Usually overlooked as the more conservative version of its big city counterpart, Lisbon, this humble little coastal city in Portugal is brimming with art, music, culture and enough charm to woo you in an instant (or 24 hours).
Get ready to fall head over heels in love with Porto.
Rise early (the eerie mist that blankets Porto’s historical town centre in the AM is worth the crawl down from the top bunk) and venture from your hostel in the artsy district to The Traveller Café.
Tucked in a side street off the commercial thoroughfare, Rua de Santa Catarina, this quaint breakfast joint offers up a variety of nutrient-rich smoothies, delicious acai bowls and hearty fry ups (for the less carb-conscious). Perfect to dust off the cobwebs after a sangria-fuelled fiesta the night before, or to top up for the day ahead. Let’s go.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit Porto on a weekend, you’d be nuts not to make a beeline straight for Mercado Bolhao. And that’s exactly what you’ll find here, folks: nuts. And seafood. And fresh produce. And more port wine than you can poke a corkscrew at.
If stockpiling your rucksack with local delicacies isn’t on your priorities list, perhaps the variety of Portugal-themed knick-knacks will float your Douro River-boat. Think: table cloths, tea towels, calico bags, magnets, tiles and cork-made EVERYTHING. Once you learn that Portugal is the world’s leading cork producer, you’ll understand why.
So, you’ve been taking on Porto’s hills for a few hours now, breaking a sweat up the Clérigos Tower, perusing the Palacio da Bolsa, and burying your nose in the books at Livraria Lello & Irmao. It’s officially time to sate that growing appetite of yours.
Enter: Francesinha. The Portuguese’s take on a croque monsieur, if you will. Think of it as a glorified toasty, layered with pork, smoked sausage, bacon and beefsteak, dripping in cheesy sauce and topped with a fried egg. Visually appealing? Definitely not. One for the gym junkies? You’ve got to be kidding. Melt-in-your-mouth-freaking-amazeballs? You bet. You’ll find this gem on the menu of most cafes and restaurants. Dig in (just don’t expect your white T-shirt to remain white).
Congratulations! After patiently waiting until this afternoon to swirl and slurp your way around a glass of the good stuff, it’s finally time for that famous port wine tasting. Head to the other side of the Dom Luís I Bridge (opposite the historical Cais da Ribeira) and hit up one of the many port wine cellars that dot the picturesque hilly landscape. Like a who’s who of the port world, Taylor’s, Graham’s, Cálem and Sanderman are all choice options, with most offering a basic tour of the cellar and a tasting for under €10.
As the sunset casts a glorious fairy floss hue over the Porto sky, there’s no better place to anchor yourself than Cais da Riveira. The charming riverside boulevard boasts crumbling architecture and medieval laneways jutting out from its main path, and hosts a selection of lively bars and restaurants.
Casinha São João, a slightly less touristy establishment close to the mighty Dom Luís I Bridge, offers up generous tapas plates and delicious handcrafted food. If you’re only feeling peckish, opt for a mouthwatering cheese, meat and bread board, with a glass of local red, and a side of the most magnificent view; lit up at night, the port cellars perched atop the hills look like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (but for alco-lovers, obvs). Bom apetite!
As home to the University of Porto, there’s no surprise the town’s nightlife is bouncing. Packed with uber-trendy students and colourful travellers, expect plenty of hipster vibes, alternative music and Pinterest-worthy establishments.
If you’re not bunkering down in the atmospheric Ribeira district, listening to ‘fado’ (Portuguese folk music), then head straight for Baixa (downtown) – Porto’s hippest area and home to an array of cool bars, clubs and cafes heavily influenced by art and design. Bar Baixa, Plano B and Pitch are three spots that are sure to get your party juices flowing.
In the mood for some great vibes and even better times in Porto? Head here to experience Porto for yourself.