Portugal: Is Porto worth visiting with kids?

Hills, coast, and river combine with history and a delicious way of life

When we arrived in Porto, Portugal, we mentally added a new country to our family’s travel tally total: 12. For the next month, an apartment in the Boavista area would be our home base for exploring Portugal’s second city and answering a simple question: Is Porto worth visiting with kids?

We want to thank Visit Porto for sponsoring our Porto.CARDs, which we could use for discounts on attractions and public transportation. However, this article reflects our own personal opinions and experiences.

A snapshot of Porto

Is Porto worth visiting? One of Europe’s fastest-growing cities, Porto has about a quarter million people, a few thousand hills, and enough delicious egg tarts to keep you feasting on these custardy delights for a lifetime.

The city comes together in its food and drink, from the delicate, palm-sized pasteis de nata egg custard tarts, to the rainy-day comfort food of the meat, bread, and gravy hot dish francesinha. 

Porto also comes together in colorful tiles on the sides of buildings—which not only look nice, but could reflect summer heat and make it harder for plague-era rats to infiltrate. Vibrant shops and cafes abound in the historic city center, and other neighborhoods have wear, tear, and signs of reinvigoration. There’s an earthy matter-of-factness to Porto that reminded me of Glasgow, Scotland around the turn of the century: full of history, threadbare but rebuilding, no slouch about style, and finding new vitality.

Yet Porto’s city center reminded me of wandering around the narrow, medieval lanes of Edinburgh’s hilltop Old Town. The packed outdoor cafes and wide riverside promenades of the Ribeira would have found commonality with similar spaces in France or Italy. The off-season days could range from drizzle and rain similar to what we knew from western Oregon, or with bright, clear skies that had gulls swooping over the Douro River, sunlight gleaming on wall tiles, and people enjoying every moment of the short day and every ray of sunshine.

Why we went to Porto with our kids

From the riverside, cafe-strewn promenade of the Ribeira to the history, cafes, and intriguing streets of Boavista, we chose Porto because of its vast history in the country’s wine industry. Plus, visiting Porto can be an affordable flight from many departure points (we came via Miami, Florida).

Porto is a curious city, and when it comes to European cities, it can be understandable to wonder: Is Porto worth visiting with kids. On the one hand, we felt like it could be hard to talk with people. Granted, we visited in November, and it may be that it was simply not a time of year where people felt as open. Or it could simply be Porto’s character.

On the other hand, we vastly enjoyed the city’s history, wine, winding streets, and not to mention a few fresh, slightly fizzy glasses of Portugal’s distinctive and delicious vinho verde.

Porto was also a safe city, with affordable and easy to snag rideshares via Bolt. Groceries were especially affordable, and our Boavista apartment had us near both a Minipreçio (a sort of mini grocery store and convenience store), and Mercadona, a lovely supermarket chain found throughout Portugal and Spain. When traveling on a family budget and able to cook in an apartment, affordable, quality groceries are the family traveler’s best friend.

Where is Porto located?

Porto is located in northern Portugal. The city borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Douro River to the south. East of Porto lies Portugal’s fabled and famous Douro wine country.

How does Porto’s size compare to Lisbon?

Compared to Lisbon’s population of 3 million people (and 28.3 million wine glasses), Porto’s population is about a quarter million. The city is big enough to have lots to do, but not so big that all you feel like you do every day is cross wide swaths of the city just to get around. However, Porto has become one of Europe’s fastest-growing cities. While there is excellent public transportation, rush hour travel can be slow in the city’s thick, snarling traffic.

Is Porto safe?

Is Porto worth visiting from a safety standpoint? Porto can look gritty but has a good heart. Where we stayed in Boavista, buildings were being renovated, cranes abounded for new construction, and people walked along with no concern other than the usual cares of the day. Out and about with our two kids in different parts of the city, such as the Old Town, we never felt concerned for our safety and security. We felt safe in Porto.

3 reasons why we went to Porto with kids

With the narrow walls of the Douro Valley, the crashing sea, rugged coastline, broad river, Porto lies at a confluence of waters, culture, and history, and they know it.

Our decision to visit Porto began with a confluence of our own. From our travels in the US, we would be positioned to fly out of Miami, Florida. It happened that we found affordable airfares that we could pay for with rewards points to get us to Porto via Amsterdam.

Porto’s day-to-day costs also meshed well with our budget. As digital nomads, we enjoy longer stays that combine sightseeing days with days at our accommodation tending to work, school, and the general business of life and living. We also found groceries and dining out to be quite affordable for our family of four.

Is Porto worth visiting, especially with kids? Here are 3 reasons in particular why our first time in Europe began with Porto:

Introduction to Portugal and the EU

While Jodie and Anthony each visited the UK in the late 1990s and Anthony has also been to Ireland, Porto was our first visit to the EU as a family. Over the past few decades, Portugal has invested heavily in infrastructure and tourism. We could enjoy the city in its off-season, with fewer crowds at attractions and in our general day-to-day wanderings.

History and cultural identity

Portugal’s deep history includes a time as a major world colonial power, international trade, and of Europe’s eminent powers (along with all the flaws and complexities that come with them). Yet Porto has its own independent streak. This region of Portugal revels in its own identity, history, and culture.

Food and drink

Portugal crafts world-class wines. Most of them never leave the country. Day-to-day food is delicious and affordable, including on our modest family budget. From a few cafes and restaurants to the aisles of grocery stores just down the street from our apartment, we knew that we would eat and drink well in Porto.

Easy to communicate

Yes, the main language is Portuguese, but English fluency and Spanish fluency abound. If you know even a little Spanish, you can also get by pretty well, as Spanish and Portuguese have a lot in common. We are big fans of Duolingo, and while their Portuguese program focuses more on Brazilian Portuguese, we found it very helpful to get down some basics for speaking and understanding the language.

Accommodation: Hotels, rentals, and where to stay in Porto

From hotels to rentals, accommodation options abound in Porto, and they are growing.

Where to stay in the Porto metropolitan area

We stayed here: Where to stay in Porto’s Boavista area

Porto’s Old Town is a beautiful historic city center. However, pretty much everything in this hillside area is at a diagonal. We preferred the flatter, and more family-budget friendly accommodation options in the nearby Boavista neighborhood. Along with two grocery stories within a few minutes walk, we could also access bus stops and a metro station for public transport, or it was easy to use Bolt to call a rideshare to pick up from outside our building.

Boavista also has you close enough to the city center and other attractions to be a convenient base for exploring the city, plus you are more in a regular, day-to-day neighborhood.

Getting around Porto

Porto has excellent public transportation, including a bus and metro system. The city is adding more stops, stations, and lines, as part of its ongoing investment in infrastructure—not to mention the city’s growing population.

The city’s tourism bureau offers a Porto.CARD, which offers discounts and freebies on various attractions. Another version of the card includes public transportation on the bus and metro. In addition to helping you save money on getting around Porto, the Porto.CARD means that in order to take transit, you only need to flash your Porto.CARD—no tickets to buy and show.

When traveling as a family or other group though, it’s worth comparing the overall cost of public transit to simply getting on-demand rideshares through the Grab app. We often used Grab to help us get around the city. With four of us, the cost was often comparable to public transportation, except that we could go point to point. We also enjoyed rideshares because often we could chat with the driver, such as one who told us that he was originally from São Paolo, Brazil, was studying in Porto—and collects postcards, especially from his favorite landmark, Oregon’s Mt. Hood. 

Personally, we wouldn’t bother renting a car in town. Traffic can be stand-still thick, and parking can be tricky. For a day trip or excursion outside the city though, we might consider renting a vehicle. Or, during rush hour, getting on the metro instead of taking a bus or rideshare can have you getting where you want to go faster, instead of waiting in thick traffic for relatively short trips.

Save on attractions and public transportation with The Porto.CARD

Only available from Visit Porto, the city’s official tourist bureau, the Porto.CARD offers free admission tickets and discounts to over 150 points of interest. Depending on your sightseeing days, you can get Porto.CARDs that last 1, 2, 3, or 4 days. The “Transport” card turns your Porto.CARD into a transit pass for free transport on the city’s public transportation network. Or, use the “Walker” card if you want to get around on foot or make different transportation arrangements. Details, pricing, restrictions, options, and more are available here:

Save on attractions and public transportation with the Porto.CARD

The Porto.CARD is only available from Visit Porto
Image: Visit Porto

We also saved money on attractions and public transportation with the Porto.CARD, available exclusively through Visit Porto, the official tourism board for the Porto area. You can get Porto.CARDs for the entire family, with options for only savings on attractions, or get the Transport option for savings on public buses and metro lines.

Attractions: What we did and what we skipped

Porto has a range of attractions in town and just outside the city. Our favorite attraction was simply walking around our area and nipping into restaurants or cafes that looked tasty. When we weren’t eating, however, we still found plenty to do—and a few activities we skipped, at least this time around.

5 things we did in Porto

Go up to the top of Clérigos tower

Not going up Porto’s Clérigos tower is like Paris without the Eiffel. The 200 steps to the top of the 249-ft (76 meters) tall tower is worth it, plus entry is affordable (and all the more so with a Porto.CARD). Going along the top gives panoramic views of the city. On the way up, exhibits showcase the tower’s religious history.

Take a tuk-tuk tour of Porto’s city center

Many tuk-tuk tours begin at Clerigos Tower in Porto

The plaza around Clérigos is also a typical pickup point for Porto’s many electric tuk-tuk tours. During a couple of hours, your guided tour eases around the busy streets and hillside ups and downs. All the while, your guide fills you in on history, points of interest, and changes in the city, along with a few stops for sightseeing. Riding in the tuk-tuk was fun in and of itself (plus there was a see-through plastic cover in case of bad weather). Our tuk-tuk tour was one of our highlights of our time in Porto, and helped us identify other areas we wanted to spend more time in.

Learn more about our Porto electric tuk-tuk tour experience

Wander the grounds of the Palácio de Cristal, or The Crystal Palace Gardens

The glass dome of the Palácio de Cristal is part of an events center, but the surrounding grounds and gardens are a free public park (and have a metro stop). Peacocks and chickens wandered freely, inspiring many a giggle and squeal from our daughter. Just across a small road, more gardens give quiet spaces as well as vantages for amazing views of the city.

Douro Valley day tour

Portugal’s Douro Valley is a world-renowned land of wine production. Historically, once ready many of those wines made their way down the Douro to Porto and Gaia, for distribution and enjoyment. Day tours and other styles of trips to the Douro abound. We took part in a small group tour that showcased two different wineries, included lunch, and finished with a short boat cruise along the river.

Learn more about our Douro Valley day tour experience

Visit the seaside and the Castelo de Queijo… or Cheese Castle

The seaside area to the immediate west of Porto is full of wide paved promenades, boardwalks that wind along the rocky shoreline, and stellar views of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also home to the Cheese Castle, or Castelo de Queijo, built in 1661. After paying a nominal entry fee, we headed up a short staircase to the top of the castle for views of the sea and photo poses in the turrets. Back downstairs, a small museum gives insights on the castle’s history. And as for the name? The pockmarked stones and overall building shape are said to resemble cheese. Must be all that salty air.

Sip and savor at the Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s historic artisan food market

Amidst a walled courtyard and open-air setting, you can make your way up and down the rows of edible and drinkable delights of Porto’s historic Mercado de Bolhão, all with a beverage in hand. In addition to areas devoted to produce, tinned sardines (the colorful can designs alone deserve a stop), and pastries, much of the market is a chance to choose your slow wander treats. The scent of fresh figs filled the air with its sweet, earthy, syrupy aroma. At a cafe, the salted exterior of an egg tart brought out hints of vanilla.

For more of a meal, we opted for hot, fresh pasta, cooked on the spot and mixed on top of a huge wheel of cheese with our choice of sauce: cheesy paperdalle for Aster, fusilli and pesto for Connor, and rigatoni and mushrooms for us adults. At a beverage stall along one wall, a woman in a University of Michigan sweatshirt talked through their selection of vinho verde. Portugal’s fresh and slightly fizzy white wine was newfound to our palates, but we quickly became friends. Vinho verde is now such a delight for us, that if we find a bottle, odds are we’re taking it home.

Speaking of eating and drinking, we ate and drank some more, and took in a few other sights in Boavista and the city center

Whether in Porto’s city center or close by in an area such as Boavista, there are so many things to check out. Here are some of other attractions we spent at least a little time at, along with other food and drink we enjoyed:

Made Porto’s cold weather comfort food soup, caldo verde

Many stores have ready-to-go produce kits for caldo verde, a soup that hinges on minced greens and gains body from lots of potatoes. During Porto’s rainy November nights, this soup warmed the soul.

Park and war monument at Mouzinho de Albuquerque Square

Around the Praça de Mouzinho de Albuquerque, streets converge and a traffic circle surrounds this lovely, bench-filled, green-strewn public park. In the center of the Rotunda da Boavista, or Boavista Roundabout, atop a tall column, a lion squashes an eagle, a symbol of allied Portuguese and British forces defeating the French in the early 1800s. This area makes for great daily walks in Boavista, and it’s easy to head out to other parts of the city from here.

Super Bock Stout is tasty

Local favorite Super Bock doesn’t just put out an affordable and decent lager. Their stout had excellent flavor, body, and price point too. We could find it, often on sale, at various markets.

Port wine and vinho verde

As we mentioned earlier, Porto introduced us to Portugal’s distinctive vinho verde. We also wanted to try more ruby and tawny ports in their home country. We didn’t opt for anything fancy. Portugal’s markets have excellent wine and port sections, and we picked up bottles of this and that from the same shelves that the neighbors were buying their own from.

Pasteis de nata

I cannot, will not, and must ever not stop talking about these delicious, eggy, personal size tarts. Pasteis de nata are a pride of Porto. We would return to Portugal just to eat ourselves silly with them.

Jumpers Trampoline Park

During our month in Porto, we celebrated Aster’s birthday with a two-hour free-play session at Jumpers indoor trampoline park, complete with climbing walls and an airbag jump.

Pizzeria Meidin

Porto’s Boavista area is home to many lovely cafes and restaurants. During a walk with the kids one afternoon, a man we passed pointed to the pizzeria, which happened to be behind us. “It’s boa,” he told us. “Very good.”

When deciding what she wanted for her birthday meal, Aster said she wanted pizza. Pizzeria Meidin was a couple of blocks from our apartment, and an easy stroll for delicious pizzas.

Sweet treats at Arcádia

Whether boxed sweets and chocolates to take home or give as gifts, or for fresh cakes, cookies, pastries, and other treats, Arcádia combines history, innovation and, above all, deliciousness. Since 1933, Arcádia has developed truffles, chocolate bars, and other treats, which are now available at over 40 locations throughout Portugal.

With multiple locations in Porto alone, the Boavista location gleamed with a mix of classic and modern touches after our evening sweet treat stroll. Aster tucked into gelato, Connor marveled at a chocolate float, lemon pie brightened the wintry evening for Jodie, and enjoyed the crunch of an almond tart.

Francesinhas at Canal 3

Porto knows how to take the chill out of a wintry evening, and the cure comes slathered in gravy.

Near our apartment the Canal 3 Cafe was a constant hub of activity, with people lingering long over wine or beer at full tables. One chilly, rainy evening, we made our way to Canal 3 for their francesinhas.

The francesinha is a rib-sticking Porto comfort food. It’s often described as a sandwich, albeit served in a pool of gravy, often made with a base of tomato sauce and beer. The sandwich itself is a multi-layered textural joy of toasted breads, ham, sausage, and melted cheese.

It was a fun meal, where the owner also cut up Aster’s pasta for her and demonstrated to the kids how to do a spoon twirl for their long pasta. We adults ordered the francesinha platter, which included a glass of red wine.

Igreja de São Francisco (Church of St. Francis), plus the wee chapel dedicated to a St. Anthony, not to be confused with me

Dating from the 14th century, Porto’s iconic Igreja de São Francisco contains lots of wood from Brazil,  not to mention ample gold—400 kg worth, or 881 pounds—from Portugal’s global colonization heyday.

The cathedral itself offers intriguing history. Plus, visitors aren’t restricted to the main worship area. Side rooms showcase exhibits and artifacts from the cathedral’s long history. Above all, or rather, below all, we could also go downstairs to the catacombs, and see first-hand the old bones that still call the cathedral home.

The cathedral’s interior itself is stunning with detail, art, and history. It’s not gleaming gold like you might see in the brochures, though, so come with that in mind. And personally, yes, I also enjoyed a quick look at the chapel of St. Anthony, who is often regarded as the finder of lost things, amputees, Brazil, shipwrecks, and a fair bit else. I never knew a saint could be in charge of miscellany, but there we are.

4 things we skipped (and why)

A performance at Casa de Música

The famed CdM was down the street from our apartment. We looked over the performance schedule, especially given we were nearing the kickoff of the winter holiday season, but ultimately a performance didn’t line up with us. There was one holiday concert we considered going to, but alas, perhaps another time. The intriguing venue offers events and performances year-round, so be sure to check the schedule for what’s happening while you’re in Porto.

Livraria Lello, or the bookstore often associated with Harry Potter movies

Yes, we are Harry Potter fans, and yes, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling once lived in Porto. Yes, the Livraria Lello bookstore is said to have inspired some of her ideas for Diagon Alley—though it’s probably more accurate to say that film designers may have taken some inspiration from the store. However, we weren’t interested in waiting in line, especially since we all read e-books nowadays, and print books are too heavy in luggage for us to want to pack any.

Palacio da Bolsa

Architecture tourism isn’t really our thing. We may take in one or two royal or religious places, but usually it’s when we can also tie in something distinctive, especially so the kids have more of a frame of reference for what can make the place interesting. Instead of visiting the palace, we ate more pastries.

São Bento Station

São Bento Station’s art and design are amazing. Had we been traveling from there by train, we would have taken time to check out the art. When we left Porto for Lisbon by train, it was from Bento train station.

Visiting Porto is fun, especially with kids

When we travel abroad we especially enjoy a country’s second cities. Porto’s size makes it full of activities without being overwhelming, and big enough to enjoy without spending all our days just trying to get from one place to another. People felt down to earth, but ready to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Is Porto worth visiting with kids? Our month in Porto was full of walks in lovely neighborhoods, tasty glasses of Portuguese wine, insights into history and culture, and above all, lots of delicious meals and treats. For an enjoyable city that’s great to visit with kids, Portugal’s second city is an excellent first choice.

Porto, Portugal: Worth it with kids?
About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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