Europe, Wanderlust

37 things to do in Porto with kids

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With its twisting cobbled streets, its famous wine cellars and its historic architecture, you might think Porto is a city break for adults only. But while there’s plenty to tempt grown-ups (did I mention the port cellars?), the bright buildings and quirky street art are as captivating for younger visitors – and that’s just the start of the attractions.

View across the River Douro from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

Tours with a twist, some distinctly unusual ways to get around, eye-catching tiles and plenty of indoor options if – like us – you need to find the best things to do in Porto in the rain.

As a bonus, the relatively small centre and easy-to-use public transport makes it simple to pack plenty in – helped along by plenty of spots to refuel with ice cream (and pasteis de nata). These are my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids.

1. Head to the river
Porto rises up the hills above the river Douro, with Vila Nova de Gaia across the water – and La Ribeira, the riverfront, is still the heart of the city. Cafes line the bank, you can wander the promenade stretching west and there’s always some street performances; we spotted giant bubbles being blown and an a capella group singing, dancing and flag waving.

Street entertainers singing by the river in Porto - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

2. And sail away
Sail under the six bridges which cross from the heights of Porto to the opposite bank on a boat trip along the river – the Douro Azul tours leave from Cais de Gaia, and take around 50 minutes to do a loop with (not hugely exciting) commentary about the sights.

The boats themselves are fairly simple – seats with a small covered area, although there are fancier alternatives including port cruises if your kids are are happy to spend longer on board. Spot the traditional wooden rabelo boats as you sail too.

3. Board a tram
The city’s historic trams still run three different routes through the city, including Tram 1 which follows the waterfront – you’ll spot the faded creamy yellow trams trundling around, and it’s easily more fun than taking the bus. During peak season, you may struggle to find space along this route so board at Infante, by the church of Sao Francisco, or the other end at Passeio Alegre.

A single ticket costs 3 Euros, two-day passes are 5 Euros for kids, 10 Euros for adults, or you can get combined sightseeing tickets.

4. Try a tuk tuk
Perfect for nipping through the city’s small streets, little eco-friendly tuktuks make for a more quirky Porto tour than the usual options – and take an equally fun look at the attractions. There are several different routes, on both the left and right banks as well as short versions – buy tickets in advance or pick up the tuktuks near the Torre dos Clerigos.

5. Or take a traditional bus
Hop on (and off) one of several bus tours which run around the city with the usual open top decks so you can soak in the city from your seat as you listen to the guide.

View across to the River Douro and Vila Nova de Gaia from the city's cable car - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

6. See Porto from on high
Get a bird’s eye view of the port cellars, the Douro and the city from the Teleferico de Gaia – the cable car which runs from the Jardim de Morro park by the Dom Luis I bridge down to the port warehouses and the boat tours.

7. And from a lift
With hills as steep as Porto’s, who wouldn’t want to hop in a lift at times – the Funicular dos Guindais is pretty close, climbing 61 metres up the side of a cliff from Ribeira to Batalha.

8. Spot the street art
Wander along the curving Rua das Flores, with its delis and boutiques, tiled buildings and floral displays and you can also see street art covering the electricity boxes along its length – all decorated slightly differently, it’s the perfect place to play spot your favourite.

Or head slightly further out to Rua Miguel Bombarda for more urban art among the galleries.

9. Take an art tour
For older kids and budding artists, you can get a flavour of the art dotted all around the city on a dedicated Porto street art tour, including a stop at two galleries dedicated to urban art.

10. Find the rabbit
Even if you’re not a huge fan of street art, who wouldn’t want to see a giant rabbit? Tucked away on a corner in Vila Nova de Gaia it was built using rubbish and local materials, then left half painted and half unadorned.

Keep your eyes peeled on the funicular, then you can see the work by Bordalo II a block back from the Gaia waterfront, not far from the funicular stop.

11. Stop at the station
If you want to explore further afield – Guimaraes, Coimbra or Aveiro (aka Porto’s Venice), you’ll be starting your journey at the train station of Sao Bento. But even if you have no intention of heading out of Porto, it’s worth stopping by the 19th century station itself to admire the tiled walls with the 20,000 hand-painted azulejos representing events in Portuguese history.

Stretching from floor to (decorated) ceiling, you don’t need to know the stories to be impressed. The Capela das Almas near Bolhao market is another impressive spot, although you’ll see tiles all around the city. Why, my daughter wondered, don’t we do that at home? Good question…

Intricate hand-painted tiles in Sao Bento train station in Porto - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

12. Cross the bridge
If the Ponte Dom Luis I looks oddly familiar, there’s a good reason – designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel), the soaring black metal arches and pylons are elegantly dramatic (and make for great photos).

The upper level is for pedestrians and metro trains only, or on a windy day (or with kids who don’t fancy being quite so high) you can cross with the cars on the lower part looking up at the iron struts.

13. Spot the symbols
Although there are walking tours galore of Porto, you can also try a mini hunt for some of the city’s symbols with the helpful leaflet from the tourist office – A Family Visit to Porto has some history and plenty of landmarks to look out for, including finding a lion and the eagle, and a quiz to answer along the way.

14. See Henry the Navigator
According to tradition, this Portuguese prince was born in Porto in 1394 and his statue now towers above the square that bears his name – at the forefront of the Age of Discoveries, when Portugal’s fleet explored the unknown seas, his story is great to inspire small adventurers (or wannabe pirates).

Taking to the water on the boat ride at the interactive World of Discoveries museum in Porto - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

15. Discover a World of Discoveries
About 10 minutes away from Henry’s statue, the interactive World of Discoveries museum has more about the Age of Discoveries – although it focuses on Portuguese history, the stories of life on board are fascinating and there are plenty of buttons to touch, screens to swipe and exhibits to get hands on with.

In one corner, barrels of spices conjure up the riches these explorers sought, while a small piece of chain mail is impressively heavy to lift. At the end, there’s also a small ride with a boat taking you from ‘Lisbon’ through the countries discovered by the Portuguese, as well as the new animals and cultures they found along the way.

The crashing CGI waves of the Cape of Storms, as the Cape of Good Hope was first known, are vividly real – and my daughter seemed entirely convinced by the legendary sea monsters depicted too. You can buy skip the queue tickets online.

16. Get a taste of a port cellar
Admittedly the tasting itself isn’t for children but you can’t go to Porto and miss seeing at least one cellar – they all line the waterfront in Gaia, so you have plenty of choice, but we loved Caves Calem.

There’s a small interactive museum first, including a section to test if you can identify different aromas, plus videos and exhibits to get hands on with. The tour itself then lasts less than half an hour, which is perfect for short attention spans, with images and information beamed onto the bigger barrels including the different water levels during recent floods.

The giant vats themselves – one of which can hold 60,000 litres – are thankfully watertight, so the port inside was unharmed. I tested a couple of glasses afterwards (and you can buy more) just to make sure.

At Ramos Pintos (opposite the playground!) there’s port and chocolate tastings or see the 100,000 litre vat at Taylor’s, while you can also have tastings with a Fado performance.

17. To market, to market
One of several traditional markets dotted around the city, the Mercado do Bolhao is a great place to wander around, with fresh produce, fish and cheese on the stalls, as well as a few souvenir stands dotted around as well. Stop for a bite in one of the cafes, pick something up for a snack or just soak up the atmosphere.

18. Join a food tour
Better for older kids than younger picky eaters (like my daughter), a food tour is a fantastic way to explore and try the local dishes at the same time – Francesinha is the best known traditional dish of Porto, a sandwich with meat, sausage and melted cheese in a beer sauce, often with a fried egg.

The inhabitants of Porto also have the nickname ‘tripeiros’ – you can pick from several stories as to why they’re called tripe eaters, but it’s another local speciality.

From Francseinha and fish to tripe: tasting some specialities of Porto - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

19. Go for ice cream
Around almost every corner you’ll find ice cream for sale, even (we found) on a rainy February day – one of the best places is Santini, a Portuguese institution which has a branch between Sao Bento station and the Clerigos Tower.

Or head to Cremosi, for its cold stone ice cream and unusual flavours, delicious concoctions at Amorino (which has two branches) or Gelateria Portuense, which has gluten-free ice cream.

20. Cafe style
The Majestic Cafe might not be the cheapest place for a drink in the city, but it’s easily one of the most stylish – the Art Nouveau building first opened in 1921, and after work to restore it, is as glamorous as in its first heyday.

Expect queues outside, so get there early or choose an unpopular time, but there’s everything from cake to port cocktails on the menu (and pasteis de nata, natch).

21. Hit the beach
Head west along the coast from the river and you’ll discover another of Porto’s secrets – this city break comes with a slice of beach. Several slices, in fact, although Praia de Matosinhos and the Praia do Ourigo are two of the best and easiest to get to, around 20 minutes from the city on either the bus or metro.

If it’s not a sunny day, you’ll still get to see the waves crashing on the shore, while it’s a popular spot with locals when the sun shines. There are bars and restaurants along the seafront between sandcastle building too.

The rays at Sea Life in Porto - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

22. Peek beneath the waves
On the same stretch of coast, you’ll find Porto’s Sea Life Centre, the biggest in the north of Portugal. There’s a mini quiz for kids, with a prize to be won if you get all the answers right, feeding times and clever viewing sections, as well as sharks, turtles, rays, fish galore and perhaps the biggest spider crab I’ve ever seen.

The signs are mostly translated into English as well and as with all Sea Life centres, there’s information about the local area and marine life – plus a small play area at the end. Not only for wet days, but it’s perfect for passing a few hours in Porto in the rain.

23. Meet the animals
The Santo Inacio Zoo stretches for 15 hectares with 260 different species and awards for its conservation programmes. A short drive from Gaia or the end of the Metro line D at Santo Ovidio, it’s home to snow leopards, pygmy hippos, penguins, rhinos and lions… with a special glass tunnel which lets you get unexpectedly close to these big cats.

24. Indulge a bookworm
You don’t need to have read the Harry Potter books to love Livraria Lello, the bookshop which is famously said to have inspired JK Rowling. With its winding spiralling staircases and floor-to-ceiling shelves of books, it could have come straight from a magical world (as could quite a lot of Porto).

There’s an English children’s section with both classics and more modern kids’ books, not to mention souvenirs and plenty of choice for adults. If you do buy anything, the price of entry (4 Euros for adults, children go free) is deducted from the cost.

Be ready to queue if you want a photo taken, but while it’s busy, people did their best to allow everyone to get the famous shot.

25. Discover puppet theatre
Tucked away near Rua das Flores is the small Museu das Marionetas, a lovely little museum with a display of puppets from fairytales, a popular Portuguese kids’ TV show from the 80s which reminded me of the Muppets and adult theatre.

Only two Euros to get in (one if you have a Porto card), kids can also get hands on with a couple of puppets, learn a bit more about how some are made and see marionettes from different stories… including, to my own delight, Joanica Puff – aka Winnie the Pooh in Portuguese. It’s small but while I expected to be in and out quickly, we ended up spending an hour wandering around.

Testing out one of the puppets at the marionette museum in Porto - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

26. Uncover vintage transport
The Museu do Carro Eléctrico, or tram museum, is ideal for kids who love different forms of transport (so pretty much all younger kids) with horse-drawn streetcars and original trams from the 60s on display.

Children under six are free, and you get a discount with the Porto card – your ticket also gives you one free ride on the city’s tram network.

27. Crack some codes
At the Museum of Transport and Communication, there’s a string of activities including the chance to crack a secret code in the Communicate exhibition – and as it’s set in the city’s Customs House, you can also play at being a Customs Officer too, before eyeing up the collection of Presidential cars.

28. Enter the purple room
If your family loves music, but your kids aren’t quite ready to sit through a concert, the striking Casa da Musica has an ingenious solution with its purple room. Open to three to 10-year-olds, there are discovery sessions and the chance to make music while adults enjoy the main programmes elsewhere in the building.

There are also guided tours which are free for children under 12.

29. Find the giant trowel
In the grounds of the Serralves Museum, home to the city’s modern art collection, you’ll find a string of contemporary works including a giant red trowel – and lots of green space to explore between artworks.

30. Visit the Crystal Palace
Just like its namesake and inspiration in London, a Crystal Palace once stood in the gardens of the Palacio de Cristal. These days there’s plenty of green space to run around, themed gardens, and great views.

31. Climb a tower
It’s 240 steps to the top of the Torre dos Clerigos – where 49 bells hang in the tower (you have been warned if you’re there when they ring!) and there’s a 360 degree panorama to look out over.

Pastel coloured buildings against a blue sky. Wherever you look in Porto there are wonderful views - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

32. Enjoy more views
It seems like there’s barely a bad view of Porto, whether you’re peering down atmospheric winding streets or gazing out across the river to the brightly painted houses – so even if you don’t fancy climbing the tower, make time for at least one stop to soak up the views.

On the Porto side, the Mirador de Vitoria looks out towards the red roofs and domes. Or across the river, the Jardim de Morro has some of the best in the city, looking both ways along the Douro, down to Gaia and across to Ribeira from under its palm trees.

33. Escape the labyrinth
Wander the maze in Sao Roque park, in the east of the city, which also has a lovely playground.

34. Encounter the dragon
Find the city’s dragon – not a fire-breathing kind, but the symbol of the team playing at football ground, Estadio de Dragao, also in the east of the city. You can visit with an audio guide or there are some guided tours as well.

35. Step into the catacombs
At the Igreja Sao Francisco, one of the biggest attractions is outside the church itself – down in the catacombs lies tomb upon tomb of monks and some of the city’s wealthiest inhabitants. Keep an eye out for the glassed over section where you can look down onto piles of bones.

Then head to the church where the Gothic exterior hides an opulent extravaganza of decoration – over 300kg of gold dust were supposedly used to decorate it, while every flat surface seems to be ornamented including a carved wooden Tree of Jesse sculpture. No photos allowed, alas.

The catacombs at the church of Sao Francisco in Porto - my top 37 things to do in Porto with kids, discovering the family-friendly side to this lovely city in north Portugal

36. Hit a hole in one
Shelter from the sun under the trees of the Jardim do Passeio Alegre, not far from the Fortress of Sao Joao da Foz, where there’s also a small mini golf course.

37. Hit the shops
Among the wine merchants and port stores, there are plenty of great places for souvenirs – Tradições on Rua das Flores is ideal for traditional Portuguese crafts (drop by Chocolateria Ecuador a minute away for some deliciously grown-up truffles) while there are classic toys at A Vida Portuguesa near Livraria Lello and tempting kids’ brands at Alma Viva.

THINGS TO DO IN PORTO WITH KIDS: PIN FOR LATER

37 things to do in Porto with kids - my tips on family-friendly things to do in Porto, Portugal, as well as the best things to do in Porto in the rain. From tours to attractions, the best places to get ice cream and ideas for souvenirs. #portowithkids #visitporto #familyporto #mummytravels

Disclosure: Contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may get a few pennies in return. I received a Porto Card, river cruise and entry to Sea Life and World of Discoveries courtesy of the tourist board but all opinions (and unlucky weather) are my own.

Images copyright MummyTravels

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