For some reason everyone always seems to compare Porto to Lisbon but there really is no comparison. They are wildly different cities, each with their own characteristic and charm; needless to say both are worthy of your time when in Portugal. I visited Porto in July and it was my first solo trip in a while. The city was incredibly satisfying to wander around. It is also worth noting is how I felt totally safe as a solo, female traveler. . Two days was not enough time to really get beneath the surface of this gem but here is the Soi 55 Travels ‘complete guide for a quick trip to Porto’ for anyone that has a chance to dip into this magical place.
FUEL FOR THE DAY
When in Portugal every day should start with one of these. Need I say more?
TOP TIP : When looking for the best Pasteis de natas
find a cafe that makes them fresh in-store daily.
C O F F E E & V I E W S
Up early? Grab a café (espresso) from a local snack bar and set off to the 1763 baroque church museum the Clérigos Tower before the crowds descend. From the top you’ll bag a unique view of Porto. Get here at opening (9am) to avoid a long queue and more space at the top!
SOI 55 HIDDEN CORNER : If climbing before breakfast isn’t your thing head to this gorgeous look out point just 5 minutes walk from Clérigos. Walk to the bottom of R. de São Bento da Vitória for a panoramic view of the red rooftops tumbling down to the beautiful River Douro (with a lot less steps!).
B O L H Ã O M A R K E T
(Currently being renovated, due to be completed 2020)
This is one of Porto’s original farmer’s market, embrace the bustle and marvel at the stalls of produce. The top floor presents you with table upon table of rainbow coloured fruit and veg just waiting to be bagged. The lower floor is a great place to pick up some foodie souvenirs such as tasty, spiced salsicha or plump, marinated olives.
Now that I live in the Algarve it is pretty hard to find a good cup of speciality coffee so when I’m visiting cities in central/north Portugal I make it my mission to source a decent flat white or cappuccino while on my travels. A quick google coffee search bought me to Zenith Brunch Bar and it did not disappoint. Zenith’s cool and collected vibe transports you to any cosmopolitan city and the delicious menu will set you up for the day ahead. Zenith serves amazing Fabrica Coffee which is becoming increasingly more available in Portugal.
If you have a couple of days to sample coffee in Porto pop in to Noshi Coffee too.
SOI 55 HIDDEN CORNER
If you want something more authentically Portuguese for breakfast jump in any of the snack bars and ask for a torrada com manteiga (toast and butter) or tosta mista (cheese & ham toastie). If you are feeling extra hungry why not order the famous Francesinha. Porto is home to the three meat-filled toasted sandwich (topped with cheese, egg and gravy) so there is no shortage of restaurants serving this delight but in our experience the spots where the locals eat will give you the real deal!
AZULEJOS OF PORTO
Whilst I can appreciate the work that has gone into many religious buildings they are often over-looked on my to-do list when visiting a city for a short amount of time. However when they look as pretty as this it’s hard not to marvel at their beauty. Many of the churches are covered in azulejos -Spanish/Portuguese painted and glazed ceramic tile-work. My favourite find was the chapel ‘Capela das Almas’ (above) which translates to the Chapel of Souls, also known as the Capela de Santa Catarina. Whilst on your tiled search of the city look out for Igreja do Santo Ildefonso, Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços and the wonderful 19th-century railway station São Bento (below).
Probably the most popular and definitely the most vibrant part of the city is the Porto’s waters edge – The Riberia District. On the Douro river bank lies a cobbled street of bars and eateries bustling with good vibes. Despite the business of it all there is no distracting from the towering Dom Luis Bridge which sits proudly over the winding river.
Early afternoon is a great time to grab a beer or G&T and some local azeitonas (olives) from one of the riverside outdoor-eating bars. Peter’s Cafe serves up the perfect post-brunch, pre-dinner snack with a side of live music and some of the best views in the city. Whether it be in a restaurant or on the river bank take some time to sit here and breathe it all in.
D O M L U I S B R I D G E I
It would be wrong to visit Porto (city of bridges) and not step foot on one of its 6 but if you only pick one make it the Dom Luis I that you cross. Named after a King that never arrived the Dom Luis has an upper and lower level linking Porto to Vila Nova da Gaia and both floors are worth crossing. The views from here are unbeatable will provide you with holiday snaps worth framing.
SOI 55 HIDDEN CORNER : When crossing the bridge back to Porto from Gaia take the lower level. Once you have stepped foot on Porto side, if you are able to, skip the tourist lift and take the back route up the steps (to the left of the lift). These steep steps offer a glimpse into real life in Porto and a different vantage point over the Douro river.
No trip to Porto would be complete without a visit to one of the collection of Port cellars based in Vila Nova da Gaia. I am no stranger to wine when it comes to drinking but I have very little knowledge on the process and it has always been something I have been interested in learning. Although not the typical wine I choose to drink I’m a fan of anything that goes well with cheese and chocolate. There was no way I wasn’t sampling some local tipple from down the river. There are plenty of port cellars to choose from all at varying prices and lengths with most lasting between 1 and 2 hours. My tour cost €12 and included 3 (rather large) Port wines.
SOI 55 HIDDEN CORNER
Graham’s is one of the top port-cellars in Gaia yet it is often overlooked by day trippers as it is one of the furthest away and requires advanced booking. Even if you only have the day in Porto I strongly recommend taking the trek to Graham’s. The building is beautiful, the tour professional (but not overwhelming) and the views at the end unbeatable. The team are super friendly. Book a tour here.<
A PORTUGUESE FEAST
I didn’t spend long enough in Porto to sample the array of restaurants serving every type of cuisine but I did luck out with my choice for the evening. Taberninha do Manel sits on the Gaia side of the bank of the Douro river and serves typical Portuguese grub. Try the Pica-pau (extra-tender fried beef in Portuguese spices) with an ice-cold Sagres and a side of bread for dipping and you’ll go to bed suitably content. Portuguese cuisine can sometimes be tough on vegetarians but I was actually recommended a great veggie place called De Terra so give it a go!
SOI 55 HIDDEN CORNER
Take what you can from this guide but as always we recommend seeing the city for yourself and making your own path to explore. It is these back streets and hidden corners that often reveal the ‘real’ Portugal, introduce you to the locals and make for the most memorable experiences.
So before you leave Porto head in the opposite direction to the crowds and find your
own hidden corner.
WHERE TO STAY
Porto is bursting with accommodation options. Stay anywhere from stunning riverfront houses to cosy backstreet gems to grand hotels.
I felt Porto was less easy to navigate than Lisbon but I enjoyed ‘getting lost’ in Porto a lot more. Most of Porto (including the airport) is accessible by metro but if you want to make the trip to the Port Cellars some walking (up and down hills) will be required. Porto’s city centre is located on the top of a hill so getting to and from the beautiful Ribeira square involves a bit of walking. You need to earn those lunch time beers right? Of course there are buses and taxis too so if your feet need a break you’ll still be able to get around.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Porto is well-connected internationally and direct flights are available from London, I use Sky Scanner to get the best deals. If you are coming from Lisbon you can catch a train (probably my favourite way to see Portugal) or a cheap (sometimes as low as £9!) flight with Ryan Air. Coming from the Algarve? Faro also flies direct to Porto.
THANKS FOR READING
Since moving to Algarve almost 3 years ago we have been exploring Portugal. Looking for some more inspirational destinations in Portugal. Have a peek at our travel guides and start planning your Portugal itinerary.