Two days in Porto featuring where to find the best pulled-pork rolls ever, the funniest free guided tour and a day trip to the Duoro Valley wine region.
Next up in my weekend city break series, we’re visiting Porto, Portugal’s second city, easy and cheap to get to from London and explore on foot.
When I first visited Porto in 2016, I couldn’t get over how many abandoned buildings there were. Fast forward seven years, and Porto is a city on the rise; a ‘ghost town’ coming back to life, alluring travellers with its pretty cobbled old town, authentic wine bars and golden rooftops. Porto is traditional Portugal at its finest, without the crowds of Lisbon or the tackiness of the Algarve.
This 48-hour Porto city break itinerary features slow strolls through the old town’s cobbled streets, where to find the best pulled pork rolls ever, a (very) romantic date night restaurant idea, the funniest guided tour you could ever take and a day trip into the Duoro Valley wine region. Enjoy!
A weekend in Porto: a 48-hour itinerary
Friday afternoon in porto
Spotting the elegant facade of Maison des Amis on Booking.com is one of the reasons I started planning a trip to Porto. The family-run guesthouse is set in a typical tile-covered townhouse synonymous with old Porto, in the Miragaia neighbourhood on the fringe of the historical centre, and within easy walking distance of everything. It’s stylish and authentic and only £70/night including breakfast. There are just four rooms, each one light, airy and chic mixing traditional antiques with sleek modern design.
The lovely owner, Isabel, told us the house belonged to her grandfather, a furniture maker, which he used as his showroom until it closed 10 years ago, left to gather dust. Until Isabel quit her teaching job, that was, and together with her architect sister, brought the place back to life, turning it into this magical guesthouse filled with all their grandfather’s handmade antique furniture. This was our gigantic city-view room… each morning you could look down from the balcony and see the old trams rattling past.
For something more luxurious and central, head to Torel 1884 in the rambling old town which forms the heart of the city. Set in a former bank – the safe in the bar is now used to store wine – each floor is named after a different Spanish explorer and rooms are themed (we were in the exotic bird room). There are lots of luxurious touches, too, like TVs in the bathrooms, a million thread-count sheets, giant light fittings, and a mezzanine lounge complete with an honesty bar. Prices start at €172, but the superior rooms (from €220) have more wow factor.
For dinner, we found Miss Opo not far from Maison des Amis amid a maze of cobbled alleyways uphill from the Ribeira, the UNESCO old town part of Porto not far from the river Duoro. It has a stylish, rough-around-the-edges look and serves delicious small plates of Portuguese-inspired food, like sardines in colourful tins served with fresh, sweet tomatoes and slices of toasted homemade bread, all made from a teeny tiny kitchen.
Saturday morning in Porto
Excited to be in Porto and eager to meet the city, the allure of its cobbled streets filled with beautiful old-timey shops with their faded signs and flickering neon was too much to resist. After breakfast at our hotel, we set out to get our bearings – Porto is compact and easy to walk around. However, it’s not a city where it’s hugely obvious which neighbourhoods are best to explore, or where to find the quirky shops and restaurants.
We started in Porto’s most famous and most atmospheric neighbourhood, Ribeira, with narrow, cobblestone lanes that wind past tall townhouses painted in bright pastel hues or covered in azulejos (tiles). Here you’ll also find all the blockbuster sights like the looming medieval Sé (cathedral), the Casa do Infante and the Neoclassical architecture of the Palácio da Bolsa.
We wandered through Ribeira into Baixa, a central district home to the city’s most recognizable landmarks and the centre of bars and nightlife. Here we found Rua do Almada; a long uphill street filled with art galleries, vintage boutiques and pop-ups like Workshops Pop Up, stocking traditional Portuguese products like cushions and rugs, all well priced, as well as pottery and those colourful tins of sardines Portugal is famous for.
Azulejo tile spotting
Azulejo tiles are a distinctive art form in Portugal and serve a beautiful yet crucial role in preserving the history and identity of the country. They decorate the exteriors of city buildings, historic palace interiors, and even fountains in lush gardens. You also don’t have to hunt too hard to find these scenes in Porto. The best place to start your hunt is at São Bento train station, whose inside walls are lined with illustrative blue and white tiles, depicting scenes of former battles and the history of transportation. Another one is Capela das Almas on Rua da Santa Catarina completely covered on the outside with scenes depicting stories in the lives of various saints.
Lunch in Porto
I often find the best food on my travels from unassuming hole-in-the-wall places, like Casa Guedes we discovered wandering Porto’s streets. The crispy, warm brown rolls are packed with juicy, melt-in-the-mouth meat that drips when you bite in. In spring and summer, it’s not unusual for the queue to snake out the door and around the corner every day. To avoid queuing up twice – I guarantee you’ll want more than one roll – order two when it’s your turn.
Alternatively, you can’t leave town without trying a ‘francesinha’. This meat-laden sandwich is a kind of devil’s Croque monsieur, filled with ham, sausage and steak, doused in melted cheese and slathered in a hot tomato sauce. The best place to pick one up (figuratively – this is a knife and fork job) is Cervejaria Brasão, a popular local spot. Book in advance, order a glass of Super Bock beer and stick to just a half portion (€7.40) – it’s more than enough.
Saturday afternoon in porto
Seeing as Porto is the city of port, it would be rude not to indulge in a glass or two. There are over 50 cellars in Porto where barrelled wine is aged in small oak casks, large vats or in the bottles themselves. Most of the cellars are over the river Douro in an area called Vila Nova de Gaia and offer tours and tastings. On your way there, the old town slopes down, for a great viewpoint of the terracotta rooftops and dreamy architecture.
As a nod to my Scottish roots, we visited Sandeman courtesy of Original Travel. Sandeman is the oldest set up by an ambitious Scottish man called, ahem, George Sandeman. He founded it in London in 1790 after he borrowed £300 to invest in a wine trading business. We followed our tour guide clad like the silhouetted man in the brand’s logo, into dimly lit, atmospheric cobbled musty cellars, past giant barrels filled with sweet port, and 1.5 hours later, emerged tipsy after our fun port-tasting session through the gift shop.
saturday night in Porto
Saturday evenings in Porto are best kicked off with an aperitif. There are lots of excellent little bars to choose from. My favourites: Garrafeira, a wine shop with a few tables tucked amid stacks of wine in boxes, and the darkened book-filled Cafe Candelabro set on a cobbled corner with a wraparound terrace where a gipsy jazz band plays most nights.
Fine dining with a twist doesn’t get any better than at the vegetarian restaurant Em Carne Viva. Artful seven-course tasting menus and other dishes are served in a small candlelit front dining room of a beautiful townhouse in the up-and-coming Baovista neighbourhood near the Modernist-style Casa da Musica concert venue. It’s worth it to sample the delicate, yet punchy tangerine sorbet and local wines from the Duoro.
Sunday morning in Porto
For travellers who are a little bit curious about the side of a city that officials don’t want you to see, then might I suggest you book one of The Worst Tours. Yes, that is their name! They’re run by three architects and aren’t confined to the city centre and its majestic cathedrals. There are several different tours to choose from, such as the romantic tour which show the way to the city’s crumbling mansions, old artists’ squats and housing projects.
For a post-walking-tour lunch break, head for the Cafe Majestic, one of the most beautiful cafés in the world. Once the meeting place of the local elite, artists and intellectuals serving good coffee, light lunches and of course those famous Portuguese custard cakes, Pasteis de Nata. The café, founded in 1921, is Art Nouveau with an aura of La Belle Epoque featuring carved wooden framed mirrors, cherubs, chandeliers and gilding on the ceilings. The waiters dressed in 1920s style in white jackets and bow ties to complete the ambience.
Sunday afternoon in Porto
Porto is packed with little art galleries, but there’s an exciting new addition to Porto’s art scene we hopped on the bus for 10 minutes to check out. It’s called Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art and it’s set within the grounds of a pink Art Deco scattered with sculptures to discover by big-name artists like Richard Serra.
Duoro Valley Day Trip
If you prefer, you could spend Sunday taking a day trip into the Duoro Valley. An easy 1.5-hour drive outside of Porto, this part of Portugal centres around the Douro River and is famous for its vineyards and wine. The Douro River was flanked on both sides by steep slopes covered in terraces with vineyards. When we arrived, I was amazed by the beauty of the landscapes.
We drove to the tiny town of Piñhao about 1.5 hours out of Porto, taking in the scenery on the way. was our first stop on a day trip to the Duoro wine region, about 1.5 hours out of Porto. You can arrive by train here, but our rental car was waiting outside… Anyway… as well as a photogenic spot, there’s also a wine house attached to the side of the station operating out of the old ticket office and offering tasting and nibbles right on the platform.
Picnic tables line the azulejo tiles overlooking the train tracks and there’s a private room and a museum inside, providing a little background of wine-making in the region since the 19th century– not your typical setting for a wine tasting.
It’s a recent addition to the picturesque station as part of a rehabilitation project by one of the local wineries, Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo. They also have a beautiful hotel on their estate in the hills if you prefer to sleep among the vineyards during your stay in the Douro Valley.