As soon as you arrive in the old town of Porto the first thing that you want to do is dig your camera/phone out and start snapping photos. The city is full of azulejos (blue ceramic tiles), adorable buildings and scenic vistas thanks to the terrain’s bountiful hills. In June I spent two full days in Porto, but as soon as I arrived in the city, I knew that two days would not be enough and immediately planned to return on another trip. It was a nice cool escape from Madrid’s dry heat, and although I saw a lot, it was also relaxing because of the city’s slow-paced vibe and kind people.
Where to Eat:
Located right near the gorgeous São Bento railway station, go here for the Bolas de Berlim (custard-filled doughnuts). They are huge and inexpensive and are basically a bun-shaped sugar donut filled with creamy custard. Certainly worth the 1 Euro and you will surely burn the calories off as you walk up and down Porto’s many hills.
Stumbled upon this place after the restaurant I had been planning to go to was closed for lunch. It does not look like much more than your average guesthouse from the front, but after you enter the long hallway there is a beautiful garden setting in the back where you can eat a three-course menu for a very reasonable price and feel like you have found a secret location. The food was simple but delicious and the service was really friendly.
Located at the end of Rua das Flores, plan a lunch here for Porto’s famous francesinha sandwich. The traditional sandwich consists of ham, sausages, and steak between two slices of bread topped with melted cheese, all soaking in a beer/tomato sauce with fries of course. Before discovering Picota, as a vegetarian I assumed it was a Porto tradition I would have to pass up, however Picota offers two vegetarian options with veggies or with tofu. Definitely not for vegans, but I thoroughly enjoyed mine.
This is the spot for a budget breakfast. Set in a shopping center, it was about 2 Euros for a solid breakfast that you can eat outside in a pleasant courtyard. Not a lot of selection apart from what hot drink you want, but it’s a perfect find if you want to save a little money.
This restaurant was a dream. The service was amazing and the food was incredible. I would like to go back to Porto just to eat here again. It is more of a splurge than many other restaurants in town but for an exceptional meal it was well worth it. Be sure to try the mushrooms, mussels and the tuna tataki.
Where to Drink:
This bar near the water is a definitely a hidden gem and a great place to go for port wine. It isn’t right along the river so it’s not as crowded nor overpriced. You can sit outside at a bar facing the river and the view is amazing. I went here my first evening and then my next night, tried to go to another bar nearby, sat down and immediately realized I wanted to go back to this one so I snuck away and came back here. The people working are also really nice!
A great late-night spot where you will see many students and sit outside if it’s a nice night. Be sure to try the porto tonico (port wine with tonic water).
What to do:
Walking the hills of picturesque Porto is enough to keep you entertained for days, but here are a few main places you cannot miss:
Dom Luís I Bridge
This will seem really obvious once you’re there, but be sure to walk across the top of the bridge! You can walk across the bottom too. Some excellent views of both sides of the river and a really unique and impressive bridge.
A unique and beautiful bookstore that was an apparent inspiration for J.K. Rowling when writing the Harry Potter series. It will be crowded and entrance is about 3 Euros but you can put that towards a book if you decide to buy one. Try to go in the morning if you can to avoid lines and crowds.
This viewpoint is a bit hidden but worth the effort. You can get a good feel for the layout of the city from here, especially if it’s one of the first places you go.
Cais da Ribeira
Head down to the waterfront and walk along this street. It is quite touristy but there are some nice views, people watching and plenty of bars and cafes. Don’t stop here though because Porto has so many narrow and histroic streets to wander.
As you look across the River Douro from the north side of the city, you will see many different billboards & signs of port companies. If you don’t already know, port wine comes from Porto and you cannot leave Porto without drinking at least a bottle’s worth. There are different times that each offers their tastings/tours with certain ones provided in English so you could stop by a few to see if there’s a time that will work for you. The one I went to was the first one you reach after crossing the bridge: Cálem. The tour was about 6 or so Euros, informative and interesting and at the end you get to try both a white and red port.
São Bento Railway Station
You should definitely stop by the train station while in Porto. It won’t be out of your way as you are exploring the city and you only need to simply step inside the main entrance. The tiles are amazing and it is the most beautiful train station I have ever seen.