Day 1. A week in Porto, northern Portugal

Porto is an historic mercantile city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s famous for its port wine, medieval walls and steep sided waterfront on the banks of the Douro river.  We had originally planned a visit to this wonderful city for April but eventually managed to get there several months later.  I hope you enjoy reading about our stay in Porto and the surrounding towns and cities we were also able to visit.

KLM Embraer 170 aircraft at Manchester airport (PH-EXK)
Terminal 3, Manchester Airport

The previous afternoon we had taken a train to Manchester, bought some sandwiches and ate them on a bench in Piccadilly Gardens enjoying the autumn sunshine.  After going for a coffee, we continued our journey by train to the airport for our 7.30 p.m. Ryanair flight to Porto.  It was the first time we’d flown from Manchester Airport since March as our recent weekend in Pisa had been from Leeds-Bradford.  Terminal 3 was exceedingly quiet enabling us to pass through security in hardly any time at all.  Our flight had a few empty seats and my son and I had been lucky to have been allocated emergency exit rows, giving us more room to stretch our legs.

Porto Metro ticket machine
Buying our Metro tickets in Porto airport

Our flight touched down slightly ahead of schedule and as Portugal is in the same time zone as the U.K. it was just approaching 10.00 p.m. as we headed down the steps to the Porto Metro beneath the terminal building. We had arranged accommodation in the centre of Porto near Trindade station so bought our tickets from a machine.  Public transport is inexpensive in Portugal and our tickets cost just €2 each (zone 4) plus an additional 60 cents for our re-useable Andante travel cards.  The journey took 25 minutes and it was then just a 7 minute walk to the Spot Apartments which was to be our home for the next 9 nights.

Spot Apartments, Porto
Spot Apartments, Porto

As the apartment reception closes at 5.30 p.m. we had been requested to check-in at their hotel a couple of doors away.  We’d originally considered the hotel but decided that its sister aparthotel suited our needs better as it offered more space combined with an inclusive breakfast and maid service.

Interior of Spot Apartments, Porto
The spacious lounge at Spot Apartments

Our spacious apartment on the third floor was well equipped with a large lounge/ dining area, kitchen and separate bedroom.  As it was quite late we quickly unpacked and made ourselves cups of tea before going to bed.

Spot Luggage and Lounge, Porto
The Aparthotel’s cafe where breakfast is served

We felt refreshed the next morning after a good night’s rest and were soon wandering along to the Spot Luggage and Lounge five minutes walk away where breakfast was served.  The cafe was attractively furnished and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast which used to take the form of a buffet but is now served to the table.  There was no fear of missing out with the table service though as we tucked into juice, cheese, roast ham, scrambled eggs and bacon, freshly baked bread and croissants.  The bread tasted delicious and the waiter told us that along with the croissants, it was delivered each morning from a bakery downstairs.

Spot Luggage and Lounge, Porto
Interior of the aparthotel’s cafe

After returning to the aparthotel briefly we called in Pingo Doce, a local high quality supermarket to stock up on provisions as we planned to do a mixture of both eating in and out during our stay.  Shopping completed, we were ready to start exploring Porto and set off on foot for a mid morning stroll.  At 25 degrees it felt lovely and warm in the sunshine without being too hot for our sightseeing.

Porto Town Hall
Porto Town Hall

A good place to begin our self guided tour of the city was at the Town Hall on the Praca da Liberdade.  This beautiful neo-classical building was constructed in 1920 and features a 70m high central tower with a large clock.  Although it is not open to the public it is definitely worth viewing its exterior and then walking down the large square set out with formal ponds and flower beds.  Standing majestically at the far end of the square is an equestrian statue of Pedro IV of Brazil remembered as a democratic reformer.

Praca da Liberdade, Porto
Praca da Liberdade, Porto

The surrounding neighbourhood is an affluent area containing several imposing civic buildings, designer shops, the elegant Belle Époque Majestic Cafe and the Lello Livraria book shop.

Rua do Santa Catarina, Porto
Rua do Santa Catarina, Porto

Visiting the book shop was high on my list of things I wanted to do as I adore visiting libraries and interesting bookshops wherever they might be. However my heart sank as I approached Lello as the queue to get indoors was as long as the eye could see and I imagine it would have taken at least an hour before I even reached the entrance.  Sadly, I decided against visiting that day but hoped to pop back later in the week when it might be quieter.  The building dates back to 1906 although the actual business is even older than that.  A literary magazine recently voted Lello as the third most beautiful book store in the world with its art nouveau decor, spiral wooden staircase and stained glass skylight.

Lello Livraria book shop, Porto
The Lello Livraria book shop

J.K. Rowling lived in Porto in the early 1990’s teaching English and wrote the first two Harry Potter novels in the city.  The curving staircase is said to be the inspiration of the library at Hogwarts and this is the main reason why it is such a popular place to visit in the city.  Because so many tourists were just going inside to take photos, a €5 entrance charge has been introduced and is redeemable towards purchases of books.

University of Porto Natural History and Science Museum
University of Porto Natural History and Science Museum

Our stroll continued alongside several of the historic buildings of the University of Porto and it was a welcome sight to discover a graduation celebration taking place in these days when everything seems to have gone virtual.  The Natural History and Science Museums are now located in the former rectory building and in the square to one side a weekend craft market was taking place.

Craft market next to Porto University
The craft market at the side of the university

Porto is very hilly and with its cobbled streets it’s necessary to wear sensible footwear.  We’d already covered a reasonable distance and were ready to stop for a drink so we made a bee line for McDonalds located just outside the Sao Bento station.

McDonalds Imperial Cafe, Porto
McDonalds Imperial Cafe in Porto

You might wonder why we had chosen McDonald’s when there were no end of other establishments to choose from, but we had selected there for a special reason.  Fast food and fine decor go hand in hand in Porto’s former Imperial cafe, noted as being one of the most beautiful of the chain’s restaurants in the world with its art-deco stained glass windows and chandeliers.

McDonalds Imperial Cafe Porto
Beautiful stained glass panels behind the counter

It opened in 1995 in the former Porto coffee shop which was an icon of the city from the 1930’s.  The building has retained many of its original features including ornate ceilings and a large stained glass window behind the service counter.  Out on the terrace they even employ a harrier hawk handler who is on hand to scare away any pigeons and seagulls who might take a fancy to the offerings.

Sao Bento Railway Station, Porto
Sao Bento Railway Station

Next on our list was a visit to the Sao Bento railway station just around the corner.  Not only does Porto boast one of the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world, it’s station is ranked in the top ten as well.

Concourse, Sao Bento Railway Station, Porto
Concourse, Sao Bento Railway Station, Porto

 Its Belle Époque Parisian exterior leads through an arched entrance into the main concourse which is absolutely stunning as it’s decorated with 20,000 blue and white tiles covering the walls.

Sao Bento Station, Porto
Beautiful tiles cover the station walls

Artist Jorge Colaco took eleven years to complete the work of intricately painted scenes of Portuguese history, daily life and transportation.  We’d planned several places to visit during the week travelling by train giving us more opportunities to marvel at this wonderful station.

Statue of Newspaper vendor, Porto
Statue of Newspaper Vendor in Porto

Upon leaving the station we continued down hill pausing to view the Newspaper Vendor statue next to a post box.  It was just a pity that someone had painted graffiti around the post box detracting somewhat from its appearance.

One of Porto's heritage trams
One of Porto’s heritage trams

Some more steep sections followed until we had reached Ribeira, Porto’s riverside district on the banks of the Douro.  It’s a maze of cobbled streets with pastel coloured houses in varying states of repair seemingly clinging on to the hillside.

Ribeira riverside district, Porto
Ribeira riverside district, Porto

I’d read that this district was always teeming with tourists, enjoying the breathtaking location sat at one of the many bars and restaurants lining the promenade.  Tourists are sadly lacking at the moment so it was in some ways a bonus for us to not be jostled by the crowds but on the other hand, so terribly sad for all the shops and cafes relying so heavily on the tourist trade to earn a living.

Luis I Bridge, Porto
Luis I Bridge, Porto

Walking along the embankment is a joy to behold, my camera in overdrive taking so many photographs of the stunning setting.  Spanning the river is the Luis I bridge so we walked across the lower part to reach the south side of the Douro river.  The bridge first opened in 1886 and was designed by the same German engineer who co-founded the Eiffel Company in Paris.

Lower pedestrian walkway, Luis I Bridge, Porto
Walking along the lower tier of the Luis I Bridge

A notable feature of the bridge is its two levels, one at the top of the arch and the other suspended below it.  Both decks were originally intended to carry road traffic but nowadays the upper tier carries the Porto metro train in addition to having a pedestrian walkway.  It’s 60m (190 feet) above the Doura and we planned to go up there sometime during our stay.

The north bank of the Douro RIver, Porto
View from the bridge to the north bank of the river
Porto, Northern Portugal
Houses clinging to the hillside in Porto

The next day had been set aside to fully explore the south bank but we couldn’t resist the temptation walking to the far end of the bridge from where we had the most wonderful views of Porto facing us across the river.

Church of Souls, Porto
Church of Souls, Porto

We then retraced our steps back along the bridge to the north bank turning right for a stroll on this much less developed section of the riverside as far as the Ponte do Infante.  From there we walked up a massive cliff via steeped cobbled streets to head back into town and return to our hotel for a well earned rest after a very enjoyable first day exploring Porto.

If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also like:

A weekend in Lisbon

A week in Funchal, Madeira

 

67 thoughts on “Day 1. A week in Porto, northern Portugal

  1. ThingsHelenLoves

    Well, that’s a level of beauty I would never expect to find in McDonalds. And the station, just wow! I love the idea of these every day places being filled with art and beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our planned trip was supposed to be in early May and I’m so pleased we managed to get there later in the year whilst travel restrictions were temporarily eased. I do hope you are also able to visit Porto before too long and in the meantime that this series of posts might provide you with some inspiration of how to spend your time there. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Take care, Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry I’ve taken such a long time to comment, Marion but I really enjoyed this post as Porto and Lisbon have long been top of my list of European cities I would like to visit. Although I have been to southern Portugal, several times, these have mainly been family holidays. As I now have a friend who has moved to the Azores, I’m hoping they could be a stopping off point on my journey!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great to see Porto with your photos. So beautiful. We had planned to be in Porto in September and then walk on the Camino de Santiago towards Santiago-Spain. Well … we couldn’t go ( flight was cancelled and airport was closed too I think and the pandemic was not a good time for us to go to Europe). I am happy to visit with your blog. So I guess you were there not long ago…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry to hear your own trip to Porto was cancelled but hopefully you will get there in the next year or two. We were actually there in early September as we booked our flights the same day as travel restrictions to Portugal were lifted . It was a lovely trip and we felt safe and secure all the time as it was very quiet. We didn’t walk on the Camino but did do lots of other things involving walking.

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  4. Pingback: Day 1. A week in Porto, northern Portugal – Cintians life

    1. I’m sure you’ll get to Porto before too long Tanja. It was even nicer than I thought it would be. The McDonalds in Budapest station is also gorgeous – its just a pity the food in both of them is pretty standard! Thanks for commenting, it’s much appreciated.

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  5. Wow, that’s great, I’m happy you were able to go to such a beautiful city since travel bans have been gradually lifted. Was it pretty busy at your time of visit? I bet you were able to enjoy it a lot more without the hustle and bustle of tourists. We went 2 years ago and we loved it! Even a simple wine tasting by the waterfront was so nice. You can spend all day just sitting by the river.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was fairly quiet whilst we were there but there were always some people about in cafes and restaurants so it didn’t feel deserted. Porto was lovely and I agree, just sitting by the waterfront was so relaxing, taking in the stunning views. Have you managed to travel very far yet? Let’s hope better things are on the horizon. Thanks for commenting. Marion

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      1. Ah, my pleasure. We live in Florida and just took a week trip in the Keys. So we were able to appreciate what is in our own backyard. We were always so focused on traveling overseas so now we switched gears and will travel our country. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        1. That’s a good idea, I’m so pleased you were also able to get away. I’ve just returned from a road trip to Cornwall, a part of England I’d not previously visited and so it was a great opportunity to go there, and we had a lovely time. Stay safe and enjoying seeing more of the USA.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d read that the Art Nouveau McDonalds was next to the station so we decided totake a look. There are undoubtedly lengthy queues in ‘more normal’ times so it was a good opportunity to visit. Have you visited the one in Budapest as that is beautiful too? It’s just a pity the food is just the same everywhere though!

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  6. Reena Deshmukh

    What an amazing place to visit. The city is already looking vibrant yet so cool.
    I really hope we too get going quick. However, with increasing cases here for covid, I don’t know how early can we be travelling again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Sue. After having our plans dashed in April we booked again as soon as we heard that travel restrictions had been lifted, this time for a longer stay. I think I preferred Porto to Lisbon so it’s somewhere for you to look forward to visiting in the coming years. M.

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  7. Porto is a fabulous place to visit. My husband and I stayed for some days a few years back. We walked over the bridge to try port, which is offered as tastings in the breweries, listening to Fado singers perform. Magic. The contemporary art museum was also worth a visit, a short bus ride from the centre. The tiling was a standout. Just loved it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Shane, I do hope you get to Porto next year. Fingers crossed you will, it really is heartbreaking to have our hopes and plans dashed. In the meantime I hope you derive a little enjoyment from my series of posts and they give you a flavour of what you have to look forward to. Take care and thanks for commenting. Marion

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  8. I was in Portugal years ago when I was teaching in Europe and worked my way up the coast, but ran out of time and never made it to Porto. So nice to see repurposed historic buildings (even if they are McD) and the stunning train station.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. jasonlikestotravel

    I’ve only heard good things about Porto so definitely high on my list. It’s disappointing that even in Covid times the queue to get in the bookstore was so long, don’t think I’d bother (particularly with the entrance fee).

    The bookstore and library frequently get a mention when Porto is brought up but that’s the first time I’ve seen that McDonalds! That’s really cool! Glad you made an effort to stop.
    Really looking forward to the rest of the series 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Jason for taking the time to comment on my post. We were disappointed at not being able to visit in April but as soon as the possibility presented itself we re-booked, this time for a longer stay. I did try to get back in the bookshop later in the week but again there was a lengthy queue so I didn’t bother. Goodness knows what it’s like in normal times. Porto’s McDonalds is gorgeous as is the one in Budapest’s station which you might have also come across. Food was just the same though, but you can’t have everything!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. jasonlikestotravel

        Yeah, it always seems overcrowded. I can understand why they’d implement an entrance fee for the shop.

        I can’t recall the one in Budapest but gives me all the more reason to go back! 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you for another wonderful ‘virtual vacation’. i agree with you, that most vendors and restaurants await the return of the tourist. Good to see that masks were in place as you travelled around. Nice to have a longer stay so you could delve into the city sights. Reading and dreaming of travel again.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Your post brought back some wonderful memories of a terrific week we had in Porto just over a year ago. Our starting point was the San Beno station which was teaming with people. I’m envious of seeing it with so few people there, but sad for the vendors as tourism is so important to them. I so look forward to going back when we can travel freely again.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Porto was a wonderful trip and the Sao Bento station gorgeous. It was good on one hand to have the city almost to ourselves but terrible for the local economy as it is everywhere. We were so pleased to get the opportunity to go. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

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