Out of all the places we visited in Portugal, Porto was my favourite. It was perfectly historical with equal smatterings of modern culture. We stayed in the Miguel Bombarda Art block – the city’s art district within the Cedofeita Area of the city.
Porto is a very walkable city and it is easy to do within a day and a half. We stayed five days in each city in Portugal because we wanted to experience the city as a local. We rented a very artsy apartment on Air B&B called Art & City. It was the perfect place to stay in Porto.
We were close by a lot of great restaurants and shops but be warned that shops close at 7pm and some take a mid-day break from 12-230pm. I love Europe for this reason! Restaurants and bars stayed open late, however.
There are fabric, art, clothing and houseware shops all over this district. I really wanted a round tablecloth but I couldn’t find one so I bought some fun material in one of the fabric stores and I sewed it to size when we got home. There were so many great fabrics to choose from – I even picked up some clearance silk to make a dress – the prices could not be beat!
The Fun Sites
Livraria Lello Bookstore is a must visit. My son and I are book lovers so this was the first place we visited when we arrived in Porto. Get there as soon as it opens because it will be less busy (but be warned, it’s always pretty packed with tourists). Here is why it’s so popular – the Livraria Lello is rumoured to be the place where JK Rowling got her inspiration for her Harry Potter book series and she also frequents the bookstore. My son is a huge fan of the series so this was awesome for him! Anyone would love to see this spot – the incredible wood carved staircase and book shelves are incredible!
Tickets are to be purchased on the store at the corner called Livraria Lello – walk straight in to the locker area. There are free lockers for use because they don’t allow large bags in the bookstore. Lock up your stuff, take the key and then go down the small staircase to the cash registers to purchase your entry tickets to the Livraria Lello.
You must exit this shop and go three doors down and stand in another line to get into the actual library. Here you will find books of all languages and with your entry ticket, you get 5 Euros off of one book of your choosing! Grab some books and try to find a step or a seat to enjoy some reading time while avoiding lots of tourists.
Mercado do Bolhao is Porto’s food hub. Porto’s food culture began here and is still centered around the market. Unfortunately the market is undergoing a huge renovation and restoration so there is a temporary market set up a few blocks away. Although a temporary spot, the market is huge! We walked the aisles and picked up snacks, candy and fruits for the road. There are lots of great handmade items available too like embroidered linens, handmade wicker bags and hand painted Portuguese tiles. This is a great spot to pick up souvenirs to bring home with you because the prices are very reasonable.
We found a great lunch spot inside of the market called D. Gina. It was one of the cheapest and most delicious meals we ate while in Porto. Entrees were 4 Euros each and the portions were substantial. We went with the day’s specials — fish rice and stewed chicken — it was delicious and satisfying. You can walk off your lunch by continuing to explore the market – there is lots to see!
Sao Bento Railway Station This is the perfect spot to admire Portuguese tiles at their finest. This railway station houses 20, 000 hand painted tiles that depict the history of famous events in Portuguese history.
There is a little café in there, too – it’s not very historic at all but they had some fantastic espresso and the pasteis de nata were warm and absolutely delicious!
A Douro River Cruise is a must when you’re visiting Porto. We crossed the Douro River via the Dom Luis II bridge. This bridge is one of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen! (A student of Gustave Eiffel designed the bridge so it is no wonder it is incredible). Once we were on the other side of the bridge, we stopped into one of the tour companies who do the 50 minute boat tours of the Douro River (there are lots of them that do these). The tour cost us 15 Euros each and they run every hour. It was the perfect amount of time for the kids attention spans and there were headphones on board to listen to historical facts of the sites along the way. There are also full-day tours available. We went on the tour and then stopped for lunch (there are TONS of restaurants along the boardwalk). This is where we found a modern food hall right on Avenida Ramos Pinto. We ordered all the day’s specials from Barriga Negra which included traditional rice, chorizo and fish croquettes, and fried green beans that looked like a funnel cake.
Our kids missed playing at the park so we visited Campo Dos Martires Da Patria Park. The kids played with the local kids while we had our afternoon coffee. It was nice to do something as routine as a park visit while travelling.
What we Ate
As I mentioned we had an awesome apartment and it also had a kitchen. This was very convenient for breakfast and for days where we went for later dinners. Some days we fed the kids pasta and we brought them along to a restaurant with us – they played while we ate. We always had cured meat, olives, cheese and fresh bread on hand to create a quick charcuterie plate or to make sandwiches to take with us for a day of exploring the city.
The best ice cream in Porto is at Gelateria Sincelo. It’s a beautiful space too!
Travelling with our kids, and by the end of the trip, they obviously started asking for pizza (I’m going to be honest, I missed it too!) We found a chain called Presto Pizza that made really good wood oven pizza. The location that was across from our apartment had a backyard garden. It was perfect because the kids got to play while we sipped Sangria and ate pizza.
One of our favourites in Porto was Tasco – a modern eatery. This place was packed so if you can, make a reservation. They serve traditional Portuguese dishes in smaller portions. They start you off with Portuguese bread, flavoured butters, olives and sangria, of course. There were a few hot items on the menu made by a Portuguese grandmother but they were sold out by the time we got there (so, I suggest getting there earlier rather than later). We still had a fantastic meal. We tried the steak with currants and gravy, fried octopus, oven roasted potatoes and ended our meal with the chocolate torte served with ice cream.
Café Progresso is the oldest café in Porto however, don’t expect it to look old because it’s been completely renovated. It now looks like a modern city café with brick walls and industrial accents. The coffee is really good too and if you’re hungry for more, get the eggs and/or a pastry.
About 25 minutes outside of Porto, you must go and visit Piscina da Mare. Pack a picnic and stay all day. It is exactly what it says it is “swimming pool of the ocean”. They built a few stone structures and filled them with ocean water. It is beautiful to look at and if you get tired of being by a pool, there is a beach right next to it. It isn’t the nicest beach you will ever see, but it is worth the trip to see the man made Piscina da Mare.
As I mentioned earlier, an option for the Douro River Cruise is a full-day cruise. You will get all your meals on the boat and I’ve heard it’s very comfortable. A local also told us that you will see much nicer scenery while on the all-day cruise than in the 50 minute tour that we did. I would do the all-day one next time. Book it before you go so you can choose your day.
A lot of people told us to visit Braga, a city that is a little over an hour out outside of Porto. Unfortunately we couldn’t make the trip but if you go, please be sure to tell me all about it!
Make a Traditional Portuguese Tile
We hardly planned a thing before we arrived in Porto so when I was frantically googling things to do, I came across a site called With Locals – activities and tours you can book online and they are led by locals. I am so glad I found Theresa, a Ceramist who teaches the history of Portuguese tile and also teaches you how to make one of your very own! It was about 20 minutes outside of the city but it was nice to see a different neighbourhood of Porto. Theresa hosted us in her beautiful studio. She gave us a quick lesson about Portuguese tiles and then we got to work (with her assistance) to make our own. The kids had a blast but Dave and I felt so much pressure because we learned that these tiles can last up to 2000 years! We chose the colours, Theresa adds the paint and then with an additional fee ships them to our home in Canada. I couldn’t think of a better souvenir for us than creating our very own, traditional Portuguese tile!
Our Flytographer Shoot
Flytographer was recommended to me by a friend and it’s one of those services that I wonder where it’s been all this time we’ve been travelling with kids! I feel so pressured during a family vacation to capture really great photos of the family. I want to be able to balance just relaxing and taking it in all the memories with actually capturing those memories through pictures.
I booked Flytographer online before we left for our trip. This service helps you book a professional photographer in lots of different cities around the world. You begin by choosing your city – I chose Porto because I knew Porto was the most picturesque and it was at the end of our trip too, so I hoped we would be tanned and looking relaxed. Once you choose your city, Flytographer gives you a list of professional photographers in that city. You can check each photographer out by reading their bio’s and even seeing their previous work. We chose a young couple to take our photos because their work and mood of their photos was casual and matched our personalities. After choosing the photographer, you move on to your want list – locations, mood of photos, occasion, time of day and anything else you want the photographer to know. You can even choose locations. Because we had never been to Porto, we let the photographers (who are residents of the city, usually) choose the location.
With your Flytographer concierge (a person who is assigned to your booking) you finalize all the details and itinerary. All the details are sent to you including the photographer’s phone number where you can reach them directly as well as maps of the meeting location.
I was a little nervous about our shoot because we chose to do it along the Douro River – I really wanted that beautiful backdrop of those colourful buildings and the Dom Luis II Bridge. We met Ivo, our photographer, exactly where we were told to meet him. We booked the shoot super early too, basically right at sunrise, to avoid the crowds. He was really nice, patient with our kids and really fast too. Anyone who has kids knows those picture-perfect moments don’t last very long!
We paid $250 USD for a half hour shoot which I think is an absolute steal! Check out how our photos came out! We are ridiculously happy with how they came out and would recommend this service to any couple or family who likes to travel and capture great photos along the way! We also made a new friend, Ivo, who also gave us some great tips about travelling in Porto.
Porto was our last stop, however I can’t wait to tell you all about the other stops we made in Portugal – Azores, Lisbon and Algarves!
If you want to read about our first stop in our Mainland Portugal journey –> Family Travel: Lisbon