It is one of my favorite cities in Portugal, perhaps even in Europe. Oporto, or Porto in English, has become increasingly more popular, almost as much as Lisboa (Lisbon). You can easily see the main attractions in a weekend if you don’t mind the hills. I’ll give you a breakdown of what to see, eat and where to party in Porto.
There’s a unique charm in the neighborhoods and their decayed buildings. Porto is not as metropolitan as Lisbon, but the views from Dom Luís I Bridge are breathtakingly stunning. The main reasons I fell in love with this city are because of its friendly people, delicious food, breathtaking views, and peculiar street art.
Must-See Landmarks in Porto
Most memorable landmarks are the Dom Luis I Bridge, Lello Library, São Bento train station, and the fanciest McDonald’s you’ll ever see. But as always, I recommend a walking tour. They’re between 2-3 hours long and they’re free! Simply Google “Porto Free Walking Tour”. These tours are tip-based where you pay what you consider appropriate or however much you can afford.
Another J.K Rowling inspiration and an unforgettable sight.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll have a familiar feeling when entering Livreria Lello. It is said that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Oporto after living in the city back in the 90’s. In the books, she describes the library, where Harry buys his books before attending Hogwart’s, as a place similar to this Lello.
Lello is a small library that charges €4 as an entrance fee, which can be used towards a purchase. There will most likely be a line of people waiting to get in, which moves kinda fast, but don’t expect to take any pics inside without people in the frame. It gets pretty busy in there since this is such a popular destination in Porto.
Something else you’ll see if you’re in Porto during graduation season, is that the University’s graduates wear a very similar black cloak to the one Hogwart’s students wear. Another J.K Rowling inspiration and an unforgettable sight. The main difference is that the graduates tend to have a bottle in hand instead of a wand.
São Bento train station is beautifully decorated with hand-painted blue tiles. There are about 200,000 blue tiles dating back to the 1900s. The art in the station tells the city’s story. I remember the tour guide mentioning that one of the walls is about a foreign princess who arrived in Porto to marry the king. The Portuguese covered the roads in rose petals so the princess wouldn’t realize that the streets were actually covered in horse shit. And if you look at the images carefully you’ll notice small mistakes such as the foot of a horse pointing backward. These elements make this art even more unique and prove that it was hand-painted.
Around the corner from São Bento, you’ll see the fanciest Mc Donald’s ever. This building used to be the Imperial Café in the 1930s. It was restored by the city but no local business owner could afford it. Porto’s administration agreed to sell the building to the well known fast-food franchise under the condition of maintaining the building as is. The food and prices are the same, with a few Portuguese pastries included. If you’re into beautiful cafes, don’t skip a visit to Majestic Café or Café Guarany, both really close by and also totally worth a visit.
An important dish in Porto is the Francesinha, a calorie overload type of sandwich layered with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça (smoke-cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika), fresh sausage like chipolata (thin and short sausage), steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a hot-thick tomato and beer sauce similar, in regards to consistency, to gravy. It is typically served with french fries and a fried egg on top. The flavor of the sauce varied since every restaurant had its own recipe. An affordable restaurant near the river and the Dom Luís Bridge is Restaurante Verso Em Pedra. Expect huge portions. Big enough to share one Francesinha between two people since it’s such a rich dish.
Another typical Portuguese dish is the Bifana, basically a pork sandwich. The pork steak is slowly marinated and heavily seasoned, making it a bit spicy. The bread is a simple white bread roll, that ends up being moistened with the pork steak sauce. Apparently, the south of Portugal has a different recipe, where the pork is less spicy and tastes more of mustard. I personally detest mustard but love spicy food, so the version I tried in Porto was not only delicious, but the meat was oh so tender and the bread was so soft and freshly made. It paired great with a Super Bock, a great Portuguese beer you’ll find anywhere. Pictures don’t do this sandwich justice, so I suggest you try it before judging it by its basic appearance. A great place to try out this simple, yet very tasty sandwich is Casa Guedes. Cafe Piolho also serves this delicious sandwich and other typical Portuguese dishes like the green vegetable soup served as a popular side dish.
“I found this hilarious and so typical of Portuguese people”
Portugal, in general, is also famous for its fresh seafood. Codfish (Bacalao) is the region’s fish and is also quite affordable. I tried in several Portuguese towns, including Cascais, and always asked for Mediterranean style, which is grilled in cult in the middle for easy eating. Once, a waiter told me “I’m sorry but our fish is not too fresh today.” So I asked “Why? How old is it?” and his answer was “It was caught yesterday.” I found this hilarious and so typical of Portuguese people wanting to offer you the best, always.
Drinking in public is legal in Portugal! Locals start and end the night by drinking next to the fountain with the two lions, Fonte dos Leões. You’ll find plenty of bars near this fountain. I recommend starting the night at Porto Tónico. I am not a fan of the Porto wine, since I find it to be too sweet for my taste, but Porto Tonics are delicious! They’re so refreshing, just the right amount of sweet and something you won’t find anywhere else. If you prefer craft beers, you’ll find a great place a 5-minute walk away called Catraio.
If you feel like dancing, I had a lot of fun at Plan B Club where I danced my butt off to electronic and Latin music. Even if you don’t enjoy dancing, you’ll be entertained by the laser show displaying several images, a very unique touch in my opinion. Although, a bit busier, I also had a lot of fun at The Wall. None of these clubs charged a cover and they have a mixed crowd of locals and tourists. This made for a very interesting and fun night where I got to dance with people from different parts of the world. If you’re a day drinker, I recommend you enjoy a cocktail at the garden in Base Porto on a sunny day.
Wine tasting in Gaia
Across the Duoro River you’ll find Gaia. You must hike up the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar. This is one of the best viewpoints where you can appreciate the bridge and most of Porto. When you cross the Dom Luis I Bridge, be mindful that you’re sharing the “road” with the tramway. Tourists stop anywhere along the bridge to take pictures without realizing how narrow the pedestrian path actually is once the train passes by.
Gaia, is known for its vineyards and wineries along the river. As I mentioned, I personally do not enjoy Porto wine. I realized this after a 3-hour long wine tasting tour in Gaia but I truly enjoyed visiting the wineries. They’re all so different, some have terraces next to the river and one even had a rooftop bar and Virtual Reality set where you could “fly” above Porto. Some of the most famous are Sandeman, Calem, Offley, among others.
No matter what time of the year you visit, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy your time in Porto since it’s such a beautiful city with so much to offer. Even if the rain is pouring down, there are plenty of cozy cafés and restaurants to enjoy the local delicacies. Have fun and remember to always BE PRESENT. For updates on travel pics and tips follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez.