In our Spending Diaries series, we break down how our writers spend, save and splurge on weekend city breaks.
I’m a writer and photographer based in Lisbon, Portugal. I love my new home, but in search a brief escape I decided to head north to Porto for the weekend.
I was keen to save a bit of money – but didn’t want a full-on budget trip. So I took the train (more expensive than a bus), stayed in a hotel (rather than a hostel) and treated myself to a couple of small indulgences.
Even with these outlays, Porto is a great value, especially where it concerns food and drink, and I found that the city also offers some great budget and free activity options. Which means it’s super easy to have a great time on a midrange(ish) budget.
Train tickets: €50.50 for round-trip tickets from Lisbon
Accommodation: €110.46 for two nights at the classic, centrally located Hotel Aliados
On the ground
9:30am: I walk (free) to Lisbon’s Santa Apalónia Station for my morning train to Porto. I take a coffee on the train (€0.90) and watch the view from the dining car.
1pm: Arriving in at Porto’s Campanhã Station, I make the short walk to the rustic Casa dos Presuntos “Xico,” where I have a cheap and tasty lunch of a cured-ham sandwich, soup and and a glass (or bowl, in this case) of vinho verde tinto, a slightly fizzy red wine (€4.30). I take the metro (€1.30) to my hotel to drop off my bags, then it’s a coffee and a mini éclair at the century-old Leitaria da Quinta do Paço (€1.90).
From there, I schlep up the steps at Torre dos Clérigos, Porto’s iconic bell tower. At €8, the entrance fee here is a bit steep – but it’s worth it for the views over the city. I compensate by heading virtually next door to the excellent and free Centro Português de Fotografia.
7:30pm: My mini spurge of the day is a glass of natural Portuguese white wine at Genuíno (€5). From there, it’s a few blocks to a tasty, raucous and exceptionally cheap dinner at the workingman’s eatery Casa Expresso. A hearty bowl of soup, a massive salt cod dish and two glasses of wine set me back a mere €7.50. This is such a great value that I opt for yet another mini splurge, this time for a dessert of rabanadas, maybe the world’s most decadent French toast, at the similarly decadent Café Guarany (€7).
8am: I start my day the Porto way with lanche, a croissant-like roll stuffed with preserved meats and cheese, at Confeitaria Belo Mundo (€1.60). I’d been to Porto a few times previously, but hadn’t yet done one of the near-obligatory cruises along the Douro River, which usually start at around €65. In order to save a few euros and also because I love trains, I decide to take the Linha do Douro to the tiny town of Pocinho, with a brief stop in Pinhão, where I have time only for a coffee (€1.50). The route, which snakes along the Douro River Valley, is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in Europe, and a round-trip ticket only set me back €31.
4:30pm: Arriving back at Porto’s Campanhã Station, I take the metro to my hotel (€1.30), change clothes, then another metro (€1.30) to a splurge dinner at A Cozinha do Manel, a classic Porto eatery. Siting at the counter, olives, octopus rice and a couple glasses of Douro red set me back €37. After that, it was another metro ride back to my hotel (€1.30).
8am: On Sunday, it’s an early-morning pastry and coffee at the frozen-in-time Confeitaria do Bolhão (€3.10), followed by a free walk through the recently renovated Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s iconic fresh market. Finally, it’s one more ride on the metro (€1.30) to Campanhã Station in order to catch my train back to Lisbon.
The final tally: €276.26
Overall spend: €115.30 + train tickets (€50.50) + accommodation (€110.46)
Notes: Without my (admittedly conservative) splurges, it’s certainly possible to do this trip even more cheaply, especially if keeping to the type of rustic, huge-servings eateries that Porto excels in.