Porto, Portugal in a day

Porto

On arriving at the hotel in Porto, we had 25 hours before making our way back to the airport again. Time was tight but we achieved everything we set out to do as well has having quality down time. This is how we did it…

How to get there

The journey from London Gatwick to Porto took just under 2 hours with Easyjet. On arrival, follow signs through the airport to the trains/Metro. Once at the Metro station, purchase a ticket to your chosen destination from one of the comprehensive machines using the language of your choice. We were staying in the heart of Porto, so purchased a ticket for Sao Bento. The journey took just under an hour and cost under Euros 5. The Metro system was very straightforward and quite small. It involved taking the purple line to Trindade, then changing to the yellow line for Sao Bento. Ticket validation is necessary before boarding the train and the validation machines are dotted along the platform next to the trains.

The Metro

Sao Bento Station, Porto

Sao Bento also has a mainline station which is worth taking a look at for its tiling, even if you don’t have a train to catch! It is located opposite the exit of Sao Bento Metro station. The tiling is spectacular with murals depicting historic moments….

Sao Bento station, Porto, impressive tiling

Where to Stay

The highly recommended Accor Group Hotel, Mercure Porto Centro, where I stayed was approximately 10 minutes walk from Sao Bento Metro station. Note that it is accessed from this area by a very steep hill.

Steep hills

Mercure Porto Centro is a modern, 4* hotel with pleasant ambience and friendly, English speaking staff. I was staying with a friend on this occasion but would have felt very comfortable here as a solo traveller. It was located in a relatively busy area for returning later in the evening alone and was quite close to the centre. A number of room types are available including standard rooms with a choice of single, double or twin beds. The far reaching views over the City are stunning!

Views from the hotel in Porto

The bed was very comfortable and the room was equipped with a mini bar, blackout shutters, tea and coffee making facilities and a safe. The shower over the bath was not a power shower but the water pressure was good. The only negative points were that the walls were quite thin and there wasn’t a curtain in the bathroom. It would have been fine had someone not been working on a nearby neighbouring roof top and could see straight in!

Where to explore…

With just over 24 hours in the City, it was surprisingly enough time. A longer stay would only have been necessary for visiting museums or theatre, etc.

The map of Porto obtained from the hotel reception highlights several ‘spots’ of interest which make it ideal for heading directly towards your preferred areas.

  • Art spot
  • Nightlife spot
  • Historic spot
  • Wine spot
  • Shopping spots

The first area to explore was the pedestrianised street of Santa Catarina. Here you can find local shops, high end stores and household names such as Zara and H&M.

You will pass the eye-catching church of San Antonio de los Congregados, with its stunning tiled facade

San Antonio de los Congregados

and the beautiful Chapel of Souls …

Chapel of Souls

Santa Catarina is also home to the award winning cafe, The Majestic which has been voted one of the most beautiful cafes in the world. The food and drink here served here was also of a high standard.

Night Spot of Porto

Later in the evening it was time to head to the ‘night spot’. It was a compact area with bars and restaurants, some livelier than others. We started at an upmarket cocktail bar in R. de Cândido dos Reis, The Royal Cocktail Club. It was very dimly lit with window seats and small tables by the bar area. I would have felt very comfortable being here alone. Regular wine is not available, just port and cocktails, some of which were quite unusual. The waiter was very friendly and helpful and recommended a restaurant that he goes to for dinner, Il Pizzaiolo.

Il Pizzaiolo

The pizza served at this very busy Italian restaurant was delicious. It was clearly a well known place to eat good food as some of the other restaurants in the area were relatively quiet by comparison. The dough was very thin with plenty of topping and a soft crust. The only negative point was that I was not allowed to have an additional topping on my pizza! The wine served was very chilled and we were allowed to taste a few types before settling for our preferred choice.

Pizza from Il Pizzaiolo, Porto

Ribeira District, Porto

In the morning, we set off to explore the Ribeira District. There are a number of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops selling popular items made from tile and cork. The port area is picturesque with its brightly painted and tiled buildings, some of which are quite quirky.

Architecture in Porto

We stopped at Cafe do Cais for a coffee. This cafe was in a prime position with direct views over the River Douro. There were a few people by themselves and others with friends. The coffee here was strong and the staff were not particularly friendly but, the location made it worthwhile.

Cafe do Cais

Vila Nova de Gaia

The Wine Spot

Next we crossed to the other side of the river, Vila Nova de Gaia, which is the port wine area, the ‘wine spot’. You have a choice of crossing by foot over the bridge Dom Luis I or, taking a water taxi. I recommend walking over the bridge on one of the two pedestrianised walkways for spectacular city views.

View from Dom Luis I Bridge

Dom Luis I Bridge

Dom Luis I Bridge

Vila Nova de Gaia has a number of cellars offering tours and tasting.

Wine Cellar

There are also several waterfront cafes serving 5 small glasses of port for Euros 5. This is a cheap way of trying new flavours before you buy!

Port wine tasting sessions

This side of the river has a market, Mercado Beira-Rio with a selection of reasonably priced food and drinks including sandwiches, fruit, pastries and chocolate treats made from condensed milk.

Mercado Beira-Rio

Shopping Spot

The shopping spot is about half an hour to walk from here. The first half of the walk is very pleasant. You can view the beautiful tiled homes in narrow alleyways….

Quaint houses

You will also come across a small area of park, Jardim Do Morro, where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the city….

Views from Jardim Do Morro

Shopping Spot

The shopping spot is home to the enormous El Corte Ingles Department Store with some local shops on the outskirts.

For a late lunch, we crossed back to the Ribeira side, via the top deck of the bridge. Along the way we passed the Monastery of Serra do Pilar, a former monastery dating back to 1672…

Monastery of Serra do Pilar

Monastery of Serra do Pilar

… and an imposing 12th Century cathedral with its 13th Century rose window

Sé Cathedral, Porto

Se Catedral, Porto

For lunch I recommend going to a wonderful, small restaurant with narrow frontage by the river, Restaurante Terra Nova. The food here was outstanding and served with a smile, though service was slow. Small plates included sardines, fish cakes and grilled prawns.

Tips for Porto

  • Both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia are extremely hilly. Many of the streets are uneven cobblestones.
  • Dress code is casual
  • There was a lot of blatant staring from middle aged men while walking in the streets which I didn’t like
  • Both cash and cards were taken every place I visited. Amex was widely accepted
  • 2 full days with one overnight stay was plenty of time to explore the immediate area and main points of interest

Suggested Further Reading:

Local Laws and Customs in Portugal

Solo Travel Destinations – other recommendations for solo travel with links to reviews

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