From the moment I knew I’d be travelling to Portugal this summer, I knew I couldn’t plan the trip without a visit to Porto. Having read so much about this incredibly historic city, I already anticipated it would be a pretty special visit and yet, the reality actually exceeded my expectations, in the best possible way. Sitting on the banks of the Duoro river, Porto is unlike any other city I’ve previously visited. It’s like you’ve entered a vortex and stepped back in time because it doesn’t seem like much has changed over the years. From the gothic architecture to the old tiled buildings, from the narrow and steep cobblestoned streets to the quaint shopfronts and restaurants, everything is steeped in centuries old history that leaves you spellbound. I’ve put together a mini city guide from our stay that I thought might be useful for anyone considering a visit to this beautiful city.
Where to stay:
We stayed at a little guest house called Porta Azul that was about a 10 minute walk from the main city centre. The couple that own and run the guest house could not have been more gracious and helpful hosts. Upon checking in we were given a city map with a pre plotted route with all the landmarks, sights to see and restaurant suggestions marked on, which we found very helpful. Overall, we had a great stay and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this place to anyone visiting Porto.
How to get around:
As our hosts recommended, we decided to navigate the city by foot and from my experience I’d say this is the best way to experience Porto. The city centre is not too big and as long as you’re prepared to do lots of uphill/downhill walking, in addition to climbing stairs, you should be able to cover all of it in a couple of days. The is a city that’s brimming with character and filled with picture perfect scenes at every turn and corner so it would be a shame to miss out on those by taking taxis. The only taxi we took was on our first and last day to get from the train station to the hotel and back.
What to see:
We started our tour with a climb up the Clerigos Tower at sunset. It was not too challenging and a great way to get a panoramic view of Porto laid out in front of you. We began the next day with a stop at Livraria Lello, the bookstore made famous by JK Rowling. If you’re a Harry Potter fan like myself, this place is not to be missed. The interiors are truly beautiful and I could see how they might have inspired her right away. From there we headed north to explore more of the city around Rua da Santa Catarina which is a walking street lined with cafes, restaurants and ample shopping. We then worked our way down to the river front checking out several more places along the way including the historic 1920’s Cafe Majestic, the Bolhao food market, Praca da Liberdade, the main square in the city and Igreja do Carmo, a baroque church well known for it’s tiled side facade. Just before reaching the river, you could also visit Palacio da Bolsa which we decided to skip and instead see Igreja de Sao Francisco, one of the most prominent gothic monuments in Porto known for it baroque interiors. From there it is just a few steps before you’ve reached Ribeira, the historic neighbourhood most symbolic of Porto. We spent some time exploring the winding cobblestone alleys and medieval architecture of this riverside neighbourhood which is also UNESCO world heritage sight before heading down to the boardwalk along the river known as Cais da Ribeira. Our last stop was to cross the river on the Dom Luis I bridge to get to Gaia. This is where they make and store Portugal’s most famous wine, port. It is also affords the best vantage point into Porto.
Where to eat:
For the most part, we had great food throughout our stay in Porto but if I had to recommend just one place, without a doubt it would be Tapabento. This place definitely ranks amongst our top three dining experiences in Portugal so you simply cannot miss it. The food, service and value for money are unbelievable at this tapas restaurant. We also ate at Cantinho do Avillez which I would also recommend. If you do go, make sure to leave some room for their hazelnut ice cream with hazelnut foam and sea salt. It was every bit as delicious as it sounds! Finally, if you’re brave enough, you might want to visit Cafe Santiago to try a famous local creation—the francesinha—a meat based sandwich covered in melted cheese, tomato sauce and fries. We were so full from eating all the time that we felt we wouldn’t be able to do it justice. But if i’m ever in Porto again…
Thank you so much if you took the time to read this monstrous post and made it this far. I really had such a memorable time that I wanted to write a blog post deserving of that. Porto, you were everything I hoped for and more.