Porto
Food,  Portugal,  Travel Guides,  Wine

3 Days in Porto: Bridges, Brunches & Wine Caves

Make the most of your 3 days in Porto with our complete guide to the home of Port wine. Start by planning your trip with transportation tips, a breakdown of different areas to stay, and some need-to-know food & wine recommendations. Then, enjoy a complete 3-day itinerary full of activities on land, by sea, and inside the city’s famous Port wine caves.

***

We’re gonna let you in on 4 little secrets about Porto: first, it’s the second biggest city in Portugal. Second, it’s #1 for wine. Third, it’s umm…it’s…

we came for the wine…but we left with…sorry, what were we talking about?

Simply put: Porto is awesome. But don’t just take our word for it. Take the word of 426,859 travelers who voted it the Best European Destination of 2017…for the 3rd time in the last 6 years.

With 3 days in Porto, you’ll have plenty of time to soak in a mix of culture, cuisine and calorie-burning activities.

OK, no more math. Just go enjoy Porto. Saúde!!!

***

 Planning Your Trip

  • Getting there
  • Getting around
  • Where to stay
  • Where we slept
  • Dining & imbibing

 Suggested Itinerary

  • Explore Porto by land & by sea: Day 1
  • Taste Port in the caves of Gaia: Day 2
  • Enjoy the world’s best fish (?!) in Matosinhos: Day 3

***

⌲ Planning Your Trip

Getting there

By plane: Porto’s Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (OPO) is the 3rd busiest airport in Portugal (behind Lisbon & Faro), and a key intercontinental hub, connecting Europe with both North America & South America. The airport is located about 8 miles (13 km) north of the city center.

By train: located about 2 miles east of the city center, Campanhã station is Porto’s primary railway station, connecting Porto to other national hubs such as Lisbon and Coimbra. At the local level, Campanhã station is connected to the city center by suburban rail, bus and metro (light rail).

São Bento station is Porto’s central station, and is regarded as a landmark in the city center. It’s also the starting point (or ending point) for the scenic Linha do Douro: a 120 mile (190 km) stretch of railroad along the Douro River, which is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in Europe.

By boat: in July 2015, Porto also put its name on the map as a major cruise destination, with the grand opening of the Porto Leixões Cruise Terminal in Matosinhos.

***

Getting around

Although Porto is well-connected through a modern network of buses and metros, walking is still the best way to explore the city. From the alleyways of the northern hills to the southern wine cellars, a stroll through Porto often seems like a trip back in time. The city has done a remarkable job of preserving architecture, and this brings a historical charm that is best appreciated while walking & wandering.

travelhelix tip: if possible, avoid driving in Porto! We rented a car, which turned out to be a major inconvenience. In the city center, the streets are narrow, corners are sharp and parking places are nearly impossible to find. Save yourself the hassle, and make use of the bus & light rail systems.

Other modes of transportation in and around the city:

  • Bus: the coastal line 500 route offers a scenic, 40-minute ride from central Porto to Matosinhos, and drops you off right at the local seafood market.
  • Light rail: Porto’s light rail system is a convenient & cost-effective option for moving around the city. The entire network connects 68 stations and is Portugal’s biggest rapid transit system.
  • Tram (streetcar): Porto’s first streetcar began transporting locals at the end of the 19th century. Today, 3 tram lines are still operational. The famous Line 1 (Passeio Alegre-Infante) runs from central Porto north along the coast.
  • Water taxi: if you need to cross the Douro River, local water taxis provide a convenient alternative to walking up and over one of the 6 bridges.

***

Where to stay

The Douro River separates Porto from Gaia. The two cities essentially function as one, and are connected by 6 bridges which make it easy to cross from one side to the other. Nonetheless, when considering the many options of where to stay in Porto, the first thing you’ll need to decide is which side of the river to stay on.

North of the river

Central Porto offers rich history, charming walking streets, squares, parks, museums, palaces & cathedrals. If you like staying in the middle of the action, then find a place north of the river in Porto’s city center.

travelhelix tip: the riverfront Ribeira district – still north of the river but right on the water – may offer a good compromise if you can’t decide between north or south.

South of the river

Vila Nova de Gaia (commonly known simply as Gaia) is the heart and soul of the Port wine industry. If you prefer being as close as possible to the Port cellars, then Gaia is the place for you.

travelhelix tip: if you prefer to “look at” Porto rather than “live in” Porto, search for accommodation that lists “views of Porto” as a feature. If you’re skeptical, ask them to send you pictures of the views you can expect!

insider’s tip: some family and friends stayed at The Yeatman Hotel in 2016 and had an incredible experience. Located in the hills of Gaia, this 5-star hotel offers breathtaking views of the Douro River and central Porto.

***

Where we slept

We found a fantastic Airbnb in the Vitória district, north of the river. Full of pedestrian-only promenades, walking distance to many of the historical sites, and only a few minutes from the heart of the nightlife scene, this area was perfect for us.

In 15 minutes, we were able to walk from our Airbnb down through the streets of central Porto and arrive at the Dom Luís I Bridge: our gateway to the Port caves!

Porto Vitória district.
Vitória district, north of the Douro.

***

Dining & imbibing

You won’t need 3 days in Porto to realize the city is a gastronomic paradise. Most of our dining decisions (both the restaurants we chose & the dishes we ordered) were selected at random, and every meal turned out to be fantastic.

The best advice we can give: ask a local for their recommendation. Or, follow our lead and make some impulse decisions!

Dining in Porto: a few recommendations:

  1. Seafood: Porto is widely regarded as one of the prime seafood destinations in Europe. From sardines to sea bass, swordfish to octopus, you’ll find it all on the menu. For the best seafood in the area (or possibly the world?), even the locals leave the city center to visit nearby Matosinhos.
  2. Wines: on a hot day, a fizzy glass of vinho verde (“green wine”) will hit the spot. And on any given day, a glass of local Alvarinho is sure to be a palate-pleaser. In a region known for greens & reds, this white grape is considered one of the best.
  3. Francesinha: the “little Frenchy” may be the most well-known (& notorious) snack food in Porto. This sandwich—which consists of ham, linguiça, sausage, steak, melted cheese and a thick BEER SAUCE (yes, all those things)—makes a great meal before a long night out. Coincidentally, it also makes for a great meal AFTER a long night out.
  4. Zenith: with the motto “brunch all day, every day”—how can you go wrong? We enjoyed eggs benedict served over sweet potatoes, and a couple Bloody Mary’s. Sweet tooth in the morning? How about some Oreo pancakes. Find these guys in the Vitória district, right on Praça de Carlos Alberto.
  5. Chocolataria Equador: we can all thank D’s sweet tooth for this impulse decision. The chocolate + Port pairing we enjoyed here was the perfect way to wrap up a long day that already involved chocolate & Port. The shop is about a 20-minute walk north of the river, and they also have a Lisbon location.

quick public service announcement: please don’t think we’ve forgotten about Port wine! We’ll cover Port during day 2 of our suggested itinerary 😉

***

⌲ Suggested Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Porto by land & by sea

Cruise under 6 bridges in the morning

Porto is the Land of Port, but it is also the land of bridges: 6 bridges, to be exact. A guided boat tour of the Douro River is the best way to discover all 6—and it’s the perfect way to kick off your first of 3 days in Porto.

As you float down the Douro River in a rabelo boat, sit back and appreciate your beautiful surroundings, while learning a bit of local history. A 50-minute tour is enough to give you a quick orientation. But if you’re looking for a longer Douro exploration—or even a private chartered tour—those options are available as well.

Rabelo boats have been transporting wine from the Douro Valley’s vineyards to Gaia’s cellars for hundreds of years.

Stroll the riverfront

Soak in some of local ambience while wandering through the Ribeira district—a lively area that runs along the north side of the Douro River.

On the riverfront, all your senses will be heightened: street performers and musicians alert the ears & eyes; cafés and restaurants arouse the nose & tongue; and local merchants offer various treasures to touch—and possibly take home!

Porto’s riverfront cafés of the Ribeira district.

Continue through Ribeira Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and about 10 minutes later you’ll arrive at one of Porto’s oldest and most recognized monuments: the  do Porto (Porto Cathedral).

 do Porto: one of Porto’s oldest and most recognized monuments.

Other activities north of the river

Depending on how long you’ve cruised the river and strolled the streets, it may be time for lunch or an afternoon nap. If you’re still up for activity, here are a couple more things to do, north of the river:

  1. Funicular dos Guindais: at the Ribeira waterfront, hitch a ride on the train car up into the hills of central Porto. Originally built to transport Port, today it offers tourists some beautiful views. The 3-minute ride costs around 2€.
  2. Harry Potter’s Library: that’s right folks, Livraria Lello is here in Porto, and has been since 1881.

***

Day 2: Taste Port in the caves of Gaia

A trip to Porto couldn’t be complete without a visit to the Port wine cellars in Gaia, on the south side of the Douro River. These cellars (known locally as “caves”) have been home to the Port-making process for hundreds of years.

Porto Sign

getting there: if you’re staying north of the river, you’ll need to cross to the south side. Grab a water taxi, or take a stroll (10-30 minutes, depending on your starting point). The Dom Luís I bridge is the most direct path to the heart of the Gaia wine caves.

There are countless Port wine caves to choose from in Gaia. Nearly all of them will offer tastings. Many of them also offer guided tours. Some are big name brands. Others are boutique labels you’ve certainly never heard of.

Our advice: try both. An off-the-beaten-path exploration down a cobblestone side-street may lead you to your new favorite brand you’ve never heard of.

In fact, that’s exactly what went down during our trip!

Our off-the-beaten-path Port cave: Augusto’s

This family-owned brand takes pride in their limited-batch production. Only 25k–30k bottles of Augusto’s Port are produced each year. With volumes at that level, you won’t find this brand at your local wine shop—wherever you live. A true quality over quantity story, and a great business case to support the idea that bigger is not necessarily better.

During our 90-minute visit, we split a tasting flight and received a crash-course in Port from one of the friendly & knowledgeable sommeliers. In the end, we took home a 1996 vintage as a gift for D’s Port-loving Mom . They only had 19 bottles left, and D got to pick and pull the bottle off the dust-covered rack. The perfect ending to an unforgettably authentic Porto experience.

travelhelix tip: some travelers wait until Duty Free to buy their Port supply. That won’t work with Augusto’s. If you visit their cave, buy onsite. It’s quite possible you won’t see this brand again until your next trip to Porto!

Our “big name brand” Port cave: Kopke

The Gaia riverfront is home to a few of the much larger caves that house the biggest, globally-recognized brands (such as Dow, Graham & Taylor). We decided to try a big name brand we had never heard of, and soon found ourselves at Kopke.

Founded in 1638 by a German family that visited Porto, Kopke is the oldest brand of Port in the world. We enjoyed a nice tasting flight which included:

  • 5 Port wines
  • 8 chocolates
  • 8 crackers
  • 1 sleeping chair

If you still have the energy…

Take the Gaia Cable Car up to the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar for an incredible panoramic view of Gaia, Porto and the majestic Douro River running between them.

If you’re staying north of the river, say goodbye to Gaia and stroll back across the Dom Luís I bridge for an afternoon nap.

***

Day 3: Take a day trip to Matosinhos

Porto’s oceanfront neighbor to the north—the small fishing village of Matosinhos—is on a mission to make World’s Best Fish a globally-recognized brand. Is it really that good? Take the 40-minute line 500 bus up the coast, and decide for yourself.

Our Matosinhos travel guide has everything you need to know to plan the perfect day trip.

At Casa Serrão, we feasted on octopus salad, sea bass, seafood rice, fish stew, and a mouthwatering crème brûlée, seared to perfection with what can best be described as a modified cattle brand.

***

More than 3 days in Porto? Keep eating & drinking!

If you want to spend more than 3 days in Porto, consider a local food tour, or venture out into the country for a full-day river tour.

Thank you, Porto—you were delightful & delicious! Now it’s time to make the 3-hour drive to Lisbon.

Cheers!

-DnA

One Comment

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: