City breaks are great but they always zoom by so fast. What do you do when time is short but the list of things to do and see is long? It can be tough to prioritise, but choices have got to be made… and quickly!
Although I’m a big fan of the non-plan travel plan, starting off your city break with an idea of a few places that you’d like to explore can help you get the most out of your mini-visit.
Whether you’re a self-confessed foodie or going in search of Porto’s prettiest tiles, here’s a quick guide that might come in handy when time is of the essence.
Take a Dip
Although Porto is a built-up area of Portugal, it has a great selection of places to go for a swim. From beaches to hotel rooftops there are plenty of places to cool off from the city sunshine.
Head to the sizeable main beach, Matosinhos, to catch some rays and some waves. You can easily jump on the blue Metro line from the city centre and around 40 minutes and€1.50 later find yourself at the seaside. Just hop off at Matosinhos Sal station and it’s a bout a five minute walk from there.
A 17th century fort, Castelo do Queijo (which translates as Cheese Castle, but is unfortunately not made of cheese) is perched at the south end of the beach and looks over the bay. Silver oil drums and colourful graffiti give the north side a more contemporary character.
The surf is good for beginners, especially in autumn when there are fewer crowds. You can rent a surfboard at the beach, and then stop off for lunch at one of the restaurants that line the sandy stretch.
There are other, more picturesque beaches to choose from in the area too, however if you don’t want to travel too far then a hotel pool might be the answer. Try the chic pool and bar at the top of the HF Ipanema Park. Or if you don’t mind a short drive, make your way to the luxurious Frexio Palace hotel. As well as the plush interior to grand stately building that sits on the banks of the river, the hotel has its own infinity pool with beautiful views.
Admire the Architecture
Whether you make a beeline for the tourist attractions or decide to drift around the hilly streets and see what you find, you’re likely to come across some stunning architectural sights.
Porto is well-known for the intricately decorated tiles that cover the walls of its narrow alleyways and historic buildings. You’re sure to spot churches adorned with tiles featuring sweeping blue and white patterns. Don’t miss the train station and its spectacular large-scale scenes painted on the tiles that line the interior of the entrance.
There are also some impressive examples of modern architecture to take in. Such as the futuristic-looking music hall Casa da Musica, with its abstract shape and sharp lines. Catch some music while you’re there too. Performances cover everything from classical concerts to contemporary bands.
Bridging the Gap
To add to Porto’s architecture credentials, there are also a number of bridges that criss-cross the River Douro which winds its way through the city. The most famous of which is the 19th century Dom Luis Bridge.
Designed by Gustave Eiffel of Paris Eiffel Tower fame, the double-storey bridge is built of iron and shares a resemblance to its French cousin. It bridges the gap over the river valley which sits 60 metres below. You can walk across on foot, although there is an unnerving rattling that happens every time a train runs along the tracks that line the walkway. As expected, the views are spectacular, especially at sunset which turns the river gold.
Eat Like a King or Queen
No doubt you will work up an appetite in your speedy mini-break. Be sure to take a bakery break – traditional Portuguese pasteis de nata, or custard tarts, do not disappoint. The little pick’n’mix biscuits laid out in most bakery cabinets are also a good shout. Try the famous Confeitaria do Bolhão bakery for excellent pastries.
Try the river banks for Portugese dishes where you can dine al fresco while watching the world go by. Although this spot can feel quite touristy, it does have a certain charm. There’s a lot of meat and fish on the menu so, apart from the fantastic roast potatoes, there’s not a lot for vegetarians to get excited about.
A favourite among the locals, Opaparico offers hearty dishes and a friendly candle-lit atmosphere. You’ll find it tucked away in the back streets on Rua de Costa Cabral, serving up a generous helping of Portuguese hospitality along with their plates. It’s a popular choice though, so booking in advance is recommended.
For a little luxury, the NH Collection hotel restaurant offers a luxurious menu, created by chef Álvaro Costa, at much lower prices than you’d find in some other European cities. Carefully arranged gourmet bites on individual spoons and presented on a slate tile is the type of gastronomic level we’re talking about here.
Sample the Port
Port is a big deal in Porto. The city invented it and has cultivated a port culture that has been maturing for centuries.
Cross the river (preferably by taking the Dom Luis Bridge route) and experience the historic port houses that line the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro. You can sample fine vintages of the liqueur that are likely to give you a new or renewed appreciation for the drink often associated with grandparents having a tipple at the festive family gathering.
Here in Porto however, Porto is alive and kicking. Contemporary bars and restaurants stock a whole selection of the stuff including both red and white varieties. If you’re of drinking age, try the ‘porto tonico’, Porto’s answer to a gin and tonic. Served in a giant G&T glass with a sprig of fresh mint and a citrus slice, the refreshing drink tastes similar to its gin counterpart but a little sweeter.
If you want to continue the party after dark, head to Rua Galeria de Paris and Rua Cândido dos Reis where the streets are lined with bars offering all kinds of nightlife from decadent old mansions playing house and hip-hop to dark, grimy bars blasting our rock music.
Follow @rockskippers on Instagram to see more Porto tiles and travel pics.