Rising from the banks of the Douro River, Porto stands as a myriad of snaking streets and alleyways, beautiful bridges and rusty-orange rooftops. Second cities can often get overlooked by the traveller, which in the case of Porto would be a real shame because spending a couple of days or a weekend in Porto is undeniably worth it.
It’s difficult to describe just how truly picturesque the place is. There are times when it seems every few metres brings one to a point that offers a better camera angle or provides the opportunity for a better photograph. Although it may be possible to capture Porto in image form, its riverside atmosphere and vibe must be experienced first-hand.
For a city that bursts with colour, it in many respects is still very much a hidden gem as I doubt many could mention anything significant or of interest other than perhaps its ties to port production. But Porto is much more than a ‘port’ city in both senses of the word.
This weekend in Porto itinerary touches on some of the best bits and those things that may intrigue and inspire. There’s enough to see and experience over the course of 48 hours; that’s if one manages to put the camera down for just a little while.
When to Visit Porto
City breaks are palatable at any time of year really – it just depends on whether one has a climate, cost or preference in terms of numbers of fellow tourists. Porto’s pattern for these things follows the common one for most of Europe in that summers are hotter, pricier and busy. Tourist numbers coincide with the rise and fall of temperatures which begin to climb in May and tail-off in October. The winter months are quiet but expect, or at least, prepare for, rainier, windier conditions.
Porto plays host to a variety of festival types across the year. The summer months are naturally where they cluster with June being the peak time, so book things early.
In February and March look out for the Essência do Vinho, a huge wine tasting event held at the Palácio da Bolsa and the two-week Fantasporto film festival, a celebration of the fantasy, science-fiction and horror genre.
June sees the arrival of the first music festivals, the International Theatre Festival of Iberian Expressions and the Festa de São João, during which there’s a regatta along the river. More music-related festivals fill the schedule for July and August, the busiest times.
How Many Days in Porto?
With it being on the smaller side and therefore more walkable, it shouldn’t take long to get acquainted with your surroundings. Even though the Douro River cuts the city in two, in reality, it’s not a significant barrier to exploring and the Dom Luís I Bridge, which is traversable on foot, offers excellent views of both banks. Even a sole day is enough to enjoy the city’s offerings though a weekend in Porto will allow you to dig deeper.
Getting To and Around Porto
Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport lies around 11km from the city centre and they are linked by the metro system, which is probably the most efficient way of transferring between the two. Buses are also quite frequent, but one can always opt for a shuttle or taxi for destinations outside the city centre or as a more direct form of transport. Shuttles from Porto Airport can be booked in advance here.
Porto is best enjoyed on foot or by boat, but if the weather’s not particularly good or if you ‘just want to get back’ after a stint of port tasting, then of course, some public transport will come in handy.
As far as metro systems go, Porto’s is relatively small, consisting of only the 6 lines therefore making it simple to navigate. You may even find getting to and from the airport is the only time you’ll use it, especially during shorter stays. With the metro system not providing comprehensive coverage of the Porto city area, one may need a bus to plug the gaps during their weekend in Porto. These run throughout the night albeit with a more limited service.
Campanhã train station, Porto’s largest, is where one will likely disembark if coming from Lisbon or further afield – certainly if arriving from neighbouring Spain. Fewer trains run from São Bento station but it more than makes up for this with some stunning tile-based murals, but more on that later… And yes, both are stops on the metro. Click here to view train schedules from your journey
Only 3 routes remain of what was Porto’s tram network and although they are technically a form of public transport, they are considered more of a tourist attraction these days. That’s in part due to the novelty factor of seeing and travelling on old rickety trams and the fact the routes double up as a means of enjoying yet more views of the city, particularly Linha 1, which runs along the riverbank.
The Funicular dos Guindais, will take you from a spot opposite the Dom Luís I Bridge in the Ribeira district, to near Porto Cathedral. The journey lasts around 3 minutes and saves on having to trudge uphill instead. Need I mention the views again?
If you think you’re likely to be a frequent user of public transport during your 2 days in Porto then it may be wise to invest in one of the Andante Cards which can be used on the metro system, buses, some regional trains and the funicular.
Card types vary, with a couple geared towards tourists- the Andante Tour 1 (€7) and the Andante Tour 3 (€15). These last for 24 and 72 hours respectively allowing unlimited use of the public transport methods on which it is accepted, without worrying about zones or having to top-up. Remember to validate your trip by swiping it past a validation machine – it is easy to forget…
If you’re planning to visit a number of museums during your 2 days in Porto then the Porto Card is also worth considering which includes a public transport card as well as discounts to a number of Porto’s attractions.
Weekend in Porto Itinerary
Like a glass at a wedding full of thirsty wine tasters, a couple of days in Porto will be readily filled and not only with the liquid of a grape derived beverage. The following brief itinerary should ensure one’s weekend is balanced with things to do and see on one side, and time to relax and enjoy the riparian ambience on the other.
Some of these will connect up nicely- a morning in Cais de Ribeira with a walk across the bridge to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar followed by an afternoon’s port tasting. But pluck out those suggestions that work for your Porto itinerary.
Day 1 – Explore the City Centre
The first day of your weekend in Porto is where you’ll cover the most ground and get a real sense of what the city is about.
Cais da Ribeira
Cais de Ribeira is a postcard manufacturer’s dream and is likely to imprint itself as the long-lasting mental image of Porto one takes home, although I’m sure there will be plenty of photographs to refresh the memory should that image begin to fade.
By day, descend through the streets lined with awkwardly stacked buildings brushed with a palette of colours from a painter who refuses to use anything that doesn’t fall into the category of ‘bright’. These hit the riverbank and spread out to the base of the Dom Luis I Bridge with courtyards and tucked away arcades leading off from the main promenade.
The atmosphere and people coming and going against a backdrop of river traffic and street entertainers can only be experienced from within, but the picture that it paints is fully appreciated from afar.
At night, this barrage of brightness gives way to gentler glow and although the light level may have changed, the numbers of bustling bodies does not follow suit such is the clamour to find a spot at one of the riverside restaurants.
Although perhaps a little on the ‘touristy’ side, that doesn’t necessarily equate to something negative, as an open-air evening meal by the river followed by a good glass of port is a fine way to end a day.
Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar
Looking across the river from Ribeira, sat perched above the Dom Luis I Bridge, one should easily spot the white rotunda of the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, unless it’s dark, in which case, look a little harder.
This 16th-century monastery, which is included in the region designed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, once belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine monks before being requisitioned for military purposes. The circular cloister and carved, gilded altars are considered highlights.
The main draw, however, has to be the views this vantage point offers. After all, it’s not often one gets to look down on a double-decked metal arch bridge. A short cable car journey will take you from the Gaia riverside to a spot near the monastery (and back again) but it costs considerably more than using the metro.
Port Tasting at a Port Lodge
Portugal must be the only country in the world to contain an alcoholic beverage in its name (if you find another, do let me know). I’m not sure if that rule applies to Porto itself, but the drink can certainly be found there by the barrel load.
The city is home to a number of port lodges which source their produce from Douro Valley. This is the only region in the world that can legally produce and use the name ‘port wine’. There are several lodges, the majority of which lodge are on the south side of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. Some offer a variety of port tasting packages.
For basic tasting at Graham’s Port Lodge, €20 or so buys an introductory video (with history and background etc.) a brief tour of the cellar and three glasses of port to try. If visiting as a group, it might be a good idea to order a different tasting set each, so you can all swap and have a sip of each other’s, although that may backfire if your set happens to be the tastiest…
Once the glasses have been drained of their regulate amounts, there’s a chance to purchase your favourite, although bottles are easy to come by throughout the city.
Pre-booking a timeslot online is essential for the Graham’s Lodge. It is also possible to book tours take you to multiple tasting rooms if you can’t decide on just one!
Day 2 – Dig deeper in Porto
The second part of your 48 hours in Porto is a more relaxed affair, leaves time for a bit of spontaneity and perhaps more of Cais da Ribeira if you didn’t have your fill on day one.
São Bento Train Station and Capela das Almas
Imagine a cross between a main transport hub, an art gallery and a tiled bathroom. Now make it a little more spectacular. Then you’ve just imagined São Bento train station. The 20,000 or so blue and white tiles than don the entrance hall walls depict historic Portuguese battles, conquests and more battles. It just begs the question as to exactly how long the artist’s train was delayed for…
If São Bento was somehow turned inside-out, then it wouldn’t look too dissimilar to the exterior of the 18th-century chapel, Capela das Almas. The mere 16,000 tiles were added in the 1920s with the artist having taken a slightly different approach by opting to portray events in the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine.
Even from a short distance, the rich blue façade is striking, particularly if the first glimpse is an unexpected one and comes whilst emerging from the Bolhão metro stop.
Fans of art, architecture and history may well wish to head towards Porto Cathedral. Built on the highest point in the city and on a square where criminals were once hanged, it’s a mixture of three main architectural styles – Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic.
The main building is free to enter, with a small fee to visit the cloister. It’s important to take note of the exit/entry points as one may end up spending a significant amount of time merely circumnavigating the courtyard.
With a city as picturesque as Porto, it’ll be hard to resist the temptation of jumping aboard a boat and seeing it from the river. Yes, it is a very tourist thing to do, with the usual cons of queuing and scrambling for a seat, but there’s still a novelty factor involved for those of us who are more land locked and don’t get to see or go on the water much.
The tours do provide a commentary, so one can get to learn a little more about Porto and its famed bridges (whilst passing under them). The boats travel a little further along the river than one may cover if walking on the banks, so there’s the added bonus of seeing areas that may have remained hidden. A typical cruise lasts approximately 50 minutes and can be booked online here.
One doesn’t expect to come across a 1920’s style café on a shopping street lined with modern shops in a busy city centre, let alone one as unique as Café Majestic. Apparently, it’s been named in the list of the top 10 beautiful cafés in the world, which isn’t a list of ‘things’ I’d even considered looking into, and to be honest, probably still won’t.
But do at least look into Café Majestic’s glamorous, semi-opulent interior as this was a place where Porto’s leading societal figures used to once meet. Buy a coffee and cake if you want to stay a bit longer, or a port if it’s evening, which may actually be a better idea if you want to avoid the crowds.
Have More Time?
If you have more time to spend than just a weekend in Porto, consider the following, with a focus on the areas beyond the city limits.
Fans of the Harry Potter children’s books and the subsequent screenplays may be interested in Livraria Lello (which sounds like one of those two-word phrases that gets impossible to say at high speed). This is because it is said to have provided the inspiration for the library at Hogwarts (JK Rowling lived in Porto for a while).
It functions as a bookshop in everyday life and for €5 entry you can climb, well walk up, the staircase and peruse the books. If you happen to stumble across a title you like, which you might literally do as it can get busy in there, then the cost of the ticket will be taken off the price at the till.
The Douro Valley
The area famed for producing port wine, the Douro Valley is listed as a World Heritage Site, made up of terraced vineyards, hillsides and villages that overlook the Douro River. Go on walks, taste wine, cruise along the river or just admire the scenery. It’s possible to book day trips to the Douro Valley here including this small-group tour that includes tastings, lunch and transfers.
If visiting during the warmer parts of the year, (or if you prefer an empty, sodden beach in winter), then fortunately Porto lies within reach of numerous fine beaches for a half-day trip or more.
Praia de Matosinhos is a large, sandy beach popular with locals and is close to the city. More traditional Portuguese resorts can be found if willing to travel a little further afield.
Where to Stay in Porto
Though it is often overlooked in lieu of the capital of Lisbon or the sun-soaked coast of the Algarve, Porto is becoming more and more popular for tourists and there are numerous accommodation options to choose from. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Porto, check out these suggestions:
Hostel One Ribeira – If you’re travelling solo or in Portugal on a budget, then this hostel is a great choice for you. They have a handful of dorm and private rooms available, a central location, great common areas for meeting other travellers, and a helpful staff to make your stay a great one. Click here to see their availability
House of Artists – This boutique hotel is a great option if you are looking for a comfortable and stylish place to stay in Porto. Centrally located within walking distance of all of Porto’s main sites, each room is equipped with a kitchenette and a great breakfast is also included. Click here to see their availability
In Porto Gallery Guesthouse – A chic hotel located in the centre of Portugal, this is a great place to stay if you’re after a bit of luxury in the city. They have a range of plush and comfortable rooms available, breakfast included each morning, and balconies or great views from every room. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other Porto hotels!
Planning out the perfect weekend in Porto itinerary is an easy task, with the compact city having much to offer the short city-breaker.
Are you planning a weekend in Porto itinerary? Have you been to Porto? Let us know in the comments!