It’s been half a year already since I was in Porto, but it’s finally here: the city guide! I have to admit that this one took quite some effort, even though I had never intended to make a city guide. This means that my tips are kinda vague, as I have not written anything down while I was there and most of these things are just right out of my memory. I feel like I learn more and more by a city guide, so I hope this one is a little more useful than its predecessors.
Porto is a city I thoroughly enjoyed. The plane tickets were cheap (RyanAir!), the city warm and colourful (even in March!), the locals friendly and helpful (although not everyone speaks English, the younger people do though), Pastei de Natas aplenty, cheap food and drinks, lots and lots of beautiful sights! What’s not to love? It reminded me a lot of Lissabon, however Porto is a bit more compact. Which is perfect when you’re only there for a few days! All in all, Porto is the perfect place for a short city trip. And a city trip needs a proper city guide, right? ;)
So here it is! Be warned though, lots of pictures and quite some text. Make sure to make yourself a cup of tea and take some time to read this!
P.S. I do enjoy making these, but they take quite some time. What do you think? Do you like them? Do you miss something? Should I make more? Or make them better? Tell me everything!
First things first: the Ribeira! Being on the Unesco list since 1996, it’s a place not to miss. There’s a reason why you see the Ribeira on every single Porto picture on Google! Back in the days the boats lay down in the harbour to bring port to Nova de Gaia, so make sure to cross the bridge and go to the other side, specially if you want to taste some wine. Nova de Gaia is just on the other side of the Douro and most people mistake it for just an other part of Porto, while it’s a different town on it’s own. Even I just discovered this, oops! Anyway, if you want to take some nice holiday pictures of the Ribeira and drink some port, you should go take a look over there. There’s also a cable car but from what I saw, I think it’s way overpriced and not worth it. Just saying.
Back to the Ribeira! It’s not hard to find it, because you just have to go down and the path itself just leads to it, just follow the river. But as Porto is quite ‘hilly’ (is that even a word? Probably not) you can also take the funicular, which you’ll find nearby the metro station Sāo Bento. Make sure to go up by foot as well, you can’t miss the narrow picturesque alleys! Fun fact: the Dom Luis I bridge might remind you of the Eiffel tower. This is not without coincidence, as it is designed by a business partner of Gustav Eiffel.
The Ribeira will probably the first thing you’ll go to, be it on a walking tour (more on that later!) or be it on your own, you can’t miss it!
Porto has several beaches, but the one nearest by is the beach of Matosinhos. It’s a great way to get a break from city life and just enjoy the sea. There are several ways to reach the beach, one is with tram line 1. This is a great option if you’ve always wanted to ride in one of those yellow old school trams. But as I did that plenty of times in Lisbon, I went for a different option: the bike! I personally love touring the city I’m visiting by bike, but as Porto has a lot of hills, it isn’t very bike friendly. Except for the road to Matosinhos! I rented a bike at a place nearby the Ribeira, which is the best place to start. As there are bike lanes right next to the water and the landscape is just as flat as the Netherlands, I’d totally recommend this way of traveling! A tram ride will cost you 2,50 euro each way (so 5 euro in total) and you can rent a bike from about 8 euro, for a whole day. If the weather’s nice it’s just such a great ride! Make sure to use sunscreen and wear sunglasses though, even in March I think I got a sunburn?! Crazy right? Protect yourself kids!
Also, in the village of Matosinhos you’ll find tons and tons of (some quite touristic) restaurants where they grill fish right on the street! As everything in Porto, it’s not too expensive. And it smells so good!
Photography not worth going to jail for, you say? WRONG. In Porto you do and let me tell you, it’s worth it!* Centro Português de Fotografia is situated in a former jail, so even if you’re not that interested in photography, it’s still a very interesting place to see! The building is originally from the 18th century and was used as a prison till 1974. A unique place for a museum! So again, if you’re not into photography (and if you are, I really enjoyed some shows there! I really liked the one about WWII) you can still take a look at the amazing building, it’s worth it. And they have cameras that look like a can of Smarties. Just sayin’. Still in doubt? The entrance is free! It’s also nearby the Clérigos Tower, a famous Porto landmark. If you want to have some great views over Porto, make sure to visit the Clérigos Tower as well. And close by all this is the next hotspot Livraria Lello & Irmão… stay tuned!!
Where?: Campo Mártires da Pátria, 4050-368 Porto
*excuse the cheesy line, I just had to.
As you can see, the Clérigos Tower pretty much… towers over the rest of the city.
The first time I was in Portugal, in Lisbon, I was just sipping my drink when I heard a group of people shout in a foreign language. It sounded so creepy, like there was a protest or something like that going on. When I went down to take a look, there were a group of kids dressed like the kids in Harry Potter, which just made it all the creepier. I had no idea what to make of it! Turns out, these are just regular Portugese students. In the first year (?) they wear a black suit with a big black cape. The leader of the gang also has a big wooden spoon and I have no idea what the use of it is, but it sure is weird! Since J.K. Rowling lived in Porto in the early 90’s, she must have encountered these students several times. I can’t help but think she must have been inspired by their ensemble.
Another thing that must have inspired her is Livraria Lello & Irmão, a famous bookshop! I have a few vague pictures above, but just Google it to see how beautiful it really is! Doesn’t it remind you a bit of Hogwart’s own library? Apparently Rowling used to write here often, at the cafe on the first floor. A cafe she apparently also wrote a lot is Café Majestic. The name says it all, it looks quite majestic indeed! Both places are quite touristic (the bookshop is most of the time flooded with photographing tourists, be prepared). A few doors next to Livraria Lello is A Vida Portugesa, a cute shop with all kinds of things to decorate your house with. You’ll find it at Galeria de Paris 20.
Livraria Lello: Rua das Carmelitas 144
A Vida Portugesa: Galeria de Paris 20
Café Majestic: Rua Santa Catarina 112
Serralves is more than just a museum: it’s also a park and a villa. The museum itself is a good catch on it’s own, but if the weather is great you can spend endless time in the beautiful garden. A garden so big there’s a reason why they call it a park. There are also several sculptures to be found, so make sure to wander around for a bit. In the park you’ll also find the Casa de Serralves, that pink building from the pictures, where you can also go in and take selfies in the big mirrors, woohoo! As you see, as a previous art major I’m very interested in… art. No but seriously, they have a great collection and it’s worth checking it out. On Sunday mornings the entrance is free! Of course, being Dutch, that’s when I went. The buses to Serralves are quite irregular though, just a head’s up. And I can tell you it’s quite a walk, specially in the blazing heat!
Nearby Serralves is also the big city park of Porto, Parque da Cidade do Porto. If you want to see both, I’d suggest you go on bike, on a Sunday. Or get some good shoes!
Where? R. Dom João de Castro 210
Rua de Miguel Bombarda is also known as the Porto Art District. You’ll find tons of galleries here, a bit of street art, vintage stores, coffee shops, basically everything you want! I wish I’d spend more time here! Nearby is also the Centro Comercial Bombarda, which is a shopping centre full with independent stores, with vintage and vinyl. Again, as I haven’t spend much time there, I’d recommend to just wander around the streets and have a look! At the end of the Rua de Miguel Bombarda you’ll find the Palácio de Cristal gardens, a must see for great views over the Douro. Specially wonderful at sunset (although honestly, the trees blocked a bit of the view, but still a great place!)
Azulejos is a typical Portugese tile work, recognizable by its vibrant blue colours. Porto is full with all kinds of colourful tiled houses, but if you want to see some ‘masterpieces’, make sure to visit the Sao Bento train station, Igreja Do Carmo, Igreja Da Sé and the Capela das Almas. The last one is nearby Via Catarina, the biggest shopping street, so you’ll probably bump into that one yourself.
I keep saying this, but free walking tours are my most favourite thing ever. Of course it’s the reasonable thing to do to actually do pay them, but you can decide what to pay. I usually pay around 5 euros, depending on the tour. Some are okay, some are SUPER fun! I really liked the tour guide in Porto and I still remember the fun guides in Edinburgh or Prague. Definitely a recommendation! As there are no set prices and you’re not obliged to pay, the guides will do their utter best to make it an entertaining tour so it will work out best for the both of us: we get a great tour, they get paid! They always have some insightful or funny inside information and just love to tell you about their town. In this case, there was also a second tour but as only one other person besides me showed up, it was cancelled. The tour guide felt sorry for us though and was generous enough to give us some tips and advice while drinking a beer! I never had a bad experience with a Free Walking Tour. Great news also: you’ll cover almost all the things I’ve listed above! Yay! Some bit of advice in general: make sure to do a tour like that at the beginning of your trip. In small cities like Porto, there’s a chance you’ve already seen everything and in that case it might be a waste of time.
About just 30 minutes away from Porto, Guimarães is the perfect place for a day trip! Guimarães is one of the oldest towns in Portugal, going way back to the 9th century. It’s a historic city with a big importance in Portugal’s formation and there are plenty of things to see like the castle or just a stroll around the old town. It’s a cute, little city and nice to see for a day. There are plenty of other cities around to visit instead as well: Braga being a popular one, or Coimbra, a university city. You can take an organized bus tour but I just took the train and went on my own. Tickets are not so expensive, around 8 euro if I correctly remember. Pretty doable! If you have plenty of time (like I had) then a change of scenery might be a nice idea.
I have to admit, I’m not too keen on Portugese food. It’s mostly fish and lots and LOTS of pastries. I mean, I am keen on pastries, who isn’t??? If you want to get your sugar fix, you should head to Portugal right away! My most favourite is the Pastei De Nata, some sort of tiny yellow pudding kind of cake. It’s the best!! I think they are originally from Lisbon, but they’re getting more and more popular. You even find them in bakeries here in The Netherlands (where I literally scream in delight, awkward, but they’re so good!). I ate one every day in Porto (or maybe 2, or 3?). I regret not having taken any pictures of the crazy amount of pastries in every coffee place. It’s crazy! How do these people still have teeth?
Anyway, so Pastei De Natas are a must try. Also a local ‘treat’ is a Francesinha. It’s basically the Portugese version of the croque monsieur (hence the name Francesinha, which means ‘Frenchie’). It looks a bit like a block of lasagne in the picture, but yeah, that’s cheese, and on the inside is bread and all kinds of meat. Like sausages, ham, chicken, everything. Not sure if it was because I had the flu, but… one of these was enough for me. If you want to try something typically Porto though, go try one of these. Unless you’re a vegetarian, but in that case I have an other recommendation: Black Mamba! It’s a bit obscure, snuck somewhere in a street and you have to look quite a bit to find it, but it’s really good. Black Mamba (Rua dos Mártires da Liberdade 130)is a record store where they also sell vegan burgers! And they’re cheap and so good! Be aware though, the music is kinda loud and punky, you have to be up for that ;) But I really liked them (went twice, even!). They don’t have a lot of different kitchens in Porto, it’s mostly all Portugese food. As I’m not too big on Portugese food, having found this place was heaven. And no, I’m no vegan or vegetarian!
If you just want to get some fruit or veggies, go to the Mercado do Bolhão, a huge marketplace.
– Porto has a metro system. It’s easy to use, you have to buy a blue ‘Adante’ card at the machine and upload some money on it. It’s a lot like the Oystercard or the Dutch OV-Chipkaart. You can take the metro from and to the airport, it’s a cheap and short ride, very easy!
– The city has a lot beautiful buildings and monuments that haven’t been listed here. Just stroll around and you’ll see plenty: it’s a small city so you’ll see a lot of things in a small amount of time.
– Porto is a very, very good city to find a place on AirBnB. In some cities it’s just as expensive as a hotel, but in Porto it’s definitely cheaper and if not, then the apartments are still better looking than hotels! Or you’ll have a cute cat that keeps on sitting on your map every time!
– This sounds weird but at the Liberdade Square you’ll find the fanciest McDonalds ever. I’m not saying you should go and order a burger, but do have a look inside!
– Every Saturday morning there’s the Vandoma flea market, it’s huuuge! You’ll find it near the Douro river, the area Fontainhas.