Destination Spotlight: Porto & the Douro Valley

Porto is located along the Douro River in the north of Portugal.

Porto (or Oporto as it is sometimes known locally) is Portugal’s second-largest city behind the capital Lisbon, and is a fascinating area to include in your travels to this part of the world.  As a rising hot destination for Spain Savvy travelers, we recently made a brief site visit to meet with some of our local partners and are delighted to share our tips and secrets with you.

Porto blue
“Any Portuguese town looks like bride’s finery – something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” – Mary McCarthy

We were visiting from Seville and flew direct with RyanAir.  If you wish to fly in or out of Porto from the U.S., we recommend flying with TAP Portugal (part of the Star Alliance network, sometimes code-sharing with United Airlines), as TAP conveniently offers direct flights to Porto from several U.S. hubs.

Bonus travel tip!  Click here for our specialized tips on flying on TAP Portugal with children

If you’re coupling Porto with Lisbon on your itinerary, you can also connect via Portugal’s easy-to-use and quick Comboios train system.  For example, there are over 30 trains per day running all day and the travel time is under 3 hours.  Prices vary depending on the stations you choose in each city and the ticket class you purchase.  So, if it gets too confusing for you, we can help you figure it all out!

Where to stay in Porto

Spain Savvy regularly works with two luxury hotels in the city, both of which we stayed at while in town.  Certainly, if forced to pick a favorite, it would be hard to choose one from these two.

The Pestana Collection Vintage Porto Hotel (4*) is located right in front of the Douro River in Praça Ribeira, making for spectacular sights from many of its river view rooms.  The hotel itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, joining 18 historic buildings that have been renovated, while maintaining the vintage style.  There is a fantastic steakhouse restaurant on-site and helpful staff members at your service.

Pestana Vintage Hotel in Porto
Pestana Vintage Hotel complex on the Douro River in Porto.

The Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel (4*) is a small, boutique property just up the street from the river on the end of the beautifully pedestrian Rua das Flores, offering lovely city views from many of its comfortable and simply elegant rooms.  The hotel, run by the Lux Group, also houses a vintage stationary store and a gourmet restaurant.  Similarly, the service is second to none, and our clients have always been thrilled with their stays here.

Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel
The A.S. 1829 Hotel in Porto is a boutique property in the Campanhã district.

What to do in Porto

Taste Porto

Without a doubt, the best thing we did while in town was to take one of our partner Taste Porto‘s local food tours.  This is no secret to Spain Savvy travelers, but it’s so clear to us that the best way to understand a culture is to study the way the locals eat.  Andre’s Vintage Food Tour provided us with this foundation and much, much more.  Some highlights on our tour included sampling Porto’s famous preserved tins of fish (conservas), making a sugary stop at a family-run confeitaria with to-die-for pastries, popping bites of bolinho de bacalhau, and ending it all with a professional Port wine tasting at a fabulous wine bar.  The added bonus of doing a food tour is that you get to meet locals and fellow travelers, and have a lot of fun while learning about the city you are visiting.

Taste Porto
A food tour with Taste Porto is the best way to eat your way through the city and in to the heart of its locals.

Get out, stroll and explore Porto!  This is a great pedestrian city, and you can easily walk around to all the major sights. One of our favorite things to do is to simply admire the beautiful tile and mosaic works that drape the city’s buildings – just about everywhere you turn, in bright, muted, and pastel colors.  The best place to do this is at the São Bento train station, which also depicts Portugal’s rich history through the fantastic tile murals.

São Bento train station in Porto
São Bento’s train station tells the history of Portugal in beautiful blue tiles.

Another spot we enjoyed visiting was the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, with its landscaped mosaic of gardens that open up on to the best views over the Douro.  It’s where we got this money shot:

A view of Porto from the Crystal Gardens
A view of Porto from the Crystal Gardens.

Visit the bookstore recognized as one of the most beautiful in the world, Livraria Lello, even if it’s just to take a picture outside.  The line was rather long when we got there, and we didn’t purchase tickets in advance, so you’ll want to make sure you do that (Bonus Tip: it’s the voucher section on the website).

Livraria Lello in Porto
Livraria Lello in Porto is the world’s most beautiful bookstore.

Eat as many pastéis de nata (typical cinnamon-dusted custard tarts) as your little heart desires at Confiteria do Bolhao or Manteigaria.

Pastéis de Nata in Porto
Pastéis de Nata are typical egg custard pastries found in Porto.

Stroll the wine cellars lined up on the other side of the Douro (just a quick walk over the Luis I bridge) in Vila Nova da Gaia – many offer tastings of their centuries-old products.

You can’t miss the Torre dos Clérigos, whose 225 steps you can climb for a bird’s-eye-view of Porto.

Porto's Torre de Clérigos
Porto’s Torre de Clérigos

Porto has so much to offer its visitors…at Spain Savvy we can curate an itinerary that will help you make the most of the time you have to explore Porto and the surrounding area.

Where to eat in Porto

Porto is chock full of gastronomic delights and charming spots to eat out.  Our first dinner was at Flor dos Congregados, thanks to a recommendation from our friend André at Taste Porto.  Tucked away in a dimly-lit alleyway, this romantic spot offers traditional Portuguese cuisine in one of the oldest, still family-run operations in town.

Another great dinner was at Galeria do Largo at the A.S. 1829 hotel.  The restaurant has a nice terrace for people-watching and attentive staff, not to mention delightfully delectable and seasonally-designed dishes.

They were also kind enough to notice via my check-in documents that the last morning we were there was my birthday and surprised us at breakfast with a bottle of champagne and a dessert platter!

Porto Breakfast surprise at the AS 1829
A lovely birthday surprise from the hoteliers at the A.S. 1829 in Porto.

We sampled local cheeses and Port wine one night at Provo Wine Bar, run by a talented sommelier and featuring a nice background of jazz music which made for great atmosphere.

At Taberna do Largo, a typical tavern very close to the A.S. 1829 hotel, we tried the local cocktail, a Porto Tonic, which really hit the spot after our long day in the Douro Valley.

For a delicious brunch after a late night enjoying the city’s vibrant nightlife, check out Bird of Passage offering specialty coffees and healthy breakfast-themed food!

Other favorite Spain Savvy spots

Some other spots we continually recommend to our clients are O Paparico, which some call Porto’s finest restaurant, and the ODE Wine House.

We have a long list of other fantastic eateries to hit up while in Porto that we are happy to share with you as part of your very own customized Spain Savvy itinerary.  Contact us to get the ball rolling on your trip.

Visiting the Douro Valley from Porto

While in Porto, it is imperative that you at least make a day trip to the Douro Valley, Portugal’s magical wine country just a couple hours’ drive from Porto.  Spain Savvy is thrilled to partner with Douro Exclusive to offer day trips and customized itineraries in this region for our clients.  Ana and Marco will treat you like family!  Make sure you watch their award-winning video:

On our Douro Exclusive experience, we started our day with a lovely boat ride on the Douro River, learning all about how the same boats (called rabelos, pictured in the main photo above) were used to transport the wines from the vineyards in the valley down to the cellars in Porto for international export.

Then, we visited the picturesque winery at Quinta do Panascal, where we had an exclusive tasting of the Fonseca Port vintages alongside incredible views of the river valley.  Most importantly, the tasting whetted our appetite for the luxurious wine-paired lunch at Michelin star-rated DOC Rui Paula, which was a one-of-a-kind gourmet experience.

Main course at DOC Rui Paula in the Douro Valley
Bisaro Pork Neck cooked at low temperature with pumpkin and black sausage.
DOC Rui Paula-1
Crispy crème brûlée crêpe with tropical fruits.

Afterwards, it was on to the smaller operation at Quinta de Tourais, an artsy winery run by Fernando Coelho and his family, where they create unique high-quality red, white and rosé wines, each with its own memorable label.

Your trip to the Douro Valley

All day trips with Douro Exclusive can be fully customized, and some clients even like to extend their stays in this region for 2-3 days to really soak in the countryside and enjoy the slow rhythm of life.

Sarah & Ana tasting Port wines in Douro Valley
Exclusive Port wine tasting with Ana from Douro Exclusive.

If you’re considering extending your stay in this region, we would highly recommend the Six Senses Douro Valley resort, with dreamily-designed rooms and suites as well as its expansive spa, fine wining and dining, organic gardens and nature trails.  Another rural spot to consider is the Wine House Hotel at Quinta da Pacheca which has recently completed its bold architectural project of suites in the form of wine barrels.  Now, that’s an experience you will truly never forget!

Wine barrel hotel in Douro Valley
How’s this for a unique lodging experience? Sleep in a wine barrel in the Douro Valley.

Spain Savvy provides custom itinerary design services in Spain and Portugal.  Contact us today to plan your very own adventure in Porto!