A Travel Guide to Porto: What to see, what to eat and what not to miss
Don’t miss it
If you go to Porto and don’t drink the port, did you really go to Porto? Spend an afternoon visiting one [or two or three] of the iconic port lodges in the hillside area of Vila Nova de Gaia. Come on, you just have to!
From the city center, take the pedestrian-friendly bridge, Luís I, across the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia. Nearly all of the lodges offer guided cellar tours and a tasting of the port varieties [ruby, white and tawny]. Ruby was the crowd favorite among my tour group, and the historic Ramos Pinto was my favorite lodge. The tasting area has a cool-lounge feel, and the lodge even has a museum.
There are dozens of lodges to choose from, and I imagine they are all fairly similar. However, be sure to visit at least one with a rooftop terrace. Talk about a fantastic [and boozy] sunset over the river.
Lisbon and Porto citizens carry a sibling rivalry, but as an outsider, you’re allowed to love them both! One similarity is the colorfully tiled azulejos [mosaics] that cover the buildings and houses. If you participate in a guided tour, there’s no doubt you’ll visit São Bento station. The interior of this 150-year-old train station is covered in thousands of blue and white azulejos. Each carefully placed tile is part of a story. The train station is just one example of the incredible architecture you’ll find throughout the city.
Be sure to check out the picturesque Cais da Ribeira. Much like Alfama in Lisbon, this steep and winding area boasts a medieval feel and is home to plenty of restaurants, cafés and bars. Stroll along the waterfront’s promenade, where you’ll see folks cruising on the Douro River. You can even take a tour on the traditional rabelo boat, which was originally used to transport port wine across the river.
Must try food/drink
In addition to port, enjoy a glass of Portuguese vinho verde [green wine], which pairs well with the Portuguese dinner staple, bacalao [salted cod]. You really can’t beat the seafood in Porto! You’ll discover tin cans of sardines [and other kinds of seafood] in markets and local shops, but I was informed by a tour guide that locals rarely eat it.
Flan, pastel de natas, bolas de berlim and torta de amendoa are just a few of the sweets and desserts you’ll find in the city. Your taste buds will love you [but your dentist may hate you].
Looking for a fancy spot for lunch or simply a coffee? Café Majestic oozes sophistication and elegance [like the coffeehouses in Vienna]. There’s no doubt J.K. Rowling contributed to its growing popularity [when she lived in Porto], but I had no issues getting a table.
The francesinha is a massive, messy sandwich originating from Porto. It’s filled with a variety of meats, cheese and topped with an egg. Share it with a friend!
Are you up for a challenge? I need your help determining the name of a petiscos [aka small plates] restaurant. Our local guide recommended it, as it’s great for big groups. Here’s the restaurant concept: You don’t order anything. The staff brings out petiscos after petiscos — salad, chicken, sausage, fish, rice, beans, olives, bread and oh so much more. Just when you think the meal is over, more food arrives at the table. And the wine keeps flowing. It’s perfect for a group as you don’t need to make any decisions, and the bill is split evenly in the end. Ready for this … The experience only costs me 16.50 euros. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Delicious and cheap. The restaurant was at the top of a semi-steep hill not far from the train station. The chairs were wooden, and the inside was fairly small. Let’s solve this mystery!
Here’s a hint
Parts of Porto are extremely steep. Pack those comfy shoes! Check out my packing list and favorite travel gear.
Porto is filled with beautiful church after beautiful church after beautiful church. The Porto Cathedral (Sé), Chapel of Souls and the Church of Santa Clara are among the greats!
An affordable way to learn the city’s history is to take a tips-based walking tour. Porto Walkers offers a daily tour, and I recommend reserving your spot online. The tour begins in the central part of the city — at the massive and magnificent Praça da Liberdade. It’s the hustle and bustle of Porto. Porto Walkers also offers a port-lodge guided tour. It’s great for solo travelers or travelers hoping to meet other folks from around the world.
Wish I had more time for
A visit to the famous Livraria Lello. J.K. Rowling wrote parts of the Harry Potter series at this library, and the staircase is said to have inspired the ones at Hogwarts. For all the Potterheads out there, expect long lines during the high season. This muggle didn’t want to wait in line!
Two nights and three days in Porto seemed like the perfect amount of time. I stayed in the Garden House Hostel, which was centrally located. The hostel is close to the stunning blue and white tiled Chapel of Souls, as well as the Bolhão Market. If you’re ballin’ on a budget, check it out!
Back on the train to explore several small towns outside of Lisbon.
Want to plan an extended trip? Check out this step-by-step guide to planning a long-term trip.
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Do you have other suggestions for Porto? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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