Firstly, we think somewhere as charming as Porto deserves far more than just one day, but as it turned out, the hostel where we stayed was a revolving door of travellers who arrived with just that, a day to spare.
From sampling quintessential Portuguese flavours and the famous fortified wines to exploring scruffy old town streets and watching life pass by on the Douro River, we loved our time in Porto.
But, for all those that visit the wonderful city without much time to spare, here’s how to spend one perfect day in Porto.
There are some fantastic places to eat in Porto, but we began our final day in the city in the quaint, Dama Pe De Cabra.
Combining simple, rustic dishes and traditional Portuguese flavours, this cosy ma and pa cafe is the ideal spot to get your first taste of Porto. The breakfast menu is based on a combination of eggs, toast and jam, but magic is woven into this simple dish to create something quite special.
Fresh produce is beautifully prepared to create pumpkin and walnut jams and oven-fresh breads. The glaze made from Porto’s most famous export, port, was also a surprise treat.
The incredibly welcoming, multilingual hosts make this somewhere to enjoy the entire dining experience, not just pop in for a meal.
While we shared the space with just a few other diners, this tiny cafe has been known to become a little crowded during peak times and on weekends, so come early if you can.
With full bellies and eager feet, the next point of call is the narrow winding lanes of the Ribeira.
The colourful tile facades and hunched grannies hanging washing from the balconies made this delightfully scruffy neighbourhood a place we couldn’t wait to get lost in.
Streets end in hidden plazas and stair cases zigzag between abandoned buildings, but eventually all roads will lead you down to the banks of the Douro River.
Across Ponte de Luis I, the famous double-decker bridge, the family names of the city’s oldest institution sing out between the red brick rooftops. Opposite the dilapidated charm of the Ribeira, Vila Nova de Gaia is home to a vast network of perfectly tempered cellars filled with barrels of tawny, ruby and white.
Indeed, this side of the bridge is all about just one thing, port.
A port tasting is easily one of the best things to do in Porto. in fact, for some, it’s their entire reason for visiting.
There are many wineries to choose from offering tour and taste packages in various languages. Generally, they cover an explanation of the grape to glass process, the different varieties of port and, of course, a chance to sample the product.
Some provide more varieties to taste, some are more crowded and others just have more regular departures – shop around to find the winery that best suits you.
Bear in mind that there tends to be a large break around lunchtime so try to get in either before or book one for after.A
If you’ve got some time to kill before your port tour kicks off, there are plenty of restaurants scattered along the waterfront. Sure, they’re pretty touristy, but you can’t really beat the location.
If you have even more time to spare and are eager to sample more wine from the region, join a full day tour to the Douro Valley complete with winery visits, tastings and a scenic river cruise.
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At this point in the day we found ourselves in a warm, fuzzy food and port induced stupor and climbing a steep, uneven street was the last thing we felt like. But the view from the top overlooking the mass of orange roofs and the Douro gurgling by is definitely worth it.
When you’ve cast off your post lunch daze, head across the top deck of the bridge. Watch people mingle beside the river, disappear into laneways of cracked mosaic and pastel and boats moving upstream to the vineyards of the Douro.
Back on high ground, spend your final hours of daylight discovering the highlights of the centre. Porto has plenty of things to see.
Relax and watch the trams rattle by, climb the 240 steps up Clerigos Tower for a different perspective of the city, sip coffee in the halls where Hogwarts and Diagon Alley were woven together or simply lose time browsing the shelves of Livraria Lello, one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores.
A note on the Livraria – while the old wooden handiwork and delicate antique decor make this bookstore a beautiful place to visit in Porto, it’s newfound Instagram-fame means it can become very crowded and a little pushy in the isles with many visitors posing relentlessly for selfies on the stairwell.
If you genuinely want to enjoy your browsing time and are not just there for its photogenic appeal, you’ll definitely enjoy the experience more toward the end of the day.
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When you’re cruising through one of Europe’s premier wine regions with fresh seafood listed on practically every menu, how could the perfect day in Porto not end with a crisp glass of vinho verde and a hearty portion of bacalhau? Grilled, salted or in a steaming pot of molten cheese, the Portuguese sure know how to do cod and they can serve it in just about any way you’d like.
With an eclectic food scene that has blossomed across the city, choose the neighbourhood that most stole your heart and nestle in for a final bite in this beautiful city.
For budget travellers, Porto has an excellent selection of affordable, centrally-located hostels from as low as €10 per night, as well as a number of charming guesthouses right in the heart of town. Check rates and availability here.
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