Porto

Porto river bank
Porto from the Douro

Getting There..

I’m sorry to say I got this one wrong. It happens sometimes.. We flew into Vigo Airport instead of Porto. It was about €120 cheaper to for us to fly into Vigo, but it actually wasn’t about the money – it was because I like to make best use of the flight times to get us an extra day or half day at a destination where possible. The flight times looked like this: 

So I booked on the basis of  better arrival and departure times to maximise our time in Porto. Now obviously I do know that you need to either use public transport or rent a car to make the final leg of the journey when you do this.. but I decided last minute that I didn’t want a rental car. The public transport option ate into all the additional time we got from booking the flights, and the cost worked out almost exactly the same. We did have a very pretty bus journey though! Porto itself is an extremely walkable city, but I’d recommend a Metro Tourist Ticket. Prices are €7 for a 24 hour ticket and €15 for a 72 hour ticket and the kids went free.

Sete Bicas Metro Stop, Porto
Beach bound at the Sete Bicas stop on the blue line. All lines run through here.

Where to stay… 

We stayed in a one bed apartment in the Bonfim district which we found on booking.com. It was an easy 800m walk to the nearest metro stop (24 de Agosto) and met all our requirements. It had a cafe, a fruit and vegetable shop and a Supermarket all within 10meters, making settling in a breeze. You can grab a few basic items for the apartment including fruit for breakfast and some snacks and be ready for exploring again in minutes. It was also an easy 20 minute walk from Estádio do Dragão for the football fans among you. 

What to do…

The Six Bridges Cruise is a must. It’s a 50 minute boat cruise departing from Ribeira Quay, or from Vila Nova de Gaia if your on that side of the river. We took the cruise from Riberia (they’re operated by different companies) and it cost €46 for two adults. Kids under 4 go free, and kids aged 4 – 10 get a 50% discount. Cruises were departing every half hour up until 1800 on October 1st. We overpaid, as we just walked into a shop that was selling the tickets on the way down towards the quay, but we didn’t really have a plan – we just needed to occupy two little people for a while until it was late enough to go for dinner. It’s a great filler activity. Try and get first in line if possible, and you’ll get your pick of seats (go for the edge seats, and please pardon my boat terminology ignorance). Tickets can be pre booked on line. Afterwards, we stuck around Riberia Square. The food was over priced and underwhelming where we stopped, but the atmosphere around the square, coupled with the street performers gave it a great vibe and we had a great evening here.

Rebecca and Jack score seats for the Six Bridges Cruise
Prime seats for the Six Bridges Cruise

Grab a drink and some lunch at some of Porto’s swanky rooftop bars. 17th Restaurant & Bar is a less than 5 minute walk from the Trinidad stop on the metro, at the top of the Hotel Dom Henrique Downtown. As the name suggest, it’s on the 17th floor. The views are the type that you just have to spend a few quiet minutes absorbing. Luckily, we had the place to ourselves. I have a knack for that! We had a light lunch too, and everyone left feeling satisfied.

You could also head to Porto Palacio Congress Hotel & Spa. Once again, the views are amazing, the cocktails are great and I was told by two little reputable sources that the orange juice was delicious. I should note though, this place was very nice. It seemed to be in a very business orientated area, and even though it was really quiet when we went in (late afternoon), the few patrons that were there were very well heeled. We were planning to visit here on a different day (and I would have been more appropriately dressed if we had), but happened to be passing so we stopped in and long story short, I was underdressed in a pair of denim shorts. Long pants, or even a sundress would have been a better option – usually I’m appropriately dressed for my surroundings. The staff were friendly and no one made me feel badly about this, but I felt self conscious all the same. 

Atlantic views, Porto Palacio Congress Hotel & Spa rooftop bar
Atlantic views from the roof at Porto Palacio Congress Hotel & Spa, where I was underdressed for the swankiness.

Others that were on our hitlist but we just didn’t get the time to visit included the Hotel Premium Porto Downtown and the 360 Terrace Lounge at Espaço Porto Cruz.

If you’ve read here before, you’ll know that zoos are common stop on our itineraries, despite my mixed feelings towards them. Put simply, kids tend to love them, and it’s their holiday too. We went to Zoo Santo Inácio, which was one of the more aesthetically pleasing zoos I’ve visited (yes I can discuss the quality of many of Europes zoos with you!), with really nice bamboo lined pathways and views over the Douro. It was also nice and quiet when we visited on a Tuesday morning during school term. 

Rebecca at Zoo Santo Inácio, Porto
Remaining unphased at Zoo Santo Inácio, Porto

Hit the beach! A city bustling city on a beach is absolutely my idea of the good life, and Porto ticks that box with the gorgeous Praia de Matosinhos. Also, it was 27 degrees during the first week of October, so this was a no brainer. Take the blue line (A) on the Metro all the way to Matosinhos Sul and then you’re a two minute walk from the beach. We actually walked up from Jardim do Passeio Alegre – we went to play miniature golf but there was some sort of competition taking place when we got there so we just went straight for the beach – it was 3 kilometres and we knocked over an hour out of it to let a small man grab a nap in the stroller. The place was nicely bustling in October, so I’d imagine it’s completely thronged in the summer. There were surfing lessons, kite surfing and a game of beach volleyball all taking place, and we also passed the Sea Life Aquarium down at the southern end of the beach. 

Praia de Matosinhos Porto
Rebecca at Praia de Matosinhos

If shopping is your thing, Norte Shopping is a large shopping centre two minutes from the Sete Bicas stop. All the Metro lines run through it and we made a quick stop there to make a Sephora run on our way home from the beach. We were in and out but even the shopping centre kept families in mind with the design, with a massive slide/ activity centre running through the middle of the centre.

Playgrounds of Porto
Rebecca swinging around Parque de São Roque, Porto

The Parks. Any of them. The parks of Porto deserve a special write up of their own, because they were all amazing and they were all over the place. It’s one of the reasons that Porto struck me as a really liveable city. There were so many clean green outdoor spaces that were great places to sit and while away a few hours. I imagine I’d spend huge amounts of times in the parks if I lived in Porto. En route to Estádio do Dragão, we walked through Parque de São Roque. We entered on the playground side and the kids had great time. We made our way through the rest of the park and ate the food we’d brought in the walled garden with the fountain, before carrying on through the hedge maze. These are some really nice gardens with some sweet views of Porto to match. 

Jack on the climbing wall
Jack conquering the climbing wall at the zoo

When you emerge from the Marquês Metro stop you’re in beautiful city park with a fountain. We sat here and chilled for an hour or so and put away some Portuguese pastries while we were waiting to grab dinner. There were crowds gathering around a group of retirees who were seriously engrossed in a game of cards at the tables under the palm trees – they’d just stop and watch for a few minutes while coming and going from the metro. It was like stepping back in time and it legitimately charmed me. It was very community orientated and felt like the dominos games you’d see in parks in old movies. Or maybe Havana…

Street card players
Got momentarily lost in this vintage looking card game

An eight minute walk from here was Quinta do Covelo. This had the best playground I have ever seen in my life. I had to really resist the temptation to climb right up there with the kids. Jamie could not resist said temptation – he ‘had to help Jack cause he’s too small but wants to go on it anyway’. The pictures I have below don’t do it any justice, as I’m always weary of whipping out my camera at a playground – I neither want to be accused of being a super creep nor do I want to get anyone else’s kids in shots I’m posting online. 

The food… 

I don’t usually mention particular eateries, because I usually feel that people can find their own just fine, however if you like burgers, I think that you should give Burger Point on Rua de Santa Catarina a visit. I’m not the worlds biggest burger fan, but the food here was fabulous. We had potato skins with guacamole & bacon, along with chicken wings for shared starters, and we devoured them. They had a delicious chicken fillet option for me, and the sweet potato fries were amazing. The rest of the family were full of praise for the beef options they’d ordered. The two front of house staff members on that night were amazing (I think one may have been the owner) from the minute I walked in (I got there on my own with the kids a few minutes before Jamie). They were helping with the stroller and chatting away to the kids. One even disappeared off down the street and returned a few minutes later with colouring books and crayons. So basically, 5 star food and 5 star friendly staff. If you like burgers, give it a try and thank me later. 

You could easily fill a week in Porto. Some of the things we didn’t get around to doing included but are not limited to – Planetarium Do Porto, Jardim Botânico do Porto, the Leça Swimming Pools (rock pools on Praia de Leça da Palmeira, but these were closed for the season), Casa De Serralves (an Art Deco House with Gardens and a Gallery) and countless other parks. Along with all of that, we never even ventured across into Gaia at all despite intending to. I asked the host who was checking us in to our apartment for any tips, he spotted my camera and advised that the sunset view over Porto from Gaia is the best, so photography enthusiasts may want to add this to the list. 

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