Porto, Portugal is the perfect weekend getaway, so leave the kids at home and get ready to have some grown-up fun!The second largest city in Portugal it will grab your heart if you love people, wine, fish and the sea!
This past week my husband and I enjoyed the long weekend in Porto, Portugal. We initially made this part of our honeymoon itinerary over 20 years ago, however, we never made it. The coast of Spain captured our hearts and we never left. Jon loves port wine and I love the beach and on the advice of good friends who just visited here, we hopped a quick flight from Germany to head to this ancient, fishing city. Here are a few things I learned about Porto I wanted to share.
How we got there
With the EU airlines opening up to new destinations every month, it makes it easier and easier to get to exotic places around Europe. We took advantage of a low flight fare with RyanAir and paid extra for Business Plus, tickets for ease of travel and packing. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the bump-up. With Business Plus we got, FAST TRACKED through security, we were allowed an extra 20KG check-in luggage and our seats were the first on the plane. We also were in a queuing line for boarding that was super quick. There’s no kick-back for me here I was just really happy we spent the extra €25/ticket for the service. So that was €100 for a lot more comfort and ease of mind.
Our tickets were under €300 round-trip, I know that sounds like a lot for you super savers out there but I enjoyed every Euro spent on this direct flight.
It’s always an adventure when you travel with me, whether it’s in a group, with my husband and kids or just tagging along for a day trip. There is usually a hiccup of minor size that makes everyone laugh and gives me a story to tell. My friend Shelly says “There’s always a story, when you travel with Wendy.” She’s right. This trip was no exception. Waking up early to catch our flight out of Frankfurt we were excited to hit the skies. However, after driving a few hours and arriving in plenty of time, we found out we were in the wrong FRANKFURT airport. If you’ve flown on RyanAir out of Frankfurt before you can laugh with me here.
RyanAir actually flies out of FRANKFURT-HAHN airport, not Frankfurt-Main. These two airports are about 110km away from each other. Luckily, there were very few speed limits on the road to Frankfurt-Hahn and we made it in plenty of time. Thank you Ronda for the Volvo. The Prius would not have made it. Another ah-ha moment was that this is a much smaller airport. The long-term parking is a little bit of a walk from the terminal but parking is cheaper at €12/day.
Arriving in Porto
The new airport is beautiful. Portugal celebrates several cultural influences including French, Italian and Spanish. With direct flights from NYC now, more and more Americans are finding out about this awesome destination. However, on our visit, we met people from other nations like Bulgaria, France, England, Australia and Greece.
Matosinhos and it’s beaches
We went with AirBnb for our accommodations and this time it was place at the beach. Wanting some rest and relaxation, we chose the Matosinhos area. Our apartment was on the sixth floor with a terrace balcony and views of the beach. Our neighborhood was definitely “beach-centric” and in an older district. But it was perfect since we were right across from the ocean and lucky enough to be there during the EuroCup when Portugal was playing. Public viewing of the games were set-up all along the strip. We had so much fun joining with the locals.
Matosinhos has running trails, a promenade, restaurants, a castle fort, fountains and statues, public restrooms, lighthouses and more. This very pretty area with public parks is in the process of revitalization so you can see where the old meets the new. Some of the houses along the strip look like they may have been the majestic pieces that glorified this grand strand.
Being on the outskirts or in suburbs of the city, we learned to use public transportation(the bus) to visit downtown Porto. (€1.60/person/way) The bus was very easy to use and double-decker. I’m a sucker for those. Taxi’s were about €15 one way.
With a little help from Lonely Planet and visiting www.gooporto.com finding a city map with information centers were super easy. Everywhere we looked we saw lots of lovers, young and old, new and well, not new. Whether it was the walks along the promenade or a ride in a gondola along the “Ribiera” or sharing a shot of Port in a mini-chocolate cup, everywhere we went were opportunities for creating memories for two.
What to see in Porto –
Tourism offices line the streets of downtown Porto but be careful of the commercial stores. These are typically red “i” stores that sell tickets for everything. The BLUE “i” offices give you FREE walking tour maps with the historical and architectural highlights of the “old town.” This map also lists the Port Wine district, metro stops, and great shopping areas.
- Cathedral – walking along the streets of Porto you’ll discover the Porto Cathedral that is stunning and built in the 17th and 18th centuries in the Romanesque style.
- Avenida Dos Aliados – this majestic avenue is lined with beautiful buildings and statues and is an alive and vibrant part of the city. Great photo ops!
- Ribeira – colorful and lively strip along the Rio Douro with gondola or boat rides near the Ponte Luis bridge which was designed by a prodige of Gustav Eiffel
What to eat in Porto –
Being in a fishing port, you must try some fish or octopus. There is plenty around, cod is a favorite and can be served in “fritter” form, baked in butter or olive oil and stuffed with herbs or made into patties. We tried these at a few of the oceanside restaurants, Pedras was our favorite in Matosinhos.
Next up, “Sangria’s”, these wonderful concoctions with fruit, juice, bubbly water and Port wine are refreshing. The Sangria here is wonderful. You can have it in white or red and I must say they are delicious either way. This refreshing, summer drink can be seen on almost every cafe table throughout the city for lunch or dinner.
On a tip we stopped into The Majestic, this highly visited restaurant had amazing architecture features from the turn of the century. You can tell it was popular with the tourists. Selfie-sticks and photographers were everywhere, including me. We did enjoy a lunch here, however the food was just mediocre and our service was shotty. It wouldn’t have been my first choice in tasting local flare, but the ambience was amazing. But you can enjoy a drink here to put a pin it.
Other popular eateries are Brazilian steak houses, there are several along the Port Wine Cellar region and others that are dotted throughout the city. If you like meat and lots of it, this is for you. We tried Restaurante Mineirão, which offered 15!! Yes 15!! different types of prepared meat. I am so grateful I ordered the mini plate. We tried everything from bacon wrapped chicken hearts to sirloin tips. Although these were small portions they just kept coming and coming.
What to do in Porto –
Take a bus tour
- We almost decided to take a Hop-on/Hop-off bus but wanting to double up on our Fit*Bit steps we discovered by foot and had ball. However, these bus tours are everywhere, the YELLOW bus seems to be the one that is the most popular and offers the most packages.
Sample some Port Wine
- Jon’s favorite is Sandeman’s and our friends Carin and Mo just got back and told us to try this out. The 40 year old Port was incredible! However, it was €16/glass, so this might be out of your budget if you had more than one. I had the €4 glass and it was quite good too. The cave tours looked great, however, be sure to check the English tours, they don’t begin until the afternoon and not everyday. Each Port vintner seemed to have different hours and some didn’t have their caves open.
Boat tour along the Rio Douro
- Our boat ride along the Rio Douro was €12.50/person and included three free wine tastings at the wine cellars. Although the tour was only a loop through the canal and not a descriptive tour it was still a gorgeous day and I was able to get great shots.
Take a cable car ride
We took a cable car ride up on the Teleférico de Gaia to Serra do Pilar and convent. The park was open for a beer tasting and art show. We had a lot of fun. Similar to the farmer’s markets I’m use to being in the states, this felt like I was a little bit back home. However, these views were a little different looking over the whole city.
Porto is like many older cities in Europe and tourism is down from what it was, everyone was very eager to see us and were thrilled we were from the States. Restaurants were not full, reservations were easy and tours were quick to sign us up. If Portugal is on your travel list or you need a weekend away without the kiddos, don’t hesitate, just go! I highly recommend this amazing city of love.
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