Home Lifestyle {Long} Weekend Getaway: Porto, Portugal

{Long} Weekend Getaway: Porto, Portugal

by Lara Cohn
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Porto, Oporto or Portus Cale, is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon and the city that gave the country, and port wine, its name. Portugal has quickly become a popular travel destination in Europe. But forget the crowded beaches in Algarve and the touristy nature Lisbon – Porto is a highly underrated, charming city, with tons of history and a haven to taste local delicacies and become a port wine connoisseur.

For those considering taking a long romantic weekend or girlfriends’ getaway to the seaside city, we’ve got it covered. From wine cellar tastings to visiting the fantastical bookstore that was frequented by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, Porto is a great getaway idea. {And maybe you will even run into footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, swooning.} Read on to learn all about a long weekend getaway to Porto, Portugal. 

porto portugal

Booking The Trip

Porto {OPO} is a direct flight easily accessible from all of the local New York/New Jersey airports. After debuting non-stop flights from EWR to OPO in May 2018, United Airlines is back with its daily direct round-trip flight as of May through October 2019. The flight time is approximately seven hours eastbound and eight hours westbound.

Also try flying Air Canada, Brussels Airlines, or TAP Air Portugal {which just started its direct flight between Newark and Porto on June 1st}. Round-trip tickets range between $500 to over $1,000 per person, depending on the time of year, the airline, and how far in advance the flight is booked. The high season, like anywhere in Europe is busiest in July and August, which is also the most popular time to fly. The best season to visit Porto is the spring {April/May} or early autumn {September}; when there are fewer tourists, but the weather is still comfortable. As the western most country in Europe, Portugal is in the same time zone as Great Britain – five hours ahead of East Coast. 

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Other Helpful Tips in Porto 

porto portugal boat

Flights aside, getting around properly getting around Porto is important. Luckily, we’ve rounded up some useful navigation tips below: 

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  • Uber is very popular and accessible in Porto, just like at home, so grab one from the airport and to get around town.
  • Portuguese currency is the Euro {€}. Check the exchange rate before leaving and download a foreign exchange currency converter app, like XE, to compare prices to dollars when shopping. 
  • Portuguese is the language spoken in Porto, though many hotels, shops, and restaurants have English speakers. But, knowing a few key words and phrases such as “good day/good morning” {bom dia}, “thank you” {obrigado}, and “the bill/check please” {a conta por favor}, will go a long way.
  • Add an international calling service to your phone, usually priced at about $10/day depending on the phone plan. It’s worth it for the Internet access to call an Uber and to use Google Maps while walking around.

Where to Stay

We recommend staying in the city center to walk to nearby sites and restaurants. Note, when returning from the waterfront be prepared for a lot of uphill walking, as they are mainly located at the top of a very steep hill, so leave the strappy heels at home. Here are a few of the many centrally located hotels:

 Hotel Torel Avantgarde {Rua da Restauração, 336} 

If looking for luxury, the Hotel Torel Avantgarde is an award-winning, five-star art boutique hotel in the center of Porto, with a refined restaurant, plus views of the Douro River. The stylish rooms feature free Wi-Fi, smart TVs and minibars, as well as tea + coffee makers, and safes. Guests can also opt for upgraded rooms and balconies, some with river views. Airport transfers are free to and from the hotel. Other amenities include a breakfast buffet, a polished restaurant with a bar/lounge and a terrace, 24/7 room service, plus an outdoor pool with a hot tub and river views. There’s also a spa that includes a gym and two massage rooms.

Hotel da Bolsa {Rua de Ferreira Borges, 101}

At the middle of the budget options and located in the center of Porto with a five-minute walk to the riverfront and tons of restaurants and shops around the corner, is Hotel da Bolsa. The casual business-style hotel has a cozy bar, buffet breakfast, air conditioning, comfortable rooms, complimentary Wi-Fi, a concierge to help book tours, plus river or tower views from some rooms. 

Miragaia House {Rua de Miragaia, 118}

For a more B+B-style stay, try the Miragia House. This is a quaint five-room smoke-free guesthouse hidden away on a cobblestone side street in the city center off of the riverwalk. Amenities include a bar/lounge, coffee/tea in a common area, free breakfast, and free Wi-Fi in public areas.

Quinta da Pacheca {Rua do Relógio do Sol, 261, Cambres Lamego Viseu}

If you’ve ever wanted to sleep in a giant wine barrel at a 116-year-old vineyard, this is the perfect place to stay. A little over an hour drive outside of Porto in the Douro Valley is Quinta da Pacheca, The Wine House hotel. The barrels include a private bathroom with a walk-in shower, a skylight, and a terrace. They even have air conditioning and Wi-Fi, and lots + lots of wine.

Where to Eat + Drink

This is the home of port, the fortified and aged wine, and in the summer months, a tonic port {white port and tonic on ice}. A tonic port is a sweet and refreshing must-have drink to cool off with during the sweltering summer months. Have one…or three. Rosé drinkers can also look for the Mateus Rosé bottle to pop {literally} open. Here are a few of our favorite restaurants and bars:

Majestic Café {Rua Santa Catarina,112}

magestic cafe porto portugal

The French toast here is out of this world. With its belle époque architecture and atmosphere, step back in time to a café in 19th Century Paris. Open Monday through Saturday, from 9:00AM-11:30PM, go for breakfast or afternoon tea, which is served from 3:00PM-7:00PM, or go for dessert to sample the restaurant’s traditional Portuguese sweets.

Cervejaria Gazela {Travessa Cimo de Vila, 4 Batalha} 

Cervejaria Gazela is the most famous place for hot dogs in Porto {approved by the late Anthony Bourdain, whose picture adorns the wall}. The cachorro, a thin crispy bread, spicy sausage, and melted cheese sandwich, is absolutely delicious with a side of fries and cold beer. It’s a small place, but worth the wait in line outside for a seat at the counter.

FishFixe {Rua da Lada, 24, Cais da Ribeira}

porto portugal dish

A seafood and tapas bar located towards the end of the “restaurant row” by the bridge, this is where guests can eat either at an outside table on the promenade for some people watching or inside the dining room next to the balcony that opens up to a view of the river and Gaia across the way. Have the codfish cakes served over a bed of rice and beans, shrimp, salmon, or a Portugal staple — sardine fillets.

 Café O Afonso {Rua da Torrinha, 219}

One cannot come to Porto without tasting their signature sandwich called Francesinha, translated to “little French woman in Portuguese,” which is served at many restaurants. It’s a multi-meat, sausage and melted cheese stacked sandwich drenched in a hot spicy tomato + beer gravy, typically served with fries {it’s as if a croque monsieur and disco fries had a baby}. Head to Café O Afonso to try what the locals say is one of the tastiest in town.

Cantinho do Avillez {Rua Mouzinho da Silveira, 166} + Mini Bar {Rua da Picaria, 12}

Chef José Avillez is one of the most renowned Michelin star Portuguese celebrity chefs. If you’re looking for a top gastronomic experience, make a reservation at one of his two contemporary restaurants of Portuguese-inspired cuisines influenced by the chef’s travels

Casa da Mariquinhas {Rua de São Sebastião, 25}

A night in Porto is not complete with listening to Fado, a Portuguese musical genre often characterized by beautiful but mournful lyrics. Casa da Marquinhas is one of Porto’s oldest houses serving tapas accompanied by a traditional musical performance. Reservations recommended.

Terrace Lounge 360º {Largo Miguel Bombarda, N.º23, Vila Nova de Gaia}

porto portugal wine

This rooftop bar is perched on top of Porto Cruz across the river in Gaia, and is the place to go enjoy a glass of white or tawny port and catch a magnificent sunset right before dinner. 

What to Do 

With its scenic riverfront Ribeira district, steep hills, Fado music and port-wine tastings across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto has a lot to offer for a weekend getaway. Most of the city’s top sites can be covered in two days, but stay an extra day to head to the Douro Valley.

Visit Base {Quisque Jardim, Passeio dos Clérigos, Rua das Carmelitas, 151} 

porto portugal park

Before you venture on your adventure of the day, walk over to Base for a drink and relax with the locals on the grass at Praca de Lisboa Park.

Take a Ride on a Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus or a Walking Tour

An effective way to see a new city, learn the history and to get acclimated is to sightsee on a hop-on, hop-off bus or join a walking tour. 

Try Porto Walkers to discover hidden gems including the Dom Luis Bridge, the Barredo neighborhood, the Ribeira quarter, and the São Bento Train Station, to admire the 20,000 blue-and-white azulejo tiles which line the ceiling and walls, that illustrate the transport evolution and Portuguese history.

Porto’s other main landmarks not to miss include: the gilded Church of Sao Francisco, the Stock Exchange Palace, and Clérigos Church and Tower {one of Porto’s most characteristic symbols + where visitors can climb 225 steps to the top of the highest point in the city}

Visit Livraria Lello {Rua das Carmelitas, 144}

porto portugal bookstore

Recognized as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, Livaria Lello is rumored to be an inspiration for the Harry Potter series when J.K. Rowling taught English in Porto – be sure to take photos of the magical red staircase. Note, they charge € 5.50 for a voucher ticket to enter, which can be purchased online or at the building next door to the shop; the entrance fee is then redeemed for a credit for a book purchase inside the shop. 

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Take a Boat Cruise on Rio Douro

A good way to see both sides of the city, and to ease tired feet after sightseeing and shopping, is to head on down to the Rio Douro for a one-hour boat cruise. There are many companies to choose from, so hop aboard and soak in the beautiful landscape.

Visit the Beach

To escape the bustling city, catch an Uber or bus via Avenida da Boavista to the largest beach in the area with. Plus, there is easy access from central Porto to Praia de Matosinhos, a surf spot where many cafés line the Atlantic Ocean.

Taste Port Wine 

porto sandeman portugal

Cross the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge on foot, heading toward Vila Nova de Gaia. After crossing the bridge, walk along the riverbank. The rabelos, the boats once used to transport the wine from the estates of the Douro Valley to Porto, dock at the riverfront. Look up to see all the large signs for the lodges of the port wine producers dotting the hill. Calem {Avenida de Diogo Leite, 344, Vila Nova de Gaia}, Augusto’s {Rua de França,10, 4400-174 Vila Nova de Gaia}, Ferreira {Largo Miguel Bombarda, 47 4400-222 Vila Nova de Gaia}, and Sandeman {Largo Miguel Bombarda, 3 4400-222 Vila Nova de Gaia} are popular lodges to visit to taste a wide range of different wines from classic to premium, vintage, ruby, and tawny ports. Entrance fees vary by each individual wine cellar. Note that these tours are more about learning the history of port, seeing the caves and aging tanks, tasting, and of course buying wine, as the vineyards are outside of the city

Visit the Douro Valley Region

For those who have an extra day in Portugal, take a train tour or river cruise to the Douro Valley region to spend a full day soaking up the picturesque landscape of wine country. Visit wine estates or quintas for a tour, a wine tasting, and to enjoy lunch + a river cruise.  

Where to Shop 

There are not many souvenirs besides port wine that are must-haves to buy in Porto. But for those looking to pick up little gifts to bring back for friends that can easily fit in luggage, Portugal gift staples are the hand-painted tiles. 

Prometeu Artesanato {Rua Mouzinho da Silveira, 136} 

Prometeu Artesanato has a large selection of azulejos and ceramic dishes, as well as the Rooster of Barcelos or Galo de Barcelos, one of the most common emblems of Portugal, which will be the refrigerator magnet of choice.  

 Claus Porto {Rua das Flores, 22}

For luxury soaps, cologne, hand creams, and scented candles with vintage inspiration to bring back home, try Claus Porto. The shop just opened a location in Manhattan, but this is the flagship store. 

Bem Português {Rua Mouzinho da Silveira, 148} 

Lastly, for those seeking out eco-friendly wood and cork jewelry {cork is one of Portugal’s biggest and most important exports},try Bem Português. This is a cute little shop to pick up some affordable and fashionable handmade earrings, necklaces, rings, and bracelets. 

Additional Tips and Tricks

porto portugal water view

Note, white port is not easy to find in Hudson County, but Cork Wine + Spirits {1450 Washington Street, Hoboken} does carry one brand, Cambridge White Port. The owner told us he can also place special orders for a particular brand – to enjoy it at home, make sure to purchase and ship a few bottles back at the wine cellars in Gaia, or buy a few bottles duty-free at the airport and carry home on the plane.

For travelers who loved the food in Portugal on a previous trip or can’t make across the Atlantic this year, check out these tastes of Portugal right here at home: Broa {297 Grove Street Jersey City}, Suissa Bakery + Coffee Shop {57 Pacific Street, Newark}, or head into the Meatpacking District for Frankie Portugal’s coffee and a pastel de nata Portuguese custard tart {457 West 17th Street at 10th Avenue, Manhattan}.

Have you visited Porto? Where’s your next vacation? Let us know in the comments!

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