Porto: the perfect destination for a mini-weekend-break
Working full time, it is often hard to find time for a short break. You know how it is: you are only allowed to take a certain amount of days off, and you do not want to spend them all on taking either Friday’s or Monday’s off for a weekend break. I feel you. Hence, me and my friend spent some time Googling and found a late Friday night flight and a Sunday night return flight to… Porto!
Obviously only a Saturday and most part of a Sunday did not provided us with a lot of time and that fact got me worried initially: would we be able to explore everything we wanted to see? Luckily for us, we quickly discovered that Porto is an excellent destination for a mini-weekend-break.
Mapping the city
In our pocket travel guide that we had bought at Daunt Books, we found out that the city of Porto is divided into different districts, but that most of the top sights are located in the Unesco World Heritage neighbourhood of Ribeira, in trendy Aliados and Bolhao, in picturesque Miragaia and in the heart of the port wine district of Vila Nova de Gaia.
We stayed at a hotel in the Boavista district, which is famous for the concert hall Casa da Musica and one of Portugal’s most beautiful cemetery, Agramonte. From Boavista it is only a short ride on the metro or bus to the more popular areas and the riverfront.
Walks, climbs and views
We decided to start our day with a luxurious buffet breakfast at our hotel, followed by a city walk in the Ribeira neighbourhood. This walk took us through narrow alleyways, along colourful houses (with clothing hanging to dry outside – absolute photography bonus!), and from Sé Cathedral right to the riverfront which provided us with a spectacular view of the bridge Ponte de Dom Luís I. Speaking of spectacular views, the higher we climbed the steps of the narrow alley-like-streets and the more exhausting we got, the more breathtaking the views over the city became. What can I say, great effort gets rewarded!
Now we had seen the Ponte de Dom Luís I from the boulevard, we were more than curious to see what the view would be from on top of the bridge, and what was there waiting for us on the other side. Hurriedly, we climbed all the way up the stairs again and stopped for some pictures along the way. Once on the other side of the bridge, in the Vila Nova de Gaia area, we noticed the cable car that brought locals and tourists alike further into the neighbourhood. View-obsessed as we are, we decided to buy a ticket to get the full ‘Porto Experience.’
Port tasting in Porto
Included in the cable car ticket was a wine taster experience in one of the port breweries. Bonus number two! The story goes that in the 17th Century British merchants transformed wine into port by adding a dash of brandy. Nowadays, you can still see the imposingly looking breweries standing proudly on the Rio Douro riverside, such as Taylor’s, Graham’s and Sandeman. Our ticket brought us to a smaller brewery in one of the backstreets of Vila Nova de Gaia, right next to a lovely little church. We decided to sample the rosé and the Ruby port and sat down at one of the barrel tables where some sunbeams that peered through the window warmed our faces.
Going local in Afurada
Soon enough we continued our sightseeing trip and decided to head for a less touristy destination. We had read about Afurada, a fishing village area where apparently time had stood still. Most tourists would take the small ferry boat from Cais do Ouro to Afurada, but we decided to take a riverside stroll to the village instead.
Unpleasantly surprised by a few heavy rainstorms along the way (the weather that day was even more unpredictable than London’s weather!), we made it to Afurada after a 45-min/1hour walk. On our way we were invited in by a few locals who were cooking fish on a street-side barbecue, something which is typical for the area. We thanked them gratefully, but headed on towards the fishing village.
Once there we enjoyed a lovely fish lunch and looked out over the promenade where seagulls were eagerly feasting on the fish that had dropped from some old lady’s fish cart. In the meantime, wooden fishing boats were wobbling peacefully on the waves in the harbour.
It felt like we had entered a completely different town, but technically Afurada is still part of Porto. After lunch we strolled through some of the backstreets and discovered that Afurada shows local life in its purest form. A small fishing restaurant (again with street side barbecues with roasting fish) was full with residents partying and dancing on the sounds of a trumpet player’s music. Saturday afternoons in Afurada!
When we saw dark clouds approaching us again, we headed back to the cable car, as there was one stop in town we wanted to visit before shops’ closing time.
The book shop Livraria Lello became famous after the Harry Potter books and movies came out. The author JK Rowling was extremely inspired by Porto and partly wrote the famous magician’s books here when she taught English between 1991 to 1993. Without a doubt, the impressive twisting staircase in Livraria Lello formed the inspiration for the one in Harry Potter. Nowadays hordes of tourists buy a ticket and wait in line to go inside and see it with their own eyes. When we learned that we had to buy a ticket and had to queue up (in the rain) only to get into a bookshop, we decided that this was one tourist trap we did not want to fall for and we headed back to our hotel. We had a quick peek in however, so we did see the staircase in question!
After a long day of exploring, walking and being mesmerized by colourful Porto, we headed back to our hotel for dinner in the market hall next to it. Gearing up for another day in town the next day!
Stay tuned for more Porto coming very soon…