon here.
We were celebrating our anniversary so Porto was an ideal city for a romantic getaway. It’s a wonderful little city, with soft dimly lit streets, the charming Douro River, and a nostalgic atmosphere typical of Portugal. Not only is it the second largest city in Portugal, but it is a third-less expensive than Lisbon which should make it accessible, welcoming all lovers looking for a memorable location that isn’t overrun with tourists.
If this sounds like your cup of tea, then follow this guide for a perfectly relaxing time in Porto.
GETTING TO PORTO
We rented a car from Sixt on our way out of Lisbon. It took us about 3 hours. If you don’t want to rent a car you can use the high-speed train anywhere in Portugal. You can check prices and times here.
WHERE TO STAY
Since we are members of IHG Rewards, we always try to stay at a partner hotel and rack up the points. We stayed in the Intercontinental Porto. The hotel overlooks Praça da Liberdade and is a few minutes’ walk from São Bento station and many of the city’s main attractions. It’s the prettiest Intercontinental Hotel we’ve stayed at so far. We got upgraded to one of their suites and the view was amazing.
Since Porto is cheaper than Lisbon, you can get good deals on hotels in the Ribiera District, Avenida dos Aliados, or AirBnb.
WHAT TO DO
– STROLL AROUND PRAÇA DA LIBERDADE
Praça da Liberdade is a popular starting point for first-time visitors in Porto. The expansive space immediatly introduction important buildings and statues of historical figures. This is an important space for the local residents, and it can fit a large crowd for musical concerts and public gatherings.
– DRINK PORT AT RIBEIRA NEIGHBORHOOD
This is one of the oldest parts of town, with beautiful medieval buildings, twisting cobblestone streets, and riverfront views. Skip the bubbly and go for sweet instead. One of the top locations for a romantic experience is Taylor’s Port Wine Lodge. Dating back over 300 years, it has one of the cities most historic port cellars.
-GO CHURCH HUNTING
Whether you’re a religious person or not, visiting Porto’s churches is an excellent way of getting to know the most important moments in Portuguese history, and the evolution of its architectural styles. Some of my favorite churches are: Igreja dos Clérigos, Capela das Almas, Igreja de São Francisco, Sé do Porto (Catedral do Porto) and my favorite, Igreja de Santa Clara.
-EXPLORE THE MERCADO DO BOLHÃO
Visiting markets are absolutely my favorite thing to do when visiting a new city. Mercado de Bolhao is a historic 19th century marketplace. It is bustling and lively, and its stalls offer fresh fruit and vegetables, smoked meats, fresh fish, freshly baked breads, cheeses, and other local delicacies. It’s the perfect place to explore and get a feel for the city and its people.
-BE AMAZED BY PORTO’S MOST BEAUTIFUL LIBRARY
Livraria Lello is considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It was inaugurated by the Lello brothers in 1906. With it’s intricately carved gothic wood-panelling, floor to ceiling shelves, and stained glass skylight and grand curving staircase – one of the most beautiful staircases I’ve ever seen in my life, it kind of reminded me of the library from Beauty and the Beast.
It is said that Livraria Lello inspired JK Rowling’s Hogwarts. Fun fact: She taught English in Porto for 2 years. Visit the livraria early in the day as tourists quickly crowd this beauty and leave you feeling a little overwhelmed
-VISIT THE SÃO BENTO RAILWAY STATION
The São Bento station is more than just a transport hub for Porto’s residents. On the walls of the grand entrance, 20,000 beautiful tiles (or “azulejos” in Portuguese) tell Porto’s history; its royalty, various battles, and growth play out intricately across the iconic blue and white tiles. It’s a great backdrop for an instapic!
-TAKE A CRUISE DOWN THE DOURO RIVER
A trip to Porto just wouldn’t be complete without viewing the city from the river. We took this Viator tour that included wine tasting at 2 wineries (try vine verde, my fave!), an olive oil museum, traditional Portuguese lunch, and a visit to the cute village of Pinhão .
-WATCH THE SUNSET FROM THE DOM LUIS I BRIDGE
Sunsets in Porto are absolutely magical, so make your way up to the famous Dom Luis I Bridge, and watch the magnificent spectacle over the Ribeira District.
WHERE TO EAT
With so many restaurants in Porto specializing in fresh fish and seafood, locally farmed meats, and other regional delicacies, it can be hard to choose where to dine. So here is my list of the best Porto has to offer:
BACALHAU: Enjoy some deliciously simple traditional Portuguese fish tapas (or petiscos).
CONFEITARIA DO BOLHÃO: A beautiful 120-year-old patisserie serving up Porto’s best pasteis de nata, arrufadas (sweetbread), croissants, and other tempting flakey sweet treats.
ADEGA SÃO NICOLAU: Eat where Porto’s top chefs go when they want good, unpretentious, hearty Portuguese food.
CAFE SANTIAGO: No Porto trip will be complete without trying their Francesinha, a Portuguese sandwich with sausage ( or linguiça in Portuguese), cured hams, and steak topped with melted cheese and thick tomato-beer sauce.
RESTAURANTE CAFEINA: Porto’s hip crowd enjoy the Italian and French influences at this trendy restaurant. Menu changes seasonally.
WINE QUAY BAR: Even thought they don’t serve full-on plates, vino aficionados will be able to snack on local cheeses, olives, fresh breads, and cold meats. We were asked what our favorite wines were before friend staff recommended a local and delicious alternative.