72 hours in Porto

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If you’re still looking for a long weekend destination, consider visiting Porto, the gem of northern Portugal and home of all things Port.

Three days is plenty of time to enjoy this compact city with its Port tastings, bling cathedrals and high quality tours. Sample lipsmacking seafood and tapas, relax in a bar to the sounds of live music with the locals or sail along the river with its six bridges.

Follow my 72 hour guide of the best things to do, see, eat and drink.

Day one

As soon as you arrive, head across the impressive Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge for the Vila Nova da Gaia waterfront. If it looks similar to the Eiffel Tower, that’s because it was designed by Téophile Seyrig who worked with Gustave Eiffel before the Parisian tower went into construction.

Stroll among the stalls and grab a traditional Portuguese pastry or get cracking on the Port sampling and head for Sandeman’s Port terrace. Relax with an ice cream from the nearby gelateria (from €2) or take the cable car up to the Monastery, Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar for excellent views over the Douro river (€6 one way, with free Port tasting token).

Overlooking the Douro river from Vila Nova da Gaia waterfront

Cross back over the river and make a beeline for the historical and lively Ribeira Quarter, designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Wander round the imposing Sé Cathedral, dating from the 12th century, or gawp at what 100kg of gold leaf looks like inside the Gothic Igreja de São Francisco.

Port and bruchetta at 'Cal' bar in the Ribeira district
Cal bar, a cool little hangout in Ribeira

Stick with Ribeira and head to fledgling bar Cal on Avenida Vimara Peres for expertly-chosen Ports, wines and beers from a brother-sister team.Their food offering is minimalist, but the herby feta bruschetta is delicious (€6).

While away the rest of the evening in any of the bars along Galeria de Paris, lively even on a Sunday evening. A good place to start is Alma for experimental cocktails at low prices, and live music into the night.

Day two

Start your second day in Porto the only way anyone should, and devour a few pastel de nata Portuguese custard tarts. I tried three different types and although Nata Lisboa on Rua das Flores is the most popular, they are so heavy with filling that the bottoms can fall off! Instead I recommend good value Pastelaria Bela Torre on Rua Carmelitas for their crispy, moreish versions.

Inside Livraria Lello
Swarms of tourists inside Livraria Lello

Bela Torre is next to the famous Livraria Lello bookshop, frequented by J.K. Rowling when she lived in Porto and said to have inspired her writing. If you must go, be prepared to queue twice and pay €4 to get in (redeemable against a book purchase).

It’s hellish inside, with hardly any room to move, although they do sell branded water should you start to waiver.

Far more satisfying is a trip to the Palácio da Bolsa, site of Porto’s stock exchange, back when Portugal had two! You can only visit by joining a tour. They’re incredibly popular and many tours sell out hours in advance, so try queueing when they open to guarantee tickets. For €12.50 you can get a combination ticket including the Clérigos Tower and museum.

Inside Palácio da Bolsa's Hall of Nations
Palácio da Bolsa’s Hall of Nations

Don’t leave Porto without trying a Portuguese prego steak sandwich. Prégar on Largo São Domingos does them beautifully, the ladies running the kitchen working non-stop to prepare mountains of beef for hungry customers. There are seven options on the menu but you don’t need to look much further than the Clássico (€8.20). Herbivores don’t miss out, the Vegetariano is stuffed full of cheese, mushrooms, honey and walnuts (€7).

Day three

On the steps of Casa Musica

Having conquered most of central Porto, get out into the suburbs to Boavista and start your final day with a tour around the impressive Casa da Música.

The twice-daily €7.50 tour is really well guided around lots of fantastic architectural spaces, quirky rooms and concert spaces complete with interactive instruments that you can try out.

Take some time out to explore nearby Jardim do Palácio de Cristal, a lovely botanical garden overlooking the Douro river, where peacocks roam and palm trees loom tall. Or, make your way to the water’s edge of Ribeira Quay and book places on a six bridges boat tour. There are plenty of operators offering tours in old Rabelo cargo boats, taking you up and down the Douro, under the bridges in 50 minutes, for €15.

A peacock among leaves in the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal park               Palm trees in the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal

Leaving the best till last, make your way over the Dom Luís I bridge for the last time, and indulge in an afternoon at  the Taylor’s cellars, followed by a Port tasting.

Sporting one of the oldest Port houses, the Taylor’s audio tour is fascinating and full of information, the rows and rows of barrels make for great photos and the shop and tasting bar are set amidst beautiful gardens, the perfect location to taste Taylor’s magnificent selection of Ports. The best value package is the €12 tour and tasting of their Chip Dry white and Ruby Ports, both magnificent.

Taylor's Port tasting in the lodge's rose gardens

Inside the Taylor's Port cellars

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