Anna's Top 10 Things To Do in Porto

1. Visit the Casa da Musica

A trip to Rem Koolhaas' Casa da Musica should be at the tippy top of every itinerary, especially if you are a music lover, an architecture lover, or both. I highly recommend taking a guided tour to visit the many smaller rooms inside, such as the 'VIP room', which is an incredible combination of angular concrete and traditional hand-painted tiles. The main concert hall, or Sala Suggia, is just wonderful (see pic below).

Guided tours run twice a day in English (11am & 4pm) and cost 7.50 per person.

More info: http://www.casadamusica.com/en/

 Exterior.   Photo by Anna Harding.

Exterior. Photo by Anna Harding.

 Concert Hall Interior.  Photo by Anna Harding.

Concert Hall Interior. Photo by Anna Harding.

2. Enjoy a drink on the Espaço Porto Cruz Terrace Bar 

Day or night, this is the perfect place to unwind for an hour or so to enjoy the spectacular views. This gem of a bar is located over the Dom Luis bridge and is surrounded by Port houses, so is in the perfect spot to take a break. The port, gin, beer and lemonade are all good. I checked especially for you. 

 The view at night.  Photo by Anna Harding.

The view at night. Photo by Anna Harding.

3. Marvel at the traditional tiles at São Bento train station

This must be the most impressive train station in the world, right? The decorative tiles (called azulejo) that cover the walls are painted to depict the history of Portugal. The murals represent epic events, battles and conquests from the 12-15th century, as well as scenes of everyday life. This really is a must-see! 

 Station Interior.  Photo by Anna Harding.

Station Interior. Photo by Anna Harding.

4. Enjoy views over town from the cable car

This cable car is a fairly new attraction for Porto and it is a great way to pass over the rooftops to the Jardim de Morro, with a spectacular view down the Douro river. Perfectly positioned at the top of the cable car is café/bar Esplanada which is the perfect place to enjoy a beer, especially if (like me) you need something to steady the nerves after your cable car experience. 

 

5. Eat Francesinha

This is a Portuguese sandwich, not dissimilar to a Croque Monsieur. But with more cheese. So. Much. Cheese. And more meat - all the meat. With chips. Mmmmm chips! All served with a spicy, beery sauce! OM NOM NOM. 

 

6. Visit the Igreja de São Francisco

This Gothic church is impressive from the outside, but it is the phenomenally opulent Baroque interior that will really blow you away. Every inch of the walls and ceiling is covered in 'Talha Dourada' - intricate wooden carvings gilt with gold leaf. Unfortunately you can't take photos inside so you'll have to take my word when I say that it's worth popping in! You can also visit the catacombs, which i'd recommend. 

 Igreja de São Francisco.    Photo by Anna Harding

Igreja de São Francisco. Photo by Anna Harding

7. Browse the shelves for books at Livraria Lello

 Livraria Lello.  Photo by Anna Harding.

Livraria Lello. Photo by Anna Harding.

Once upon a time in the nineties you could have found J.K Rowling browsing the books at the Livraria Lello, whose flight of stairs is rumoured to have been the inspiration for the moving staircases at Hogwarts! Nowadays you have to buy a ticket to visit the bookshop, but the Art Nouveau interior is really spectacular and well worth the fee. Plus, if you decide to take something home with you, the staff will discount the ticket price from your purchase. 

 

8. Walk over the Dom Luis bridge

Pedestrians can walk over this impressive bridge on two levels, alongside cars on the bottom and the metro at the top. The lower route is the best way to get from the old part of town to Vila Nova de Gaia, where you will find the many port houses, the bottom of the cable car and the Espaço Porto Cruz Terrace Bar. The top deck is the ideal route to take you back into town from the Jardim de Morro. 

9. Get lost!

Like so many European cities, getting lost in Porto's steep, narrow streets can be a delightful way to spend an afternoon. Stumble upon hidden cafés, dream of conserving the crumbling tiled exteriors and make friends with the local feline population - it's all good. 

 Porto streets.  Photo by Anna Harding.

Porto streets. Photo by Anna Harding.

10. Drink Port for breakfast at the House Ribeira Hotel

Yes, you heard me right - port for breakfast! I'm pretty confident that this is just for the tourists, but hey - when in Rome. If boozy breakfasts aren't for you, I'd still recommend booking a room at this stylish hotel. The rooms are modern with high ceilings and comfy beds. To avoid any awkward surprises, make sure you are comfortable with your roommate - the toilet doors are made of glass. Request a room with a street view, where you can see the river at the end of the road and beautiful traditional tiled buildings in every direction.

Hotel info and booking here

 

Top 10 things to do in Amsterdam

Galleries, museums, jazz bars and coffee shops, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most fascinating cultural hot spots. But what are the must-see attractions for a weekend trip? Louisa and Spitfire bass player Doug went on a three-day non-stop culture feast to find out.

Louisa's Amsterdam top 10

10. Cycle around Vondelpark

Vondelpark, Amsterdam

Beautiful parkland which boasts  some beautiful houses around its lakes and an open air theatre from May to September. Perfect for a leisurely 30-minute cycle with a picnic stop.

9. Listen to some jazz at Cafe Alto

 Saskia Laroo's  Jazzica  at Cafe Alto

Saskia Laroo's Jazzica at Cafe Alto

A little gem of a venue. They have live music here seven nights a week, open from 9pm-3am weekdays, and 9pm-4am weekends. It's free to get in and the atmosphere is fabulous. We saw Saskia Laroo's Jazzika performing there and they were amazing. She was quite a character! That night they were welcoming some guest vocalists but I was happy soaking up the music. Definitely an appearance I would like to list on our gigs page one day.

8. Go and see some music at The Concertgebouw

 

This concert venue is breathtaking. The acoustics are a marvel and the backdrop of the stage is the many hundreds of empty seats for the choir to occupy when performing choral works here. We saw the conductor trickle down the steps onto the stage. It was Denis Kozhukin performing Mozart's 15th piano concerto and the Munich Chamber Orchestra performing Schubert's Fifth Symphony when we visited. They offer big discounts on tickets for under 30s when you ask at the box office. Another place I would love to perform in.

 

7. Buy some tulips from the Bloemenmarkt

 The back of the Bloemenmarkt

The back of the Bloemenmarkt

Largely filled with souvenirs but still worth a stroll. The back of the market is also worth admiring from the bridge at the end as you can see it floating on the canal.  

 

6. Walk through the Red Light District

You can't come to Amsterdam and not experience this. No picture necessary. You can google it yourself. We, however, saw it in the stark daylight of a Sunday afternoon, stripped bare of its theatrics and glamour. Rather poetic. It’s a different beast at night and we were warned to keep a close eye on our valuables.

5. Browse the Museum Market

On the third Sunday of every month. We were lucky enough to stumble across this. Lots of things I very nearly bought here, but it’s quite pricy. There was all sorts of stalls, including food, clothing, jewelery, and gifts. My favourites there were the jackets made by Roxi’s Fine Cut, some nice ceramics by riterra.com and some fantastic notebooks made from some old vinyl records and their covers.  There was also a photobooth...

4. Visit the Rijksmuseum

We bought tickets for this from their website the day before visiting to skip the line (€17.50). Lots of masterpieces to take in here, you definitely need a good few hours to be able to take it all in. Keep an eye out for some fantastic musicians busking under the archway by the entrance to the museum. We recommend an iced coffee and a cake from enjoyblushing near the Van Gogh museum, for tasty fuel before you admire the artwork.

3. Visit a Brown Café

Like the Red Light district, you can't not visit one of these when you come to Amsterdam. I would recommend The Rookies who were very friendly and informative.

2. Eat at Restaurant Bazar

Although not local cuisine, it’s a favourite with locals. This restaurant successfully captures the spirit of a North African market. The food and the decor are a feast for the senses. Order the Royal Persian Lamb for €10.90. To find Bazar, look out for the golden angel on top of the building on Albert Cuypstraat.

1. Visit the Van Gogh museum

I absolutely loved this. The most fantastic museum experience I have ever had. It was curated wonderfully. You are lead chronologically through his works and shown his process of research and studies for each of his great paintings. It was also very interesting to see how he, and others, wrestled with his creative streak in his personal life. Book online (€17) in advance to avoid the queues. Doug learnt his new favourite Dutch word here: Brieffragment, which translates as 'extract from a letter'.

 

We tried to visit Anne Frank's house but we didn't pre book and the queues were literally hours long. I would love to visit and will arrange it in advance for my next trip to Amsterdam.

We stayed in the Conscious hotel in Vondelpark . It had everything we needed and the receptionists were very happy to help.

I thoroughly recommend hiring bikes from there (€15 for a day or €25 for two), but I don’t recommend falling off. After a collision with a local on our first night - and a colourful bruise two weeks later - we returned the bikes and decided trams were a safer option for the rest of the trip (€7.50 for 24hour metro card). By bike or by tram, Amsterdam is very easy to get around.

What are you waiting for? Go and book your trip now! Flights from Southampton are frequent and inexpensive. And if you’ve got any Amsterdam favourites then let me know in the comments below. Anna will be visiting in a few weeks and I look forward to comparing our top ten on her return.