Porto (also known as Oporto in English) is the second biggest city in Portugal and one of the most beautiful and interesting places I have been to. It is situated on the northern bank of the Douro River and reaches to the Atlantic coast.
The city is full of gorgeous buildings and a huge number of churches or ‘igrejas’ covered in the famous Portuguese blue and white mosaic tiles. Take the time to wander around this city, or, if the hills are too much, take a tuk-tuk or a tram.
There is so much to see and do here, but I have trimmed it down to these top eight things. Enjoy!
1. Visit the Livraria Lello bookstore.
This is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal with fantastical architecture including its red central staircase and intricately carved walls. It is rumoured that this store inspired some of the buildings in Harry Potter as J.K. Rowling lived in Porto for two years, however this is unconfirmed.
To enter the Livraria Lello, first purchase a ticket from the booth stationed outside (about 3 euros for an adult). If you purchase a book from the store, the price of the ticket is deducted from the price – the store has books in many different languages.
2. Buy some cork souvenirs
Portugal produces around 50 per cent of the world’s commercial cork. There are souvenir shops all through Porto with a range of cork products. These range from shoes and umbrellas, to handbags, wallets and keyrings. Besides being waterproof and lightweight, cork is completely natural, renewable and recyclable.
3. Go port wine tasting
Portugal’s most famous export, port wine, is only produced in the Douro Valley, to the east of Porto. Until the mid-20th century, barrels of port wine produced in the Douro Valley were loaded onto Rabelo boats and shipped to Port wine cellars, or caves. These caves are located in Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto’s twin city on the southern bank of the Douro River) and are open for tours and tastings.
4. Watch a spectacular sunset
Depending on how you handle heights, walk south over the top of the Pont de Luìs I from Porto to Gaia, weaving between other tourists and the metro trains that rumble over the bridge.
From the Jardim do Morro, you can see a spectacular sunset igniting everything in a fiery orange light – the curves of the Douro, the Ribeira UNESCO heritage site and Porto’s gorgeous architecture scattered across its hilly landscape. Bring a picnic and relax while the sun goes down and the city lights come up.
5. Eat delicious local foods at Taberna Folias de Baco
This Taberna is a small place with a set menu of locally sourced food and wines. It cost around 10 euros each for plate after plate of cheeses, meats, smoked sausage and bruschetta from the Douro Valley. There is also a vegetarian menu which I am promised is just as amazing. We didn’t book but put our names down and had a drink at a nearby bar while we waited.
Taberna Folias de Baco, Rua dos Caldeireiros 136, http://www.foliasdebaco.com
6. Get your drink and culture on at Maus Habitos
A lounge bar with a terrace and art gallery, this place is perfect for a relaxing drink, listening to some great music. They have great toasted sandwiches and cocktails for the afternoon slump when everything closes for a siesta. The bar is on the fourth floor, accessed by a lift. They have a range of different things on including concerts, films, art exhibitions and dance parties.
Maus Habitos, Rue de Passos Manuel 178, 4th Floor, http://www.maushabitos.com
7. Eat a Francesinha at the Café Santiago
Apologies in advance to the vegetarians out there. The Francesinha (pronounced fran-sess-in-ya) is like the love child of a croque monsieur and a triple cheeseburger. A white bread sandwich filled with beef, ham, sausage, chorizo and possibly other variations of meat, covered in melted cheese, topped with a fried egg and surrounded by chips soaking in a special sauce which is said to include Tabasco sauce, beer and wine amongst its ingredients.
Many restaurants offer a Francesinha, however I recommend the Café Santiago on Rua Passos Manuel, 226. Get in early or be prepared to wait in line for a table.
8. Eat as many Pasteis de Natas as you can manage
I have saved the best until last – these small Portuguese tarts are glorious. Buttery and flaky pastry surrounds a mouthful of caramel and custardy goodness. Eaten warm and with coffee, these can be found in padarias (bakeries) and cafés across the city. I had to limit myself to eat them on every other day and never stopped long enough to take a photo. So have a stock image.