I may have liked Porto better than Lisbon!

Porto Portugal with kids

This is a long overdue post, I am sorry to leave you all hanging if you found my Lisbon with kids and visiting Sintra blog posts. Thankfully, a kind reader left a comment asking me where the Porto Portugal post was, which nudged me to get the final Porto Portugal with kids post done! Actually, it’s funny that I didn’t write about Porto sooner because I may have liked Porto better than Lisbon! So here we go…

We drove to Porto from Sintra and it happened to be Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend and traffic was insane! This is why I said I regretted driving, the main train station drops you right in the center of the city and later I would find out this was literally around the corner from our hotel. But we spent a nightmare of about an hour stuck in city traffic trying to get to the hotel. Literally an hour trying to go about 10 blocks and we were all starving!

Where we stayed

It happened to be Easter break when we were in Porto, so I decided that I wanted to stay at a hotel that would have a Easter brunch of some kind. We stayed at the InterContinental Porto and while I was initially totally turned off by the extremely busy street that it sits on I ended up loving this location; it is right in front of Liberdade Square and was perfect for accessing all the different parts of the city. I usually prefer smaller boutique hotels but in the end, I truly loved this hotel for the incredible service, the super cool lounge that became our family living room each day and the concierge who helped us get dinner reservations at two wonderful restaurants on a very busy weekend.

We booked the family suite which was on two levels. The kids thought this was pretty cool and when I got upstairs to our room and saw the huge bathroom and large bathtub, I was also impressed. Every afternoon they filled our coffee table with all sorts of drinks, fruit and snacks which was lovely as well. Their Easter brunch was also fantastic and my kids also got the chance to decorate their own chocolate eggs.

Discovering Porto

Garden Cordoaria 

After we got settled the kids and I went walking around and discovered this great park that was perfect for letting off some energy after sitting in all that traffic. From here you can walk up and see the famous twin churches Igreja do Carmo (known for the blue and white tile facade) and Carmelite Church that are joined by a house. From here you will also see the fountain of the lions and then you should make your way to Spirito Cupcakes.

Lello Bookstore

If you are a Harry Potter fan then Porto should be on your list of places to visit. J.K. Rowling lived in Porto and taught English for two years and there are two locations that helped spark her inspiration for the Harry Potter series.  The first one is Lello Bookstore and the moment you step inside you will feel like you are literally in one of the Harry Potter books. This is one of the most beautiful bookstores I’ve ever seen. You have to buy a ticket for about 5 Euros to get in, but that ticket can then be used towards a purchase. There was a line outside every day, so we woke up early one morning and bought tickets right away, then jumped in the line. They can only let so many people in at a time, so when people come out, they let more in. The line went quickly.

Majestic Cafe is the cafe where J.K. Rowling said she would write. There is always a line in front of this cafe as well, and this cafe isn’t cheap either. I went to check it out by myself one morning just as they were opening.  I had the traditional Nata pastry and a cappuccino. It’s a beautiful cafe, but if I’m being honest, my cappuccino wasn’t very good and I was a little unimpressed. I liked the tiles and the facade of the building from the outside better than inside.

*It has also been said that she took inspiration from the train station and the black capes that the University students wear in Porto.

Right next to Lello Bookstore is a very cool store called Vida Portuguesa that you should definitely go in to. It is two levels and filled with wonderful gifts, books, home items, accessories and toys.

The city streets of Porto are filled with beautifully tiled buildings, and I honestly thought I saw more here in Porto then in Lisbon. One of the streets you should not miss walking down is R. da Flores this street is filled with colorful buildings, cafes, restaurants and shops. This is also where we saw the CUTEST father and daughter street performing duo! They even had a live white chicken with them. I absolutely loved them.

Along the Duoro river is the medieval Ribeira (riverside) district, narrow cobbled stone streets are filled with small shops and restaurants. Walking around here you get a real sense of how merchants must have filled the streets back in the 14th and 15th centuries. In fact, the city center of Porto became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. This medieval riverside neighborhood is located inside a 14th-century Romanesque wall and includes the Porto Cathedral, one of the oldest and important Roman Catholic structures in Porto.

This is also where I found a great pottery shop and bought a few things! This pottery shop was right next to the restaurant we ate at called Jimão tapas e vinhos. I apologize, but I cannot remember the name of the shop nor can I find the business card the woman gave me!

The Porto Bridges

The only thing I really knew about Porto was that it produced Port wine, was home to the Lello bookstore and that one of its bridges, the Maria Pia Bridge, had been designed by Gustave Eiffel (Architect of the Eiffel Tower). When we arrived in Porto we crossed the Duoro River by driving on the Dom Luís Bridge, which I thought was the Maria Pia bridge, but it is not. I was so confused, and many people are. The famous double-decker metal bridge where pedestrians can walk across the top and where traffic drives along the lower deck is the Dom Luis Bridge. Gustave Eiffel’s bridge is further down the river and was a railway bridge, but looks similar although it does not have the lower deck. Porto actually has six bridges but these are the two of most interest. They connect the city of Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, the center of the port wine industry, where you can take tours and visit many port wine cellars.

We took a short riverboat cruise, that went up and down the Duoro river so we could see some of these bridges, it felt like the thing to do, it wasn’t very long and it was a nice boat ride.

We went into the World of Discoveries museum that taught us about Portuguese history and how Porto played a vital role in discovering routes to Asia. They had actors dressed up as explorers and shipmen telling parts of the story and engaging the kids. Then we took a small boat ride that told a story of one of the expeditions. This was actually sort of fun, the kids seemed to like it even though they were probably a little old for it, but it was well done. I’d recommend it for kids under 10 for sure, but even I was able to get a better understanding of Porto’s history so it was worth it and does not take that much time.

“Portuguese discoveries are the numerous territories and maritime routes discovered by the Portuguese as a result of their intensive maritime exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries. Portuguese sailors were at the vanguard of European overseas exploration, discovering and mapping the coasts of Africa, Canada, Asia and Brazil, in what became known as the Age of Discovery.”


Where we ate Porto

Steak n Shake (Ha!) – As expats, American food is truly a treat and we consider this “foreign food” so we totally indulged at Steak n Shake. Burgers and milkshakes and fries, oh my! The square where Steak n Shake is located is lovely and has a handful of other restaurants. One afternoon Hudson and I grabbed a slice of pizza at a little shop in this square and enjoyed just sitting in the sun.  We also ate at Jimão tapas e vihnos  in the riverside district; find this restaurant and you’ll find the pottery shop I mentioned! We also stopped in Spirito Cupcakes – yummy cupcakes, ice cream, donuts coffee and other desserts.

The concierge made us reservations for these two restaurants.

Ze Bota
– great traditional Portugese restaurant, we had a family style meal that was fantastic!
ODE Port Wine House – amazing dinner inside a tiny restaurant that felt like the inside of a boat. We left the kids back at the hotel for this one.

Bonaparte – Very cool pub – go here for a drink!
Honorato Hamburgueres Artesanais – stopped in for a cocktail and it was the best cocktail ever! I LOVE the smell of Lemongrass, and well this was like drinking it, but in a sweet good way!

This is the Old Warehouse Factory of Ceramics building and it was beautiful. Inside were a few restaurants, that we did not eat at, but they had the cutest and quirky decorations, one restaurant had motorcycles on the walls!

Comme Ca – Adorable restaurant in the old ceramics warehouse building – we did not eat here, but I wanted to.

Motorcycle Cafe – I cannot find the name of this place, but it’s in the Old Wharehouse of Ceramics building, too.

Restaurant Bar Galeria de Paris – a quirky cafe with all sorts of collectables on display near the Lello Bookstore.

I really liked Porto and wish that we had had one more day there because I didn’t really get to explore Vila Nova de Gaia. I think I may have liked Porto better than Lisbon because it still felt like a small town, it also felt cleaner and more organized than the capital, maybe because Lisbon had so much construction going on everywhere. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I thought Porto was just as great as Lisbon but Lisbon seems to get all the attention. I may need to go back without the kids to investigate a bit further…


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