The Perfect Afternoon to Feel Like You Saw All of Porto, Portugal
Despite how amazing this city is, Porto, Portugal was originally not one of our intended destinations when we booked our flights for this Euro trip! About a month before our departure for Nice, France, our friends - who were going to Europe around the same time - reached out to us and proposed a meet up in Porto. After weighing our options and calculating all the costs out (trains vs flights etc), we decided to meet them and I am SO happy we did.
We had about 40 hours total in Porto, arriving mid morning on the first day and taking an early morning flight out on the third day. Our full second day was spent on an awesome port wine tour through the Douro Valley, which is the scenic vineyards and hilly countryside about 30 minutes outside of city (more on that trip here). So, we really only had the afternoon on our first day to explore Porto.
Our hotel Hotel HF Tuela Porto was exactly a mile from Old Town, Porto and was perfect for our short stay. Some further quick hotel love: the rooms were clean and air-conditioned, the breakfast was fresh with a great spread, and the staff was exceptional! The walk to downtown is quick, so it's worth saving the money and staying a bit further in a place like this.
After getting settled in our hotel, we went straight to the Clérigos Church and Torre for a view of the city from the top of the tower. It's a nominal fee of 5 euros for the view and self-guided tour of the beautiful Baroque church. At the top, the colorful tiled exteriors that are so famous in Porto were clearly visible on the houses below. I love going to a high point like this when I first get into a new city, because it really allows me (as someone who's cardinal-directionally challenged) to get my bearings as to where I am in relation to the rest of the city.
We wandered around the old town for a bit checking out some of these famous sights in Porto, though we did not go into them. I'm personally super into architecture and love to be outside when the weather is nice, so just walking by and looking was enough for us. These places are all within a square half mile (1 km), so it's easy to pick and choose which ones to go in and which ones to walk by, designing the perfect itinerary catered to individual interests.
Porto Cathedral : Free - a Roman Catholic church in the historical center of Porto. Although free, a small fee is charged to enter certain parts
Palácio da Bolsa : €8 - translated to Stock Exchange Palace. The incredible architecture makes it northern Portugal's most popular monument.
Church of São Francisco : €3.50 - prominent gothic church in the historic centre with a golden interior.
São Bento railway station : Free - 20th century railroad station with elaborate artwork that tells the story of Portugal inside.
Livraria Lello : €4 - bookshop reported to be an inspiration for J.K. Rowling when she created the library at Hogwarts.
Majestic Cafe : Optional - cafe with ornate interior, featuring wooden carvings and chandeliers. Gets packed!
Igreja do Carmo : €4 - twin baroque churches built in the 1700s
Our next stop was the Ribiera along the river, which I think is an absolute must for Porto. It's a popular spot, with a lot of tourists populating the cobblestone streets. We strolled in an out of shops and captured different views of the The Dom Luís bridge as we walked down the street. Peering down the river, you can see a couple of the other bridges that Porto has. Before crossing over to Vila Nova de Gaia, we grabbed a drink at Bar Ponte Pensil.. mainly because I needed a little liquid courage before going on the top section of the bridge to cross over. Even though this place was overrun by tourists, it was cheap, the service was good, and it offered one of the best views of the bridge.
To get to Vila Nova de Gaia - where the port wine cellars are - there are a number of different options, including water shuttles, a gondola, and of course, the famous Dom Luís. The bridge offers two different pedestrian paths, one higher up, which you have to get to by hiking a little bit on the Porto side, and one alongside the cars (there is a barrier to ensure safety). I was actually surprised to see a lot of kids jumping off the lower level into the river below. It's apparently completely normal, but being a little bit of a worrier, it had me slightly on edge. I recommend taking the higher route of the bridge - the views are absolutely worth it.
Over in Vila Nova de Gaia, there are a ton of different port wine cellars to choose from. Our friends we were with had a voucher to one of the highly rated port wine cellars, Graham's, from their hotel for a tour and tasting, so that made our decision easy. All port wine is grown and made out in the Douro Valley. However because of the extremely hot temperatures in the valley, it gets brought in and stored in Porto for the more moderate climate. If you're curious, I talk more about port wine in this post.
After sampling the port, we were pretty hungry and were ready to check out the Porto nightlife. We hit this popular pizza place Restaurante Casa Dòro, which I imagine is mainly popular because of the incredible views it offers (check out this one below of Ponte da Arrábida), and then sat outside at popular bars: Gin House and Plano B. With our early wake up call the next day, we weren't going to be closing any place down, but it was so nice to get a break from the heat, sit outside, and enjoy the night scene.
We truly took advantage of every minute we spent here, and I came away from it feeling like I got to see and experience a ton of the city! Hope this helps you plan your trip and I'd love to hear your comments !