Why Porto is One of Our Favourite City-Break Destinations

With British Airways announcing the addition of extra flights from London to Portugal’s city of Porto, there are more reasons than ever to visit this northwestern coastal city best known for its port wine production but also blessed with hidden squares, baroque churches and a leisurely pace of life that makes it a fantastic option for those who like their travel to be slow, meaningful and authentic.

Things to Do on a Porto City Break

Portugal’s second city is centred on its UNESCO World Heritage listed medieval Ribeira (riverside) district with its cobbled alleys lines by old merchants’ houses and Renaissance churches and cloisters – perfect for contemplative ambling and for people-watching from inviting cafés where you can linger over a traditional pasteis de nata.

Don’t miss the traditional azulejo tiles that bedeck many buildings around town, including Porto Sao Bento Station. Among the other architectural highlights to savour are São Francisco Church with is lavish baroque interior including ornate gilded carvings, and the former stock market, the 19th-century Palácio de Bolsa. The sunset views of the River Douro mustn’t be missed either, or aa stroll over the iconic two-storey Ponte Dom Luis I between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.

Sao Francisco Church
Sao Francisco Church
Serralves Gardens
Serralves Gardens

Contemporary architecture shine shines here too, in the form of the Rem Koolhaas designed Casa da Música concert house and the Museum Serralves – the latter home to Portugal’s most important contemporary art collection and also to one of its loveliest gardens.

Most visitors rightly make time for port wine tastings, but Porto is also a place for foodies, with specialities to sample including Francesinha (sandwiches with meat, melted cheese and a tomato beer sauce). The markets here are superb, whether it’s fresh local produce and street-food tastings you’re after or some flea-market browsing for unique souvenirs to take home. Then there’s the famous Livraria Lello, described by many as the world’s most beautiful bookshop with its neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau interiors.

Serralves Gardens
Serralves Gardens

Distinguished by its beautiful canals navigated by colourful boats, the city of Aveiro sits on Portugal's Atlantic coast on Ria de Aveiro. Its art nouveau architecture really makes it stand out from the crowd. Close to Aveiro you'll find the fishing Town of Costa Nova which boasts a scenic promenade, authentic locally-owned cafes and traditional restaurants. Like Aveiro, Costa Nova's eye-catching architecture has made it a must-see for visitors in the area with its candy cane striped houses.

Days Out from Porto

Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês
Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês

Few visitors realise that this city reaches the Atlantic and that its trams take you out to a handful of lovely beaches, including Gondarém with its great cafés and restaurants.  Porto is also well located for day trips across the north of Portugal. The Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês is a wonderful spot for wildlife and animal sightings including roe deer, Iberian wolves, garrano ponies, Barrosã cattle and Castro Laboreiro dogs that look after the flocks of goats and sheep. If you’re feeling active, canyoning and canoeing are popular here, or there’s a walking path on an old Roman road with 2,000-year-old milestones, plus dolmens, cromlechs, medieval castles, monasteries and waterfalls to discover.

Then there’s the pretty town of Amarante east of Porto on the River Tâmega, where highlights include a historic bridge and the former monastery of São Gonçalo with its painted columns, two-storey Renaissance cloister and dramatic high altar set over a golden chapel where Sain Gonçalo, revered for his healing miracles, is buried.  

Amarante
Amarante
Braga
Braga

North-east of Porto, the city of Braga is also known for its religious heritage including the Bom Jesus do Monte complex with its neoclassical church reached by an elaborate 17-flight stairway, and medieval Braga Cathedral with its sacred art museum and Gothic-style Kings' Chapel. 

Porto is also a jumping-off point into the Douro Valley, famous around the world for its wine. By car the valley is just over an hour from the city, or there are river cruises from the city, taking about six hours, and trains to Pinhao which run alongside the river making for a wonderful journey. The Douro region’s compelling ancient city of Lamego is close to the river banks and offers walks and tours rewarding you with glorious views over valleys planted with port wine vineyards.

Duoro
Duoro

To find out more and book your Porto city break, call me today.

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