4 Incredible Experiences You Won’t Want to Miss in Porto

Portugal

Porto is an extraordinary and colorful city located along the Douro River in Portugal. Its rich history includes the creation of Port wine, the place where JK Rowling began to conceptualize the Harry Potter series, the construction of the Maria Pia Bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel (who also designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris), and so much more. There are so many experiences, tours, and sites in Porto to choose from! It can certainly be overwhelming to try and filter through all the options.

We only had a four day weekend. While that might seem like a decent amount of time, I really wish we had had a full week! For us, the priority was to book the experiences we thought would offer us the most insight into both the city and culture. In the end, I’m really happy with the choices we made. In fact, we had such a great time I have every intention to return sometime in the (hopefully near) future.

My goal for this post is to provide you with information about the experiences that we chose to book in Porto. I hope that they inform and inspire you as your plan your own trip.

Podcast Feature: Destinations Beyond Expectations

Christine’s Travel Gems is excited to be featured on the podcast Destinations Beyond Expectations! This fantastic podcast is hosted by Stevie G. and is designed for people who strive to be students of travel. Each of the episodes features travelers and destinations from around the world.

To tune into the Travel Gems Feature episode about Things to do in Porto, be sure to visit the Destinations Beyond Expectations website, or you can tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and others.

How to Get to Porto

The best way to get to Porto is by flying into the nearby Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport.

From the airport, I recommend taking public transportation. There are multiple options: bus, tram, metro, etc.). Which one you choose will depend on where you are staying in Porto. But, before you buy any public transportation tickets, be sure to read up on the Andante Card, which could save you lots of money!

1. Learn How to Make Pastel de Nata

What Did We Love Most About this Experience in Porto?

We loved the excellent storytelling, the unique way of connecting with a cultural baking tradition, and the fact the we got a copy of the recipe. By far, this was my favorite of all the experiences we signed up for in Porto.

What is Pastel de Nata?

Pastel de Nata is a local sweet treat, kind of like a mini custard tart. It was invented by Catholic monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon. Traditionally, Portugese monks and nuns used egg whites to starch their clothing. But, that left them with a dilemma: what to do with the leftover egg yolks? Of course, they didn’t want them to go to waste. Thus, they developed a wide range of pastries and cakes. The most famous of which is Pastel de Nata.

Sadly, the Liberal Revolution of 1820 resulted in the closure of monasteries and convents across Portugal. During this time, the monks of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos began selling Pastéis de Belém out of a sugar refinery in Lisbon in an attempt to generate revenue (Pastéis is the plural of Pastel). Eventually, the monastery closed and the secret recipe was sold to the sugar refinery.

In 1837 the Fábrica Pastéis de Belém was opened and the secret recipe was patented. But, that did not stop other people from attempting to recreate the creamy pastries and rename them Pastéis de Nata. You can find all kinds of variations of the recipe throughout Portugal and the world.

If you would like to learn more about the Fábrica Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, click here.

What to Expect From the Experience

Our class with Joana was informative, fun, and very hands on. From the beginning, she made sure we felt welcomed and at home in her apartment. Our class was fairly small (about 10 of us) and we fit comfortably in the space.

Joana started off our course with a little history lesson on the origin of Pastel de Nata. From there, we began the baking process. Throughout, she clearly explained each step of the process. She also added little tips she learned from baking with her family.

I really appreciated how well she managed the class. She ensured that each person had the opportunity to contribute throughout whole baking process. To see her work was masterful, like watching a conductor conduct a symphony.

While the Pastel de Nata baked in the oven, Joana invited us to sit at the prepared table. She offered us a choice of coffee, tea, juice, and water to accompany our pastries. We also had a chance to mingle with the other participants and find out more about them.

After the class, Joana sent out the recipe to each of us. I would say that she gave great instructions because I was able to recreate them on my own at home! And, they came out quite well, if I do say so myself. 😉

Booking Your Pastel de Nata Baking Class

We booked our baking course in Porto through Airbnb Experiences and were 100% satisfied. If you would like to book the same experience with Joana, please click here.

2. Boat Ride and Wine Tastings in the Alto Douro Wine Region

What Did We Love Most About this Experience in Porto?

We loved the beautiful scenery in the Alto Douro Wine Region UNESCO World Heritage Site, how well the experience was structured, the fantastic homemade lunch, and of course the wines.

What is the Alto Douro Valley?

The Alto Douro Valley is a wine region of the world that has been cultivated for over 2,000 years (dating back to the Western Roman Empire)! The river and its tributaries cut through hills dotted with quintas (wine-producing farm complexes) and covered with terraced vineyards lining the hills. Additionally, villages, chapels, and roads can be spotted as the river meanders towards the Atlantic Ocean. Altogether, it creates a stunningly dramatic landscape.

Even today, the Alto Douro Valley is famous for its wine production, especially that of Port wine. History reveals that the English played a large role in the creation of the now-famous fortified wine. Traditionally, the English imported their wine from France. But, when the two countries were at war, the Brits had to look elsewhere for their imports. Without the modern benefits of refrigeration, Portuguese wine often spoiled before reaching England’s shores.

Therefore, a new technique was invented to help protect it from spoiling during shipment. As early as 1678, the wine was ‘fortified’ prior to shipment with the addition of a small amount of grape spirit or brandy. This increased the wine’s strength and prevented it from going bad during shipping.

***It should be noted that the process of producing has evolved over the years. Nowadays, the brandy is added to the wine during fermentation.

What to Expect From the Experience

Just so you know, this tour leaves quite early in the morning (8:30am). But, don’t worry, you will be well rewarded for your effort to wake up early while on vacation. 😉

After about an hour-long drive, we arrived in Pinhão, a little village located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Alto Douro Valley. From here, we boarded small, private boats in groups of about six or seven. On board, we were served refreshing drinks featuring white port wine as well as locally produced snacks.

As we gently drifted along the river, our guide provided us with all kinds of information about the Alto Douro Wine Region: the history, what makes the quality of the soil (and therefore the wine) unique, challenges the growers face (including the weather), as well as other interesting facts.

Afterwards, on our way to a winery, we stopped at a breathtaking vantage point overlooking the Alto Douro Valley. At the winery, we had the opportunity to taste many different wines and ports that are locally produced. We also learned about the process for making port wines and how it differs from making wines. As a bonus, we even got to climb into one of the empty wine barrels!

After the tour, we headed to the home of a local chef. We were served a fantastic, homemade meal in his courtyard as well as bottomless wine. It was a magical and very relaxing afternoon and the guides treated us just like family.

Travelers Tip

As much as we loved our experience, I would like to inform you of one aspect of the trip that caught us a little off guard. At lunch, they opened an older and more expensive bottle of Port. Because of its age, it could not be opened using a normal cork opener. So, instead a pair of tongs, heated over an open fire, were used. But, this did require that everyone agree to pay an additional fee to split the cost of the bottle.

If you are interested in learning more about this unique process for opening a bottle of port, you can check out this youtube video.

Booking Your Douro Valley Wine Tasting Experience

We booked our Douro Valley Tour from Porto through Airbnb Experiences and were very happy with it. If you would like to book the same experience, please click here.

3. Walking Tours in Porto

Between the two of us, we went on three different walking tours throughout the course of our weekend in Porto! Maybe that sounds excessive, but let me tell you that each tour exposed us to a unique perspective of Porto. Doing all three of them gave us a much more comprehensive understanding and appreciation for the city.

Why We Love Walking Tours

A walking tour is a great way to get oriented in any new city that you visit. It gives you a chance to see some of the most historical and monumental sites in a place. Additionally, if you go on a tour with a guide, you get a chance to ask them all kinds of questions about what makes their city unique. Having that unique/insider perspective can increase your understanding of and respect for a place and its people.

What Kinds of Walking Tours are Available?

In cities like Porto, there are always a number of options available for every kind of budget. There are paid guided walking tours, free guided walking tours (but it’s usually proper to tip the guide), and free self-guided walking tours that you can find online. Porto is packed with fantastic things to do and places to see, so whichever you choose, you won’t want to miss out!

Booking Your Walking Tour/s of Porto

If you aren’t interested in spending any money at all on a walking tour, I recommend that you check out these free, self-guided, tours that people have created on GPSmyCity. There are multiple options and you can choose the one that best fits your interests. Just be sure to print it out at home before you leave or save it on your phone.

For the Harry Potter Tour that I went on, you can book that on the Airbnb Experiences website. Vinicius was an incredible guide with masterful storytelling skills. Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, this tour offers a lot of insight into the city of Porto and its history told through the lens of “The Hero’s Journey”.

If you would like to book the Porto Cultural Walking Tour: The Untold Story, you can do that by clicking here on the Free Tours Website. This tour is available both in English and Spanish. Our guide was amazing and focused on the evolution of Porto’s history, including how it has recently transformed from a place of poverty to an up and coming tourist destination. Although this tour is free, remember it is proper to tip your guide!

And, finally, the Sunset Walking Tour can be booked in either in English or Spanish on the Guru Walk Website. My travel partner went on this tour while I was on the Harry Potter tour. She said that she enjoyed it and that the focus was on pointing out restaurants and shopping options. Although this tour is free, remember it is proper to tip your guide!

4. Take a Tuk-Tuk Ride Through Porto

What Did We Love Most About this Experience in Porto?

This is one of the more unusual experiences in Porto. We loved it because it provided a fantastic break from walking up and down the hilly terrain. Also, tuk-tuks are small, so they can pass through the narrow streets of the historic city enter much more easily than a car.

What is a Tuk-Tuk?

A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled, motorized vehicle often referred to as a “motorized rickshaw”. Invented by the Japanese, they are most common throughout Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. That said, their popularity and use has spread across many other continents and countries, including Porto, Portugal.

Travel Tip: I would not consider this experience ideal for people with back/neck problems, who are pregnant, or who would not be comfortable being jostled about for a couple of hours.

What to Expect From the Experience

We started off our tour at the Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral) located in the historical center of Porto. This beautiful area, including the Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.

After a brief history lesson, we climbed into the tuk-tuk and began a fun, bumpy ride around town. One thing I particularly liked about riding in this open-air car was the ability to enjoy a 360-degree view. Plus, it was really nice to give my legs a break from walking up and down the steep hills.

Our tour guide took us all throughout the narrow streets, past colorful tiled buildings, and we made a few stops at beautiful vantage points. We covered much of the historical center of Porto and some of the newer portion before crossing one of the six bridges that crosses the Douro River.

Along the way, he pointed out restaurants where you can get franceschina (a local sandwich), famous landmarks, and other points of interest. We ended our journey at the historic overlook from Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar where we enjoyed a small glass of Port wine.

A Note About Our Experience

I would like to disclaim that we were rather disappointed by our guide. He was not as engaging compared to the other tours/experiences we booked and he didn’t offer much in the way of cultural insights. We were also annoyed that he was frequently on his phone (and I don’t mean once or twice).

That said, please keep in mind that there are multiple guides employed by this company. And, based on the reviews that I read both before and after our tour, our experience does not reflect the norm. Altogether, they have over 1,000 reviews and a 4.85 star rating at the time of me writing this post.

Booking Your Tuk-Tuk Tour of Porto

If you would like to book the same tour Porto via tuk-tuk, you can do so on Airbnb Experiences by clicking here.

Or, if you would rather try a different company, here is a link to a different Tuk-Tuk Tour in Porto.

Other Experiences in Porto That You Might Enjoy

As I mentioned, we only had a four day weekend in Porto. If that’s all the time you have, I hope you’re able to make the most of it. But, if you have more time to devote to this historical area, here are some additional experiences in Porto that you might find interesting:

  • This fantastic-looking food tour of Porto that you can book through Airbnb Experiences will take you to five different eateries and includes drinks.
  • For those who enjoy hiking, this trip includes transportation to and from the Paiva Walkways located in the Arouca UNESCO Global Geopark, a walk across the second longest suspension bridge in the world, a ride on a traditional boat (moliceiro), lunch, and more.
  • For those who enjoy the water, you can even take a surfing lesson at a nearby beach, Praia International!

In Conclusion

I hope you’re starting to get the idea that there are a lot of great/unique experiences in Porto. Of course my list is not exhaustive, so be sure to check out websites such as GetYourGuide, Viator, Airbnb Experiences, and GuruWalk for more awesome activities. And, if you’ve been to Porto, I would love to hear about your favorite things to do in the comments down below!

Source: https://christinestravelgems.com/