Just like things to see in Porto, there are multitudinous activities in the city to keep even those with low boredom thresholds amused, entertained and interested. We didn’t get close to doing all that we wanted (we’d have to move there to achieve that… hmm, maybe not such a bad idea).
Stroll the Cais da Ribeira
Porto’s river-front is one of those locations that actually exceeds expectations when you see it for the first time, especially if it’s a beautifully sunny day with the sun shimmering on the Douro River. With lines of washing adding even more colour to the façades of the old riverside buildings, an overdose of pavement cafés, camera friendly river boats and the monolithic Dom Luis I Bridge dominating the skyline, a stroll along this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a high point of any visit.
Eat a Francesinha
This mutant Portuguese version of a croque monsieur might not be the most attractive dish on menus in restaurants in Porto, but it’s a tasty local speciality and beneath it’s cheesy blanket exterior lies a mountain of meat. It’s cheap and cheerful nosh and the Avis Café on Rua de Avis serves cracking francesinhas.
Catch the Tram
Porto’s trams are all old school tramcars that look as though they belong in a museum. There are three routes around the city and a number of combinations how you can use them – getting around the city in old fashioned style; combining journeys with museum trips or buying tourist packages that give you access to sightseeing buses as well. Tickets cost from €2.50 for a bog standard tram trip.
Visit the Serralves Museum
For a mix of modern art, culture and nature catch a bus out of the centre of Porto to the Serralves Museum. Art Deco and minimalist architectural designs are quite a contrast to the Gothic and neoclassical buildings in Porto’s centre and might not suit everyone. But even if the exhibitions are not up your artistic street, the immaculate gardens rarely disappoint. Basically if you think the art’s crap have a picnic instead.
Tour A Wine Cellar
It’s Porto, the home of port wine… it’s got to be done. Cais de Gaia is chock a block with wine cellars. Keep it low key and sample a snifter of port wine at one of the little bars along the seafront or go the whole hog and take a tour of one of the big boys of the port wine industry. Being totally biased because Sandeman was founded by a Scot I wanted to take their tour but they were shut so I opted for Cálem instead. €4 gets you a tour, taste and talk (founded in 1859, wines aged in cellars by the Douro, main market Portugal, main country exported to Brazil…) which is all very interesting but in truth all I wanted to see were the big barrels and get into the port.
Marvel at the Casa da Música
The Casa da Música is one of those buildings that at first sight looks like a pretentious mishmash of modern architecture… and then its chunky style grows on you. Maybe that’s because it’s a cultural and music hub for the people rather than just the privileged with events and concerts aimed at all musical tastes. There are guided tours (costing €4 – the English one is at 4pm) and a selection of restaurants and bars. There’s also a rather convenient Metro stop outside helpfully called the Casa da Música stop.
Take to the Douro River by Boat
There’s always something soothing about messing about on the river so doing the touristy thing and taking a boat trip is an enjoyable way to see a different view of Porto and also have a nosey at what lies up and down river. Prices are pretty much a standard €10 for 50 minutes but check what the trip actually involves as adverts can be misleading. We thought we were getting wine cellars and port tasting as part of our trip, so were quite shocked when we moored back our starting point without having had either.
Drink Vinho Verde
The first vinho verde (green wine) we were offered was actually greenish, so it became very confusing when ordering the next the waiter asked if we wanted vinho verde tinto (red green wine). This is a light almost sparkly wine from northern Portugal, specifically the Minho and Douro areas. It’s a fresh, summery wine that surprisingly goes very well with a francesinha.
Funicular dos Guindais
Taking the funicular from the Douro River to Batalha in the upper parts of Porto offers unique views and an opportunity to use a mode of transport that people in Porto have been using since 1891. It’s also a lazy way to avoid the steep streets that lead from the river back up to the centre of the city. At €1.10 a trip it’s worth it, plus it drops you off near the Cathedral.
Walk, Walk, Walk
Ultimately the most interesting attraction in Porto is the city itself. Its streets ranging from elegantly proud to faded and rather run down all have a seductive charm. There are quirks and sights that would never make it into guidebooks – a statue of newspaper seller leaning on a pillbox, an old sewing machine on a corrugated iron roof, shoe shines outside McDonalds; intricate pastries in shop windows; rows and rows of big knickers drying in the sun outside of houses by the river. If there was one thing we’d recommend doing in Porto it would be to spend most of your time hoofing it around the streets.