Porto is famous for its exclusive port wine and the bookshop Livraria Lello, which inspired J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter while she was living there between 1991 and 1993. Being a family with an active and still breastfeeding toddler, we had a different route to explore though and skipped Livraria and the tempting taverns offering all possible kinds of the iconic wine.
We arrived in Porto from Lisbon by train. The trip takes around 3 hours and the train is waiting for you way in advance, so when we came to the station one hour before departure, we could proceed to our seats right away. First half of the journey, as usual, our toddler slept (we love to arrange our trips this way – it gives you some time to rest and the other passengers are also less bothered), then cheerfully woke up and entertained the passengers the rest of the trip. She enjoyed the fast ride so much that even learned to say ‘fast’.
As we came to Portugal during the week when 3 important events were taking place: Portugal Day on June 10, Feast of St. Anthony on June 13 and a FIFA World Cup football match between Portugal and Spain, many streets were decorated with garlands, flowers and lanterns, and from many windows, along with the drying laundry, there were national flags flipping in the wind. We didn’t go to celebration venues but we could hear it every time the Portuguese team scored a goal: loud shouts of joy, beeping cars and even the cats singing along.
Like in Lisbon, we had a marvelous view from the window, starting with an ancient cemetery, growing into the city and ending with the ocean at the horizon. Every evening we could watch beautiful sunsets or formation of heavy clouds over the coast.
And when the fog was coming down covering the cemetery with its milky mist, it was a very mystical and a bit creepy view.
During the day we walked quite a bit, checking playgrounds on the way along with the sights. Porto is a bit more walkable than Lisbon but, being built on the banks of the Douro River, is still very hilly, so buses, trams and funiculars are very convenient to have around. There is also metro but we didn’t use it, preferring to see as much as possible above the ground.
There are quite a few dilapidated houses and sometimes you can find truly ancient things, like this ‘washing machine’.
We found people in Porto quite child-friendly – many were smiling and trying to make our daughter laugh, unlike in Lisbon where people seemed at least indifferent to children which surprised us, after all the countries we had visited and saw so much affection towards the littles.
So what to do when you are in Porto with a toddler?
Check out the bridges
Porto boasts magnificent bridges, one of which, The Maria Pia Bridge (Ponte Maria Pia), was constructed by Eiffel himself and another, Dom Luis I, the icon of Porto, by his student Teófilo Seyrig. There are a few more arch bridges in Porto, all of them interesting in their own way.
Look under your feet
Not because of the dogs but for the beautiful mosaics which cover many pavements, atriums and squares. Portuguese are known for this art. Be sure not to miss it.
Ride the cable car – Teleférico de Gaia
We went along the lower part of the Dom Luis I bridge to the other bank of the river hoping to get up with the cable car. Just before the lower cable car station we spotted a playground. It was right in our way and impossible to escape. But we didn’t really want to avoid it – with unobstructed view over the river and the old town, this one adds to our collection of scenic playgrounds.
After some time at the playground, and then some more, we went on to the cable car.
The cable car took us to the upper part of the bridge with a cool park beside. Cool because it was full of people chilling and enjoying the sun and the view over Porto and Douro from above, and right in the middle there was an improvised bar playing some cool music and offering refreshments.
There was another scenic playground in this park, probably the safest for a toddler we’d seen – climbing structures were constructed in a way that the smaller children couldn’t get to the upper part and thus could safely explore the lower and more secure one.
Go to the beach
But be aware that it can be VERY windy there. And much colder than in the city. Even if it’s middle June. There was only one brave windsurfer and his velocity was scary.
You can take a direct bus 500 from the center and it will take you along the river to the ocean. As mentioned, it can be too windy to enjoy the stroll at the esplanade (and it was when we were there) but you can hide in the City Park (Parque da Cidade do Porto), one of the restaurants with the ocean view, or the Aquarium at the entrance to the park, which also features a playground at the backyard. We couldn’t find any playground in the park itself, so spread our blanket near the park pond with lots of geese on its banks and our toddler had enough fun chasing and feeding them.
Visit Covelo’s Park (Quinta do Covelo)
There are not so many playgrounds around the city of Porto, so it’s very handy to know where they are when traveling with a child. We found this park with a playground (and a public toilet) on Google maps as the nearest to our Porto home and close to metro. There are restaurants around it and inside, there is a kiosk serving small bites and drinks. The playground itself is a huge one and for any age, every child will find something for themselves and you can spend a lot of time there, if you want some rest from sightseeing while keeping your little one entertained.
What NOT to do in Porto
If you go out of the City park on the opposite side from the oceanline, you will literally see nothing interesting along the street leading to the circular park halfway to the city center, where ‘Porto’ stands on the map. The park itself has nothing much to offer but the amusement park, if you are into it, but it’s not really a city sight. Even though Google search showed a playground in that area, we didn’t find any.
Don’t eat Francesinha if you are on a diet
Francesinha is a heavy and very filling kind of sandwich. Between 2 pieces of soft bread you’ll find a steak, 2 sausages of different kind, ham and cheese, all covered with thick sauce. An egg might be added on top. It’s served with fries which are impossible to finish if you are not Portuguese – these guys can eat more than that, according to our taxi driver.
Don’t hope to have a nice long stroll along the Douro River to the seaside
The esplanade is actually quite short in its nice part and there is no shade. We tried to walk further west, along the river to the seaside, in hope to see and make pictures of beautiful views of the Douro River with its bridges and the city on its banks but you need to walk along the busy road which is not so pleasant, so we got disappointed and took the bus to go back to the center. But a few pictures we did make.
Our last point of interest in Porto was the Airport and it didn’t disappoint – it actually adds to the beautiful memories of this trip – new, spacious, sunlit, this modern airport features a playground and a stage for performances (on our day there the concert was scheduled for 3pm), there are priority lines for the disabled, pregnant and families with children.