Summer 19 in Europe – exploring Porto
The last of my summer 2019 travels was to the beautiful city of Porto where I connected with a friend I’d made 4 years ago whilst solo travelling in Prague! This year we finally managed to align schedules for my visit during early September.
Porto (or Oporto) is an old city, with a UNESCO heritage recognised historic centre, which is well known for Port wine. It’s fast becoming a very popular tourist destination in Portugal and it was very clear to see why as it is full of beautiful sights, excellent food and drink (wine obvs) and plenty to do for all types of travellers.
It’s easy to walk around but the metro or trams are great ways to get around too. Buy an andante card for 60 cents at the airport and add Z4 to your journey to get into town. Once in town, you can get around with that card for a couple of euros. Uber is also affordable if needed.
I spent 5 days in Porto so this is a summary of everything I loved and recommend.
Negra Cafe – a dreamy, cosy place for breakfast or brunch. The pancakes were really good with an array of fruit. My friend enjoyed the açai bowls (and she is Brazilian so that saying something!)
Garden Cafe – they have an extensive menu to choose from in this instagram pretty cafe. We both chose the eggs benedict which come either with bacon or veggie style. Alternatively, if you’re stopping by for a sweet treat, you’ll get plenty for your euros.
The famous pastel de nata has to be eaten whenever you’re in Portugal! I lost count of how many we ate but I do know my favourite place in town for it was Fábrica de Nata where you can watch the chefs actually make the pastries.
The trick to the perfect nata is to lightly top your pastry with cinnamon and sugar and enjoy with a coffee.
And here’s how not to do it..
You have to be really confident that something tastes good to give it a powerful name right? “Bread of God” is a coconut pastry delight which I found in a bakery at the train station and instantly fell in love with!
Jimao Tapas – a Portuguese tapas restaurant which you need to book in advance especially for evening dining. I loved everything we ate including sardine toast which is a classic in Portugal (due to its cheapness when many lived in poverty so couldn’t afford luxury food many many years ago) and it’s actually much taster than it sounds! The melon and chorizo is also an incredible combo.
Cafe Santiago da Praça – here the thing to eat is the francesinha Santiago which resembles the French croque monsieur sandwich and has to be accompanied with Fino (beer) for the full experience.
Sai Cão – for amazing homemade and cheap food. The menu is minimal but that’s not an issue as everything they make is brilliant. I had a litre of wine and a fish potato chickpea meal for €4.50!!! Don’t forget it’s cash only too.
Salve simpatia Porto – Brazilian food which the Brazilian approved of so one for your list.
Hong Kong Restaurant – my loyal readers will know that I always end up having a Chinese meal wherever I go..it started as an accident but once I noticed the pattern, I had to keep up the tradition! This place is both delicious and kind to your wallets
The best way to start your evening in my opinion is by having drinks alongside River Douro, perfect for people watching and being serenaded/entertained. If you’re looking for bars and clubs, head over to street Rua de Cândido dos Reis where there’s plenty to choose from. We spent one night at W Black W where the music banged and the drinks are decent.
Clérigos Church and tower – for only €5, you get a self guided tour of this incredibly beautiful Baroque church and the views of Porto from the top of the tower to finish your tour off in style. The highest point of the tower is not for those who fear heights or tight spaces!
Sé do Porto (Porto’s Cathedral) is a Roman Catholic cathedral in the centre of the old town. It features gothic, baroque and romanesque architecture plus the infamous azulejo (blue and white tiles) design throughout. It takes about half an hour to do the whole cathedral and is worth taking your time to see it all!
Bishops Palace – this is where Bishops used to live and is next door to the cathedral (convenient commute to work, love it). It’s a grand palace with beautiful rooms and gives a small insight into the lives of previous bishops. Entry here can be combined with the Cathedral (€5). However I wasn’t very impressed by it so if you’re short on time, just stick with the cathedral.
Tower of D. Pedro Pitões – a medieval tower which is directly opposite the cathedral, which previously protected the north of the city. It’s free to enter and explore if you’re interested in old architecture.
Museu de Arte Sacra e Arqueologia – Museum of Sacred Art and Archaeology which is a 3 in 1 site with a small church (St Lawrence’s Church) and with displays looking at archaeology of Porto and featuring some religious art and sculptures. It’s €3 for adults or €1.50 for students.
Church of Saint Ildefonso is a perfect example of how the azulejo design has been used to decorate important buildings not only in Porto but throughout the whole country.
Most churches seem to close for a couple of hours in the day from midday so bear that in mind when planning your day!
Porto is known for its Port wine which I hadn’t tried before this trip but quickly learnt to enjoy it. There are also many wine cellars where you can learn about the making of the wine on a tour and enjoy a few samples afterwards. We checked out Croft cellar which was €14 for the tour and included 3 samples!
Harry Potter – Now this is for any Harry Potter fans out there who may have visited well known places around London or Edinburgh which inspired/featured in the books and films. Porto is where JK Rowling started writing the first HP book. Many things around the city are said to have inspired her including:
– The University of Porto’s students uniform (which they still wear and the resemblance is uncanny)
– Lello bookstore (possibly inspo for the Hogwarts library or grand staircase) – they charge an entrance fee and the line was crazy so I didn’t go in to see
– The expensive and touristy Majestic cafe where she apparently spent hours writing in!
There is a Harry Potter tour you can go on to see all the spots around town!
River Douro – an important feature of Porto where you can find the beautiful Ribeira district, many cafes and restaurants to eat at, walking distance from wine cellars (it’s even home to some of the grapes which create Port wine) and is overall an enjoyable place by day or night.
For the quietest yet most impressive sunset I saw in Porto, head to the Romantic Museum’s gardens for free.
I’m all for these, especially when travelling around mainland Europe due to ease and affordability of trains. We visited 2 nearby towns for a change of scene for a very decent €11.50 rountrip bought the day before!
Águeda – a small town known for its handmade products such as clay pottery, tannery and baskets. It’s also a very beautiful town with plenty of street art, azulejo design and umbrella streets to enjoy.
The town is small so doesn’t take longer than an hour to see most of it. For lunch, you have to visit Michelin star restaurant O tipico which is a family run restaurant serving incredible food and only cost us €25 each for 3 courses and drinks!
Aveiro – the Venice of Portugal! The main attraction is the canals which offer many canal rides and the chance to dine alongside in cute cafes.
To enjoy the canals without the crowds, walk through the side streets going away form the main canal and you’ll reach a fish market..beyond this, you’ll find an alternative and quieter space!
Art Noveau is also a big deal in this city as seen on its buildings and in the Art Noveau museum. Finally there’s plenty of shopping opportunities to take home a piece of azulejo heaven with you.
So that’s my 5 days in Porto in a nutshell! Although it was sunny, it took a few days for the weather to heat up so we skipped the beach which is another option when it’s hot. Visiting other well known places via train such as Lisbon, Sinatra or the Algarve can be done if you have more time to spend in Portugal.
I hope this blog has inspired you to add Porto to your 2020 wish list if you’re yet to visit. And for those of you who’ve been before, please feel free to comment any tips you may have!