Firstly, we think Porto deserves far more than just one day, but as it turned out, the hostel where we stayed was a revolving door of travellers who arrived with just that, a day to spare.
From sampling quintessential Portuguese flavours and the famous fortified wines, to exploring the scruffy charm of the old town streets and watching life pass by on the Douro River, we loved our time in Porto.
But, for all those that come with just a day up their sleeve, here’s how to make it a perfect one in this charming city.
Combining simple, rustic dishes and traditional Portuguese flavours, this cosy ma and pa cafe is the ideal spot to get your first taste of Porto. The breakfast menu is based on a combination of eggs, toast and jam, but magic is woven into this simple dish to create something quite special.
Fresh produce is beautifully prepared to create pumpkin and walnut jams and oven-fresh breads. The glaze made from Porto’s most famous export, port, was also a surprise treat.
The incredibly welcoming, multilingual hosts make this somewhere to enjoy the entire dining experience, not just pop in for a meal.
Dama Pe de Cabra has enjoyed a growing following and has definitely earned its high ranking on TripAdvisor. While we shared the space with just a few other diners, this tiny place has been known to become a little crowded during peak times and on weekends.
With full bellies and eager feet, the next point of call is the narrow winding lanes of the Ribeira.
The colourful tile facades and hunched grannies hanging washing from the balconies made this delightfully scruffy neighbourhood a place we couldn’t wait to get lost in.
Streets end in hidden plazas and stair cases zigzag between abandoned buildings, but eventually all roads will lead you down to the banks of the Douro River.
Across Ponte de Luis I, the famous double decker bridge, the family names of the city’s oldest institution sing out between the red brick rooftops. Opposite the dilapidated charm of the Ribeira, Vila Nova de Gaia is home to a vast network of perfectly tempered cellars filled with barrels of tawny, ruby and white.
Indeed, this side of the bridge is all about just one thing, port.
There are many wineries to choose from offering tour and taste packages in various languages. Generally they cover an explanation of the grape to glass process, the different varieties of port and of course a chance to sample the famous product.
Some provide more varieties to taste, some are more crowded and others just have more regular departures – shop around to find the winery that best suites you.
Bear in mind that there tends to be a large break around lunchtime so try to get in either before or book one for after.
If you’ve got some time to kill before your port tour kicks off, there are plenty of restaurants along the waterfront. Sure, they’re pretty touristy, but you can’t really beat the location.
At this point in the day we found ourselves in a warm, fuzzy food and port induced stupor and climbing a steep, uneven street was the last thing we felt like. But the view from the top overlooking the mass of orange roofs and the Douro gurgling by is easily worth it.
When you’ve cast off your post lunch daze, head across the top deck of the bridge. Watch people mingle beside the river, disappear into laneways of cracked mosaic and pastel and boats moving upstream to the vineyards of the Douro.
Back on Porto’s high ground, spend your final hours of daylight discovering the highlights of the centre.
Relax and watch the trams rattle by, climb the 240 steps up Clerigos Tower for a different perspective of the city, sip coffee in the halls where Hogwarts and Diagon Alley were weaved together or simply lose time browsing the shelves of Livraria Lello, one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores.
A note on the Livraria – while the old wooden handiwork and beautiful antique decor make this bookstore worth a visit, it can become very crowded and a little pushy in the isles with many visitors posing relentlessly for selfies on the stairwell.
If you genuinely want to enjoy your browsing time and are not just there for its Instagram appeal, you’ll definitely enjoy the experience more toward the end of the day.
When you’re cruising through one of Europe’s premier wine regions with fresh seafood listed on practically every menu, how could the perfect day not end with a crisp glass of vinho verde and a hearty portion of bacalhau? Grilled, salted or in a steaming pot of molten cream and cheese, the Portuguese sure know how to do cod and they can serve it in just about any way you’d like.
With a food scene that has blossomed across the city, choose the neighbourhood that most stole your heart and nestle in for a final bite in this beautiful city.