48 hours in… Porto


48 hours in… Porto

How to spend the dream weekend in Portugal's second city

Chloe Frost-Smith

BY Chloe Frost-Smith31 May 2024

Difficult though it may be to distil the many delights of Portugal’s second city down to 48 hours, it’s still possible to sip and savour your way around its hilly cobbled streets, riverfront restaurants and bottle-packed wine caves, while drinking in those enchanting Douro views (and plenty of barrel-aged tawny) as you go.

It’s less about landmark-visiting and museum-hitting, more tile-spotting and market-pottering, with a slew of second-hand bookshops, vintage clothing boutiques and seafood-laden stalls to peruse at the oh-so leisurely Portuguese pace.


Rosa et al Townhouse

Take metro line E from the airport to make the five o’clock tea at Rosa Et Al Townhouse, a family-run hotel in Porto’s artsy Cedofeita enclave. Fresh herbs are gathered from the garden to infuse brews with lavender, lemon balm, rosemary, mint and sage. If you’re travelling with friends, book one of the ‘work-eat-shops’ ahead of your stay to cook your own three-course dinner – guided by the townhouse’s brother-sister owners, Emanuel and Patrícia. Emanuel, an architect turned chef, also organises hush-hush supper clubs in creative settings around the city.


Tackling Porto’s notoriously vertiginous streetscape not only requires sensible footwear, but also sufficient fuel. Rise from your restful room – many of which feature claw-foot bath tubs and exposed wooden beams – and indulge in the hotel’s popular brunch (available between the 9th and 17th of every month), working your way through home-made pastries and granola, chia and coconut porridge, smoked cod shakshuka, and towering pancake stacks topped with crispy Bísaro bacon and maple syrup.

For more of a grab-and-go option, pick up some pastéis de nata from Manteigaria, stopping to watch the pastry chefs whip up their custardy creations over the traditional counter. The bakery is also just down the street from Mercado do Bolhão, a bustling market with fishmongers, butchers, florists and more across two vast floors.

From here, the riverside Ribeira district is a short (yet steep) downhill stroll away – take the twisty-turny mediaeval streets until you reach rows of rainbow-painted merchants’ houses. Wandering aimlessly is the best agenda here, and if you end up on the Rua das Flores, pop by Benamôr 1925. This Porto outlet from the Lisbon-founded cosmetics brand is modelled on an old-school pharmacy, where you can freshen up using the organic testers (prettily packaged, with eco-friendly refills) over the central marble sinks.


Vinha Boutique Hotel

Light lunch options are within easy reach – health-focused Nola Kitchen and vegetarian-based Tia Tia are both under 10 minutes away on foot. The latter is fast becoming known for its superb natural wine selection, sourced from small-batch local vineyards.

Sunny afternoons are best spent on the other side of the river, and crossing the Dom Luís I Bridge is a spectacle in itself. Yet more of those Douro vistas can be soaked up from the garden-wrapped pool at Vinha Boutique Hotel, a hot-pink palazzo tucked away in a leafy suburb of Vila Nova de Gaia. Loll about on the manicured lawn as ice-cold mojitos magically make their way to your lounger, before padding down to the 500-square-metre Sisley spa in your slippers for a facial or hot-stone massage.



As the sun starts to set, cast off from the hotel’s private pier on a scenic river cruise, taking in the colour-popping cityscape as fishing boats and wine-bearing vessels bob by. Ask the skipper to drop you off along Gaia’s porthouse-lined banks for tours and tastings facing the twinkling Ribeira. Lots of the lodges accept walk-ins, but for a more elevated experience, book one of the one- to three-hour workshops at the 18th-century Ferreira Cellars. You’ll not only be guided through the port-making process, passing by 250-year-old oak casks and vats, but also learn about this winemaking family’s trailblazing matriarch, Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira.

Stumble back across the bridge for an easygoing evening on Cocorico’s boho-chic patio, tucking into tapas dishes such as codfish ceviche, Iberian ham croquetas and pan-fried squid. The French-inspired hotel’s rooms, with deep soaking tubs and breezy balconies, make the ideal recovery zone to soothe any wine-sore heads.


Igreja do Carmo

If you’re waking up at Cocorico, it’s the perfect starting point for ceramic-seekers, set a cork’s throw from the azulejo-plastered São Bento Station – known for its 20,000 tin-glazed tiles. Beautiful murals and intricate doorways can be spotted on many of the surrounding streets, but some of the most dazzling displays are to be found on the blue-and-white façades of Capela das Almas and Igreja do Carmo.

From the second of these bedecked churches, a three-minute walk down the Rua das Oliveiras will bring you to Banco de Materiais. Not quite a museum, its warehouse-style walls are filled with ogle-worthy decorative objects gathered from Porto’s disused buildings, including painted tiles, street plaques, stucco pieces and stonework fragments. If you’re not short on time, try your hand at making your own azulejos at Ó! Cerâmica, a quirky studio attached to an illustration gallery that works with local creatives.


Vila Foz Hotel & Spa

Hop aboard one of the characterful vintage trams to trundle your way along Linha 1 to the oceanfront Foz district on Porto’s outskirts. A clanging bell will signal your stop – clamber down the polished wooden steps and amble across a tree-lined boulevard towards the palatial Vila Foz Hotel & Spa. Its steps-from-the-Atlantic setting is tough to beat, mere moments from a sandy stretch dotted with beach bars and oyster-serving shacks. The neighbouring coastal town of Matosinhos is a breezy pedal away on the hotel’s bikes, where you can rub salty shoulders with surfers and fishermen coming in from the crashing waves.


Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art

Venturing inland back towards the city, catch an early evening exhibition or film screening at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (open until 8pm, with free admission on the first Sunday of every month), spanning wonderfully wacky installations by Yayoi Kusama, and eye-catching outdoor sculptures by Alexander Calder and Anish Kapoor. Chase the last of the light around the parkland and rose gardens, with the pastel-pink Serralves Villa sitting like an art deco Barbie Dreamhouse at its centre.

Reserve a table for dinner at Le Monument, a grand, column-hemmed restaurant on the ground floor of Maison Albar Le Monumental Palace. Dishes here, by the Michelin-starred chef Julien Montbabut, cleverly fuse French and Portuguese flavours and are plated like works of art. End with a jazz-accompanied nightcap (or pre-flight tipple) in one of the velvet booths at speakeasy-inspired Bar Américain.


Flights London to Porto takes just under two-and-a-half hours.

Transport The city’s easy-to-navigate rail and bus network will keep your sightseeing on track, especially if you purchase an Andante card in advance (€15 for three days). Campanhã station is the main long-distance hub, Trindade Metro runs a regular airport shuttle and São Bento has direct links to northern Portugal.

When to go High summer is the busiest period (particularly around the São João Festival on the 23 June), so plan a spring or autumn visit for sunny spells without the crowds. Oenophiles, come and slosh to your heart’s content in September, during the Douro Valley’s wine harvest.

What to buy A pair of mules, sandals, or whatever footwear takes your fancy from industrial-chic the Feeting Room; hand-woven basketry from homeware studio, Mercado Loft Store in Baixa; something fragile and personality-packed from Ó! Cerâmica (even better if it’s something you made earlier); a playful wall-hanging or rug from artisan textiles maker, Gur (which will also double as ceramics-wrapping material for your suitcase); beautifully boxed, confectionery-esque Claus Porto soap; a vintage bottle or mixed case from Churchill’s.

Good to know River taxis and ferries are often the fastest A to B option, especially if you’re flitting between the Douro’s north and south banks (single crossings take five minutes). Wine tours and tastings can sell out at some of the top-notch lodges, so it’s worth booking ahead with the Smith24 team.

Got a little longer to spend? See more of our Porto hotels

Additional photos by the author.