With Lisbon having been all the rage lately, its little sister Porto hasn’t gotten as much credit as it undoubtedly deserves. Beautifully located on the River Douro, the city is home to stunning architecture, scrumptious culinary treats (fancy some Port, anyone?) and a lively cultural scene – no wonder J.K. Rowling decided to live here for a few years!
Consequently, Portugal’s so called “secret capital” is catching up quickly and is definitely worth a visit – especially as long as mass tourism is still absent!
photo by Nicolas Vollmer via flickr
While visiting a friend in Lisbon for a few days, I decided to plan a day trip to Portugal’s second biggest city. As I knew I was only going to spend about 10 hours in Porto, I wanted to make the most of my time and thus joined a free walking tour as well as exploring a bit on my own afterwards.
The 3-hour walking tour was indeed a great choice, as the guides give you some interesting insight into the city’s historical and cultural background, plus you get to meet fun people from all over the world. However, if you prefer to be a bit more independent, Porto is also perfect for walking around on your own.
In the Morning
Start your day with a typical Portuguese breakfast – a galao (espresso with steamed milk, a sort of Portuguese latte) and a pastry of your choice – anywhere on the Praca da Liberdade, taking in the grand view of the city’s town hall. Afterwards, if you haven’t arrived here already, head over to the city’s Sao Bento railway station and marvel at the building’s 20,000+ stunning azulejos (hand-painted tiles) which tell the stories of past European wars and monarchs.
Then, walking along the Rua de Sa da Bandeira, take a right on Rua de Passos Manuel and arrive in the Rua de Santa Catarina, the city’s main shopping street. If you feel like shopping, go for it – but even if you don’t, the street is still worth a visit due to the beautifully tiled church Capela Das Almas as well as the Cafe Majestic, where J.K. Rowling wrote the very first chapters of Harry Potter. However, don’t get carried away by their fabulous (and comparatively expensive) menu too much, as you’ll need all the appetite you can get for your lunch.
I’m afraid to tell you that you don’t really have any choice other than to have a Francesinha for lunch. Porto’s most famous signature dish consists of a melted-cheese-covered sandwich containing ham, sausages and steak served on a plate with French fries and slightly spicy tomato sauce (there are vegetarian versions available as well!). You can find it all over town, but locals have told me that the best Francesinha can be found at either Bufete Fase or Cafe Santiago and that you should never spend less than 7EUR or more than 12EUR on one sandwich. If you’re with a friend, you should definitely consider sharing one, as it’s more than likely you’ll be full after one half.
No Time for a lazy Afternoon
If you can still walk after your Francesinha experience, do so by heading down the Rua de Santa Catarina and the Praca da Batalha, passing the Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso and coming to a stop at the Igreja de Santa Clara. This former cloister might look plain from the outside, but its stunning rococo interior is completely covered in gold leaf and contains lots of exceptional Portuguese woodwork.
After sneaking a little peek over the river Douro at the top of the Ponte Luis I bridge, head over to the city’s cathedral Se do Porto and then down to the waterfront (there are some well-concealed stairs behind the cathedral that will give you a great view into some cozy little side streets).
Now it’s time for some Port! Cross the lower level of the aforementioned bridge to Gaia, where you can either enjoy a glass of Port with a beautiful view of the old town, or participate in a Port Wine cellar tour (tours are mostly an hour long, cost about 15EUR and include a wine cellar tour as well as some port wine tasting). Afterwards, if you feel like a bit of a scenic ride, take the cable car (about 6EUR) back to the top of the bridge; however, walking shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes either.
How to End the Day
If you are on a day trip like me, you’ll probably be heading back to Lisbon during the evening hours. However, if you’ve still got a bit of time, I’d definitely recommend going to at least one more place: The Livraria Lello. This famous Art Nouveau bookstore is the first one I’ve ever paid an entrance fee to, but it was worth every single one of the 3 Euros I paid (plus, if you buy a book, you can reclaim the entrance fee). Upon entering, you instantly feel like you’ve been thrown into a store in Diagon Alley – I don’t use this phrase lightly, but it’s pure magic!
Of course there is much more to discover in Porto (check out the tourist information or download this amazing free map with more information) – if I had known that I would fall in love with this city instantly, I would’ve definitely decided to stay longer – as will you hopefully!
This is a guest post by Kat Nagler.
Kat is an art and museum educator currently living in Hamburg. Having grown up in two countries – the United States and Germany – she always felt that she was at home in more than one place. After Hawaii and New Zealand, her next big adventure will take her to Australia this coming spring, where she hopes to encounter at least one or two quokkas. Kat enjoys art, summer, reading, anything food and coffee-related as well as meeting people from all over the world. You can find Kat on Instagram.