Easter in Porto, just a two hour flight from the UK, was the perfect city break with our 9 year old kids. Being a compact city, Porto is easy to get around. There is plenty to do and see but not so that you feel you need to hurry round all the sights. Porto was busy at Easter. Families out for a stroll, young people sitting outside. Street musicians make an ever changing soundtrack for the city, a different one on each corner. Every other doorway seemed to be a bar or a tapas place, even the smallest spot had a couple of tables squeezed in – and all independents, no sign of chains here. The tiled buildings and the shabby chic vibe with washing hung across the streets give Porto a distinctive personality. We loved the vibe of Porto, the relaxed, laid back, grab-a-glass atmosphere made it a city that’s a pleasure to visit. ‘It’s scruffy’ pronounced my daughter on arrival, I prefer to think of it more as shabby chic in places!
Porto has an abundance of museums and churches and we did visit a couple, but these were our highlights after 5 nights in Porto:
Spanning the River Douro, the Pont de Dom Louis I is the colossal 2 level bridge which connects both sides of Porto. You can drive across it, walk or get the metro. Fantastic views of the city in both directions are afforded from the top. Fans of architecture and engineering will love this bridge with its double layer. Whichever side of the river you stay on, you’ll want to explore the other. The Port Houses are on one side and the famous Cais de Ribeira is on the opposite bank.
The market is about to be moved for 2 years for renovations. It’s over 100 years old and in need of a little repair work. Well worth a visit in its new location, an abundance of olives, fruit, bread and fish vie for your attention. Small stalls sell port and tasters of food and cafes serving up Portuguese specialities are popular with tourists and locals alike.
You can’t go to Porto and not visit a Port house! There are many of them and we chose the Sandeman port house. The tour lasted half an hour and we tasted two Sandemans ports, a tawny and a white. On the tour they explain the differences in the port types, the making of the port, the storage and the history of port making in Porto and the Douro valley. Some of the people on our tour had done several port tours that day #merry! It was no problem taking children on the tour. Mine were interested to see the huge barrels.
You’ll see tuk tuks going all over the city. The beauty of them is that they can go where cars can’t, through some of Porto’s oldest and narrowest streets. All aboard we set off with the breeze in our hair out to the coast at Foz, past some of the city’s main sites. Returning to Porto we had asked the driver to drop us off at the Monastery next to the Bridge as we planned to get the cable car back down. A tuk tuk tour is a great way to see the city and if little legs are getting tired from all those hills, you can sightsee whilst sitting down having a rest! There are lots of different tuk tuk companies and they seemed to all set off from the Clerical Tower. You can book in advance or just turn up and see if one is free.
The Cable Car is on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of Porto, across the bridge. The ride takes you from the quayside up to near the Monastery that overlooks the bridge (from where, my DH told us, Wellington surveyed troop positions before attacking in the Second Battle of Oporto). Fantastic views and a fun trip for the children. You don’t have to use the return portion the same day, so if you want to walk back across the bridge you can save the cable car return for another time.
We took a food tour that stopped at 6 different eateries, ranging from one of Porto’s oldest grocery stores to a chocolate shop to a bar and a restaurant. You can read more of our food tour experience with Taste Porto here. I hadn’t told my children in advance it was a 3.5 hour walking tour – they barely noticed it – too busy sampling all the food! And yes, there is plenty of wine to try for the adults as well.
The original trams still run out to the seaside area of Foz, just outside Porto. It takes about half an hour and then you arrive at rocky beaches and palm lined promenades.
Famed as the book store that inspired JK Rowling when she lived in Porto, there were big queues to get into the shop and you have to buy a ticket although it is redeemable against any purchase. Wooden sweeping staircases, gargoyles and books galore make this a popular stop – it does get crowded!
This is one of the few attractions in Foz specifically designed for kids. It’s an interactive museum telling the history of Portuguese exploration of the globe. Dust off your knowledge of Vasco da Gama and his pals for this journey through history. Kids can try on suits of armour, lie down on the bunks of ships, smell the cargo and learn more about why rats were a tasty dish on board. Part of the visit is a boat ride through the lands that Portuguese explorers discovered. Fun for younger kids.
A wonderful spot for strolling, people watching, having a meal or a drink and listening to the street musicians. A view of the bridge and the port houses, boats coming and going and families out for their Sunday walks make this the ideal place to stop and pause a while with a glass or two of something from the Douro Valley.
A green oasis in the heart of the city with stunning views all the way to Foz in one direction and to the bridge in the other. A playground, peacocks and lake make this a shady spot to spend a couple of hours and was popular with the children. I’ve written more about visiting the Gardens here.
Porto is known for being a gourmet city and it certainly lived up to its reputation. Every doorway seems to be a bar, a cafe or a tiny restaurant. People eat out a lot here and it shows in the number and quality of places to eat. We took our 9 year olds out every evening for dinner and whilst we didn’t find that any restaurants had a menu specifically for children, everywhere had a selection of dishes which could be served in smaller portions or dishes we could share between us. Places we enjoyed were:
Ze Bota -Traditional Portuguese Restaurant, the walls are lined with wine and port boxes
Cantinho do Avillez -Jose Avillez is considered one of Portugal’s greatest chefs. This informal bistro style restaurant in the heart of Porto serves local specialities with a twist.
Cremosi Gelato – A favourite with my children, we went here 3 times – they do coldstone mix ice cream as well as gin and tonic and port flavours.
Cafe Majestic – Famous Historic Porto Cafe.
Tapabento – Fantastic food, we loved this place, a small restaurant tucked away next to Sae Bento Train Station
Terreiro – Seafood including lobster, a great spot on the Cais de Riberio.
Whether you go to Porto to eat, drink or make merry, you’ll find a thriving city with plenty to explore at a leisurely pace, friendly locals, great wine (and port!) and lots of family friendly things to do.
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WHERE JO GOES -CITY BREAKS WITH KIDS
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