[UPDATED February 2023] I had the opportunity to travel to Porto in March 2022, six years since my last visit to Portugal. In fact, this was my first fun, weekend trip after international travel started to resume with the easing of the pandemic. I was not disappointed with my first trip to Porto! The weather had been worrisome the few days before I arrived, with a major sandstorm from the Sahara. However, my three days there were sunny and warm. In February 2023, I returned to Porto to meet two friends and to visit two friends who had moved back home. We were lucky with the weather again and had four days of mostly sunny weather.
What to see and do
For those who like to walk, it is safe to walk around and a great way to see the different parts of the city and enjoy the seaside, architecture, and the river. In fact, I walked and ran about 60 kilometres in less than 3 days, even though I used the metro a number of times. The walk from Foz back to the city centre is a pleasant one along the coast with beach views the whole way. Also, the Luis I Bridge is wonderful to look at from the Ribeira or the opposite side of the river, and also fun to cross on the upper and lower routes. And the many miradouro sites (viewpoints) around the city are well worth the climb.
In addition to the sights, the food scene in Porto is thriving. There are more places with delicious pastries than I could try during the short time. However, I am not sure I could choose a favourite as they were all so good. There are casual places and Michelin-rated places to taste the different varieties of Portuguese food. And, taste the port and the Douro Valley wines!
Finally, one last wonderful memory of the trip was attending a concert by the Porto Symphonic Orchestra at Casa da Música. The orchestra played beautifully in the modern hall. And the architecture was also impressive.
On my second trip to Porto, we enjoyed some more delicious foods including a home-cooked meal by our friend’s mother. And we took a day trip out to the Douro Valley for a boat cruise and wine tasting. It was nice to see the beautiful tiered vineyards on the hills and enjoy the countryside just 1.5 hours outside of Porto. More in a separate post on the Douro Valley.
- Chapel of souls
- Igreja de Santo Ildefonso
- Sao Bento rail station for its beautiful tiles
- Mercado Ferreira Borges
- Miradouro da Vitoria
- Clerigos Tower and church- beautiful interior and great view from the tower
- University of Porto building architecture
- Fonte dos loeos
- Igreja do Carmo
- Matosinhos and Mercado for fresh fish and seafood
- O Mar na Lata tinned fish store- it is much cheaper than a similar store in the city centre and the fish are tinned locally
- Castelo do Queijo
- Senhora da Luz lighthouse- decrepit but cool
- Praia dos Ingleses
- Foz do Douro area
- Farolim de Fegueiras and da Barra do Douro
- Forte do Sao Joao Baptista
- Museo da Cidade – Reservatorio, archaelogic
- Serralves park and attractions
- Jardim Botanico
- Jardins do Palacio de Cristal
- Casa Museu Marta ortigao
- Soares dos reis (National Museum)
- Cais da Esteva
- Fonte monumental de Ribeira
- Cais da Ribeira
- Luis I bridge
- Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar– a popular place to watch the sunset
- Muralha primitiva – old city walls
- Porto cathedral
- Muralha primitiva do Porto
- Church of Saint Francis
- Museo da Miséricordia
- Rue Das Flores
- Gaia Cable Car – great views!
- EFun Tours for a day trip to the Douro Valley
- Catch a FC Porto football match, tickets are very reasonable
- Port tasting at the port houses along the river in Gaia
Before you go
- Porto is a hilly city so bring comfortable walking shoes. There are also quite a few cobblestone roads, which are beautiful but make rolling a suitcase slightly challenging
- There is a very good metro and bus system and I made use of the 24 hour passes. This is more convenient and as long as you ride about 4 times in the time period, it is also more cost-effective. You can re-load the paper pass for the zones you need
- Uber, Lyft and other apps are very reasonable so if there is more than one you it may even be cheaper than the metro or bus
- You can check this website Viral Agenda for cultural events happening in Porto. I was very lucky to find a classical music concert at the Casa da Música on the day I arrived. Although I booked in advance on the website, my friend Ana said Portuguese people often book last-minute so there are usually some tickets left until the day of a concert
- Many of us know of Porto because of Port wine. Usually in England, I have had the ruby port, but in Porto they have many varieties including tawny, rose and white port
- The churches of Porto are beautiful and unique. Many of them have blue and white tiles decorating the exterior
- Some shops especially outside of the tourist area are closed on Sundays
- There are many city museums (Museo da Cidade) around the city, and you can buy a pass for entry to all of them within 7 days. Also many museums are free on Sunday mornings
- In the city, most people speak English and the menus are usually available in English
- Bacalhau (cod fish) is in many Portuguese dishes
- The local football team FC Porto plays at Estádio do Dragão, which is easily accessible by metro
- Some smaller bakeries and cafes only accept cash
- If you want to eat out especially on the weekends, it is a good idea to make a reservation in advance
- The Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport is the international airport in Porto. The Line E (purple) metro line heads straight into the city and terminates at Trinidade. It runs approximately every 30 minutes, so it’s best to check the schedule in advance for returning to the airport
- The Porto metro and bus systems are very convenient. You can buy a 24 hour pass at the main train stations and some convenience shops. Don’t forget to validate it in the machines when you are boarding any transport.
- In Porto, there is a lounge run by ANA and BA members are allowed in there. There is also food available for purchase from restaurants in the terminal.
- I stayed at the HaoBo Porto Centre guesthouse which I found via Booking.com. It is located very centrally and is quite new and clean. The rooms were large with beds, wardrobe, en suite bathroom, a desk and a television. My room also had a small terrace and I could see the view down the quaint street.
- The hotel also has a shared kitchen and terrace. The only downside is there are a lot of stairs up to the reception and again up to the rooms. The staff were very friendly and helped me with my luggage.
- On the second trip, we stayed in an AirBnB which is called Chill House. It was very conveniently located in town. The rooms were comfortable and it was great to have a kitchen
Desserts and Port
I tried many pastries, and mostly pasteis de nata from 7 different bakeries in 3 days. These included Manteigaria, Seara doce, Fabrica da Nata, Nata Sweet Nata, MixPao, Castro, and Confeitaria do Bolhão. MixPao is known specifically for their chocolate (and other flavour) filled croissants. My favourite was the Oreo croissant. Seara Doce and Confeitaria do Bolhão are both bakeries with lots of variety. Seara Doce is very local and friendly. However, the Confeitaria was chaotic, busy and difficult to get served as there did not seem to be a queue system.
The other four bakeries specialise only in pasteis de nata, the creamy Portuguese custard tarts. Although it is difficult to choose a favourite, I think I might have to go with Manteigaria because the pastry was crisp and the custard just the right firmness. I also tried Confeitaria Royal which had great nata and coconut buns for very cheap, but they only accept cash.
There were two main local chocolate shops and I sampled chocolates from both, Chocolataria equador and Arcadia. The most unique flavour I discovered was port chocolate. Yum! Also, at the supermarket there were many varieties of chocolate covered almonds by Vieira. They have really nice flavours including cinnamon.
For gelato, Gelateria Portuense was great for trying some unusual flavours. These included port and a variety of Moroccan flavours such as rose or spices.
With friends, we stopped at the Combi coffee roasters. Although I don’t personally drink coffee, they said that this was a good small roasting house for great coffee!
Kopke Port house is noted as the oldest port wine house, founded in 1638. While there, I tried a tawny reserve port and found it very delicate and not too sweet. As an added bonus, it was served with chocolates. Also, the Kopke white port was tasty and sweet, with a taste reminding us of muscat. We also tried Quinta do Noval which was okay but not our favourite ports. Finally, we really enjoyed the Cálem rose port, the first rose port we had ever tried.
Café Santiago is a Porto institution known for the francesinha sandwich. Luckily, it was also located on the same street as my hotel, so it was my afternoon snack. Although my friend warned me that it is very heavy, I was unprepared for how full I would be after eating most of it. The sandwich is filled with steak, sausage, ham and cheese, then toasted with cheese on top and smothered in a spicy beer sauce. It’s also served with a generous portion of fries. I’ve never tasted anything like it and it was amazing!
Brasão Aliados has several locations and all of them are very popular. I suggest to book a table in advance, or you may need to wait for awhile in a queue outside. The octopus salad starter was fresh and delicious, mixed with peppers and onion. Next, I enjoyed a traditional dish called pica-pau, which is a mix of meat and sausage in a spicy beer sauce. The dish is covered with pickled vegetables and served with bread. Another very filling but delicious meal. Probably I should have eaten francesinha and pica-pau on different days!
In Diferente is a Michelin Bib Gourmande restaurant located in Foz, near to the coast. It is an elegant restaurant and well-decorated. The menu contains up-market versions of Portuguese classics. I enjoyed their versions of cod cakes, sea bass and Pão de Ló.
The 14-course tasting menu at Le Monument was a wonderful dining experience that took more than 3 hours! It is difficult to describe each dish in a few words so I refer you to the website for the menu. Complementing the dishes was a wine pairing of Portuguese wines. And the meal was finished with a herbal infusion and petit-fours.
Sushi is popular in Porto. Cais 35 along the Ribeira had generous sashimi and the spicy tuna roll variation was inventive. HP sushi is a modern restaurant with fusion sushi. The traditional sashimi and sushi were very fresh and tasty. However, some of the fusion combinations were too strange like strawberry jam on a fried roll.
Cantinho do Avillez is one of the restaurants by Jose Avillez. Although his Michelin-starred restaurants are located in Lisbon, this more casual restaurant is in the centre of Porto. Reservations are recommended as it gets very busy. In fact, people were standing outside for lunch before it even opened! We enjoyed a great meal there including fish and seafood. The fried green beans and fried cod pieces were great for starters. Portions were not too large. However this was good since we had room for the desserts. We tried both the Hazelnut and the Chocolate three ways!
One evening, we dined on the Gaia side of the river at Uva by Cálem. In addition to the great view of Porto across the river, the food was beautifully cooked and presented. The space is a little cramped and it feels a bit like a modular room. However, the meal was enjoyable and we complemented it with a flight of three ports. For starters, we had the octopus and cod croquettes. Then I had sea bass for my main course.
Finally, before we headed to the airport we had one last seafood meal at Tito 2. There is also a Tito 1 but that was closed for the season. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a table but it was worth it. The golden bream was grilled to perfection and de-boned at the table. And the octopus rice was like a fresh seafood soup. The portions were generous too!
Q: Do I need a tour guide?
A: No, the city is easily walkable. In fact, most of the places of interest are on GoogleMaps and/or on travel guides
Q: Do people speak English?
A: Most people in the city do speak English, but it is also useful to have a translator app to hand such as GoogleTranslate. At every restaurant, there were English translations on the menu.
Q: Is it a walkable city?
A: Yes, but be prepared to do a lot of climbing, as it is a hilly city. However, the bus and metro system is also very good so you can make use of that.
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