Our little family was eager to explore Portugal but once I started researching what we might see and do, it became clear we could spend weeks meandering the coast. As lovers of wine, my husband and I knew we wanted to go to Porto but our first thought was not to spend an entire week there. That is, until we realized that we could fly direct on Ryanair.
It was not our favorite flying experience but it’s fine for getting from one place to another especially when it’s direct. It’s a budget airline and we had budget airline expectations except for our girls who are still waiting for the inflight experience they remember from flying to Germany with the screens. There are no screens on any of the flights we have taken thus far. Both girls think this is unjust and wrong.
We considered using Porto as our home base but quickly defaulted to sincere hope that we will be back. We loved Portugal. There is no way we are not going back.
The first wonderful thing about the Portuguese that we noticed was their warmth. Everywhere we went, it felt like we were being welcomed into the family. We were being invited to experience this culture and cherish it. Not everywhere in Europe welcomes tourists this way and we noticed.
It started when we arrived at BnApartments Carregal, an amazing complex with independent apartments with a huge garden. It’s said to the one of the best family hotels in Porto and has multiple other locations and it was clear. Our host greeted our girls so warmly and carried their bags upstairs to our gorgeous, spacious apartment. We loved this place so much. It’s now our standard for any place we book in Europe because it was our absolute favorite. It had the perks of a hotel while still having a kitchen and space.
We needed space as it turned out because the sun hadn’t set before our 5 year old developed pink eye. After a red eye flight, we spent the afternoon napping but I knew something was wrong. While the rest of the family slept, I was googling. Healthcare in Germany is a bear and I was not excited about spending any time in an ER trying to get care. Luckily, Porto has a service for families like us that we willing to pay a fee to have a doctor come to our hotel. Hell yes, this is worth all our money. Doctor Pedro was especially awesome when our youngest got the germs and texted us a prescription for her. This was amazing and made what could have been awful so easy. Thank you Doctor Pedro.
SIPPING IN GAIA
On our first full day without any health issues or exhaustion, we headed across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia. Porto has very distinctive neighborhoods and we were eager to explore as many as little legs would allow. This isn’t actually a neighborhood but technically it’s a sister city of Porto that is easily accessed across the Ponte de Dom Luís I. We arrived in Gaia and knew we would want more than one day to explore if only because Mom and Dad wanted to taste more port. That is where we started after securing tickets for a six bridges boat tour. The one we chose on the waterfront came with a free tasting and so we obliged.
Tucked behind where we tasted is Tappas Caffé which features three types of sausage and a sauce laced with chiripiti, honey, and a liquor forged from bagaço. This is typical hearty Portuguese food in what felt like a locals-only spot. We were stuffed.
From the boat tour and lunch, we wandered over to World of Wine. I had no idea what to expect after reading about this again and again in my research. It defines itself as a “cultural quartier” with seven museums, twelve restaurant and bars and a bunch of shops. It sounds like a tourist trap even for a lover of wine like me. It definitely didn’t sound like a good place for kids but they loved the museums. We opted for one of their packages for three museums and started at Planet Cork. We were assured it had lots of interactive things for kids and they weren’t wrong. The kids loved it and we looked forward to returning but we had to scoot for our Calem Caves Wine Cellar Tour.
Everything I read said that this was a “a family favorite” which is why I booked it. However, I booked a tour at 4:00 pm and this is probably went wrong. The kids were exhausted and the actual tour wasn’t the slightest bit engaging to our exhausted children even if they gave them juice during the port tastings at the end. It was a struggle. We submit defeat and took the scenic Gaia cable car back up the hill and continued on public transport back to the hotel and directly to bed. There might have been dinner but I have no memory after those tantrums.
ART AND GARDENS
One of the gifts of living in Europe and traveling as often as we do is that we can do travel differently. We feel less compelled to do all the sites and look for more opportunity to immerse ourselves in the place. It means we only do one or maybe two things a day. Many of them still hit the list of tourist destinations but we do them at a slower pace.
Porto offered another blessing we have missed while living in Germany. We got to eat breakfast out at restaurants and enjoy spreads that were not cold cuts and bread. Just down the street from the hotel was Lazy Breakfast Club which had a special of sprinkle pancakes and the girls were delighted. They ate it all which is a win even with the sugar high.
Our second day, our entire agenda was to explore Serralves, a place with an art museum and an expansive garden with multiple buildings including a a treetop walk. It’s one fo those places that is promoted to families on their visit because there is so much space to roam and wander. We didn’t make it quite as far as the cows and other barnyard animals in the southeast end of the park but opted to watch them in the sun on a nearby bench. We went through the museum itself at record speed thanks to our tiny travelers. Most of the time this annoys me but this was a rare moment where I didn’t feel compelled to linger. We spent the bulk of our time in the gardens where the sun was shining and there was plenty to explore. It was all that it needed to be.
It was such a nice day that we opted to enjoy some ice cream and wine in the lovely outdoor park and bar across from Livraria Lello. The evening befog, we had booked our ticket in advance online so that we could see this amazing bookstore made so famous by J.K.Rowling. We didn’t quite fathom how crowded this would be or how overwhelming because it’s a tiny, tiny space but we bought some books and saw all the twisty stairwells. It is indeed beautiful.
On the way back to the the hotel, we snuck into Popina where we got to sample sharable small Portuguese dishes and they had a great wine list. There is something fun about ordering off a chalkboard and a staff that is eager for you to try everything even if they are miffed as to why you are eating so early.
PEDALING THROUGH THE FOZ
Our five year old is just learning how to pedal and so she was super excited to explore the city by bike. This particular tour is along the ocean and included the opportunity to dip our toes in the Atlantic. Both my husband and I are beach people and even if the weather wasn’t fabulous, this was a lovely way to experience the city.
Before we started pedaling, we needed to fuel up and so we walked a short distance from the hotel to Zenith Brunch and Cocktails. Both the eggs benedict and pancakes were delicious and gave us the energy we needed.
I had reserved bikes including a child’s bike with training wheels and a baby seat at this tiny shop and barber shop in Foz do Douro. The shop owner at Dourobike was kind and gracious. He didn’t really believe that we would make it all 10 kilometers to the Felgueiras lighthouse but neither was I. I’m still not sure we made it but it was enough to feel the salt air and splash in the waves.
My copious notes had both Treze, Peebz and Homem do Leme recommended for lunch but with tired legs that weren’t really excited about making it all the way back, we opted for what was close. We sat outside overlooking the ocean and enjoyed some decent food and wine.
Our top priority in wandering through this neighborhood along the river was to have lunch at the family-run Portuguese Taberna dos Mercadores. Reservations are super hard to get. It’s always booked so the best we could do was show up before opening and hope we got a table. We were lucky. The inside feels like a ship which celebrates the fresh fish on the menu. Even for me, it was delicious. I don’t do fish and still enjoyed my feast. My husband, a lover of all things from the sea, claims this is the best meal that he has ever had. The girls discovered a love of clams.
We spent the rest of the day wandering and shopping. It was a lot of walking but there was a lot to see and enjoy.
DUORO VALLEY WINE TOUR
We really wanted to explore the Duoro Valley and considered spending a few days there but it’s not so easy to traverse without a car. We weren’t interested in renting a car and so we opted for a day trip with our wonderful guides from LAB Tours. I was especially sold when they would supply car seats but there is something unique about going with a guide.
You get to see the land from their perspective and witness their love of this place. They took us to two wineries and a tasting room. We were scheduled for a boat tour but opted against it at the last minute. They were more than willing to go with our whims and color with our kids. They were incredible hosts and I’m so glad we got to see this beautiful and very remote place.
BACK TO GAIA
We had that ticket to use at World of Wine and hadn’t really felt like we had seen it all.
Our girls wanted to return to the playgrounds. There are two. One is just off the tram on at the top of the hill. You’ll see it past the colorful Gaia sign if your kids aren’t already dragging you by the hand. The other is on the waterfront directly across from Ramos Pinto but we returned to WOW first to do the Wine Experience and the Pink Palace. The former was fine but the latter offered five pink tastings with tons of photo-worthy moments and other treasures like a ball pit. It was super fun and not just because I was a little buzzed.
Before heading to the playground on the water, we wandered into Fantastic World of Portuguese Can because it was too alluring to not go in. On the building next door, there was banner with oozing cheese so we had to try that. It was good and there was a port tasting to go along with it. Then, it was time to play.
To end the day, we ventured up the hill. We walked because we are dumb parents to have dinner at Vinum. We were early for our reservation so we sat in the bar and enjoyed the amazing view of the city. It was way too cold for our girls to sit on the spacious patio but that would have been nice if it wasn’t February.
DAY TRIP TO AVIERO
We took an easy 45 minute train ride to Aviero where we started with a local sweet treat known as ovos moles at A Barrica Casa dos Ovos Moles. I appreciated the story we later heard about the nuns at the local covent wanting not to waste the yolks of the eggs they used for laundry starch to imagine these treats but I did not find them delicious. My youngest barely finished hers so perhaps its an acquired taste.
From there, we hopped on a gondola for a boat tour. This is really the reason to go to Aviero. It feels like Venice but then not at all. We found a late lunch on one of the canals where we enjoyed sitting in the sun.
We traced our way back to the center of the city and hopped on a tuk tuk tour. The girls think tuk tuks are so fun so we seek them out and they are not hard to find. This made me want to see more of the city and perhaps even use Aviero as our future home base for more Portuguese exploring as our guide suggested. My husband, instead, thought this was boring even it was in a tuk tuk. He still had to go watch our kids playa the playground next to Forum Aveiro, the city’s central shopping mall.
As we concluded our time in this gorgeous city, I wanted to go see the fortress-like Sé overlooking the city. I don’t often drag my kids into churches even if I am a professional Christian. I’m so glad we did take the time to wander through these hallways and light candles with our prayers for this world.
We wandered down the stairs through a series of lovely alleyways to find ourselves at the Wine Box for lunch. We were, as usual, early and had no trouble getting a table. They have an insane wine list and you can sample anything in a flight as well as a large selection of delicious tapas. They were great with the kids and it was a great place to spend several hours on a rainy afternoon.
Before we hopped on the place back home, we waited outside the doors at Brasao hoping to sample their version of the francisinha which we had heard was legendary. It was good. It wasn’t the best sample we have ever tasted as it was billed but it was good.
We spent more than a week in Porto and I still feel like we missed things. There were more parks and playgrounds we could have explored. There was more to see and do but there always is and I’m glad we enjoyed our time as much as we did. I can’t wait until our next visit to this beautiful country.
All of these adventures have inspired me to imagine how we immerse our whole spirits in a place and be present to ourselves and God. I have two downloadable retreats that I hope will be releasing soon.
If you are interested to hear more about these offerings and find a spirit of adventure in your own prayers, I’ll share the news first on Prayer Threads.
One thought on “Adventures in Porto with Kids”
What a wonderful trip … especially for taking your readers along. Just amazing.