One way of recharging the mind, body and soul (which increases your productivity!) is to take a break from your “regular life” and visit a place that’s completely different from your norm. That place for us in June of 2018 was Porto, Portugal.
If Porto is the starting point for your trip, you can fly into the Porto airport via a connection in a major European city or fly into Lisbon and take a 2.5 hour train to Porto.
Often called “The San Francisco of Portugal,” the beauty of Porto’s riverbank will allow you to forgive the city for its confusing maze of hilly streets. After the first morning, we gave up on using exact streets to get to our destination and instead navigated by landmarks and “the general direction” we were headed. Porto is a fun place in which to get lost. Most shopkeepers will help you find your way again.
Our top Things to Do in Porto, Portugal include:
Porto’s port lodges are located on the Gaia side of the Douro River, and you definitely need to do a tasting at one of them. We went to Croft, which was up on the hill, away from the main strip. We’re not conossieurs, but we thought the port was drinkable, plus we were in “old fashioned” surroundings instead of a hip, modern tasting room. The main reason you want to go to Gaia, though, is for the beautiful of the Porto side of the Douro River. My photo doesn’t come close to doing it justice:
To enjoy this view while you’re dining, hit the rooftop terrace at Porto Cruz. Their elevator is as slow as molasses, so you might want to utilize the staircase if you get impatient. The extra calories you burn will allow you to eat and imbibe even more. We enjoyed a tasty lunch of fresh seafood tapas-style over a bottle of local wine. Note: They have a restaurant on the third floor if you prefer fancier dining.
Taste Porto Food and Wine Tour
If you love food and/or wine, you’ll enjoy this tour from Taste Porto. The guides are passionate about Portuguese culture, food and wine, and are happy to answer any and all questions that you have. If you’re not into anything I’ve just mentioned, this walking tour will give you a tasty orientation to Porto’s winding streets on big hills. Allow three to four hours.
Sao Francisco Church
Wow! This church is gold and Baroque style on steroids. It’s beautiful and full of history. Find a guide or written information about this church, otherwise you won’t appreciate what stories are being told in the architecture and statues. If you’re not religious in any way, shape or form, this building is still a worthwhile visit because it’s visually stunning, and we definitely have nothing like it in the U.S. Photography is not permitted, so I don’t have a photo to share with you.
Sao Bento Train Station
When I first learned that we were going to visit a train station, I wondered why in the heck we’d do that. But after I walked in and saw the Portuguese tile that covered the walls, I understood. A visit to this station is worth fending off all of the pick pockets that work this territory.
Dom Luis I Bridge
This is the iconic bridge that appears in so many photos of Porto. It can be viewed from Porto, Gaia or a boat cruise. It’s also fun to walk across the bridge, which is the main pedestrian and metro thoroughfare between Porto and Gaia.
These boats have pre-recorded summaries of each site that you’ll pass. You’ll get some information, but the tour commentary is nothing to write home about. The main reason why you’re going is just to get on the Douro River and enjoy the views of both sides of the river, as well as the bridges. We went on a 50-minute “Six Bridges Tour,” which left from the main hub of the Ribeira (riverside) district.
Stroll the Cais da Ribeira
This is the riverfront on the Porto side of the Douro River, looking across at the Gaia side. If you won’t be going to Gaia, you at least need to do this so that you’re near the river.
Watch Portugal Play Futbol
If you happen to be in Portugal during the World Cup or European Cup, be sure to spend at least a few minutes watching the game on a big screen in a square. There’s so much energy and hope, and it’s exciting to watch the home team being cheered on. If you don’t like crowds, stay on the edge. If you don’t like the edge, find a small bar and watch there.
This is a tourist hotspot. There are two queues: one to purchase tickets and one to get inside. We purchased our tickets online so that we only had to wait in the entrance line. We got in line 15 minutes before its opening and were third in line. This bookstore is beautiful. Its claim to fame is that it was allegedly the inspiration for the library in the Harry Potter movies. We enjoyed ourselves, but I recommend that you go only if you’re a big Harry Potter fan or a big book fan. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time wondering, “What’s the fuss all about?”
This might seem blasphemous, but this cathedral looks like any old church to me. What’s so interesting, though, is that there’s a side altar made in silver which was plastered up and hidden from Napoleon’s troops. And the good people of Porto forgot about it for a couple hundred years.
Where to Stay
Check Trip Advisor to see which top-rated hotel accommodations fit your budget and style. You can also read my review of the Douro Riverside Apartments where we stayed.
Other than Paris and London, I don’t normally make an effort to return to somewhere I’ve already visited. But I’ll now add Porto to my short list of exceptions.
If you’re scratching your head and wondering, “Why all of these travel-related blogs in a time management blog?”, the answer is simple. Getting away from it all allows our bodies and brains to take a break. Going on a vacation – no matter how long and no matter where – will do wonders for your productivity. But sometimes properly planning for the type of vacation that will lower your stress levels (and doesn’t add to it) can take a lot of time. To save you time and stress, I’m sharing my travel tips with you.
If you are planning to go to Portugal, I highly recommend that you make Porto one of your stops. My list of things to do in Porto, Portugal is only a springboard for what the city offers.