Experience the best of Porto on this 4-day itinerary

Destinations

As the pandemic held us hostage, we all experienced hot, sticky, airless nights where we pined for former lovers, our hearts weeping for their embrace. But now, as Portugal removes many of its travel restrictions, fantasy and reality can collide in one electrifying clutch. Here’s how to spend a weekend falling hopelessly in love with a distractingly handsome Porto.

It’s easy to lose 48 hours in Portugal’s dashing, duel-hilled, sun-drenched second city. Sliced by the slow saunter of the Duruo river and and ribboned together by the rails of its sunflower-yellow trams, you could spend a lifetime sighing at its breathless beauty, in awe of its curves and cobblestones and its clinquant Klimt-esque sunsets

But all sultry, long-summer love affairs need a little spark, some excellent wine, fine food, some shared, starry-eyed experiences. Think: Emotive churches, evocative poetry, a passionate fado guitarist playing mournfully in a riverside tavern. Get ready to go giddy. Here’s what to do with a weekend in Porto.

Porto’s cityscape is anything but flat, but exploring its hills and cobbled streets on foot over a weekend is full of rewards © Adrienne Pitts / Lonely Planet

Friday evening

After arriving down in Porto, head towards the river. The Ribeira district is a magnetic for tourists and lovestruck couples – and for good reason: it’s loud and lively and boasts some of the best views in town. Get acquainted with the fabulous Portuguese wine selection at the Wine Quay Bar. Order a side of local cured hams and cheeses to tide you over until dinner.

Call ahead for a table at Tapabento to try modern petiscos (Portuguese sharing plates) like freshly-shucked oysters drizzled in shallot vinaigrette or tangy Azores cheese with walnuts and rocket. Then wander uphill along the bustling pedestrian street Rua das Flores to take in the remarkably intricate architecture of one of the city’s oldest streets.

High-angle view of a woman eating Confeitaria do Bolhão’s version of pastel de nata (the ubiquitous Portuguese custard tart) and its house speciality, tigelinha do Bolhão.
A pastel de nata or three, with a shot of espresso from Confeitaria do Bolhão will get your Saturday started with a kick ©Adrienne Pitts/Lonely Planet

Saturday morning

Do as the locals do and keep breakfast low-key with an espresso and a pastel de nata (yes, Portuguese custard tarts are a perfectly acceptable breakfast choice). Pick from any of the traditional cafes dotted around the city, but we’d plump for the determinedly archaic Confeitaria do Bolhão, a patisserie which has been doing the business since 1896. And still locals can’t get enough.  

From there, it’s a 10-minute saunter to Igreja do Carmo for some rococo to knock-o your socks off. Adorned in blue-and-white azulejo tiles from tip-to-toe, this 18th-century church is architectural dazzler and a for Instagrammers. Note the sliver of a house separating Carmo from its neighbor Igreja das Carmelitas, which kept the monks separated from the nuns.

Carry on south towards the unmistakable spire of the Torre dos Clérigos. The 249ft-high (76m) tower is the artistry of Nicolau Nasoni, who is oft considered the architect of Porto, and Clérigos is arguably his most famous contribution. Pay €6 ($7) to spiral up the 240 steps for a sweeping view of the city. The old staircases are narrow and often crowded, so if you’re claustrophobic or impatient, give it a miss and wander along Porto’s main avenue, Avenida dos Aliados, instead.

An image from river level looking up the the stone columns to the arching, light-blue steel lattices that support the roadway above (also made from light blue steel lattices).
The Ponte de Dom Luís I connects Porto with the cross-river city of Vila Nova de Gaia, where there are plenty of port wine lodges ©Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock

Saturday afternoon

Tonight will be spent on the town, so line your stomach with Porto’s famous multi-layered meat sandwich, the francesinha. Wrapped in cheese, drowned in tomato sauce and crowned with a fried egg, this artery-clogging masterpiece has more layers than the movie Inception (and takes just as long to finish). Send your medical bills to tried-and-trusted bellyfillers Capa na Baixa and Café Santiago.

The afternoon goal is to cross the river for a port tasting, but let your food settle with a stroll along Porto’s undulating cobblestones.Pass the baroque Igreja de Santo Ildefonso and wander through the Batalha district to reach the mighty , a cathedral where centuries’ worth of architecture is bundled into one structure. 

There are six museums, five restaurants and an entire afternoon’s worth of fun to be had here. The Wine Experience and the immersive Pink Palace – an Insta-ready whirl through the rosé industry – are both worth a peek, but for a real taste of the city’s fantastic fortified wine, head a wee bit further out and take a personalized tour at Croft, which ends with a port tasting.

A brilliant golden sun - hidden behind the fronts of a towering palm tree - sinks towards the horizon and paints the lower portion of the sky a vibrant yellow; whispy clouds still the upper portion of the blue sky. People gather on benches at the bottom of a grassy slope to watch the sunset and the River Douro below.
The sunsets over Porto as seen from the grassy slopes of Jardim do Morro © bennymarty / Getty Images

Saturday evening

Make the most of being on the south side of the Douro and watch the sunset from Jardim do Morro. Then take the metro back to Porto for a pre-dinner drink at Capela Incomum, a 19th-century chapel that’s been wonderfully transformed into a hushed and reverent wine bar. Locals don’t often eat until 9pm, which leaves you plenty of time to grab a taxi to the esteemed O Paparico, a romantic stone-walled restaurant which looks traditional but is anything but. Expect gastronomic fireworks using local produce like liqueur-laced Rendufas figs drizzled in a sweet fig vinegar.

The party scene doesn’t kick off until around midnight, so enjoy the evening air after dinner by pulling up a beanbag beneath the Passeio dos Clérigos olive trees at Base, a trendy open-air bar. Once the Clérigos clock strikes midnight, join the throngs of partygoers spilling out onto parallel streets Rua da Galeria de Paris and Rua de Cândido dos Reis, which are packed wall-to-wall with nightclubs and bars. 

Despite looking like a jumbled garage sale at first glance – given its shelves of toys, vintage clocks and model cars – Galeria de Paris is worth a pit stop. Then follow the human tide to find other hotspots and dance until the sun comes up. The locals dress down with comfy shoes for a reason.

Three ponds filled with lily pads sit end to end, with a fountain at the end; heavily manicured hedges and shrubs fill the remainder of the garden, with ivy climbing up the walls at the end where there are three Juliet balconies.
The verdant confines of the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal are a perfect place for a stroll following a late start © saiko3p / Shutterstock

Sunday morning

If Saturday is a late one, join the rest of the city but enjoying a lie-in. Grab breakfast and a specialty brew at Noshi Coffee (where vegan, vegetarians and gluten-free diets are well catered for), then wander along Rua do Rosário and Rua de Miguel Bombarda to browse concept stores and galleries.

Stop for a tea in the peaceful garden of Rota do Chá, then follow Bombarda to the end and turn left into the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. Watch the peacocks parading the grounds for photos and scope out the small gardens scattered across the park’s eight hectares (20 acres). Eventually zigzag your way back down to the river, pit stopping at the new Miradouro Ignez roof terrace for a snack or a drink with a knockout view.

Sunday afternoon

Hire a bike at Biclas & Triclas and sweep west along the Douro River to find some lunch. Choose from fresh fish barbecued on the street (follow your nose and the plumes of smoke), pizza overlooking the river at Casa d’Oro, or Portuguese share plates at Casa de Pasto da Palmeira. Brave the waves thrashing the Farol de Felgueiras jetty then continue around the bend as the Douro becomes the North Atlantic. Follow the coast to the beachside suburb Matosinhos or cut across to Portugal’s largest urban park, Parque da Cidade. Backtrack along the river to return your wheels.

A close up of a pork-filled white bun sitting on a white plate, with a glass of beer in the background.
A bifana (pork sandwhich) and beer at local institution Conga – Casas das Bifanas is a chilled way to start Sunday evening © Emily McAuliffe / Lonely Planet

Sunday evening

Keep things low-key with a beer and a bifana at Conga – Casa das Bifanas. This no-frills joint is a local institution and specializes in Portugal’s traditional thick-filled pork sandwiches. It’s best to also take the opportunity to grab a pre-departure pastel de nata from Manteigaria or Fábrica da Nata. Perhaps even buy a box of the flaky, crispy, custard-filled tarts to take home with you.

This article was originally published on August, 21 2019.

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