Northern Portugal: 48 Hours in Porto
Porto (or Oporto to give it it’s proper name) is a northern city in Portugal on the river Duoro and the original capital. A perfect winter stop-off for Snowy en-route to the Algarve.
Porto has been on the "must visit" list ever since watching Anthony Bourdain in Parts Unknown (S9, E8) - a beautiful historic city set around a broad river, largely unspoilt if a little run-down in places. Colourful, friendly and full of life!
We travelled by car to Porto having stayed in Burgos, Spain the previous day. It was an easy 5 hour drive west across northern Portugal via the main toll roads, especially with our E-Movis Tag on board (which automates toll payments so no stopping needed).
We chose a hotel that was within walking distance to the historic centre of Porto, with a park nearby for easy dog walks, secure parking and not too tricky to find via road. Navigating narrow one way systems in big cities is not fun! An impatient, excited dog on board can add to the stress.
We opted for the NH PORTO JARDIM on R. Duque de Loule which was perfect. Situated right on the edge of the historic centre just over the Ponte Infante bridge. It was very easy to find with secure underground parking and a lift directly from the car park to reception.
The hotel was modern, clean, comfortable and quiet. Our room was on the 5th floor, spacious and bright with spectacular views from floor to ceiling windows across the river to the bridge. The whole place was super dog friendly with beds and bowls provided in the room. Snowy can be fussy but quickly made herself comfortable in the bed provided.
Although the hotel restaurant was off limits to Snowy (standard in Spain & Portugal) there was a lovely enclosed garden right off the bar area with a seated terrace and room service.
From our hill-top there were excellent views of the impressive historic buildings and a scattering of development work going on. Porto is largely unspoilt and undergoing much improvement behind the charming historical facades. Snowy was quite content observing the comings and goings as we settled in and planned tomorrow’s exploring.
The staff in the hotel were friendly and professional making us feel really welcome. The guests were a mix of Portuguese and International visitors which made for a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere.
We took an evening stroll to the nearest park; Jardim Marques de Oliveira, turn right out of the hotel and walk up the road two blocks and it’s on the left. It’s compact but enclosed, clean & safe. The gates are locked overnight and opened early morning.
Alternatively, turn left out of the hotel and follow the road down the hill, eventually reaching the Santa Clara church and then on to the Cathedral.
The following morning we walked down to the Av. Gustavo Eiffel directly below the hotel, taking an indirect route through some very old houses (not all of them habitable) down narrow alleyways and ancient worn stone steps eventually finding the river. This felt like the “real” Porto. We did meet some local resident dogs along the way who were roaming free. As is Portuguese culture, the dogs are well fed and cared for however allowed to roam freely, exploring (usually in pairs!). Without exception the local dogs have been friendly towards Snowy although as she’s on-lead she prefers them not to get too close so will see them off with a woof. If your dog is a little nervous I’d stick to the main city streets where the dogs are “supervised”.
Still only mid-morning, we enjoyed a peaceful walk along the river with wonderful views towards the city, eventually reaching Cais de Ribeira. This is a bustling tourist area with many bars, restaurants and shops. Arrive early to enjoy the surroundings before it gets busy.
We stopped off at Bohemia, a terraced snack bar just off the main crowded promenade with sunny river views. The cod croquettes were delicious - at £1.50 each very reasonable.
From here head up into the City, Praca do Infante Henrique is a lovely green space. For shopping, visit Toranja on Rue da Flores, an independent store selling art, clothing and gifts from local Portuguese artists. Super dog friendly!
We spent the afternoon across the Duoro in Gaia where you’ll find the Port manufacturers, supermarkets and WOW the new cultural district.
We walked to Gaia via the pedestrian bridge Ponte Lius. This area is very different to the historic Porto, newer and definitely designed for visitors. Although far less traditional it does have some decent restaurants and larger shops. The view of historic Porto is worth the trip alone.
The WOW district located a few streets back from the waterfront is very cool with shops, galleries & cafes all with outside terraces. A pleasant way to spend an hour or two ambling around the back-streets.
We decided to take the River Taxi back which was far quicker and another chance to take in the views from the river - only £3 each - dog friendly and no chargefor Snowy! No timetable, simply wait by the jetty around mid-point along the Gaia shoreline and they’ll spot you from across the river and come pick you up.
There are many great restaurant options in Porto. Not all allow dogs inside so if travelling in winter as we were it’s worth checking ahead with them. For breakfast (or lunch) try Vale Doce on Av. de Rodrigues de Freitas. Just 5-10 minutes walk from our hotel, popular with locals with amazing pastries and good coffee. It’s very clean, well organised and dog friendly inside too.
For dinner with traditional Portuguese fare try Gazela as featured on Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. They have 2 branches but the closest to the hotel is at Tv. Cimo de Vila 4.
Porto was an amazingly friendly, interesting city. Unlike other most major European cities it has a unique, small town feel to it. The friendly locals all seem to know one another and they blend easily with the eclectic tourists both Portuguese and international. If you get a chance to visit - do.
Hotel: NH PORTO JARDIM on R. Duque de Loule
Nearest Park: Jardim Marques de Oliveira
Eat: Vale Doce on Av. de Rodrigues de Freitas & Gazela Tv. Cimo de Vila 4