Porto for the weekend is the new black. Does that sound obnoxious enough? It should. Porto needs to be on your list for a few different reasons not least of which includes great food and a fraction of the price we pay in Ireland. It (usually) has lovely weather and there’s the port sampling that needs to be done, in Porto. Strolling up and down all those hills is a leg day workout which means….less guilt as you tuck into your third pasteis de nata of the day and swig back your new fav white port and tonic cocktail. Have I convinced you yet? Read on.
How to Get There
Keep an eye on flights to Porto as they can be quite affordable and jump on a deal when you see it as you don’t want to miss this Portuguese gem. Porto is increasing in popularity and I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t remain cheap and cheerful for long. The city is located in the coastal north-west of Portugal so Springtime weather can be a tad unpredictable. I had seen other bloggers I follow go to Porto a few weeks before me and have glorious sunshine but I was unlucky and it rained. Pack for the weather so it doesn’t stop you from getting out and about and exploring ALL of the alleys and barrios. I flew to Lisbon and took the 3 hour train (click here for the train ticket site and booking in advance gets you discounted tickets) from Oriente station to Sao Bento but if you fly into Porto airport you can get a taxi (which are metered so no need to haggle) for between €20-€30, depending on luggage and destination. Porto Airport has a metro station on the light-rail system. For about €2.60 you can be in the city centre in around 30 minutes. The metro from the airport runs every 20 minutes for most of the day on weekdays, otherwise 30 minutes every day from about 06.00 until 00.34 at night. You can reuse and recharge the metro ticket as you pay a 50 or 60c charge for the card itself so hang on to your ticket if you plan to use public transport a lot there. Check out this website for all the transport info you need.
Where to stay
I stayed in MyStay Porto Centro, which I found on booking.com and it was cheap, modern and clean and only a 12-15 minutes walk from the Sao Bento station. If you are not looking for much fanfare from your accommodation I would recommend this spot. It does not have a 24-hour reception so you will need to let them know your arrival time so you can get a code to enter the building. Porto has a few hills so be prepared to get some exercise in. If walking uphill is a deal-breaker for you check out properties in the Ribeira district as that is closer to the river and only a little hilly!
Tiles for days
So let’s not beat around the bush, you came to see tiles. And tiles you shall get. The city is famed for its stunning azulejos that adorn walls, building facades, and street signs in all shades and sizes. Interestingly, the azulejos tiles (meaning polished stone) were born of a Moorish tradition of ‘horror vacul’ – fear of empty spaces so the Portuguese covered their walls with these beautiful works of art.
If you fancy snapping a shot in front of some picturesque blues then check out the Sao Bento station whose walls are covered in tiles depicting royalty, wars and transportation history in Portugal. It is a train station after all so don’t be surprised if you have to jostle for a space in front of the walls to get your photo.
Not having any of that, come with me. Let’s head to the Capella das Almas for an entire wall of stunning tiles that you can snap away beside, in between the flow of pedestrians and other Insta posers. Both inside and out this chapel is decorated so beautifully with blue and white tiles you will be hard-pressed to take a bad photo.
The Church of Saint Ildefonso is an imposing Baroque church at the end of Rua de Santa Caterina (one of the shopping streets). The outer facade is ornately decorated in the familiar tiles and while the gate is locked outside of opening times it is still a beauty to behold.
Another stunner to watch out for and get snappy happy in front of is the Igreja do Carmo. Yip, you guessed it, another church and with a stretch of wall that’s just right for casually posed Insta snaps.
Porto for Port
Porto is famous for port production and rightly so, they have so many delicious locations to sample their renowned wares. Many go for the large Port houses across the river in Gaia, which are all well and good but I will suggest that if you want to support smaller-scale vineyards and producers talk to David in Touriga. You can sample quality 10 year aged port that he sells in his small shop. He has an abundance of information regarding the history and process of port making and he’s happy to ship bottles in his shop to you.
Where to Eat
Porto has some great restaurants and reasonable prices. It has that as yet not completely exploited feel and you do get good-sized portions for your money. Some of the now more popular places will require a reservation so email or call ahead. There is always the option to go on a food tour. I tried the Vintage Food Tour with Taste Porto and their guides will give you excellent recommendations for new, classic and affordable dining experiences after your tour. Check out my review here for more info on the tour and its stops.
Obviously, there are the custard tarts that need to be sampled. I love custard so it was a no-brainer for me. The coffee shop down the road from my hotel had pastries for 80c and when I went to the Fabrica da Nata bakery off Rua de Santa Caterina I stocked up again. These egg custard tarts in delicious flaky pastry are so moreish I had to be weaned off them by the end of my trip.
From local bodegas and tavernas to home-cooked dining and more. Taxca, on Rua da Picaria 26, is a must-visit for an authentic, back in time feel. The honest, simple food and cheap prices at this reimagined taverna make this a good snack spot. Plus the effervescent espadal rosé goes down a treat with cured meat sandwiches, just saying.
I wanted to try Tapabento after reading about it in The Travel Expert’s Instagram and it did not disappoint. This is one you need to book ahead for. I went there for dinner one evening around 8 pm and it was a fully booked and the last two seats at the bar had been taken by the fortunate two customers in front of me in the line. So, not to be beaten, I returned about 12:30 pm for lunch the next day and just about managed to get a table. The food is an exciting, delicious take on tapas but the portions are big and rich and filling. There are so many incredible choices on the menu, you may want to camp out here and try everything.
For a lush central lunch try Cantina 32 on Rua das Flores and though the layout and decor were gorgeous (with that modern industrial/copper, brick and greenery vibe going on) I was not a fan of the famous Franceschina sandwich I ordered. Mostly ‘cos it’s gross. Not necessarily the one from Cantina 32, but the entire concept. It’s the last time I try something just cos. Basically, the Franceschina is a Portuguese version of the croque-monsieur sandwich, made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries. It’s too much for this gal. SO much so that I couldn’t even take a photo, it does not photograph well. Instead here is a glass awaiting vino, to help me wash that nightmare sandwich down.
Every city visit needs a good viewpoint hike and Porto lets you skip the hike and take a cable car to the hilltop in Gaia. I decided to walk because I love leg day or something! Cross the river via the narrow pedestrian footpath by the roadside and continue left up to the steep and winding roadway to the top. As you lean against the wall or any firm surface to get your breath back, you can admire the views of the city spread out before you and rising up to meet your eye level on the other side of the river. If you have chosen to skip the cable car again then you are going to be walking along the top level of the bridge back to Porto and Riberia and avoiding the tram tracks and persuading your vertigo to calm down. Or maybe that was just me,
If you are still a glutton for views then head up the Clerigos tower and really kick your vertigo into high gear with the winding steps and narrow balcony at the top. Entry is €5 per adult and the church and tower are open between 9am and 7pm daily.
Can we talk about this library for a moment? I had heard about this place through Instagram and thought, ‘Oh this looks super pretty, and there’s the Harry Potter connection so maybe if I make it to Porto I’ll check it out’. Well now, let me tell you it is not as simple as that.
Livraria Lello, located on Rua das Camelitas is now so Insta famous that it seems to have become a victim of its own fame. I would almost suggest you reassess your desire to see inside. It seems a shame to say that because it is indeed such a beautiful bookshop. Claustrophobia and bookshops should not go hand in hand and once you set foot inside the shop you will understand what I mean. I had passed the queue to get into this store about 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon and thought ‘Holy maloly, it’s like a Disney ride entry queue.’ It seems no time of the day guarantees you entry without a queue. The store opens from 10am-7:30pm Monday to Fridays and 10am to 7pm at weekends. However, entry is not permitted without a ticket which needs to be queued for and purchased at the shop at the corner /top of the street. You effectively need to queue twice to enter a crowded shop with very little attention paid to the books and all the focus on people taking photos on the beautifully ornate staircase. The books are secondary to many in here.
It was such a pity as the shop itself is a stunning example of neo-gothic and art nouveau architecture and JK Rowling is said to have taken inspiration for the moving staircases in Hogwarts from the staircase. Despite the cost of the entry ticket being redeemable against a book purchase instore and the fact that the queue outside moves relatively quickly (we queued for 35 mins) it is not worth it once inside. Unless of course, you can go when the queue is short and the store is relatively quiet. Good luck with that.
Porto certainly merits a visit and I still feel like it has an authenticity and charm to it that hasn’t been fully exploited and tarnished by excessive tourism. It caters well for visitors and knows how to show them a good time, don’t get me wrong but the attraction lies in the feeling you are still getting a bargain and not being ripped off like in so many other European cities. Enjoy a leisurely stroll around Porto’s winding streets and stop off at quaint cafe’s with friendly, helpful staff whose English is far better than your Portuguese!