Malcolm and I are just home from a twelve day transatlantic cruise that took us from New York to Lisbon followed by a week in Portugal, which we split between Lisbon and Porto.
After disembarking the Azamara Journey in Lisbon, we took a three minute walk from the sea port to the train station where we boarded a train to Porto. The three hour journey was uneventful and after a quick train change in Coimbra, we arrived in Sao Bento, which is an event unto itself. Hand painted tiles cover the walls of the train depot and every tourist entering has the same agenda – selfies with some of the most famous tiles in the world.
It is impossible to get a nice clean shot, but I would be remiss to not share at least one really bad photo so you get the gist of how beautiful this building is up close and personal.
Taxis were lined up outside the station so we grabbed the first available one and set off to our hotel. The ten minute ride gave us a pretty good indication of what we were about to experience, and we were more than pleased that we had chosen Porto to base for a few days. Quaint streets, unbelievable elevations, more beautiful tiled buildings, unique shops and the river; let’s not forget about that.
Porto is a wonderful destination that requires days to fully explore and appreciate, and it is also a great location to use as a base for visiting other intriguing destinations, such as the Douro Valley and Braga. We used a wonderful guide by Patti and Abi over at One Road at a time to visit Braga, and we booked a semi-private tour through CM Tour company for our day trip to the Douro Valley. Both decisions led to great experiences. You can check out Patti and Abi’s blog and their guide to a Braga day trip here.
There are two solid reasons to visit Braga; the Bom Jesus Basilica and the Se Cathedral. It is possible to spend a full day in Braga just wandering about enjoying the city center, gardens and shopping on a swank avenue, but you MUST visit these two amazing sights.
Using our TEP wi-fi device, we navigated our way by foot from the train station in Braga to the city center and the Se Cathedral; the oldest cathedral in Portugal. It was an easy fifteen minute walk. The exterior of the church is fairly unassuming, but that’s not the attraction. The reason to visit here is the massive pipe organ that fills virtually one quarter of the ceiling. I am a huge fan of pipe organs, and this is a dandy. Again, a photo does not do this magnificent piece justice, so you will just have to visit Braga and see it for yourself.
After a leisurely walk through the Jardin de Santa Barbara and a quick stop for lunch, we navigated our way to Central Avenue and caught the #2 bus as Patti and Abi had suggested for a visit to Bom Jesus.
Bom Jesus Basilica
Although many visitors walk the 577 stairs up to the basilica, we opted to pay 1.20 euro each for a ride to the top. After all, the #2 bus had very conveniently dropped us at the funicular, so why not. We did however, walk each and every one of those daunting steps back down. e did however, walk each and every one of those daunting steps back down.
The Bom Jesus is a spiritual place that once encouraged pilgrims to make the journey to the top on their knees in order to experience the pain that Jesus suffered in route to his crucifixion. Whether you appreciate the spiritual significance or not, it is by far the number one attraction in Braga and a must see for all who visit here.
We visited the inside of the Basilica, but it was undergoing renovations, so I skipped taking photos there.
In all, our visit and walk down took about two hours. Back down the hill, we caught the #2 at the same point that it left us and stayed on the bus until we reached the train station for our return to Porto. Day trips do not get easier than this. Thanks Patti and Abi!
Fun fact: the funicular is the oldest still in operation in the world and is powered by water.
It is possible to rent a car and explore the Douro Valley on your own, but we only had one day and wanted to make the most of it. Malcolm booked CM Tour company many weeks in advance of our arrival. At 75 Euro per person, it was a great value for the experience. We were picked up at our hotel around 8:30 a.m. and returned there at approximately 6:30 p.m. Three hours of the day is devoted to driving to and from the Douro Valley, but it was a pleasure to watch the landscape change as we left the city and entered the valley.
This English speaking tour included 4 US and 4 Korean passengers. Our tour guide, Anna was a delight as she remained animated throughout the day. While this is not considered a ‘private’ tour, Anna made it feel personal as she engaged each of us with her attention. A good tour guide can make or break the experience, and we encountered both versions during our time in Portugal. This was an excellent tour and we highly recommend it to anyone wanting to experience a snapshot of the Douro Valley.
The day included tours and tastings at two ‘farms’ or wine estates as we know them, lunch, a 45 minute boat ride down the Douro River in a classic Rabelo boat (that used to carry barrels of port) and a scenic drive through the valley.
The Douro Valley is known for its production of Port wines. In fact, a wine cannot be called a port unless it is produced here. I was under the misconception that all Ports are sweet, after dinner drinks. Not so. I know what I like, but even after touring two estates in the valley, I did not fully understand how to choose a good bottle. This article cleared things up a bit, so take a look if you want to know more about port.
Quinta de Marrocos is a small batch producer that still processes its grapes the old fashioned way, by stomping. If you visit the valley in September, you can take part in the process. Many of the estates in the region offer lodging and I can’t imagine a more romantic setting than this.
The Quinta de Santa Júlia is an elegant estate which offers tours and lodging. The experience here was first rate and it is a place that we would consider staying in the future.
The owner of the estate is quite proud of his beautiful rose garden which slopes down toward the valley at the back of the house. The estate included an abundance of fruit trees, olive groves and even a small chapel that hosts services a few times per year.
The estate tours were heavy on charm and generous with a pour; another reason for hiring a guide! I lost track of how many wines we tasted throughout the day. The fun continued as port wine was served with a traditional lunch of cod fish cakes, and Anna surprised us with yet another sample on the boat ride. Note: We were offered a choice of meat or fish for lunch and we both chose the fish. It was accompanied by a big basket of bread, a creamy vegetable soup, a side dish of rice and beans and a dessert. Not a big fan of the cod fish cake, but seafood in general is what it’s all about in Portugal and we did eventually figure out what to choose and what to stay away from.
On the drive back to Porto, Anna took about a twenty minute detour along the old route (she referred to it as the National) before returning to the express highway in order to share this special treat – a view of the valley and one of the small towns that we had passed through on our journey. It was worth every one of the hair pin turns that we encountered to get there.
Bottom line. If you find yourself in Porto, Portugal, by all means take your time enjoying this amazing city, but don’t forget that there are many great day trips just around the corner. Plan to stay awhile.
20 thoughts on “Two Great Day Trips From Porto”
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Thanks Chuck, the trip was good, but it rained a couple of days while we were in Lisbon and spoiled the fun. I’m glad we had this time in Porto.
Great post 😄
Thank you, and thanks for stopping by.
Fabulous Suzanne! We were only in Portugal for two days prior to a tour of Spain a couple of years ago so we didn’t get to Porto. I would love to revisit but your photography has taken me there this Monday morning as I sit drinking my coffee listening to the rain. The colours of the rose are just beautiful and the architecture and artwork inside the churches and other buildings is just stunning. Glad you enjoyed your trip 🙂
Thanks Sue, taking good photographs in a touristy area is always a challenge, so I have to switch gears and just get the picture sometimes. I think that is why I prefer landscapes. If you ever get back to Portugal, do take time to visit Porto.
I hope to travel to Portugal one day soon so I am always thrilled to read posts that have tips about where to go and what to do. Porto looks absolutely gorgeous!
Janis, I’m glad you find this post helpful. If you do decide to visit Portugal, go over to ‘One Road at a Time’ and check out their guides. I have been following this couple for a few years and trust their travel advice, especially in Portugal since they are part-time residents there.
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Thank you, I’ll check them out!
Suzanne, wonderful trip. You packed in a lot and managed to see amazing things. So funny that we were in the same area at the same time. Did you enjoy the cruise with Azamara? Beautiful photos
Gilda, we did enjoy the cruise and discovered that we prefer smaller ships. The Journey had only 600 passengers as apposed to the 2000 + that we are used to sailing with. Food, entertainment and accommodations were all B+ and we would definitely consider it again.
We did not get down to the Algarve, and will do that next time. Loved Porto and the Douro Valley.
Dan and I also have a trip to Portugal “on the list” and was fascinated by this post. A transAtlantic cruise??? HMMMM.
Nancy, go while it is still affordable. The buzz is out and prices are climbing. Read my post about transatlantic crossings for more about that. If you are not ‘antsy’ about sea days, you will love it. I am easily entertained, so it has never been a problem. https://picture-retirement.com/2018/04/08/taking-the-slow-boat-re-positioning-cruise/ Thanks for stopping by.
Yay! I’m so glad you made your way to Porto and took a day trip to Braga. You’re right in that it’s nearly impossible to get a clean shot in the Sao Bento train station, way too many people. It’s amazing how many people travel in/out of San Bento station every day.
Braga! Fabulous! When we walked in to the cathedral and saw the twin organs I literally gasped. Absolutely stunning. I’m so pleased you found our post about the cathedral and the Dom Luis Church helpful. It’s good to get the feedback, so thank you for that!
You are welcome Patti. Had it not been for your post we may not have added Braga to the itinerary. It was a fun, easy day that we will always think fondly of. .
Just gorgeous! Need to go there one day.
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Beautiful photos! ♥
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Hi Suzanne! I just saw that you were in Portugal this May! And I JUST bought plane tickets to Portugal/Spain for next May . (2020) . Thanks for the advice you shared. I would love to pick your brain about other things you learned…and yes, I read the one about the tour in Lisbon NOT to take. Any other advice? We will actually being going to Spain first . (Late May) and then returning to Portugal in early June. I’m thinking we will be there for 10 days? Any thoughts you could offer would be great appreciated. ~Kathy
Kathy, have you narrowed down the cities you want to visit in Portugal?My suggestion would be to split your time among Lisbon, Porto and Sintra. The Algarve would also be nice if you have the time. Check out Patti and Abi over at Oneroadatatime.com they have written extensively about visiting Portugal on their Blog and are a great resource. You are welcome to contact me via email and ask anything. Portugal is one of my favorite places to visit and I love talking about it. You picked the perfect time of year to visit.
Portugal is soooo wonderful!