24 hours in Porto
With it’s higgledy-piggledy medieval centre, river sunsets, delicious food & wines and friendly locals, it’s hard not to fall in love with humble Porto. It’s charms are subtle and best enjoyed on a slow walk through the Unesco World Heritage Ribeira old town, a maze of medieval alleyways leading down to a promenade lined with colourful houses and hole-in-the-wall taverns offering a front row view of the Ponte de Dom Luís I and the port-wine lodges over the river in Gaia. This is picture perfect Porto at it’s best.
Where to stay
Pestana Vintage Porto is one of Porto’s most photogenic hotels with it’s prime location on the banks of the Duoro Valley overlooking the sparkling waters and the double-decker Dom Luís I Bridge. In the heart of the city, its a great location for exploring Porto, while getting a riverfront room means you can enjoy Porto almost as much just from sitting on your balcony.
Arriving in the late afternoon, take a walk across Ponte Dom Luís I to Gaia, dominated along the riverfront by grand port wine cellars. There are more port wines than I ever imagined and this is a great opportunity to find out more about Porto’s local drink.
With so many port lodge’s to choose from it can seem a daunting task to decide which one to tour. But there’s one that stands out as every locals favourite so was where I was heading; Graham’s Port Lodge. Graham’s Port Lodge is perched up on a hill at the end of Gaia overlooking the river, well worth the uphill walk for the beautiful views from it’s terrace. From some of the best vineyards in the Duoro Valley, Graham’s port has long been highly regarded in the port world. There are tours and tastings to suit everyone but you have to book ahead.
After a tour of the cellar, where Graham's port is stored in the pleasant Gaia climate, along with an informative talk on how their wines are produced, we saw the family’s impressive personal collection with port wines dating back to 1868.
The tour finishes with a tasting, where choosing a classic and a vintage tasting gives you access to the luxurious vintage tasting rooms where you are talked through your wines before being left to enjoy them in the comfort of the smoking room style hangout.
For dinner head back across the river and test out one of Porto’s cosy, dimly lit taverns, of which there are many to choose from.
Wake up slowly, enjoying the riverside view from the rooms at Pestana Vintage Porto as the city comes to life at its own pace.
Head uphill to Torre dos Clerigos, one of portugals landmarks with an impressive view from the top of it’s 240 steps.
Livraria Lello is known to be one of the most beautiful bookshops in Europe with a standout spiral staircase where you can also have a coffee or a glass of port. However, to get in you have to first buy a ticket from a nearby ticket office before joining the queues of other tourists, so I enjoyed it from the outside instead.
If there is one thing Porto has, it’s churches. Igreja de Sao Francisco, almost as beautiful outside as it is in, is unmissable and if you only have time to see one church make it this one. It’s blue and white tiled exteriors are a classic Porto sight. But inside, there’s hardly a spot left in sight that hasn’t been filled with otherworldly figures and sober monks, all covered by nearly 100kg of gold leaf making for a dazzling display of baroque finery.
This area around Praça de Lisboa, has a more local feel to it than the riverfront, full of trendy independent coffee shops and bars with the influence of the nearby university. Base, a bar in a garden in the middle of the square is a great chill-out spot to enjoy an afternoon drink.
Rua Santa Caterina runs as a pedestrian street through the city. On it sits Café Majestic which has gained a reputation in town from being one of the oldest cafés in Porto with exquisite interiors. But with this brings more queues so head to one of the many cosier options nearby.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso is an eighteenth century baroque twin-towered church that appears from no where with its beautiful façade of blue and white azulejo tiles telling stories of the life of St Ildefonsus.
The fortress like cathedral Se de Lisboa is one of Lisbon’s icons, although less spectacular inside after you’ve visited Igreja de San Francisco. High up on a hill, it has a spectacular view that can be seen from the plaza in front.
From here, take a walk across the top level of the Ponte Dom Luís I bridge with it’s panoramic views along the river and up the hills of the city. Designed by one of Gustave Eiffel’s students, the views from here are simply stunning, particularly around sunset when the city shines a golden light.
A very short cable car connects the other of the bridge back down to the riverfront of Gaia.
Instead take a stroll downhill where you will have views over the port cellars to the city ahead.
River cruises depart from both sides of the river so hop on one of the 50 minute cruises up and down the Porto waterfront to get a view of the beautiful skyline from the water. There are many companies lining the river with the same prices and services so just pick whichever one is leaving next.
Enjoy the last of the afternoon sun at one of the riverfront terraces outside of Pestana Hotel Porto before the sun moves behind the buildings. This area is bustling with life from all walks, street performers to runners, to locals and tourists.
The top level of Ponte Dom Luís I is the place to bring your Porto adventure to an end. With the mist coming in from the Atlantic, there is something magical about the soft golden shades as the sun sets behind the city that will make you already wanting to return to the beautifully underrated Porto.