Porto travel tips: my travel lessons from Porto with kids
Some destinations capture your imagination before you’ve even booked a flight: perhaps because they’re a world away from your own, because you’ve heard a thousand stories about them – or because you know so little of this captivating place.
And some simply seem designed for the perfect short break. Like Porto. Enticingly picturesque streets, all twisting alleys and bright colours, it’s a place you can imagine idly wandering and dreaming the days away.
With centuries-old port cellars, historic streets and buildings, and its own uniquely quirky attractions, there’s also the bonus of better weather than the UK, no time difference and a short flight. Little surprise it’s been on my list for a while.
But what of the reality? Behind those facades surely designed for Instagram, does the city live up to the image? These are my travel lessons learned from our February trip – and Porto travel tips.
Porto travel tip 1: Take a camera
Not that you wouldn’t, but Porto really is *that* pretty. Wander down any street and you’ll find glorious tiles, some hand painted, some gleaming blues, street art galore and a pastel rainbow of colours. Even the flowers seemed to have had the saturation turned right up.
With a blue sky behind them, you can amble from one photo opportunity to another, no filter required.
Porto travel tip 2: Hope for blue skies
Which brings me on to tip 2 – if you follow me on social media, you’ll also have seen me bewailing the weather we got during our stay. A couple of hours of clear blue skies to show off its beauty, then grey clouds and increasingly heavy rain until our plane took off.
There’s plenty to amuse in Porto even on a rainy day… but this city really is made for sun and sauntering, not scurrying between puddles clutching an umbrella.
Porto travel tip 3: Feet beat public transport
With a fairly compact centre, this isn’t a city where you need to take public transport much if you’re happy to walk. Chances are you’ll need it at least to get to and from the airport – and if you’ve got a five-year-old with wet feet who’s tired and doesn’t want to walk back up the hill to your temporary home.
There are some great apartments as well as hotels in Porto if you want extra space to spread out – we stayed near Mercado do Bolhao, or the area around Sao Bento train station is even more central. For extra discounts, Groupon’s hotels.com page has more vouchers and deals to use on staying in the city.
While the Metro may seem confusing, there is loads of information, helpful English-speaking staff and machines which you can switch to English as well. You’ll need an Andante card, which costs 50 cents, and each person (including children aged five and up) has to get their own. You then load tickets onto the card.
Unlike, eg, London which has set zones, your ticket price is based on the distance you travel – so a short journey might be two zones, a long one might be four. The station list on the machine tells you the zones needed for your destination so no need to wrap your head around that. From the airport, it’s a direct route into the centre, where all the Metro lines meet, and costs 2 Euros 40.
Then just swipe your ticket as you go down to the platform, and if you switch to another line. Same goes for the bus, where you can also use good old-fashioned cash. And where they have free WiFi on board. Hurrah!
Porto travel tip 4: Port can be child-friendly
No trip is complete without a visit to one of the string of port cellars lining the river at Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite side of the Douro from Porto. Even if you have kids. There’s choice galore, depending whether you want to team your port with fado (not with my five-year-old), with chocolate at Ramos Pinto, with guides dressed up as the iconic ‘Don’ at Sandeman (closed during my visit) or with an interactive museum at Caves Calem.
We chose the latter and it’s very fun for kids – there’s a section in the museum where you get to identify aromas, touch screens and press buttons, plus a video playing and even the tour beams displays onto some of the huge barrels… one of which holds 60,000 litres. And also proves a great place for smaller visitors to play hide and seek.
Fortunately our lovely Portuguese tour guide didn’t seem at all bothered by that. And I had two glasses of port awaiting me.
Porto travel tip 5: There’s wine too
Wine in this part of Portugal is incredibly cheap, with bottles from the nearby Douro vineyards in all the supermarkets. A three euro bottle tasted better than ones double the price in the UK. And a glass of wine in a restaurant will set you back about two.
Porto travel tip 6: Lunches are long
I’m sure you can find places to grab a quick bite to eat – we seemed to find ourselves enjoying a leisurely meal which went on longer than anticipated most days. So much so that we missed one boat tour.
I suspect part of the reason is that you can’t scoff Porto’s most famous dish quickly. The Francesinha ‘sandwich’ has three types of meat, melted cheese, a beer sauce and sometimes features a fried egg. I managed around half of mine before waddling out, replete.
I’m glad I tried it, and it definitely tempted me more than the other local speciality of tripe, but I’m not sure I fancy another…
Porto travel tip 7: Porto loves kids
Porto might sound like the ultimate adult city break – port, culture, history – but there’s plenty to entertain children, plus the usual Mediterranean levels of tolerance and indulgence towards kids (even if the north of Portugal is some way from the Med).
In fact, blonde hair and blue eyes are as much a winning combination in Porto as South East Asia. My daughter – especially when wet feet are making her grumpy – has as much patience for having her hair tousled and being cooed over in Europe as in Cambodia however…
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Disclosure: compiled in association with Groupon*
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