After more than 700 days without enjoying a city break in Europe, our family of four was ready for a post-pandemic adventure and so we decided to test the waters by traveling to nearby Porto, in Portugal.
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I've loved Portugal for several years now, I first discovered the Algarve five years ago, with my then six-month-old baby in tow, and then fell in love with Lisbon two years later.
Porto seemed the logical next city to visit – and my oh my, it did not disappoint.
I travelled with my husband and two young children, ages five and two, and made sure the itinerary was as packed as possible with a mix of sightseeing and fun kids-approved activities.
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This was our first trip as a family of four and first city break with our very energetic toddler, who was only five months old when the first lockdown was announced.
Here, I've detailed some of the must-see stops the city has to offer, alongside some great restaurant suggestions and info on where we stayed – and here's hoping you and your family have as much of a good time as we did.
This is a must-see regardless of if you're travelling with kids or not because it is breathtakingly stunning. But, if you have little ones with you who happen to be Harry Potter fans, then you've struck gold. This 100-year-old library is thought to have inspired J.K. Rowling's novels since she lived in the city from 1991 to 1993 and was a frequent visitor. Another plus if you're visiting with children, but only if one of them is under three years old, is you get to avoid the huge queue that forms during the day and skip straight to their priority one, which is also for those pregnant and with disabilities. Please note you'll still have to purchase the €5 ticket – but no standing in line for hours, woop!
JARDINS DO PALACIO DE CRISTAL
The most gorgeous park with one of the best views of the city and the Douro River, in my honest opinion - and free. Here you have endless opportunities for fun but also photos – as a large 'PORTO' sign is currently placed here. There is also a playground perfectly placed in the shade, for those hot spring and summer days. Here the gardens are in pristine condition and you can even spot peacocks and chickens running free amongst tourists. My recommendation is to get there by tram, with great views along the journey.
IGREJA DO CARMO/CAPELA DAS ALMAS
You won't come across a tourist guide that doesn't include these churches, and they've definitely earned their place. Both of these were our favourites, probably Igreja do Carmo more over Capela das Almas, mostly because of its location, a few seconds from Livraria Lello. Go explore, and decide for yourself!
CAIS DA RIBEIRA
The most gorgeous district is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. It's located on the slope and riverbank of the river Douro and if you visit from the morning, you can see how lively it gets throughout the day. There are all sort of street artists making the experience even more movie-like, such as singers, mimes and many more. I would definitely stop for a drink and a snack, my kids loved running around the area and watching the boats and people watching. From here we took the (many) stairs to the Luis I Bridge as the Funicular was not working. Take comfortable shoes!
LUIS I BRIDGE
Probably the number one tourist spot in the city. Beautiful during the day and possibly even more stunning at sunset. It's a great walk to do with kids but if they are younger than three, you might get some anxiety if you let them walk unaided as in my opinion, the space between the railings is rather large. There is a lot to do around this area but have decided to give them their own section – they are THAT good. Keep reading!
JARDIM DO MORRO
Once you cross Luis I bridge, this is the perfect place to treat the kids to insane views, but also some fun time at the playground, which is conveniently located right next to the park.
CABLE CAR/WATER TAXI
Right after some downtime at Jardim do Morro, we got the cable car down to the Pier of the City of Gaia. It only lasts five minutes, but the kids were in awe of the views and the experience. Once there, I would recommend exploring the area, filled with market stalls and restaurants and then cross the river using a water taxi, which takes you back to the Ribeira. The ride is brief, and my youngest son definitely cried because he wanted another ride, but it's fun and it involves little walking, which kids appreciate.
SAO BENTO STATION
Whilst picking the locations to visit, Sao Bento station was a maybe, but wow, it's actually incredibly stunning. Not just the inside, which features beautiful Portuguese tiles which depict historical life scenes, but the views of the Porto streets that you can take in from the outside.
You need plans for a rainy day, and this one is perfect for it. It was already in our schedule before we knew it would rain, but so glad I had booked it in. Kids love animals, and SEALIFE Porto has plenty to do for kids of all ages. The café, which actually has a free play area for young kids, also has the best views of Praia do Castelo do Queijo which is packed with surfers – a must-see!
PORTO FC MUSEUM
You don't need to be a football fan to enjoy a morning or afternoon here. At least we weren't, but we probably left feeling like we'd support Porto in the next match! We got a tour of the stadium, we visited the changing rooms, the media room where all the pre and post-match interviews happen and discovered places that only the footballers know of. The museum is equally as fun for children as they can get up close and personal with the incredible collection of trophies, hop on the official bus and much more. My advice is to don't leave this activity until the end of the day, we left it a bit late and the kids would have loved more time in the museum.
WORLD OF DISCOVERIES
I am still in awe of this attraction. When viewed from outside, it definitely doesn't give the impression that hits you once inside. I still can't wrap my head around the fact that inside here, the kids (and us, of course) enjoyed the most fun boat ride ever that seemed to last for ages. This place is packed with information about the Portuguese navigators that crossed oceans to discover a previously unknown world and the learning along the way is fun, for everyone. I struggled to get my kids to leave, and there might have been a few tears when the boat ride ended – which ended up in a guilt trip to the souvenir shop!
WHERE WE STAYED
Pre-pandemic, I wouldn't have given accommodation much thought, and would have picked a city hotel. But for this trip, and the fact that masks were still compulsory indoors in Portugal, we decided to stay at an apartment, located in the centre, just to have a bit more comfort and freedom. We chose Feel Porto and picked their 'Downtown Charming Apartment I', which had two bedrooms and two bathrooms and conveniently had a lift. It also had heating and all the necessities we needed with kids: washing machine, heating/AC and dishwasher. And for us parents, Wi-Fi!
WHERE WE ATE
The big advantage of being in an apartment is that you can always pre-prepare some food to take along for the kids, especially as we eat at different times, my kids get hungry by 11:30am! But we did manage to fully enjoy two places that I am more than happy to recommend: Hamburgueria DeGema, with an incredible menu filled with, you guessed it, burgers, and crispy chicken nuggets and chips for the kids, and Decimo Setimo restaurant, for a special date night - if you can get childcare, of course. The food was 10/10 and I would have returned had we stayed for more days.
To plan your perfect trip to Porto, visit visitportugal.com and feelthecall.pt.