I’d always wanted to visit Porto but have to admit, I knew very little about the Portuguese city aside from it’s famous football team where one Jose Mourinho started his managerial career. As it turns out, funnily enough there is infinitely more to Oporto. (the full stop insisted as a marketing point by it’s independent mayor) than simply sport.
From cobbled, UNESCO World Heritage approved streets, to 18th century Port warehouses & cozy little eateries; this absolute gem of a city has something for even the most hardened of explorers. Head back in time to a genuine travellers paradise.
Where to stay
There are an abundance of places to stay for such a relatively small city. I stayed at the extremely clean & cozy Being Porto Hostel in one of their traditional private rooms. It was fantastic and felt very authentic, more like a small boutique hotel than a hostel. Comfy room, clean bathroom, with a balcony. What more could you ask for? Maybe friendly and helpful staff? Yep, got those too.
Most of the really good apartments, hotels & hostels are situated in the Downtown area, or on the edges of the Old Town. Oporto Apartments make for a good alternative to an AirBnB, or if you’re looking for something a little more away from the town centre head for the peaceful Porta Azul Guest House.
Top things to do
Wait a minute, you mean other than drink Port? I guess a UNESCO World Hertiage site might have a little more to offer than just getting boozy. Talking of which, a stroll around the old city is an absolute must. You can spend hours dipping in and out of old churches, exploring the winding cobbled streets, simply taking in the atmosphere.
Catch a traditional, vintage Portuguese tram from San Francisco Church all the way down to Foz do Douro if you want to get some beach hours in. A scenic, if a little rickety, ride takes you right along the rivers edge to the Douro’s mouth. There you are presented with a number of relatively secluded beaches, full of locals relaxing. Pop in to the swanky (do people even say that anymore?) Praia do Luz beach club for lunch and soak up the coastal vibes.
If strolling, drinking & sunbathing aren’t for you (really?), get yourself a culture boost at the Museu Serralves – described by many as the best modern art museum in Portugal.
If you’re looking to be guided around this mezmerising city mouth first, then you should absolutely be booking yourself on to a Secret Food Tour whilst you’re there. In over 50+ cities globally, the Porto tour takes you on a winding journey around different areas of the city, lead by extremely knowledgable local guides visiting markets, cafes & restuarants on the way for a myriad delicious, authentic dishes. Make sure you arrive with an empty stomach (and some comfortable shoes)
Traditional, local food?
Portugal’s cuisine doesn’t seem to get quite as much limelight as some of it’s neighbours, with Spain’s famous tapas hogging most of the attention. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about an array of local dishes; from spicy prawn stews (Acado) to the equivalent of a Portuguese bacon sandwich (Bifanas). Check out my guide to which foods you must try whilst in Porto here.
Where to drink Port Wine
Basically everywhere. The spiritual home and birthplace of the Queen’s favourite drink unsurprisingly has a multitude of options when it comes to Port, not to mention wine. Wander along Cais da Ribeira on the river bank for quaint yet slightly touristy bars, such as the quaint Azeitoneira do Porto who also happen to have a mouth-watering selection of olives, all of which will offer various tasting options at usually reasonable prices. Particularly busy at sunset, for good reason.
Across the water in Vila Nova da Gaia you’ll spot a number of large buildings adorned with large signs of branding above them. Welcome to Port heaven. Many of these are old factories steeped in history, where not only can you learn about Port’s origins but also – obviously – treat yourself to a tasting or five. Classics such as Taylor’s, Sandeman’s and Calem are easy access – but if you can stretch yourself a little further, a visit to Graham’s – arguably the best of them all – awaits a further 20-min walk or short taxi ride away, up into the surrounding hillside. In many cases they are paid entry, but if you purchase a bottle whilst you’re there the entry fee will be discounted from your sale.
If you want to explore an aladdin’s cave of a wine shop, head down to Garrafeira do Carmo for a root around an incredible selection of wines & seriously vintage Ports. Ask nicely and you might even get a sample or two.
Looking for somewhere a bit more lively?
There are a number of Cervejeria’s in Porto, but if you fancy something a little more unique then head to the Fabrica Brewpub for a vast array of home brewed and imported craft beers & ales, many of which have amazing names. Bob Barley was probably my personal favourite.
There seems to be a trend of bars on car parks at the moment. If that’s your thing, head to the uber cool BASE bar in downtown. Olive trees & astroturf cover the roof of what used to be a car park, not to mention plenty of bouji comfy seating and DJs playing a decent selection of House music.
Still thirsty? As soon as the sun has gone down, everyone in Porto seems to head towards Rua Galeria de Paris for one of the many late night bars there are to choose from.
Enjoy sunset like a local
If you want to join the locals for a special sunset away from the hoardes of tourists, head to Jardim Das Virtudes for a spectacular view, overlooking the mouth of the river Douro. Pop into one of the local bars nearby to grab yourself a very, very cheap beer whilst you’re there too.
Ssshhh though, don’t tell too many people.