02 December 2021

How To Spend a Long Weekend in Porto

My second, and almost certainly last, foreign trip of the year was to Porto last month. I spent just over four days in the Portuguese city and was treated to warm weather, blue skies and bright sunshine. It was a welcome break from the near-constant rain and greyness of November in London. I've already written about the great speciality coffee spots I found in Porto, but read on to find out what else I got up to, and where I ate, drank and shopped.


Walking tour with Porto Walkers
If you're a regular reader, you'll know I love taking walking tours to familiarise myself with and learn more about the cities I visit. Porto Walkers runs free three-hour tours (but do tip your guide if you enjoyed it) every day at 10:45 am and 3:30 pm. They have slightly different focuses, and I went for the morning tour, which covers the city centre and Porto's history. My guide, Ana, was brilliant: informative, entertaining and excited to share as much of her city with us as possible, including giving us a list of food and drink recommendations at the end, and her own experiences of Porto's development as a tourist destination.

We saw a lot of the key sights, including the cathedral, São Bento station with its iconic azulejos (tiles) and that famous bridge, the Ponte Luís I, and wandered through the Ribeira neighbourhood where we got the chance to buy a delicious dessert, a nata de Céu (cream from heaven) from a couple who supply many local restaurants with their desserts. If you can take the tour towards the start of your visit, it will set you up well for the rest of the trip.

History and culture in the historic city centre
After taking the walking tour, I went back to visit some of the key sights in more detail. The impressive Sé do Porto (cathedral) is a must-see, with its tiled cloisters and stunning views from the top of the bell tower; entry is €3. If you like baroque architecture, you're in for a treat at the Igreja de São Francisco; entry to the church and museum is €8, but unfortunately, no photography is permitted in the church. You can also take a short but informative tour of the grand Palacio da Bolsa (stock exchange palace); tours cost €10, but they don't run on a regular schedule, so you'll need to check the times at the reception.

I wasn't sure I'd have time to visit the Centro Português de Fotografia, but I'm glad I did. The museum, which is free to visit is housed in a former prison, a stunning setting. There was a particularly moving and beautiful exhibition of photos by Fabio Bucciarelli, taken in Italy during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

City — and Douro — views
Porto is a very photogenic city, especially when the sun comes out, dancing over the terracotta rooftops and colourful, tiled buildings. I walked over the top deck of Ponte Luís I — designed by Théophile Seyrig, not Gustave Eiffel, and completed in 1886 — several times, by night and day, enjoying views of the River Douro and the city. Across the bridge is the separate city, Vila Nova de Gaia. It's worth climbing the hill to the top of Miradouro da Serra do Pilar at the end of the bridge, to photograph the bridge in all its glory. You can also follow the path along the south bank of the river all the way to the fishing village of Afurada — if you like port wine more than I do, you'll probably want to stop at a winery or two along the way.

Back in Porto proper, Miradouro da Vitória and the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (pictured below) are both great spots for stunning city views.

Gallery hopping in Cedofeita
I was staying in the Cedofeita neighbourhood, a short walk northwest of the historic centre. It's become a real creative hub, with plenty of galleries, design shops, murals and great eateries and coffee shops to explore. Most places tend to open a little later, so it's worth earmarking an afternoon there.

Admiring the surf in Foz and Matosinhos
On my first morning in Porto, I ran all the way to the beach at Foz, before following the coastal path back to the city. The sandy beaches are beautiful and rugged but do note that the surf is very strong. I stood in front of the Felgueiras Lighthouse for some time, mesmerised by the ebb and flow of the powerful waves. I got wet feet while walking on the beach on more than one occasion after being caught out by the waves. 

On another day, I caught the metro to Matosinhos, another three miles north of Foz, and walked back along the beach, enjoying the craggy shoreline and watching the bold surfers. 

Art meets nature at Fundação de Serralves
You could easily spend half a day or more at this huge cultural institution located west of the city centre. I only had a couple of hours, but I arrived at golden hour, which made the gardens particularly lovely to explore, especially with the trees decked out in all their autumn finery. There are modern art galleries to visit, as well as the avant-garde house and the grounds, which include a treetop walk. Entry is €25, but you can buy combination tickets that give you discounts on entry to Casa da Música and Palacio da Bolsa


In Cedofeita, I had a great dinner at Early, which adds a creative spin to classic dishes, like the fab black sesame crème brûlée and the kombucha margarita I had. It's all served in a relaxed, minimalist setting, and their brunch is supposed to be very good too. 

I had my birthday dinner at Cantinho do Avillez — chef José Avillez's Porto restaurant, where traditional Portuguese dishes come with a twist, like the roast cod with melt-in-the-mouth 'exploding' olives I tried. Better still, the couple at the next table were also celebrating a birthday and ended up paying my bill. I didn't find out until after they'd left but they were on my Porto Walkers tour so I was able to thank them profusely for their kindness.

Over in Leça da Palmeira, beyond Matosinhos, I had a wonderful lunch at Esquina do Avesso. I don't think I'd have found this small, but beautifully designed, restaurant if I hadn't already saved it in my Google Map. The cooking was exquisite, and the 'executive lunch' very good value, as it included soup and bread, a main dish, dessert and coffee. My dessert was particularly delicious: tobacco ice cream with a whiskey, vanilla and white chocolate ice cream sandwich, and salted caramel. It's well worth the journey!

The most playful of all the places I ate in Porto, Cruel offers diners the chance to decide how adventurous they want to be. For each course, you can choose a 'fearful,' 'cautious' or 'cruel' option. As I hate mushrooms, the signature cruel main, hallucinogenic mushroom risotto, was out for me. But I did enjoy my 'electric' carpaccio of beef, which was served with a flower from the Amazon that, when chewed, gives the tingly sensation of electricity and intensifies the flavours of the food. I had a lot of fun, and the food was tasty too.

I treated myself to the tasting menu at Elemento one night. At Ricardo Dias Ferreira's restaurant, everything is cooked over an open fire and as I was sitting at the counter, I got a front-row seat for all the theatre. There were eight courses (including snacks and bread), the best of which were the roasted goat deconstructed carbonara and the chocolate pudding with autumn berries. Everything was beautifully cooked and presented, and the service was wonderful.

I had a super brunch at my hotel, Rosa Et Al — the French toast with bacon, maple and peppers was as epic as promised. Some of the coffee shops I wrote about in my speciality coffee guide — including Manna, Época and Fábrica — also fab brunches.

I learned about a few classic Portuguese dishes on my Porto Walkers tour. I went to O Afonso for a francesinha, a sort of Portuguese cròque monsieur in a spicy tomato sauce that was supposed to make the French girls that are said to give it its name undo another button on their blouses. I also visited Casa Guedes for the perfect sande de pernil (pork shoulder roll). Maybe this is one reason all the Portuguese Wolves players settle in so well: Wolverhampton also does a good line in pork rolls! I had some excellent pasteís de nata in Porto too, including at Fábrica de Nata and Manteigaria.

Finally, for creative and expertly mixed cocktails head to the Royal Cocktail Club. You may struggle to choose among the drinks, which have flavour notes listed as well as the ingredients. My favourite of the two I tried was the E.L.S.A., featuring Plantation 3 Stars rum, hibiscus, violets, meadowsweet, ash leaf and lime. It was pretty too!


For design gifts: Banema StudioCRU Creative HubGood Things Will Happen Soon and the Fundação de Serralves gift shop. Toranja has a great selection of unique and creative Porto- and Portugal-themed souvenirs.

Clothes: Lufalufa and Typographia for fun and quirky t-shirts, and The Feeting Room for men's and women's fashion and coffee from So Coffee Roasters. As I had more time to kill than expected at Porto airport, as the lounge was closed, I ended up buying a few gifts at Parfois, a fashion and accessories store.

You can buy tubes of pasteís de nata to take home, but as these treats taste way better straight out of the oven, I headed to Chocolataria Equador for delicious edible souvenirs. It smells so good inside their shops that you'll probably end up getting a 'gift for self' or two too. As usual, I also bought some caffeinated souvenirs, this time from Senzu Coffee Roasters.


For packing tips, check out my recommendations of tried-and-tested products for travel.


I stayed at Rosa Et Al Townhouse, a boutique hotel in a historic townhouse on one of the coolest streets in the Cedofeita neighbourhood. My room was large with its own balcony and gorgeous mid-century furnishings. The staff were incredibly lovely too: they surprised me with a post-brunch pudding on my birthday and gave me a great list of all their favourite restaurants and things to do when I checked in. The location is perfect too as you are slightly out of the hustle and bustle of downtown, but only 10 to 15 minutes' walk from all the major sights.

Arriving and getting around
I flew into Porto Airport and took the metro to Cedofeita on my way in. They are currently trialling contactless payments on some metro lines (including the purple line E, which goes to the airport), so I used that. The fare was €2 and it took about 40 minutes — note, though, that there are on. I thought about buying a three-day metro pass but I ended up walking almost everywhere, apart from when I hopped on the metro to Matosinhos. Ubers are cheap too: my journey back to the airport cost about €11 and took 20 minutes or so.

Portuguese is, of course, the official language in Porto. Many people, especially in the tourism and hospitality industries, speak excellent English. 

The Euro is the currency in Portugal. I was able to pay by credit card or contactless almost everywhere — one coffee shop and a couple of bakeries required payment in cash, and a couple of restaurants could only accept tips in cash, so it's worth carrying some Euros with you just in case.

Power outlets
Portugal uses the 'type C' European plugs with two round prongs.

Travel in the time of COVID
As with my recent Malta trip, I will keep this section brief because the rules will keep changing and the information will soon become out of date. Check the Portuguese Directorate-General for Health website or the Visit Portugal website for the latest travel and COVID-related information, as well as your home country's governmental guidelines.

During my trip in November 2021, as a double-vaccinated UK resident, I just needed to complete a passenger locator card and have proof of my vaccination status to enter Portugal. Mask-wearing was required on public transport and some other indoor locations; I always wore my mask when indoors (apart from when actively eating or drinking) and crowded outdoor locations. These measures have already been stepped up with the emergence of the Omicron variant (the Visit Portugal website is regularly updated). To return to the UK, I needed to fill in a passenger locator form in advance and take a lateral flow test within two days of returning. Again, these rules have already changed.

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