Travel to Porto

Luis I Bridge over the Douro River

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.

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 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.

I hope to travel to Porto again to see a few more museums, enjoy the food and port, and relax on the beaches.

Parque de Serralves
Parque de Serralves
Beautiful sunset view in Porto from Jardins do Palacio de Cristal
Beautiful sunset view in Porto from Jardins do Palacio de Cristal
Chapel of Souls
Chapel of Souls

Highlights

  • 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
  • Castelo do Quiejo
  • 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
  • Muralha primitiva – old city walls
  • Porto cathedral
  • Muralha primitiva do Porto
  • Church of Saint Francis
  • Museo da Miséricordia
  • Rue Das Flores

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 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 and white port to sample
  • The churches of Porto are beautiful and unique. Many of them have blue and white tiles decorating the exterior
  • 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
Jardim Botanico, Porto
Jardim Botanico, Porto
View from the Clerigos Tower
View from the Clerigos Tower
Inside the São Bento railway station

Transport

  • The Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport is the international airport in Porto. The Line E (purple) metro line head 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, the only lounge at the airport was completely closed and it looked like it had been for awhile. No explanation was given. There is food available for purchase from restaurants in the terminal.

Accommodation

  • 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.
Casa da Música
Casa da Música
Porto Philharmonic Orchestra at Casa da Música
Porto Philharmonic Orchestra at Casa da Música
Mercado in Matosinhos
Mercado in Matosinhos
Francesinha sandwich at Cafe Santiago
Francesinha sandwich at Cafe Santiago
Pica-pau and fries at Brasao Aliados
Pica-pau and fries at Brasao Aliados
Octopus salad at Brasão Aliados
Octopus salad at Brasão Aliados
Pasteis de nata from Manteigaria
Pasteis de nata from Manteigaria
Pastels de Bacalhau at In Diferente
Pastels de Bacalhau at In Diferente
Sea bass and seaweed rice at In Diferente
Sea bass and seaweed rice at In Diferente
The signature crab dish at Le Monument
The signature crab dish at Le Monument
The lobster course with a lobster pastel at Le Monument
The lobster course with a lobster pastel at Le Monument
Three desserts at Le Monument
Three desserts at Le Monument
Port tasting at Kopke
Port tasting at Kopke

Food

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. The Confeitaria was chaotic and quite 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.

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.

Kopke Port house is noted as the oldest port wine house, founded in 1638. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to visit any of the port cellars with a tour, but I had a tasting at Kopke. I tried a tawny reserve port and found it very delicate and not too sweet. As an added bonus, it was served with chocolates.

Restaurants

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. After that, 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. On the day I was there, it was very noisy with kids. Later, the restaurant explained that it was Father’s day and that they always allow children. The menu contains up-market versions of Portuguese classics. I thoroughly 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.

Finally, my last main meal in Porto was sushi from Cais 35 along the Ribeira. They seemed surprised that I asked for a takeway but they were able to accommodate. The sashimi portions were very generous and the spicy tuna roll variation was inventive.

Interesting tea infuser at Le Monument
Interesting tea infuser at Le Monument
MixPao chocolate croissants
MixPao chocolate croissants
Sushi from Cais 35
Sushi from Cais 35
Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar
Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar
Farolim de Felgueiras
Farolim de Felgueiras
Misericordia Chapel
Misericordia Chapel

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: No, the city is easily walkable. 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. Every restaurant I ate at had 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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