After day temperatures of 35 – 42 degrees in Perpignan, it was either buy air conditioning or find somewhere to take a break from the ‘chaleur’. My local airport had 9 destinations, but Porto was close to the sea and somewhere I had always wanted to visit.
Where to stay in Porto
I went online and for just under 70 Euro return, got the next flight out, booked 3 nights in the Holiday Inn Express, City Centre and set off for the airport the next day.
Getting to Porto
The flight is 1hr 45mins, so it was late afternoon when we landed in Porto. As expected, Ryanair park somewhere out on the tarmac, well away from the airbridges and I have to say I have never walked so far to a terminal anywhere. Inside the terminal it was straight to the metro stop and into town to the Trindade stop. The hotel was the next stop (Bolhao) but it was just a short walk to Rua Santa Catarina, which also appeared to be the main shopping street. The hotel was new and a standard Holiday Inn, the staff were excellent and always ready to help. The metro service was efficient and regular including the Sunday service back to the airport.
Useful tip: Always compare cheap flights to Porto to get the best deal and save!
Exploring Porto on a budget - Day 1
The next day started with a good breakfast in the hotel and then the traditional city bus tour! I have always liked the open top bus tours and even when I lived in the UK, I used to take them just to see if there was something I had missed in my hometown. The tour was on two separate busses. The first was around the old town and down to the Ribeira district. You realise just how hilly the town is on this tour, if you like walking up and down hills, Porto is perfect.
Get your tour bus here, just outside Macdonald’s. Praca da Liberdade126
The second tour was excellent, starting at the same point but going out of town to the surfing beach at Praia de Matosinhos. You can also get the metro there from the city centre. The beaches are excellent and if you are on the tour bus, you will travel along the Avenida da Boavista, an avenue that seems to go on forever. The beach was invisible as the sea mist had rolled in, but I left the bus for lunch and fortunately the mist was burned off and a fantastic beach suddenly appeared.
Mist clearing from Praia de Matosinhos
It was good to feel the sea breeze again after the stifling heat at home and it was good to walk along the beach.
Hopping back on the bus, the route follows the coast, beside another seven beaches until the road moves back inland along the River Douro finally crossing the river to arrive back in the city centre.
I haven’t mentioned a lot of places to eat and drink because there are so many (usually about half the price compared to France). A trip to Porto, or anywhere in Portugal, cannot be complete until you have had a coffee and a Portuguese custard tart (Pasteis de Nata). I think every coffee shop sells them. Very sweet.
Day 2 in Porto
The second day was walking day! Heading down to the Ribeira district, the first stop was the railway station (Sao Bento Station). I usually use stations to get on a train not to go sightseeing. This place was amazing, the entrance hall was covered in azulejos (blue tiles) and there were a lot of tourists. Not many were buying tickets, but this is the station should you want to go to Lisbon.
Sao Bento Station
Out of the station and doing downhill (literally not emotionally) towards the river. This is very much the tourist area; the narrow streets are full of cafes and souvenir shops. At the bottom of the street but before the river, I turned left through a short tunnel to arrive at the north end of the lower level Ponte de Dom Luis. This is a two-level bridge, the top level for the metro and pedestrians and the lower level for motor vehicles and pedestrians. The pavements are not that wide so it can get quite congested.
Over the bridge and down to the right is the area where all the Port Houses are situated. I took a tour round the Sandeman Cellar, only because an English-speaking tour was starting. It was reasonable value for 20e, a 30-minute tour plus two glasses of Port. There are another 9 or 10 houses to choose from along the Cais de Gaia. If you have been taking a tourist bus tour, check your ticket, you might get a free tasting). Walking along the river side you will find market stalls and the river taxi (Regular crossings back across the river for 3e per person, the journey takes about 5 minutes). About another 30 meters further is the cable car to take you up to the Mosterio da Serra do Pilar without a steep uphill climb.
Teleferico de Gaia
Back over the bridge again to the north bank of the Douro and into the Ribeira district. There are market stalls on your left as you walk down to the riverside and a multitude of cafes and bars on your right. This was the busiest area, for tourists and even the odd hen party.
Ribeira, come early for a seat in the holiday season
Although most of the cafes are on the side of the river, there is almost a mezzanine level with more cafes above the street. The pathways are narrow, but you get a good view of the river and quite relaxing to have a drink and watch the activity below.
There are a lot of river cruises available, usually just to see the 6 bridges along the Douro. I took the nearest one that was leaving soonest for 15e. The boats are styled on the Rabelo cargo boats that carried wine from the vineyards to the Port cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, the cruise lasts about 30 mins and is basically a sail up the river to the last bridge and back again past the mooring on to the Ponto de Arribida.
Some pictures from the river.
Cruising on the Douro
The mist rolling in again
Waterfront apartments in Porto
After the river cruise time for lunch, this is probably the largest restaurant by the riverside and was exceptionally busy on my visit. Probably because of the school holidays. Walking back into the town centre So that was my last day in Porto. Never really scratched the surface of the town, tending to concentrate on the tourist sites. Back to the airport on Sunday morning and home on time.
I will return to Porto and be more organised rather than just wanting to get away without much preparation. I missed the cathedral area altogether which is regarded as a must see and the Barredo District, though I couldn’t have been that far away. So maybe next time in the Spring or Autumn.