6 Dec, 2016
Portugal’s second largest city is basking in the light of a new found popularity.
Porto oozes with history & heritage, buzzes with youth and glows with beauty both natural and manmade. Despite its size, the old city (now a World Heritage Site) feels compact, is full of diversity, is home to a 105year old university and is easily walkable.
Porto is split into two by the lazy Douro river and reunited by 6 iconic bridges. The most famous being the biggest. With a span of 172metres and a length of 385metres, the Dom Luis Bridge was the longest of its type at the time of completion in 1886. Designed by Gustave Eiffel and constructed by protégé, Teophile Seyrig; it is a magnificent metal structure that defines and dominates the skyline. A walk across the top from one bank to the other is one of the Porto must’s for the eye-popping city-and-beyond views including up-close looks at this feat of engineering.
The volume of magnificent tile-covered, terracotta-roofed buildings makes for an intense feeling of authenticity. A style and an architecture that is completely new for the first time visitor to Portugal. The azulejo tiles abound and add a remarkable sense of decoration to the city with the highpoint being the Sao Bento railway station. Even if you are going nowhere take some time to gaze around at the scale and detail of what is considered one of the most beautiful stations in the world.
Here are some what-to-do ideas that are by no means comprehensive but all highly recommended:
Walk and explore and get lost. Walk back and forth across the bridge. Hop on a tram.
Go for an evening run along the river. Run or walk both banks during your stay.
Hydrate at one of the riverside bars.
Climb the Torre dos Clérigos for the views and a closer look at this magnificent Baroque church.
Take a very long walk or run along the river and then to the beaches to the North (about 10km but can easily be done by bus or metro or tram).
Catch some rays and some surf at Praia de Matosinhos. Followed by a lingering late lunch at one of seafood restaurants in the harbour district of Matosinhos. Lots of smoke signals a rather surprising strip of barbecues that front a series of excellent seafood restaurants in Rua Hérios de França. Order lots of vino verde (or the much more quaffable Alvarinho) and take the Metro back to base.
Shop along Rua de Santa Catarina. Start, pause or finish your trip with coffee and pasteis de nata at the Café Majestic. It is claimed that while J.K. Rowling was living in Porto, she spent plenty of time in this Belle Époque Café writing bits of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.
Shop these uniquely Portuguese stores: Typographique for fab graphic T-Shirts that you won’t find anywhere else. Ale-Hop for fun and silly gifts. For socks that you will regret not buying more of…. don’t hold back at Pedemeia. Buy tins of sardines for the fabulously decorated packaging (and pimento).
Don’t miss Livraria Lello, a neo-Gothic styled bookshop with magnificent bespoke architecture. An astounding crimson staircase that swoops both left and right, remarkable balustrades and a stain-glass skylight…This is bliss for the bookish. It was designed by a literature-loving engineer and his passion, romance and practicality shine in the detail. The entrance fee is redeemable against purchases. (Also a J.K.Rowling favourite and apparently the inspiration for Flourish and Blotts, the booksellers in Diagon Alley).
Tour the viticultural origins of Porto with a wine and port tasting. Some of the most popular on the Gaia side of the river include Grahams, Ferreira, Croft and Sandeman.
Cruise the Duoro by river boat. Anything from 1 hour to 1day.
Experience some of the student life of Porto. Drink a beer at BASE, an outdoor garden hangout near Torre dos Clérigos. From here you can walk further to explore Porto’s downtown (around Cedofeita) where you will find numerous bars, restaurants and live music joints.
Go further afield. Take the train to Régua for the day. For the last bit of this journey, the train hugs the hillside in its twisty turns overlooking the Duoro River. Spectacular views of terraced vineyards, river bends, dilapidated barns and buildings and quaint farms. Chose a seat on the right hand side of the carriage. Once in Régua, there is more to explore including river trips and port tasting but the most memorable of all was lunch at Castas e Pratos (an up-cycled railway shed with sensational food and wine).
Bars and Restaurants
Jóia Da Coroa. Lavishly covered in flowers as per its address, Rua das Flores. Sip a wine on the astro-turfed sidewalk and watch the passing pageant of locals and visitors. If you’re lucky a group of buskers may set up alongside this quirky floral bar/restaurant/tea house.
Rua das Flores, 213
Meaning Bad Habits in Portuguese, this cool bar and pizza eatery is hidden away on top of a magnificent art-deco car park.
Rua Passos Manuel 178, 4th floor
A very special restaurant that you need to book at least one day in advance. Excellent food and ambiance with friendly crew.
Rua das Flores, 32
Pick a sun-lounger or a bean bag or a regular bench and chill at this cool hang-out.
On the roof of Passeio dos Clérigos
Immersed in memorabilia, Granny’s Museum is a perfect name for this treasure trove. Delicious and well-priced small plates with a young and trendy vibe make this an absolute must-visit for something less touristic.
Travessa de Cedofeita, 56
On the Praça da Ribeiro which can feel very commercial, we found a bar of such friendliness, deliciousness and quaffableness that it was hard to leave. Botequim is that place. In the heartland of tourists and in an irresistible setting, this is where to lunch, linger, sundown and stay a bit longer.
The surprising strip of smoky barbecues and restaurants of Matosinhos is a must-visit for something fun, friendly and unique. There is something like a kilometre of restaurants which makes for a difficult choice. Our lunch was made by the fun-loving, friendly team at Palato. It was delicious and generous.
Rua Hérios de França, 487
Where to Stay
The beautiful and centrally situated
The Hotel Flores Village
Surf Airbnb for apartments in the old city
This was a fantastic location and gorgeous apartment
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