Porto, Portugal’s second largest city is a vibrant, interesting and contemporary mishmash of colourful buildings, diverse cultures and fantastic food. It’s not as showy as Lisbon and the pace here seems slow enough to stroll but fast enough to keep up.
There are a number of walking tours suggested by guidebooks and the tourist information office, but to be honest, the city isn’t that big and it’s really easy to navigate and ‘find’ the main attractions. Porto is hilly but when you’re walking around you don’t feel it. The only way to travel in a busy city, is to babywear, so we carried Chaos and Mayhem so they too could see the sights.
We arrived in Porto by car at midday, parked in overnight underground parking and hit the city running. We started off at the top of town, near our cheap hotel, so it was downhill all the way to the river, Rio Douro. First, we popped into São Bento Train Station to marvel at the Azulejos Tiles. It was raining and a great place to shelter from the torrential downpour (it loves to rain in Portugal, it is sometimes relentless but never in Summer). The beautiful tiles were monumental, a worthwhile sight, our photo doesn’t do them justice.
Next, lunch. Porto is famous for the Franchesina, a grilled sandwich jam packed full of meaty treats, draped in cheese and served with a slightly spicy beer sauce and fries. Ham, Sausage, Steak, a real meat feast; Hubbie was in his element and loved it. I don’t eat meat so went for the meat free version…a grilled cheese with the spicy beer sauce which was full of paprika and totally awesome. Way too much cheese and a heart attack on a plate , you’ll be lucky to finish the meat version, but we did have two hungry little urchins to help us!
Feeling very full and lethargic we bit the bullet and decided to walk it off by climbing the torre de Clérigos, or Clérigos Tower. For only two euros per person it’s a complete bargain and you get to see the whole of the city and the rooftops. Don’t get me wrong, it was a bit of a tight squeeze, in parts, going up the tower, and spiral stairs, but this, apart from eating the Franchesina, was the boy’s favourite part of the day.
After paying to get into the torre you also have free entry into the imposing church, it’s a bit of a labyrinth of stairs and corridors but again, fun for the kids. Try singing ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ as you walk around and you’ll get the idea.
A short walk from the Clérigos Church is Lello & Irmão Bookstore, or Livrairo Lello, open since 1906 it is a bookshop, a cafe and a bar. A favourite of J K Rowling when she lived and worked in Porto, it was my favourite part of Porto because of it’s beauty. I love art nouveau, gothic architecture and any kind of natural woodwork, so this bookshop was just perfect for me. The staircase, woodwork and decorations, were just stunning. You can see why the bookshop was inspirational. The skinflint in me hated having to pay to get into the shop, three euros per person, but the price is refunded at the till when you buy a book. We bought a six euros Portuguese baby book to try and teach the boys more of the language.
Downhill all the way to the Douro river we next hit Ribeira, the medieval town’s centre, built on the hills overlooking the riverfront. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The multicoloured facades of the ancient buildings make the city come alive, even when it’s dull and raining!
Close to Ribeira there is the Igreja de (church of) São Francisco, which is jam packed full of gold leaf and gothic finery. It is on Porto’s to do list, but to be honest we’d had enough of churches so we decided to give it a miss as we were starting to feel a little bit thirsty…
Port is the big thing here and once you know that, you know how the city gets its name (you might say, duh, of course, but I never knew!). All of the big labels of Port have their lodges (cellars/warehouses) on the Gaia waterfront, downstream from their vineyards in the Douro Valley. So after a wet trip around Ribeira, we crossed the bottom of the Ponte Luís I (Luís I Bridge) and headed over to try out some port.
Calem, Taylors, Cockburns, Grahams, Ramos Pinto and all of the big Port labels have their lodges available for tours and port tasting. The tours were a bit too long for us and would have driven the kids crazy. We didn’t really fancy taking Chaos and Mayhem on an hours long tour, we didn’t think they could handle it, so we looked for the next best option and went to a port lodge with a bar.
Ports are available in Ruby, Tawny, aged Tawny, Vintage and Late Bottled Vintage, from average quality grapes to very select LBV (in that order). The only time that I’ve had port is with blue WKD, a ‘cheeky vim’, I know, how awful! Hubbie was much more of a connoisseur and had read-up on the different types of port beforehand and loved the port. Mayhem was asleep in the carrier and Chaos, well, he enjoyed the palette cleaning crackers and handfuls of raisins we bribed him with during this ‘adult’ experience. We ordered one of each and enjoyed a little sip of the sweet and sun-kissed raisin tasting ports. Whereas port is a little too lip puckeringly sweet for my liking, I appreciated the experience and it felt right to be sipping fine port on the banks of the Douro river in Porto.
After our port we navigated our way back up to the top of town, popped into our hotel to check in and give the kids a chance to burn off some energy-as we were carrying them we were the only ones starting to flag! It’s amazing how much enthusiasm children have for a new space. Every inch of our bedroom for the night was explored, the sliding bathroom door and the wardrobes were a hidey-hole-heaven and the boys spent a good half an hour ‘exploring’. Hubbie broke one of the slats on the bed showing the boys how to slam dunk on the bed…whoops!
Porto is supposed to have a very vibrant and busy nightlife but with two little ones under three we didn’t get a chance to experience it. Instead we treated ourselves to sushi and sashimi and udon noodles at the Japanese restaurant, Fuji, right next to our budget hotel. We were the first people there at 6.45pm, most restaurants don’t open until 7pm but they let us in early. The food was fantastic, after being in Central Portugal and only really being able to dine on traditional Portuguese food, the Japanese feast was a more than welcome treat and better still, incredibly good value. Yum!
After a very restless night at the noisy budget hotel After hubbie and I had a very restless night at the noisy budget hotel (Chaos and Mayhem actually slept well after the busy day and late night) we headed out to the market to grab a second breakfast before we left Porto. We’d taken UHT milk and cereal with us to the hotel to cater for our ravenous early morning risers. It’s definitely worth a visit to ogle the freshest produce and seafood, but worth bearing in mind that it doesn’t open until 9am, so not the best breakfast destination when you have very early morning risers young kids.
A shame it was raining but it didn’t seem to matter, we loved Porto, a laid-back city, easy to navigate and very easy on the eye. Now off to pick up Grandma at the airport!