A holiday in Porto will transport you straight into a historical haven, with a unique culture and a vibrant way of life that mixes old and new. Sat beside the expansive Douro River, the city is a traditional but colourful place with lots of extravagant churches, imposing bell towers and old storefronts, displaying some of the wonderful character of Portugal in a way you won’t find anywhere else in the country. The historic centre is a maze of grand landmarks and pretty plazas, and every public space has a lively and welcoming atmosphere. Downtown you’ll find a bustling market where locals mix with visitors to buy and sell traditional produce, and relax in the surrounding bars and cafés. Modern developments meet with old traditions in a way that works beautifully and it all adds up to make the ideal holiday destination of Porto.
Not all the history and highlights are necessarily bound to the Ribeira area, and you’ll find countless more intriguing attractions spread across the city during your holiday in Porto. In Serralves you’ll encounter the sensational Modern Art Museum, in Boavista you should check out the House of Music concert hall, while in downtown you have to fight your way through the vibrant Mercado do Bolhao, picking up fresh produce as you go. If you’re a wine lover, a visit to Cais de Gaia should be on the cards, and you won’t want to miss the extravagant Sao Francisco Church which is decorated entirely with gold inside. Don’t miss the World Heritage medieval area of Cais da Ribeira, or the monumental Dom Luis Bridge. There are family-friendly attractions all over Porto and in the surrounding areas, and the many beautiful beaches are just one of the reasons people come back to this region again and again.
Wine and Dine
Another great reason for visiting this wonderful city is to explore the rich wine-making heritage that emanates from this region of Portugal. Port is one of the greatest exports from this city, and you can enjoy a port wine tour of Vila Nova de Gaia just across the river from Porto City. You can duck into a myriad of cellars and sample the city’s famous produce – just make sure you’re not the designated driver! A visit to the Mercado do Bolhão, a traditional produce market, will open your eyes to the fresh produce grown in the area which all makes its way onto your plate in some of the traditional cafés and restaurants of Porto. While you’re here, you have to try the local speciality, the francesinha, which is an open sandwich made from sausage, ham and cheese, with fried egg and beer sauce on top.
Kids and adults alike will love the huge choice of beaches in the area around Porto, and you can spend lots of long days on the sand sunbathing while the little ones play in the sea without getting bored. Porto provides plenty of opportunity to explore as a family, whether that’s on trams, bikes or even tandems, and you can find some animals to feed in the beautiful City Park. When you need to ramp up the entertainment, there’s Sea Life, where they can learn about ocean creatures, and the Santo Inacio Zoo with even more varieties of wildlife to look at. Kids can learn to surf at the surf school, and discover science, arts and crafts in family-friendly activities via the Families in Serralves programme on Sundays in the Park of Serralves. Just outside Porto, the Lipor Adventure Park has all kinds of activities for kids and adults including a playground, sports facilities and even a place to read, and entry is granted when you bring some rubbish along to recycle. The swimming pool at Quinta da Conceição is also a lovely place to spend the day on a family holiday in Porto.
Action and Adventure
Porto is the perfect place for a holiday full of action and adventure if that’s what you’re looking for. For some excitement and a bit of local culture at the same time, you can go to football matches at the Estádio do Dragão stadium and take in the atmosphere of an international game. There are lots of ways you can get out and about while still making an adventure of it. Hire a bike or a scooter to get around the streets and countryside, or jump in a jeep to go off-road. If you want to get onto the water you can even take a kayaking or canoeing tour, take off on a jet boat for a river safari, go river rafting and tubing, or try some of the different water sports on offer around the coastline. For a more relaxed adventure, you can also go hiking in the countryside and set up camp for the night.
Life's a Beach
With so many lovely beaches to choose from in and around Porto, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Each beach has its own individual benefits, so explore as many of them as you can until you find your perfect fit. The main beach in Porto is Matosinhos, where there are lots of apartments, cafés and shops, so it’s great if you want to be in the centre of things. Alternatively, Miramar is a seafront town with a beach, and lots of historical buildings to look at, including a 17th Century chapel. Praia dos Ingleses is a large and relatively busy beach with lots of facilities nearby along the promenade and in the Foz do Douro area. Praia do Molho has a café and rough sand with lots of rocks, and there’s also Praia da Granja, Praia de Fuzelhas, Praia do Carneiro, Praia Castelo do Queijo and Leca da Palmeira which are all ripe for exploring, and have their own individual charms.
The city of Porto is a much better place to go clubbing than it ever has been, and it has caught up with other major European cities to cater for younger travellers who expect to be able to dance all night wherever they go. At the weekends, the streets can be packed with party-goers both local and international, so it’s a great place to mingle and socialise. Many bars and clubs have outside areas, but you’ll also spot people hanging out on the street enjoying a drink and a chat. Indoors you’ll find music of all kinds including rock, dance, and even live performances. Clubs are generally very busy, but there are more upmarket areas where bars are a little more exclusive and you have more room to breathe. Amid these more modern bars and clubs there are also some traditional local establishments where you can relax and chat the night away.
The nature, cuisine and laid-back lifestyle of Porto make it an ideal location for a romantic holiday away with your significant other. Even as you relax, there’s so much to see and do. Go on a visit to a port wine cellar and taste some of the many varieties Porto is famous for, while being looked after in lovely surroundings. A tram ride along the river will give you chance to see the sights of Porto including the UNESCO World Heritage area of Ribeira, travelling all the way to the seafront. Walks and picnics are a great use of the stunning surroundings and warm weather, and you may want to start at the Crystal Palace gardens, before exploring Serralves Park with its contemporary art museum or Foz with its seaside charm. One of the best places to watch the sun go down is Serra do Pilar, with views over Porto, where you can get some peace and quiet while you take in the romantic scenery.
One of the highlights of any holiday in Porto is exploring the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage historical centre. Known as the Ribeira - or the riverfront - the beautiful area flanking the Douro encompasses the city’s cultural and historical charm and is full of interesting and engaging sites ready for your camera. Simply wandering around the ancient streets will give you a great flavour of the city’s past, but for those who prefer to have a plan, a great first stop is the Sao Francisco Church. From here you can make your way to the grand Stock Exchange Palace, before heading over to the striking city cathedral before ducking into the Sacred Art Museum to escape the summer sun. You’ll find some great Porto hotels to stay in around the historic centre, allowing you to step out of your room and straight into a bygone era in minutes.