Just returned from a excellent four night five day break in Porto with day trips to Guimarães and Braga. Booked flights and accommodation with Easyjet as a package holiday which was significantly cheaper than booking with the hotel direct. Hope you will find this report useful when planning your trip.
Monday 2nd May 2011 - Travelling & transfers from Porto Airport
Left the house at 6.30am to catch our National Express coach from Cardiff to Gatwick Airport. After a long but smooth journey (over 4 hours) arrived in Gatwick just after midday to catch our 5.20pm Easyjet flight (G-EZAL) to Porto. As today was a bank holiday in the UK left plenty of time just in case of traffic delays but surprisingly the roads were pretty quiet. Flight left on time, very smooth journey with no complaints. Flight was not full with lots of spare seats. Arrived in Porto around 7.40pm and the weather was hazy with some high cloud, temperatures around 18C. Porto airport looked very modern and spacious. We pre-booked our transfers with the hotel Pestana Porto, €35. Looking back this was a little expensive (taxi costs €20) but it was nice to have a stress free transfer. Driver was very friendly and gave us a little guided tour which was a nice touch.
Hotel Pestana Porto - I have written a separate review of the hotel which will appear in the hotel section shortly. In summary, excellent central hotel with a fantastic location on the Douro river with great views. Staff were very friendly and helpful and seemed genuinely happy in their work. For further information, have a look at the review section :-
Tuesday 3rd May 2011 - Porto
After a very nice breakfast in the hotel we left at 8.45am to visit some of Porto’s main attractions. Weather was excellent, lots of sunshine with very little cloud, maximum temperatures around 21C.
First stop was the church of St Francis located virtually next door to the hotel. Liked the gilded baroque interior. Did not visit the small museum and the former stock exchange market. Also passed the Church of Or Lady of Mercy. This is located on Rua das Flores which apparently had lots of gold shops. Porto is a very hilly city with lots of steep inclines and cobbles. All the walk was uphill with one particular steep road. Even though it was only 9.30am and 18C it felt much warmer. I would hate to do this walk in the summer when the temperature is 35C+. After walking through the steep narrow cobbled streets we arrived in the Centre for Portuguese Photography. This was very interesting as it contained lots of old photographs of Porto and Lisbon.
Visited the Clerigos Tower which is one of Porto’s most famous landmarks. This tower has six floors and is approximately 75m high with a steep flight of 240 steps. Decided to walk to the top of the tower (entrance fee €2). Not recommended if you have walking difficulties or dislike confined spaces due to the steep steps. Take care with your footing and don’t drink any port before hand - (the port tasting was at the end of the day, honestly!) When we arrived at the top of the tower was rewarded with excellent views, roof top houses, cathedral and the Douro river in the background. Definitely worth a visit if you can cope with the steps, don’t forget to take your camera. After the tower walked to the Praça da Liberdade which is in the main city centre and saw the equestrian statue and the town hall which is a nice building. Briefly visited the Balhoa food market which was ok and walked down the main shopping street Rua de Santa Catrina. Must admit that I was not particular impressed, the main shopping street in Cardiff is a million times better. Visited Café Majestic the famous café with its 1920s interior. Liked the interior but thought the café was overrated, did not live upto my high expectations. Walked to the main cathedral, Porto’s main attraction and took some aerial photographs of Porto and the Douro from one of the bridges. Great views and the fantastic weather with lots of sunshine and very little cloud helped as well.
At 1.30pm we caught a ‘Six Bridges Cruise boat’ (Porto is famous for it bridges) along the Douro river to relax in the sun and see Porto from a different perspective. This was a great way to enjoy the great scenery, loved the bridges which were very unique. This cruise cost €10 per person, just under one hour. We were extremely lucky as there was only six people on board. I am not sure how we managed this as the other boats seemed to be relatively full. Have a look at the link below if you need further information :-
We finished the day with a trip to Taylor’s port for a tour and tasting. We walked to the other side of the river and crossed Ponte Louis bridge. Turned right and looked out for the signs for Taylor’s port which is located up another steep hill. Takes approximately 10 minutes to walk up the hill from the river. Watched a short film, saw the storage houses where they keep the port and tried two different types of port. Outstanding value as it was all free of charge. Excellent way to end a great day.
Wednesday 4th May 2011 - Guimarães
After a foggy start the sun was starting to break through at 8.30am with plenty of sunshine. Visited Guimarães today, approximately 37 miles north east of Porto. Guimarães centre is very historical and it is subsequently a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been nominated as a European Capital of Culture in 2012. The New York times considers Guimarães as one of the top places to visit in 2012.
After a short 10 to 15 minute walk uphill arrived at Sao Bento train station. Sao Bento is a relatively small station which was built in the early 20th century. It is actually one of the recommended places to visit as it contains 20,000 tiles in the entrance hall which relates to scenes from railway history. Purchased the train tickets from the ticket booth in the station. You will need to collect a ticket from a machine to take your turn, bit like the cheese counter in your local UK supermarket! €4.80 return per person, journey time 1 hour 15 minutes. There is no need to validate the ticket as it is stamped by the train conductor on board the train. Just look at the departure board for the platform number, very easy. The 10.15am train departed on time, very clean trains much nicer than the trains in the UK. Lots of spare seats, I doubt the train was more than half full. The weather in Braga was a mixture of sun and cloudy periods with temperatures around 22C.
The main attraction in Guimarães is probably the historic centre, pretty quiet cobbled streets and several squares with restaurants. The railway station is located in the south of the city, approximately a 10 minute walk downhill, uphill on the way back. After passing the Santos Passos church with the pretty flowers and greenery on the Largo da Republica do Brasil passed the Alberto Sampaio museum. Did not visit inside but read that the museum contains a good selection of silverware and religious artefacts. Loved the quiet cobbled streets and pretty houses. After passing the town hall walked uphill (again!) to the Chapel of S Miguel which is in between the castle and the ducal palace. Very quiet as we literally had the place to ourselves. After having a light snack on one of the main squares Largo da Oliveira spent the rest of the time walking around the historic centre. I think you can easily visit the main attractions in a few hours but if you want to visit the inside of museums you should allow extra time.
Thursday 5th May 2011 - Braga
Back to Sao Bento train station to catch our 9.45am train to Braga which is located 33 miles north east of Porto. Braga is the third largest city in Portugal. Train journey was approximately one hour ten minutes. Another sunny day with temperatures around 21C. From Braga railway station walked to the centre (turn right out of the railway station, cross the road and follow the road around) and you will see signs for the centre. This was a little confusing as we initially turned left but quickly realised our mistake. After walking through the Porta Nova “new gate” arch visited the cathedral along the pedestrianised street. Visited the interior but as there was a service taking place at the time did not stay very long. Passed the Largo do Paco on route to the main square Praça da República which had a great atmosphere with music, fountains and a small garden. Braga is known as the Portuguese Rome. After visiting Rome two months ago I could see a similar connection in relation to the religious architecture. Walked along the central avenue to the Congregados church. Saw a statue in the garden with the words “totus tous”. If anyone knows what this is let me know. After walking around the centre and seeing the Santa Cruise church called into the tourism office as we wanted to visit the Bom Jesus do Monte church. They were very helpful and gave us lots of useful information.
The Bom Jesus do Monte church is Braga’s main attraction and is probably one of the most famous buildings in Portugal. The hilltop Catholic pilgrimage site is located three miles east of Braga. According to the guidebook there is 800 steps with 19 chapels. From the information centre we walked down Liberdade Avenue to catch the number 2 bus, journey time 10 minutes. We could see from the sign on the bus stop that the next bus was arriving in two minutes, apparently they run every ten minutes. Purchased the tickets on the bus €1.50. On arrival we caught a funicular which climbed 115m to the top, €2 The funicular was like a very small train carriage going up a very steep slope which lasted a few minutes. When we arrived at the top I was extremely impressed. As well as being a beautiful church it also had stunning views and beautiful gardens. We purchased a return ticket but ended up walking down the steps. I don’t think you can fully appreciate the Bom Jesus by staying at the top, have to walk down and see the different levels and admire the great views. The steps are in small tiers of six or seven at a time which made life a little easier. There was no one around, saw a grand total of six people during our visit. Also no one selling souvenirs, very uncommercialised and definitely a hidden gem. Extremely impressed, probably the highlight of the trip. Location is a little isolated but worth the extra effort.
Friday 6th May 2011 - Flight home
All good things come to a end and it was time to catch our Easyjet flight back to Gatwick. Travelled to the airport by taxi from the taxi rank outside the hotel, €20. Taxi driver gave us a receipt on arrival at the airport without asking which was unusual. Good journey with no problem. Our Easyjet flight (G-EZED) arrived at Gatwick on schedule just after midday. Another smooth flights with no problems, well done Easyjet!
To access my photographs, have a look at the link below:-
Thanks to all of the contributors to this forum who answered my questions prior to my trip, your valuable information definitely helped with the planning and the overall enjoyment. Special thanks to Cubsor, Kardiff, 64novpt, Vfelix, Hcmh & Vmimartins.
If you have any questions, let me know. Have a fantastic time!