At the beginning of February I made a trip to Porto. The city had been on my radar for a while, but was never really at the top and I kept postponing it. Because of the cheap flights (thanks Ryanair) I finally caved. And it was a great surprise. Although it’s not a very big city, I’d definitely recommend it for a city trip. Five days may be too long if you want to be really busy all the time. We enjoyed it nonetheless – drinking and eating our way through the city. During summer, you could go for a swim, do some surfing, make a trip to Peneda Gueres National Park (which I’ve been told is stunning) or go to Braga by train. And to top it all off, the Portuguese are all so friendly that you’d wanna stay forever. So…
What to do?
Although some people might disagree on this one, Porto doesn’t really have any ‘big’ sightseeing spots. There’s nothing comparable to the Eiffel Tower (very overrated anyway in my opinion), Buckingham Palace or… Well you get the point. So what’s there to see?
If you’re into churches, there are a lot of options. Just like many other South European regions, Porto is still quite religious compared to for example Belgium. No matter the time of day, you’ll always see people praying when you visit one of the many churches. From a strictly aesthetic point, I preferred them from the inside rather than the outside – but that’s my opinion. Think about visiting the Igreja do Carmo, the Igreja de Sao Francisco, the Santo Ildefonso and the Catedral do Porto.
Igreja do Carmo
Praça de Gomes Teixeira 10
Igreja de Sao Francisco
Rua do Infante D. Henrique
R. de Santo Ildefonso 11
Catedral do Porto
Terreiro da Sé
Dom Luis I Bridge
Wherever you are, you’ll always see this bridge. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, given the fact that Porto has so many different levels and you don’t always have an overview on the city. But you get my point: WHEN you do see a bit of the skyline, this marvellous bridge will be in sight. I was quite overwhelmed by it at first and throughout my trip, it kept on being strange to see the trams pass over at such a high level above the river. And don’t be scared when you feel the whole construction shaking – that’s normal apparently. This bridge is a delight, whether you’re looking at it or on the ground level or the upper level. Enjoy the view!
This semi-inside market was very close to my hostel and definitely a must-visit. I simply love the fact that at these kinds of places you can feel a mixture of history, nostalgia and decay. It’s certainly not in the best shape and the tourist shops on the ground level don’t do any good to the authenticity level, but I was surprised to see that there are still so many locals selling there sometimes very eclectic goods. This is also where I discovered one of the local specialities: … . Despite the fact that I kind of like the decayed feeling, I still hope that the city will make sure that this place will keep on existing.
Mercearia do Bolhao
Rua de Santa Catarina 220
Lello book shop
I wasn’t sure whether or not to include this one. Why not? Because it’s really on the edge to be a tourist trap. Don’t get me wrong, the place itself is stunning and definitely worth the visit. But for starters, you have to pay 4 euros to enter, which they then deduce from the book price if you purchase something; really good marketing trick. Also, apparently this was an inspiration for J.K. Rowling while writing Harry Potter – she used to teach English in Porto and came here quite often. Nothing wrong with that, but they slightly overdo it with the merchandise. And finally: because of all the tourists, you can barely experience this beautiful place. It was just okay when we visited on a weekday, but as we realised afterwards, it’s totally overcrowded on the weekend. Concluding: yeah you should visit this beautiful shop, but do it early on a weekday and be prepared to spend some money.
R. das Carmelitas 144
Go to the beach
As Porto is so close to the Atlantic, it would be a shame not to take advantage of that. Admittedly, it was a little (very) cold during February. So we just went to the lighthouse and enjoyed the nice views and sunset. If the weather allows for it, however, you could consider a long walk on the beach or even some surf lessons. Garden House Hostel (where we stayed) could put you in contact with a nice organisation for example. The old tram to the ocean is an experience on itself, so make sure not to skip that one!
Where to eat?
By far my favourite place to spend time in Porto. If I’d live in the city, you’d find me here almost every day I’m afraid. Maus Habitos is a mixture between a café, restaurant, cultural venue and honestly, what not. The drinks are cheap, the price-quality of the food is really good and the atmosphere even better. Oh, and let’s not forget the friendly staff. And the amazing parties – at least, that’s what I’ve heard. I won’t spend any more words on this one, you just have to go see for yourself.
R. de Passos Manuel 178, 4º Piso
Although Maus Habitos is my favourite all round place in Porto, Casa Guedes was probably my favourite food experience. It may look a bit shabby from the outside, but it’s just very local. They probably serve the best sandwiches in Porto: perfectly crispy bread, pork meat that’s simply melting in your mouth and Portuguese cheese to top it off. They also do some variations on this one, but just try it, you won’t regret it. It perfectly pairs with a local Super Bock beer or a glass of wine if that’s what you prefer. Just writing about this one makes me want to return…
Praça dos Poveiros 130
I have to admit, pancakes are not your most typical Portuguese food. Not at all. But if they’re cheap and mouth-watering, you won’t hear me complain. You can either have a special lunch package (including drinks and more) or just put together your own plate. Whipped cream, pineapple, Oreo… Name it and you can order it. My only advice: don’t overdo it. Except if you want to of course.
Rua de José Falcão 32
Where to have a drink (or two)?
This little bar is just what you’d expect from your own neighbourhood cafe: cosy, cheap, yummy, friendly… They mainly serve drinks, but you can also have some tapas – whether it is at lunch, as an afternoon snack or late in the evening. It’s pretty small on the inside, but if the weather allows for it, they have a nice terrace outside. An ideal place to have drinks with some friends, your loved one or even alone. They do also have a Wifi-connection, so if you’re looking for a nice place to get some work done, here you go!
Rua das Oliveiras 36
I don’t really know what to think about Portuguese coffee. It’s cheap, yes, they serve it everywhere, yes, but… Well, I guess the taste is way stronger than what I’m used to and it took some time to figure that out. Of you order a cappuccino, you get all kinds of stuff: a normal coffee, a coffee with some milk and a weird cocoa thing in it… Not really my thing.. After a while I discovered that a galao is probably what comes closest to what I know as a cappuccino. Although the Portuguese describe it as a latte. Is it getting confusing already?
Well, all this to say that I really liked the galao at Mesa 325. It’s the perfect cappuccino to me: not too milky, not too strong, not too big… Just as it’s supposed to be. Besides that, the café itself is just really nice to spend some time. And you get the local dog as a free extra. Which is always great. If you don’t like coffee but your friends do, try the orange juice and a pastel de nata. You won’t regret it!
Av. de Camilo 325
360° Terrace Lounge
So, let’s be clear: I don’t know anything about Port wine. At all. To be totally honest with you, I don’t even like it. So it may come as a surprise that I’m recommending this bar to you. The roof bar is on top of the Espaço Porto Cruz, one of the many Port houses in the city. You may feel a little out of place when entering the building as it’s pretty fancy and looks expensive. But don’t let that fool you: prices are still pretty affordable and, when having a drink at the roof bar, you get amazing views at the price of a drink. Their choice of music seemed a little weird to me – think club music during daytime – but apart from that it’s great. Sit back, relax and enjoy a glass of port or wine if just like me that’s what you prefer.
360° Terrace Lounge
Largo Miguel Bombarda 23
4400-222 Vila Nova de Gaia
Where to sleep?
Garden House Hostel
While looking at hostels in Porto, I noticed that a lot of them seem quite good, very hipster and cheap. So you could just do a quick Booking search and find something by yourself. However, if you’d like to be more certain about your choice, I’d recommend Garden House Hostel. They are located right in the middle of the main shopping street and offer great value for money. We slept in a 4-bed dorm and paid 14 euros a night, including a simple yet sufficient breakfast. Other than that they have good showers, a nice living room, a kitchen you can freely use and – important during summer – a garden. During our stay the neighbours were doing some renovations so starting from 9 AM it was a little noisy, but that’s not the hostel’s fault. All in all, one of the better hostels I’ve ever stayed at!
Garden House Hostel
Rua de Santa Catarina 501
So, those are my recommendations for this lovely city! It’s small, but really worth the effort and great value for money. I think it would also be great for digital nomads as it’s so cheap and hipster. Combined with the oh-so-friendly people, it makes for a great getaway. So don’t hesitate, book those tickets and pack your bags!