Except for the 24H chrono spent in Lisbon that I wrote about, I have never been to Portugal for an extended time. Since I fell in love with it in a day, I decided to come back for a true summer getaway.
I started with the beautiful city of Porto. It is the second biggest city in Portugal and has only been a touristy destination for the past few years even with all the history it holds. It started being known to the world when the country offered full time residency to any investors that would come into town and invest in real estate. Ever since then, investors from all over the world came into Porto and drew attention to it.
Every place you go, you sense an old school, rustic vibe of the city, one that hasn’t been changed for decades keeping her authenticity high. But since it’s recently been a touristy destination, most of the town is under construction now for rejuvenation!
I visited all of Porto in one day but I always like to enjoy a city for enough time that it makes me feel I am part of it. So if you want to know more about my experience in Porto and the great spots of the city, here’s a rundown for you :
The Food :
One of the most important aspects of traveling for me. Food says a lot about a country and its culture, and maybe I didn’t explore it well enough but the food in Porto was the least interesting for me. I haven’t been to a restaurant where I was loving the food, it was always very basic with the one and only Francesinsha which I found to be extremely heavy for me, not being the biggest fan of red meat. It’s a toast with 4 different kinds of meats, soaked in a sauce and fries all around it. You can have it with or without eggs on top.
However, one of my favorite was a grilled sardine plate. Something I can easily get in Morocco but I appreciated it after eating plain food most of the time. I mean no disrespect to the culture, but everytime I order something, it doesn’t have flavour and most of the time, it lacks salt and pepper which you need to ask for yourself.
2. The Accomodations :
I went to Porto for 3 nights the first week and 3 nights the second week. The first nights I was with a friend and we booked an Airbnb. It was fine and the price was okay. However, it was a little far from city center. If you book anything, make sure you get in contact with the owners so they can tell you how to get there from the airport and their best tips. I am only saying this because my friend and I ended up carrying our 12+kg luggage up a hill in 30 degree weather for over 20 minutes when we could’ve came from the other side and walk down the hill instead !!!
The second week I was alone, so I went ahead with a hostel option. it’s one of my favorite things when I travel alone because this way, you get to meet new travelers with whom you bond over the magic of traveling alone! The one I stayed in is The Garden House Hostel, the best hostel I stayed in so far. it is so stylish and has such beautiful interiors. And the best part ? Right on the Santa Catarina Street !!! I did a virtual tour of it on my vlog as well which you can watch here.
3. Where to go :
- Sé do Porto :
The Porto Cathedral is grand and beautiful. My love for cathedrals is real anywhere I go in the world and this is no exception. It was built between the 12th and the 13th century with Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles and is now the most important historical and architectural landmark of the city. Way back in time, the city of Porto was given by the Queen to the Catholic church during the 12th century. So this cathedral is not the only grand and beautiful one you will see, you will find a church in almost every corner of the city.
Saò Bento Train Station :
A nunnery turned into a train station! Yes you read it right. When Porto was half the property of the Catholic Church and the citizens of Porto, there was nunneries everywhere. A lot of buildings today used to be if you just pay attention to the architecture of each of them. In the 1830s, a decree was made to remove all the nunneries in the city and the government waited for every single nun to die, so they can move on with their plans. The last one died in 1892 and it is believed that her ghost still lingers in The Sao Bento Station.
The star of this building is obviously the tiles all over the walls, also known as Azulejos from the Moroccan “Zellij”. These were made by an artist called Jorge Colaço, who was born in Tangier, Morocco, the location he got all his inspiration from. It took him 11 years to hand paint every single one of them from 1905 until 1916.
Every wall of the station tells a story of the Portuguese history. And fun fact : In one of the walls, there is a mistake. Two tiles were put in the wrong order as a message from Jorge Colaço. He said only God is perfect, so he made it a point to make his work flawed for that purpose.
The stairs of lies :
From the big esplanade around the Sé do Porto, you will most probably follow the path of the stairs going all the way down to the river. From this point down, they were called the stairs of lies. The reason behind this name is the prostitution that used to take place in most of the houses in that area. There was a lot of “Red light District” vibes and every time a man would visit for prostitution services, he will have to lie to his wife or friends/family. Therefore they were given that name.
Currently, there is regular citizens there and even restaurants at some point. There is a famous lady there that cooks chocolate deserts that are oh so delicious! She only caters to restaurants but has an agreement with Porto Walkers who bring her a group of tourists, and she sells them the deserts for 2€ ! Sweet 🙂
The historic center! The most famous part of the City of Porto is its frontier with the river called Ribeira. A beautiful place with lots of colourful houses and curated with lots of restaurants. This is technically where the city of Porto ends, because on the other side of the river, is the city of Gaïa. But it is easy to get there through the Dom luìs Bridge. As you can see in my vlog, I had lunch in a restaurant looking out the river. I tried the traditional Porto dish : the Francesinha.
Ponte Dom de Luìs I :
This bridge is believed to be built by the same architect of the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel. That is actually not true! In 1880, the government initiated a competition for the construction of this bridge. Different construction companies submitted their projects and ideas, including Gustave Eiffel. The project was given to Théophile Seyrig from a belgian construction company.
On the other side of the bridge, I found a love bridge, with locks and names and dates. One of my all time favorite things to find in each city.
Once over the bridge, you will find yourself in Vila Nova da Gaïa to which there is still great connection with the tram. The first thing you will stumble upon is the park, Jardim do Morrow, one overlooking Ribeira and the whole city of Porto. I went there for a picnic and it was amazing! I highly recommend taking some time in between visiting the city and enjoy this parc so you can take it all in.
Santa Catarina Street :
Aka the main street. The main area where there is lots and lots of shops. From locals to international brands. If you are one to shop til you drop, that is the street for you. Plus, there is lots of restaurants and ice cream shops there, so you will be able to take a break in between!
Churches in little corners :
Apart from the main attractions one can go to, I was so happy to stumble upon churches everywhere I went, since I usually take a walk with roughly any directions.
The first one is Igleja de Santo Ildefonso. It has tiles all over the façade which I still found stunning everytime I would pass it by.
Then, there is Igreja Dos Clérigos. This one you can see from far far away! Its tower is the highest from any view point as you can see. I was intrigued by it while catching the top of the tower from anywhere I was. So on my second to last day, I decided to go visit, only to find out it’s a church as well.
Another one I loved, is Igreja Da Trindad. One right behind the city hall. it’s beautiful and gothic built during the XIXth century.
Night life :
I haven’t found Porto’s nightlife to be a crazy one. It feels like a very traditional city and it gets calm and chill around midnight. I, however, have been to Porto Cruz, a rooftop bar on the other side of the river which overlooks the bridge and the entire Ribeira! The music is great and the view is amazing, a great place to catch up with friends around some drinks!
I have taken the train to Lisbon after Porto and came back to this city after going to South Portugal. I have enjoyed it both times and was sad to leave it !!! However, I have felt that I visited it really well which is my goal everytime I go somewhere. I have made new friends and new memories, and for that I am forever grateful.
The vlog series is right here : Portugal Daily Vlogging
Watch it at your own risk, you might get the travel bug ! See you next time to talk about other cities!