At the end of 2022, we vowed to visit new places in 2023. We LOVE going back to the same places and building relationships with people. However, we also felt like we were missing out on trying new things and exploring new destinations. And, since our trips to Istanbul and Croatia turned out so good, there wasn’t really a good reason as to why we weren’t embracing new destinations. So, when cheap flights to Porto showed up, we booked a long weekend in Porto without hesitation. Due to work responsibilities, our Porto itinerary was planned at the last minute. Seeing Porto in 5 days is more than doable, and it turned out to be an amazing trip. I’m excited to share all the details with you. We’re excited to go back, not only to enjoy Porto more, but also explore the Douro Valley and wine region.
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Getting to Porto
Our flights were incredible and seamless. We flew DFW-MAD-OPO on American Airlines and Iberia. We had less than a two hour layover in Madrid on the way there and exactly two hours on the way back, We had enough time to clear passport control, visit the Iberia Lounge for a bit of breakfast, and head to our gate. On the way there, we arrived in Porto at 11:45am. Our flight left Porto at 8:20am, and we were able to use the Priority Pass Lounge at OPO, which made for a very smooth start to our travel day!
Because I didn’t plan our Porto itinerary in advance, we just grabbed a cab on arrival. It was very easy. Both of our cab drivers spoke English and the cost was less than 30 euro each way. The drive into the old city took about 20-25 minutes. I don’t think you need a private transfer in Porto.
Getting Around Porto
Porto is connected well by public transportation. There are buses, a metro, and a tram the cover the city superbly. The tram runs through Porto and across the Douro to Gaia, so it’s relatively easy to get around. The weather was so nice that we didn’t use public transportation at all, but you can purchase the Porto card with unlimited transportation for the duration of your stay. It may be further it if you plan to stay further out of the old town or if you have mobility issues.
One of the challenges, however, is the hills! I knew Lisbon was hilly, but I was not prepared for the hills in Porto. It’s very similar to Cinque Terre or Cortona; there is no way to avoid the hills, especially if you want to enjoy the views of the Ribeira. (I highly recommend strolling the Ribeira in the evenings. Between the buskers and the view of the Luis I bridge rising above you, it’s straight up magical.
Where to Stay in Porto
One of the first things you need to figure out for your Porto itinerary is whether you are going to stay near the old city of Porto or if you are going to stay in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the Douro river and where all the port cellars are located. I was very undecided. I’m obsessed with Relais & Chateaux properties. The Yeatman is a R&C property in Gaia, and I was very interested in staying there. However, since it was our first trip to Porto, I knew that we would want to visit the “top” sights and attractions beyond the port houses.
Ultimately, we enjoyed staying in the old city center of Porto. We went back and forth between Porto and Gaia with relative ease throughout our trip. When we return, Tom is most interested in returning to the old city of Porto, and I mostly agree…. but I would also stay at The Yeatman, no question about it.
Se Catedral Hotel Porto
I booked a junior suite at Se Catedral Hotel, and we could not be more thrilled about the entire experience. This hotel is right across the street from the Porto Cathedral and it is only a couple of blocks from the São Bento train station.
Se Catedral Hotel is part of the Hilton Tapestry Collection, which is a collection of hotels that feel more like a luxury boutique hotel than yet another chain hotel room. Our junior suite had a lot of personality, as did every aspect of the hotel. The Se Catedral Hotel opened in March 2022 and our room was immaculate.
As with most hotels in Europe, the rooms at Se Catedral seemed a little small. Rather than relying on an upgrade through our Hilton gold status, I opted to book the room I wanted. Our junior suite had two sitting areas and a king bed. The “closet” was an open hanging area (very similar to the Hotel Dress Code and the Moxy Frankfurt). This room is very well designed with storage that made it easy to unpack completely. The use of mirrors and the large windows made the room feel even more spacious. The bathroom had a walk-in shower, branded amenities, and a small vanity. The hot water and water pressure was exceptional. Our room overlooked an interior courtyard, so it was very quiet at night.
One of the things that really stood out about Se Catedral is the staff. They could not have been more helpful, kind, friendly, and accommodating. We received multiple emails before we arrived, and when I asked for restaurant recommendations, not only did they send me a great list, but they also offered to handle reservations for us. (The restaurant recommendations were on-point and specific to our interests, too!) They were incredibly apologetic when our room wasn’t ready, and they called as soon as it was ready. They were excited to offer suggestions and to show off their city. It was truly such a warm welcome to Porto that it is hard to imagine staying elsewhere.
STAY: Se Catedral Hotel Porto
5 Day Porto Itinerary
We arrived in Porto on a Thursday and departed on Tuesday, so we essentially had 5 days to visit Porto. When we were talking to one of the restaurant owners about our trip, he said that 3 days would be the perfect Porto itinerary and we should spend the rest of our time in the Douro valley. I feel pretty strongly that if we did another short trip to Porto, we would choose between spending in the Douro wine region or spending a few days in Porto. (A Douro river cruise is very high on my list now!) I am very interested in learning more about the wines of the Douro valley, especially after reading about Elise’s experience at Monteverde wine resort. Either way, I think you could easily compress this schedule down and create the perfect Porto 3 day itinerary.
Day One in Porto
We arrived in Porto, dropped our luggage off at the hotel and immediately set out to explore cathedral and the area around it. After visiting the cathedral, we headed to one of the small grocery stores scattered throughout Porto to pick up some water and an afternoon snack before heading back to our hotel to rest before a late afternoon tour.
We booked a private walking tour of the old town of Porto on our first afternoon. We were thoroughly impressed with our historian guide and his approachable knowledge of Porto’s history. With a focus on helping us understand the history of Porto, we were able to go beyond the surface of the Porto “aesthetic”. He took us through some the more famous areas of Porto, but he spent far more time showing us areas that were not in our guidebook. He made recommendations throughout the tour and was patient as we took notes and photos. The way he shared information was engaging, as he is very proud of being from Porto and is anxious for people to experience more of the city. Many of his recommendations were free museums and churches. They were places that would typically be overlooked on a typical Porto itinerary.
One of the things we enjoyed most was the Igreja do Carmo church and museum. The church is a combination of baroque and Rococo architecture. The incredible wood carvings are covered in golf leaf. The museum features a number of 16th century paintings and documents that you can view up close without any inhibition. It was almost empty while we were there, so we were able to take our time. Our guide did point out Livraria Lello, the bookstore attributed to inspiring JK Rowling for Harry Potter, but it does require a reservation and ticket to visit now. Every time we went by, there was a line, so if this is something you want to see, you’ll want to plan in advance!
PLAY: Private Tour of Porto
Day Two in Porto
We started off our second day in Portugal with a walk across Ponte Luis I to the monastery in Gaia, Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar. This offered unparalleled views over Porto, as well as the Douro river. There are buskers on the square in front of the monastery, so it is a very nice place to enjoy a pleasant morning. (The buskers in Porto are really lovely and add to the ambiance of the city.)
That afternoon, we enjoyed our first Port wine tasting! Prior to visiting Porto, we had never tried port, so this was our primary introduction to Porto’s most famous wine export. Alex was an incredible guide – lively, funny, and passionate about port! He worked very hard to make the tour interactive while also providing us with lot of information. He quickly covered the history of Port wine, how it is made, and the differences between the types of port wine. He was happy to provide additional tips and recommendations.
Alex worked really hard to encourage interaction between tour participants, and we were able to have some great conversations with our fellow tourists. We visited 3 different port houses and tried 7 different port wines. Most of the tour focused on ruby and tawny port wines, but we were able to try white and rose ports as well! There was zero pressure to buy at any of the stops. We were able to visit a few of the port wine cellars, as well as a museum during the tour.
I am really glad that we did this tasting before heading to the port houses on our own. We learned so much more from Alex than we did at the individual port houses. Also, Alex’s passion and enthusiasm was relentless. He was also happy to answer questions and give further Porto recommendations. If/when we return to Porto, we will take this tour again.
Note: I would have lunch before this wine tour. Unlike Italian wine tastings, food was not served with the port. We had some small cookies at the last stop, but the port can absolutely go to your head!
PLAY: Port Tasting in Porto!
Day Three in Porto
Our third day in Porto started with an in-depth architecture tour of the old city of Porto! Nuno took us everywhere and knew everything about the tiles of Porto. We definitely spent more than 3 hours visiting every corner of the old city of Porto. Nuno taught us how the famous tiles of Porto were originally brought there, as well as about the evolution of the creation of the tiles.
With Nuno, we visited the Bank of Materials. This is a free museum where tiles are not only stored for restoration projects, but also where you can see the many designs of the tiles used throughout Porto. It’s a fascinating look at the Porto timeline through tile.
What I really loved about this tour is that it went beyond the popular streets. We spent a lot of time discovering unexpected surprises in passageways and hidden gems in Porto. Nuno had so much information to share, and he spent a lot of time taking us beyond the surface of the beauty of Portuguese tiles and helping us better understand the history behind them.
This is an amazing tour for anyone with a sincere interest in architecture and design.
PLAY: Porto Architecture Tour
That evening, we made it our mission to get a table at Voltaria for dinner. We failed at lunch and the restaurant would be closed on our last day in Porto. (They take one reservation in advance.) I had found this restaurant through my own research and the hotel seconded the recommendation. At 6:35, we headed over to line up in hopes of getting a table. We were not the only ones with this idea. We were one of the last groups seated. I was so very excited to try some traditional Portuguese food and wine!
GOURMET: Petisqueira Voltaria Porto
Day Four in Porto
Our fourth day in Porto was spent souvenir shopping! And, by souvenirs, I mean port! One of Tom’s clients really loves Port, and Tom wanted to find a special bottle for him. In order to do, we ended up visiting several port cellars. We spent a leisurely day walking around Gaia, ordering port and snacks, Of the most famous port houses, we liked Taylor Fladgate the best. The setting was beautiful, especially the garden, and the staff was most welcoming. I really enjoyed the olives and almonds with the port. Almonds are especially lovely with their 10-year tawny port.
One of the things that is really cool about the Taylor Port is that they have have a royal warrant of appointment to supply port to Queen Elizabeth II. The bottles we purchased actually have a seal on them. I thought that was so cool! They also had a commemorative bottle for Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee, which was neat.
After all that port, it was time for another simple, traditional Portuguese meal. We headed to Casa Guedes for the traditional pork sandwich. It was counter-service with tables outside, surrounded by locals, and one of those moments that just reminds you how lucky you are to experience the world in such an immersive way.
Day Five in Porto
The final day of our 5 day Porto itinerary was used to further explore the historic city center of Porto. We debated taking a one day trip of the Douro Valley, which would have allowed us to experience the traditional rabelo boats that Porto is famous for, but we decided to stay in Porto. The historic center of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means it is protected and must stay true to its original architecture.
When we go back, I will absolutely take a guided tour of the Bolsa Palace. The architecture is just stunning. I think you get so much more out of visiting places when you can understand more about them, otherwise they are just pretty places.
There are a lot of things to do in Porto and many of them are free! With 5 days in Porto, you could absolutely create an itinerary customized to your own interests. You could take a deeper dive on art and architecture, visit all the churches of Porto, or even spend more time learning about Portuguese wine (beyond Porto) with a Douro Valley tour. While we tried a number of red and white wines (including vinho verde!), we didn’t learn too much about the different varietals in Porto. We did find a bottle of red wine we LOVED at a restaurant, but it is a small production that isn’t sold commercially in Porto.
Where to Eat in Porto
I did a lot of research on restaurants and food in advance of our trip to Porto. We are not big seafood people, so I was admittedly very nervous. Most of the food and restaurants mentioned in our guidebook were heavy on seafood. I also knew that I wanted to try Portuguese food, if possible, rather than default to another cuisine. Porto is a very international city with a lot of amazing options. I do believe you can find something for everyone, especially if you put in some research.
Much like my favorite restaurants in Paris and Florence, Porto restaurants are small and you should plan ahead or try and make reservations in advance. The staff at Se Catedral hotel was very gracious to offer to make reservations for us in advance of our stay. That said, a lot of restaurants in Porto do not offer reservations and are first-come, first-serve. We always try to arrive in advance of the opening time to get a table if it is a restaurant where we really want to eat. If you wait until later, you may be disappointed.
We had a lovely experience at Voltaria. This tiny restaurant only takes one reservation per seating, so we made it a point to arrive before they opened. (The line will fill up fast.) The staff is absolutely lovely and was happy to make recommendations for us. I started with a glass of vinho verde (a young white wine from norther Portugal) and Tom started with a glass of red. We ordered traditional Portuguese meats and cheeses as an appetizer. (It was incredible.)
The real reason we came here, however, was for the entree. Tom really wanted to try the famous Francesinha sandwich in Porto. This smothered sandwich is a meat lover’s dream and includes ham, sausage, steak and is covered with spicy tomato, cheese and beer sauce. It is rich, filling, and certainly delicious. This felt like one of the best versions of it.
The other thing I LOVED at Voltaria was a 2015 Casa Agricola Pinto Barbosa red blend. We ordered a bottle of this based on the recommendation of the restaurant owner. It was my favorite red wine during our trip to Portugal. It was impossible to find to bring home. Sad.
Service was friendly and efficient. We really enjoyed chatting with the owner. He asked about our itinerary and made recommendations of other places around Porto that we should visit, as well as recommended a few local guides.
After dinner, we walked off the Francesinha by strolling down to Ribeira and working our way back up the hills. By that time, I was ready to stop for gelato at Cremosi. (10/10 would recommend.)
After enjoying a bottle of Late Bottled Vintage and a sunset on Sunday evening, we headed out in search of a little more sustenance. I really wanted to try the traditional pork sandwich, so we headed to Casa Guedes Tradicional. (They have 3 locations in the same area.)
You order at the counter, receive a number, and try to find a table. We ended up trying the pork sandwich, as well as the pork and cheese sandwich. Both were tasty and hit the spot. I really loved the ambiance of the square around Casa Guedes. It felt local and lively.
GOURMET: Casa Gudes Tradicional
Porto Wine Bars
Wine Chalet was recommended by our hotel. It was definitely one of my favorite dining experiences in Porto. (Who am I kidding? I loved everywhere we ate!) After we finished our Porto city tour, we wanted to do something easy. Our tour finished near the São Bento railway station, so I immediately started to see what was nearby. Many restaurants in Porto do not open until later the evening, so Wine Chalet was an easy choice on our first evening. (It was so easy that we went back on our second evening, too.)
We grabbed a table overlooking the main street. There were heaters available, but we didn’t need it. The service was thoughtful, slow, and enjoyable. Everything our server did was deliberate and the food was fresh. We tried two red wine flights on our first night, along with a large charcuterie board of Portuguese meats and cheeses from the Douro Valley. We also ordered smaller cheese board. In total, we tried two chorizos, one ham, and one sausage, as well as three different cheeses, including one strong cheese and two mild cheeses. Everything was VERY tasty.
On our second visit, we ordered a white wine flight, as well as red wine flight. We ordered the cheese plate again, but we also added some of the traditional Portuguese meat pastries to our order. They were warm and fresh and very tasty.
A lot of reviews talk about slow service at Wine Chalet. In our experience, everything was fresh. Our server was slicing the charcuterie fresh every time we ordered something new. That takes time. We loved our experiences at Wine Chalet because it was an easy way to try a variety of Portuguese wines and small plates.
GOURMET: Wine Chalet
Dick’s Bar & Bistro at The Yeatman Hotel
Sunday meals are a little bit difficult in Porto. Many traditional, local restaurants are closed. To combat this, we decided to head to Dick’s Bar at The Yeatman with the intention of having a glass of wine or a cocktail, watching the sunset, and figuring out what to do for dinner.
We ended up ordering a bottle of Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage port, along with a charcuterie board of local meats and cheeses. It ended up being the perfect meal. The staff was very accommodating and kind. Views from The Yeatman are truly unparalleled, and we loved it so much that we spent our last night in Porto doing the exact same thing, even though it was a bit rainy. It was just as magical, and I splurged for dessert!
If you don’t want to sit on the terrace, there is an interior bar that is extraordinarily cozy and offers beautiful views.
GOURMET: Dick’s Bar and Bistro
Best Time to Visit Porto
We visited Porto in late February, and it was absolutely perfect. The hotel staff did warn us that the weather was not necessarily normal, but it was beautiful. Most days were between 60-70 degrees and the evenings were in the high 50s. It was sunny, warm, and I definitely packed the wrong clothes for our trip! What I really loved about visiting Porto in February is that it was not too crowded.
Prior to visiting, I was nervous about the large expat population because of Portugal’s digital nomad visa program. I had also read that it is a popular city break from the UK because of the connections between English and the export of port wine. However, we didn’t run into that at all. We heard a lot of German and French, but we didn’t run into too many English-speaking tourists. We met a lot of international tourists, which made our conversations at the port wine tasting rooms especially fun. I’m sure the clientele is very different in the summer months, but we found visiting Porto in the winter to be especially lovely and very budget friendly.