by Kristin Kizer – Located on the Rio Duoro, Porto, Portugal is a thriving metropolis that dates back to around 300 BC. Many of the historical structures still exist, although some of the oldest houses are currently at risk of collapsing.
In 1996 UNESCO recognized the historical downtown center of Porto as a World Heritage Site. This designation affirms that the area is important to the collective interests of humanity. It’s a very prestigious honor and the goal of UNESCO is to protect and conserve these regions for posterity.
While no trip would be complete without a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Ribeira District and a few glasses of port wine, there are some great out-of-the-way family friendly destinations and experiences that you should schedule too.
Getting Around Porto, Portugal with Kids
One of the best things about visiting Porto with kids is that you can visit a lot of places and see a lot of the city on foot. In fact, if you’ve never been and you want a quick tour of the highlights, a guided walking tour is the perfect way to start. This way you can see a little, or a lot, then head back and spend more time in the places that intrigued you most.
Once you decide to go it on your own, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the Porto metro. It’s a comfortable, clean, and easy way to reach most of your top destinations. In fact, the metro even takes you to a few different countries.
Most of the lines run above ground, so traveling in the metro is almost like an abbreviated sightseeing tour of its own. Pick up your Andante card at the airport and then just recharge it when you need more rides.
Whether you’re going to use one of the trams in Porto for regular travel or not, it’s still something you need to try. The trams here are one of the oldest electrified transport systems in all of Europe. They first started transporting people in 1895 and experienced its heyday in the 60’s. They’re a little slower than modern transportation and a little more expensive, but they’re the perfect diversion for families traveling with children and people with a healthy appreciation of the past.
Buses in Porto are not as crushingly crowded as some other cities and much more appealing. In fact, they’re air conditioned, comfortable, and have the convenience of being part of your Andante card.
Family Friendly Porto Tours
For a more exciting bus ride, try one of the hop-on, hop-off open top tour buses. If you’re traveling with children, they’re going to love the view up there, and truth be told, so will you.
If you’re looking for a more personalized experience, Porto private tours are the perfect way for your family to connect with the city’s people, soak up the Portuguese culture, and its sensational food, through unique experiences known only by the locals.
Rio Douro Boat Ride
There’s nothing like viewing the region you’re visiting from the water. There’s a peaceful calm to a boat ride and the view is incomparable. The city views are alive with color and reach high up the hillside. Moving further from the city itself, the buildings are replaced by hilly terrain, lush with grape arbors from the surrounding vineyards. A Rio Douro boat ride can be reason enough to take a trip to Porto or it can be a short respite in an otherwise hectic travel schedule.
There are a variety of kid-friendly Douro cruises to choose from so you can pick just the right adventure for your family vacation. A quick trip between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia lasts just an hour and lets you relax and watch the world roll by. For the more adventurous family, there are one day tours with stops along the way to visit museums and wineries for wine tasting. No matter which option you choose, you simply haven’t seen Porto until you’ve seen it from the Douro.
5 Best Porto Indie Bookstores
Bibliophiles won’t feel complete until they’ve spent time browsing the bookstores in Porto. A booklovers paradise, this city reveres its independent bookstores, old and new, each has something amazing to offer. Even if you’re not a huge book lover, the first bookstore on our list is an absolute must.
Lello & Irmao. This is a mecca for those who love beautiful books and buildings that respect the written word. Lello is world-famous and always included on the list of most beautiful bookstores in the world. The crimson staircase to heaven set against wood paneled walls has become iconic and for more than a century, it has never ceased to impress.
Gostar de Ler. This small bookstore is the perfect contrast to the tourist attraction that is Lello. With a surreal movie-set feel, Gostar turns their collection of books into works of art that cry out to be taken home.
Livraria Academica. Opened in 1912, the owner has worked in the building since 1948 and he and the store feel exactly the way you want them to. It’s a taste of the old world, filled with mystery, romance, history and drama.
Poetria. The romantic, the poet, and the dreamer of dreams will be lost in Porto without a stop at Poetria. Packed with delightful books in a variety of languages, no trip would be complete without a treasure of tomes.
Timtim por Timtim. Leave all seriousness aside and focus on the fun of comic books. This is not your run of the mill graphic novel store. Timtim is packed with old collections, rare editions and some you’ve never even heard of. But be warned, there’s a good chance you will find that comic you’ve been looking for since you were a child.
Outdoor Family Fun in Porto
Passeio das Virtudes – Once you’ve eaten all you can at Mercado Matosinhos, head over to Passeio das Virtudes for a little walk and a break. This park has one of the best views of Rio Douro at sunset. There is also a gallery and a stage that host different cultural activities. On Friday evenings during the summer months you can watch a local Porto band while the sun sets.
This is a favorite for the locals and if you want to fit right in, pick up a beer at one of the street cafes and then walk over to the park to enjoy it as day turns into night.
Packed with history, a vibrant cityscape, numerous tourist attractions and more, Porto is a modern family travel must that hosts echoes of its historic past around every corner. While your days will be spent exploring and sightseeing, your evenings can be spent relaxing and enjoying spectacular sunsets with the locals.
Cantinho das Aromaticas – Ready to leave the books behind and get your hands dirty? Cantinho das Aromatics is urban organic farming like you’ve never seen, or smelled, before. With a focus on aromatic plants, the crops are cultivated from seed to final product and you’re invited to wander through the gardens, seeing and smelling the amazing progress.
You won’t be the only ones wandering the gardens, in addition to other tourists, you’ll encounter donkeys, oxen, geese, cows, birds, and more to complete the biodiversity of the land. It’s remarkable to find an oasis of country-living in the middle of residential buildings.
Your kids are going to love running among the gardens, petting the farm animals they encounter, and maybe even participating in one of their workshops. It’s a hands-on experience they’ll never forget.
When you’re done, don’t forget to stop at the shop and pick up some of the products that are made with the organic herbs grown on the grounds. From aromatic organic teas to delicious treats packed with flavor, the store is full of tasty souvenirs or snacks for your adventures.
Mercado de Matosinhos – If you were inspired by the simple beauty of aromatic plants growing organically, we’ve got an interesting lunch detour for you to try. Mercado de Matosinhos is a city central marketplace that is packed with all the wonderful farmer’s market foods you can imagine. But it’s grown into much more than that. Now, amid the fresh family fare, are numerous restaurants where you can taste local foods prepared just for you while you sip a glass of port wine. There are so many fantastic places to dine, you may find your family begging to returning daily.
10 More Kid-Friendly Porto Activities
In addition to the suggested activities listed above, here are some of the most popular tourist destinations in Porto.
- Serralves Foundation’s contemporary art museum
- Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis
- Porto Cathedral
- Dom Luis Bridge
- Jardins do Palacio de Cristal
- Avenida dos Aliados
- Port wine tasting and tour
- Estacao de Sao Bento
- Mercado do Bolhao
- Igreja de Sao Francisco
Getting to Porto, Portugal
Traveling to Porto, Portugal is fairly easy as it’s the second largest city in the country and a thriving metropolis. The biggest airlines that fly to Porto are: United, TAP Air Portugal, and Lufthansa. But there are other airlines that also service Porto.
Once you’re at the airport or if you’re looking for another mode of transportation, check out the following websites for complete and up-to-date information.
Regional bus information
Train timetables and tickets
Porto Accommodations for Families
If you’re looking for accommodations in Porto, there are many hotels to choose from, but there are also many delightful bed and breakfast options for a more personal touch.
Right in the heart of the city, we found this cozy, newly renovated family apartment convenient and well-equipped. With a fully stocked kitchen, dishwasher, and oven, just steps from local bakeries, supermarkets, restaurants, and bookstores, your family can explore Porto like a true local.
If your family is looking to splurge, the beachfront Hotel Solverde has a spa offering saltwater pools, dry heat sauna, and massages and a wide range of facilities, including a fitness room, tennis courts and a football pitch.
A bit farther out, away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, Quinta da Fonte Arcada is a 12th century farm house stay located in Penafiel, in the Sousa River valley. This is the perfect accommodations for the quintessential outdoor family, complete with rustic architectural details, private bath, outdoor swimming pool, board games, and a delicious daily breakfast included.
Kid-Friendly Porto Dining
Come to Porto with an appetite and give your mouth a cultural tour. Fodors lists fantastic kid-friendly dining options for every meal in Porto. There are so many fantastic options that you’ll quickly run out of meals and still have restaurants you want to try.
If you need more information for your trip, the official Porto and Northern Portugal tourism website can help you iron out the details.
Looking to explore other areas of Portugal? Our comprehensive Portugal family holiday guide covers places to eat, sleep, and adventure in Lisbon, Cascais, Sintra, and Sagres.
Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her love of travel with Outdoor Families Magazine.