We had a three-day weekend, so we hopped a flight to Porto, Portugal. It’s a city I’ve been wanting to visit for a while– and it lived up to the hype! While three days wasn’t enough to do it justice, Porto offered an amazing relaxing getaway!
We stayed at the Eurostars Porto Douro and can highly recommend it! It’s spotless, with modern, spacious rooms right on the river and easy walking distance to the Ribeira (riverfront) in the old city.
Bulha Restaurant — Getting off the airport tram at the Trinidad stop downtown Porto, we had lunch at this awesome casual restaurant. Great food, good service, and reasonable prices. Good enough that we stopped here on the way back to the airport and I had a delicious octopus dish (fresh, tender, and all-around amazing!)
A new dish I discovered was the Francesinha — basically a sandwich with multiple layers of meat (various sausages, thing steak, and ham, smothered in melted cheese, topped with an egg — and covered in a spicy gravy sauce. I’ve carefully avoided looking at calorie estimates for this thing, but it is hearty and very tasty! For a recipe and tutorial on how to make it, click here: https://laviehline.net/francesinha/
Pastel de Bacalhau: On the south side of the river, we stopped in the Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau — which makes baked codfish cakes infused with local sheep cheese. A bit overpriced, but a fun snack while walking along the river.
Majestic Cafe – a Porto institution dating back to 1921, Majestic Cafe is an ornately-decorated restaurant that feels like a step back in time. The servers wear formal attire and it has a high-end (if touristy) vibe. It’s worth going for the atmosphere, not to mention the amazing Majestic French Toast — with port wine! It’s on a main shopping street, and is perfect place for a pit stop after a day of walking.
Casa Oriental – This brightly-decorated shop (oriented to tourists) is famous for canned sardines, but they preserve numerous other things as well — octopus, mackerel, squid, salmon, sea bass — you name it, they’ll can it! Prices are high but the cans make good souvenirs (Btw– you can bring them in your carry-on luggage : )
We couldn’t miss the Livaria Lello, which dates back to 1869 ranks as one of the world’s top bookstores. Its ornate, wooden-carved interior is super impressive and is complemented by a massive skylight and a red staircase that splits in the middle. It probably didn’t hurt its popularity that it was apparently inspiration for JK Rowling’s writings.
As with any “must see” destination in the age of mass tourism, this place is CROWDED! You need to pay 5 EUR for a ticket to enter the bookstore, which you get after waiting in a line at a separate office down the road and around the corner. With ticket in hand, you then proceed to the store and wait in another line to get in. I’m glad I saw it, but given the crowds, a quick walk-through (cliff notes visit) was enough for me!
There are plenty of gorgeous churches throughout Porto, with intricate details and frequent masses. I’ve flagged a couple below that stood out as particularly noteworthy:
The Igreja dos Clérigos has a massive tower that you can climb for a fee, or you can just visit the church for free.
Chapel Almas de Santa Catarina – the beautiful blue tiles on the exterior cover scenes including the death of St. Francis of Assisi and the Martyrdom of St. Catherine
South Side / Port Wineries
One key highlight of Porto, of course, is Port wine! Crossing to the south side of the river, you’ll immediately see a bunch of Port houses / wineries. Because I’m not a port connoisseur, I calibrated my taste-buds with a tasting of five varieties of Port (white, sweet white / amber, rose, ruby, and tawny) at a shop in the market.
We tried going to the Sandeman house (hey– their advertising is effective!), but we arrived just as a group of approximately 7,000 tourists started pushing through the door — and decided to bow out. (We later circled back to see the free museum in the entryway). We instead went to Quinta dos Corvos, a local / family-owned producer a block or so off the main road, and it was great! I tried a 20+ year old aged white port, which had turned a rich amber color– and was exceptional! I also had an amazing 40+ year old tawny / barrel-aged port. The staff took time to explain everything to us, and the traditional-yet-sleek interior (plus lack of crowds) made for a great Port experience. We also went to Croft Port, further up the hill, which had an outdoor deck offering great views of the river front, as well as cozy interior tasting room — with fireplaces, snack selections, and a cool video showing old timey life in Porto. Their Port was excellent, as well! On the way out, I had the chance to try Burmester, which was also solid!
There’s also a cable car that takes you to the upper part of the south bank, including the Claustros do Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar — a key landmark on the riverfront (featured below). (Note– we couldn’t get in because it’s closed on Mondays– the day we turned our attention to visiting it. Next time, Claustros!)
We ate lunch at the Mercado Beira-Rio, a covered market with a bunch of food stalls all selling delicious fare– particularly the meats and cheeses : ) For dinner, we had a sea bass / octopus combo at Restaurant Micha — which was a nice riverfront option.
We hung out at the Ribeira riverfront at night — where locals and tourists alike hung out at the numerous cafes and restaurants lining the water. The daytime crowds had dissipated and some people were playing Fado music, which created a relaxing atmosphere while gazing at the lights on the water and watching the passing boats.
Unlike in Lisbon, where you can wander around certain neighborhoods and pop into a casual restaurant and listen to Fado over a beer and snacks, I didn’t see as much of that here. Most Fado places seemed to require advance reservations or at least a commitment to paying a fixed price to stay for a full show. For that reason, the guys playing on the riverfront were most welcome!
Boat Trip on Douro River
On our last day, we took a short boat trip on the Douro river. There were a bunch of companies offering tours (15 EUR for a one-hour trip) departing from the Ribeira. It was a fun way to see the area surrounding Porto, as well as the various bridges in the area, and some of the unique architecture. The trip took us to the mouth of the Atlantic ocean, where we could see massive waves crashing in the distance. If you have time, it’s a nice way to spend an hour.
Click here for a short video montage, along with a clip of the relaxing riverfront music.