We flew by low cost airline from the UK to Porto in north-west Portugal, opting to take carry-on luggage only. Our reasons for doing this were
1. No baggage fees to pay
2. We really don’t need that much for a weekend away and
3. Time is precious on a weekend break, and we didn’t want to use it up waiting for our luggage. The biggest worry (or challenge) with this these days is being sure your hand luggage will actually make it in to the cabin with you, and not be put in the hold because there are too many passengers with large carry-ons.
Our tip: Choose a bag that also has rucksack straps – each time we saw the staff walking down the line looking for wheeled bags, we would pop ours on our backs and so far this has meant we have always got them on as hand luggage. Alternatively, some low cost airlines will guarantee it will be allowed on if you opt for a smaller bag.
The next worry or challenge point can be how to get from the airport into the city.
Our tip: The Porto Metro offers a quick, easy, low cost way to get right into the city. The tickets are easy to buy at the station terminal when you arrive – the machines offer various language options, and there is usually someone on hand to help you too.
Having chosen the closest Metro stop to our destination we had to walk with our luggage to our hotel. Unless you arrive by taxi you will need to wheel your bag at least some distance, and some of the paths are narrow and cobbled so a bag that you can pick up as well as wheel is a good idea.
We had planned this trip to meet up with a friend who owned a restaurant in the city. As such we wanted to spend time seeing the sights during the day, and join him at his restaurant in the evenings. We packed comfortable casual clothes for day wear and smarter casual wear for the evenings.
Even in November, it was sunny and really warm compared to London, but for the locals this is ‘winter' and so we packed to fit in… not stand out; this meant jeans, long-sleeved tops and proper shoes. Being winter it is cold in the mornings and when the sun goes down, but it can still be really warm in the middle of the day. Wearing layers is the best way to manage these changes in temperature. Sunglasses are still a good item to pack – at any time of year.
To really appreciate the city we took a morning walking tour. It was a great way to meet a local and hear about how they lived, and a great way to see the sights and understand more of the history.
We had a real life lesson too on what it’s like to get your packing so wrong, when a party of young people joined the tour. They were all working in Germany and most of them had packed warm, comfortable clothes. However one guy – thinking as Portugal was south and warm – had only packed flip-flops, t-shirts and shorts! He shivered his way around the morning tour, looking uncomfortable and getting a lot of attention. Luckily by midday the sun was out and the temperature high enough to make him comfortable. Nevertheless, he was the only person we saw dressed like it was summer time.
Our tip: Download the What to Wear in Portugal Packing List, and think about the actual temperatures at your destination at the time you visit, and not the difference in temperature between there and where you live.
On our free walking tour our guide was more than happy to recommend good places for lunch, tapas, dinner etc. which were often far cheaper and more authentic than the tourist traps down by the river. Having said that, whilst some places attract a lot of tourists they are still worth experiencing and one such place was the Café Majestic. It's expensive yes, but for a coffee it was fine and it’s steeped in history. This is where Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling used to come to write, and talking of Harry Potter you will see a lot of things that seem familiar – not least the “uniform” of the university and the Lello & Irmão bookstore.
We are not McDonalds fans, but take a look inside the one on Avenida Dos Aliados – its Art Deco style and chandeliers will blow you away.
On this trip we took the old-fashioned tram to the beach which is just out of town, but sadly didn't have time to visit any Port Houses… we are saving that for next time!
Our tip: If you are planning to visit the Port Houses and are likely to be tempted to buy (and who isn't?!) then think of taking a bag that you can check in when you fly home. Otherwise you will have to buy at the airport where the choice – despite being excellent – is more expensive.
Written by Helen