I could kick myself for not visiting this city sooner.
We celebrated Christmas in Spain and then began making our way towards Lisbon to visit a friend. Somehow along the way we ended up in Porto, Portugal for 3 nights. It was winter during our stay so the weather was not great, but I was told that this year they had summer weather till November.
Guys, this city is beautiful. You’ll wonder why you hadn’t heard about it sooner.
That’s saying a lot because I hate rain and cold weather, and 2 out of 3 days consisted of this. It was entirely worth it though. Porto reminds me of a little of Venice and Prague, with the bright colors of Mexico. Yet it’s still uniquely romantic, it’s lively, and it resides in the third safest country in the world!
An added bonus is that you can get by in English almost everywhere. I hate to say that because I am the type of person that doesn’t like to expect anything of people in another country. As a guest, I feel that it’s only fair that I try to communicate in their language. While Portugal may border Spain, it’s more likely that they are able to communicate with you in English over Spanish. As similar as the words are to Spanish, the pronunciation is completely different, so I have to admit that all the English is nice.
So, my recommendations on what you should see in Porto:
Frequently voted one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, Livraria Lello does not disappoint. It’s also a spot that JK Rowling frequented while living in Porto during the early 90’s. It’s said to have given her some inspiration for writing Harry Potter.
Chapel of Souls (Cappella das Almas)
Another beautifully tiled building in Porto, this chapel is famous for its exterior, made with Azulejo tiles depicting scenes of Saints. We decided to admire only the facades of most of the cathedrals since there is usually a fee to enter. That was just our choice, but I’ve heard the interiors are even more breathtaking.
São Bento Train Station
Living in NYC for a hot minute, I’ve never found myself delighted to stay in a train station longer than necessary. Walk into São Bento, look up, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Travel Tip (and added plus): If you are just in Porto for the day, they have a very cheap and convenient locker system in the train station. We used a medium locker to fit two carry-on sized bags. It cost us a total of 3 euros ($3.67) for the entire day.
Saint Anthony’s Church Congregation (Igreja de Santo António dos Congregados)
We loved this place so much (based on price and quality) that we went twice. Great breakfast! Everything pictured (plus another coffee) for two people, all under 12 euros ($14.68). You can also get your hands on the well known Portuguese dessert “Pasteis de Nata”. If you have no plans to go to Lisbon– they are said to have the best there– then try this famous pastry in Porto. We had them in both cities and couldn’t choose a favorite. To eat it like a true local, sprinkle a little cinnamon and sugar on top before eating.
Rua das Flores
The above-mentioned “Nata Lisboa” is located on this street. Wander down it and explore– you won’t regret it.
Escadas do Caminho Novo
This area we came across just by turning on different tiny streets– something I highly recommend doing in Porto. You’ll always be able to find your direction based off of the river. It’s a nice city to get “lost” in.
Cais da Ribeira
Such a beautiful and romantic walk along the river. Tons of options for a food or a coffee stop.
Ponte Luíz I
You should walk across this bridge twice– on the lower and upper level. If you’re afraid of heights, stick to the lower level. Either way, great views.
Stairway in front of Ponte Luíz I
In an effort to get back to our Airbnb, we were hopeful that this staircase in front of Ponte Luíz I would be a shortcut. Luckily, we shaved off about 8 minutes. A word of advice: in our experience with Porto and Lisbon, Google Maps fails to mention lots of walking shortcuts in Portugal.
Ahhh, the infamous “Francesinha” (top picture). To be completely honest, this was a tad overhyped for me. It was good, very filling, and my boyfriend loved it. Maybe there was a specific meat I wasn’t enjoying… who knows? There are about 4-5 different meats, all covered with bread and cheese, then drenched in a beer sauce. People come from all over the world to eat this sandwich so you definitely still have to try it!
Igreja do Carmo
I’m inclined to believe that any quick search of Porto will bring up the second picture. Beautiful, isn’t it?
Wander around Porto Cathedral
Rua de Dom Hugo 15
Plaza next to Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro
The first picture shows the direction we walked up to get to the Cathedral. Right at that turn (where everyone is stopped and taking pictures) is where the second picture was taken. Great view of the city! We continued walking around the front of the church, then onto the opposite side where we wandered through more backstreets. There we found a small plaza (last picture) with rose trees and a small cafe. Directly across from the plaza is Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro, a decorative arts museum housed in a mansion from 1730.
Wander the streets from Ponte Luiz down to Avenida de Diogo Leite
Rua Rocha Leão
Tv. de Cândido dos Reis
You know what’s free and extremely rewarding? Wandering around a new city! I often find the direction of the next place I want to visit, and then just take off with no specific route. If you walk across the top of Ponte Luíz I (from the Porto city center), it brings you to a park on the other side. Our goal was to walk along the river and maybe find a winery (of which Porto is famously known for), so having that in mind we made our way down.
I had to find a restroom, so we were crunched for time when it came to finding a place to try Port wine. We saw some people walk into “Espaço Porto Cruz” and we followed suit. Initially my reaction was that this place was a bit too fancy for us. I was wrong. They had nice public bathrooms (right behind the wall as soon as you walk in), and if you take the stairs up they have different rooms explaining the process and history of Porto Cruz and Port wine. This was also our first time trying virtual reality, and their VR tour has you flying over vineyards and the Duoro River… all still completely free, I might add. Then we made our way to the rooftop, still fancy-looking but didn’t break the bank at all. Don’t make our mistake of ordering an entire bottle. Port wine (usually sweet) has a high alcohol percentage even though it might not taste like it– which in turn made us want to eat tons of bread. Luckily, the appetizers were delicious.
Avenida de Ramos Pinto
A view of the city from the other side of the river. This was sunset on our last day before heading to Lisbon.
Overall, we had an amazing experience. I’d say that Porto is not as cheap as Spain when it comes to eating out (tapas/pintxos cost almost nothing) but it isn’t an overly-priced tourist city (visit before everyone else wants to!). You can find exactly what you are looking for in your price range. Decent Airbnb’s cost around 20-30 Euros ($24-$36) a night, depending on the season. Rich in culture, history and architecture, this romantic city is now on the top of my list.