Destination Spotlight: A Weekend in Porto

I’m delighted that Lee agreed to write a guest blog about his experiences in the beautiful city of Porto.

Lee writes:

My name is Lee Evanson, I am a national account manager for Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and I have worked for our parent company The Travel Corporation for the last 10 years.  Recently I was extremely fortunate to spend the weekend in Portugal’s trendiest city, Porto.

Situated at the end line of the Douro River, Porto is a must-see city in Europe. With steep hills and narrow cobbled streets on the north side of the river and lively seafood entries nestled within previous port houses on its south bank in Gaia, Porto is both picturesque and vibrant!

Unseasonably, the weather for October when we arrived was summer like, with peak temperatures of 32 degrees combined with a light October breeze, it provided a pleasant and enjoyable environment to explore the city’s labyrinth of nooks and hidden gems.  Whilst we are talking weather July and August are traditionally the peak summer months in terms of temperature.  The most popular time for Uniworld guests to cruise our 8 day Douro River Valley are the months of May, June & September – however we also have the latest summer sailing in operation across our European fleet with departures going into the middle of November!

First Impressions

My first impressions of Porto were of it’s vivid colours and beauty, especially the Ribeira district, which is lined with narrow artistically designed steep buildings, alfresco dining venues and is placed in the heart of the old town.  This area is quite unique and sits like a scene from a pop-up book placed perfectly on the banks of the Douro.

Whilst Porto is hilly, and you will need decent footwear to ensure you remain firmly planted when navigating its inclines, it is still small enough to explore at leisure.  For the more adventurous traveller, like most European hubs these days, electric scooters are only a short snap of a QR code away from igniting – so I chose to travel via this option on the first morning to enable a quick circumnavigation of my new surroundings and gather my bearings.  For the safer option of course, there is always Uber rides which in Porto are always plentiful and reasonably priced too.

With my time in Porto limited to a weekend, of course the urge was to venture immediately to the foothills of Riberia and see the Douro in all its glory.  Even though some like to wait and explore a city with patience, I wasn’t disappointed at all with my thirst to see this city for what it truly is.

Incredible views

The views on the banks of the river looking outward onto Gaia are truly breath-taking and its most striking and dominant feature is of course the Dom Luis I Bridge.  Built I believe (thank you google) in 1877 the metallic stance of this bridge provided a perfect contrast to the colours awash in Riberia and the sparkling azure reflections from the river itself.  It truly is a sight to behold which instantly inspired and relaxed me, I couldn’t help but take a deep breath and exhale in a fashion that I have finally arrived on holiday albeit only for a few days!

Determined to continue as a tourist, I opted to splurge on a local Portuguese coffee – why does it always tastes so much better overseas, accompanied with, of course, a Pasta’s De Nata – these little custard tarts originally from the Belem quarter in Lisbon are without doubt my kryptonite, but it was the perfect blend to saviour the atmosphere and aroma within this treasured place, and to have a few minutes to take it all in.

Uniworld’s Super Ship São Gabriel

By the second day I will be honest Porto had won me over already and my new found fondness for the city only increased, when I had the pleasure to step onboard our quite beautiful Super Ship São Gabriel.  However before we did, I was also able to explore the impressive ocean port terminal located about 20mins from Porto’s Douro banks.  The terminal itself is quite magnificent, designed by a local architect to the tune of 50 million euros, the wave inspired terminal is an inspiring space and I am sure a delight for guests to embark and disembark their ocean cruises.

However, despite its impressive grandeur I couldn’t help enthusing at the huge benefit of travelling with Uniworld and docking directly in Gaia, underneath the famous Dom Luis Bridge.  From the moment you step offboard you really feel like you are in the cities heart and soul allowing full immersion from the get-go.

Heading back to Porto and arriving onboard the elegant S.S. São Gabriel,I could see she was a hub of activity and organisation for another 8-day magical adventure which lay ahead.


In the ship’s lobby I noticed our culinary director Miguel greeting local suppliers onboard. He was quality checking fresh local produce to ensure each met his standard for the delectable dishes which would be curated in the days to come.

Sweet aromas hung in the air from bouquets of freshly picked flowers as they were placed to posture perfectly in original Portuguese vases.   Our charming cruise manager Ricardo was deep in conversation with the nautical crew highlighting the array of excursions available for guests during their stay and how efficiently they would be serviced.

No Request is too large, no detail too small

All in all it was a special sight to behold and also an insight into our onboard credo with Uniworld which is, “No Request is too large, no detail too small.”   Guests onboard never see these deliberate acts of preparation with service always succinct and quality onboard never diminished, however of course we all know that even Magic must be practised and prepared.

Super Ship São Gabriel herself is newest ship on the Douro with just 100 guests and a crew of 37.   Like all her Uniworld sisters, she has been designed to reflect the region and river on which she sails.  Here in the Douro Valley, she pays homage to her heritage with beautiful bright décor, stunning floor to ceiling windows which make you feel like you can step right out onto the Douro and a carefully curated menu which highlights the finest cuisines and wines in this region.  The tiny little details onboard, really stood out for me, the Portuguese tiled floors, original art work, and the bright azure colours throughout. It really was like we had stolen Riberia from the shores of the Douro river banks herself and placed her inside our ship.

On her top deck guests can relax with picture postcard views of the Douro Valley and even enjoy a dip in our expansive open air swimming pool.  Service is always a second away too, so guests can literally sit back and take in the wonderful surroundings the valley represents.  Bliss!


Sadly, my time onboard and in Porto was coming to an end, however before disembarking I did manage to sneak another Pasta De Nata.  Ricardo our cruise manage would not let me leave without one, he proudly heralded our pastry chef onboard as the very best in Portugal, plus even gave me a tutorial on how to eat one!  Apparently, a knife and fork are not appropriate when in Porto. 

A Douro river cruise with Uniworld

Even thought I was leaving Porto, I must add our full 8 Day cruise is an alluring journey and as always with Uniworld is Ultra Luxury and Ultra All Inclusive.  Guests who choose to travel with us will have the choice of carefully curated experiences, unlimited choice of premium spirits and fine wines, regionally inspired fine dining, onboard entertainment and the most delightful cabins and suites to wander off to sleep in.


Whilst Porto is a such a magnificent city to start and end this cruise with, there is so much more on this journey as guests follow the Douro River through Portugal and into Spain, cruise past steeply terraced hillsides, quaint villages and acres of ripe vineyards.   Of course, private tastings of Port will be included plus exclusive visits to charming Quintas and meetings with the winemakers who operate them.

A bonus I must raise on this trip is also the visit to Salamanca, Spain, where guests will see the city’s famous university, accompanied with the very best local story tellers to bring this magnificent site to life.

Other highlights on the return to Porto, will include visits to the fortified village of Castelo Rodrigo and historic Guimarães, however I must also recommend if your guests have time, during their time in Porto’s Gaia district they must visit and explore the World of Wine.  This hilly open plaza provides a stunning viewpoint overlooking the city vistas and is placed in the heart of funky wine bars, with alfresco DJ’s and live percussionists providing the perfect backdrop for an after-dinner night cap!

All in all, if Porto isn’t yet on your European Bucketlist, it really should be.  Take my advice, book it and visit as soon as you can, life is too short, and if you do decide to go, there is no better way to discover Europe’s best-kept secret than an all-inclusive ultra-luxury river cruise with Uniworld.

If you would like to know more about river cruising with Uniworld, please complete my enquiry form or get in touch via email: