Is Porto the perfect city break?
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Europe is blessed with a wealth of magical cities, all a (relatively) short plane ride away. We’re constantly on the lookout for the perfect city break: a city that is large enough to eat and drink around without getting bored, but small enough to be walkable and not require much - if any - public transport when in the city.
And we think we may have found the one - Porto!
Portugal’s second city, Porto dramatically balances on the Douro River, and has done since the first Roman settlements occupied the area in northern Portugal from the 8th-century. Porto, as we know it today, was founded in 1123.
So, what makes Porto the perfect city break?
Its charm and character
Around every corner, on every street, you’ll find houses sloping up and down the city’s hills, each different from its neighbour but creating a beautiful patchwork. One might be ever-so-slightly taller and dark brown, next to an ever-so-slightly smaller but fiery red and yellow one - and of course, the endless clothes drying on the balconies. It’s special and you will never get bored. Buildings shining with the bright blue and white Azulejo tiles will become familiar sight that still compels you to look.
It’s a city built for those who still live there, and you’ll feel privileged to visit.
Fantastic food - home of Port wine
The city is full of fantastic food and drink spots throughout the city, highlighting both Portuguese and, more specifically, Northern Portuguese cuisine - read our recommendations for Portuguese food here. Get away from Ribeira and Sao Bento, which are full of tourist traps. Head to the Vitoria and Santa Ildefonso neighbourhoods for some authentic taverns.
Given the name, Porto is the home of port wine - there is no better place in the world for a tasting. The traditional port cellars-turned-taverns can be found on Cais de Gaia.
As European cities go, Porto is very affordable. A coffee and famous pastel de nata from one of the many, many coffee shops (Castro is our personal favourite) should cost you no more than 3.50€, and will keep you going for a relaxed morning of exploring. A beer should be no more than 1.50€, and a wine no more than 2€ to 2.50€.
Excellent transport links
An often overlooked logistic until you’ve arrived and the stress sets in - getting into the city centre from the airport. That’s not an issue for Porto, however. A simple metro ride on the Navy Line (one way costs 2.60€), takes you into the heart of the city. The final stop is Trindade, which is suitable enough to get out and walk from to your hotel/AirBnb if north of the city, or you can switch to any of the other lines that all stop at Trindade.
A fantastic base for great day trips
Porto offers so much to do outside of the city itself. You can catch the Number 1 tram from Infante stop (by the river) and head west towards the Cantareira, which is a short and pretty walk from lots of beaches - the crashing Atlantic waves in this area are particularly special and photo-worthy!
Further north takes you to the equally beautiful Braga. Portugal’s third largest city is a maze of narrow streets packed with beautiful architecture. Then there’s Guimaraes, the birthplace of Portugal. Its medieval centre is a labyrinth of plazas, churches, and restaurants, all revolving around a 1,000-year-old castle and nearby palace. The wine regions and spectacular views east of the river are another holiday in itself.
The weather is wonderful all year round, but perfect for a city break in shoulder season (February - May & September - October). I visited Porto in mid-February and temperatures reached 22 degrees celsius; coming from the UK, this is comfortably shorts and t-shirt weather, and the heat is accentuated by the constant hills and steps. There may be the odd rain session (however there wasn’t on my trip), so you may ok with a light jacket for chillier mornings, but don’t be afraid to take lighter clothing.
In summer, it’d be unbearably hot, coupled with the sheer volume of tourists too, so avoid high season if you can (June - August) and take advantage of better rates in the shoulder season (or even low if you want!).
A photographer’s paradise
That professional, special camera dedicated for travelling - take it with you. I didn’t as I had no space in my backpack and I really regret it. The photo opportunities are endless.