Porto, Portugal. A city that I had never really had an interest in until one weekend I got tired and restless and said “Screw it. I’m taking a last minute, solo trip this weekend.” So that’s what I did. I boarded a late train one Friday night and went to Porto. In the end, I lost my heart to a city that has no intentions of giving it back. From the historic city center to the modern bars and nightlife, Porto creates an ambiance that will make you want to stay there forever.
I only had roughly 36 hours in Porto, but to me, it was the perfect amount of time. Since my train arrived very late, I went straight to my Airbnb with intentions to wake up early the next day and not return home until I saw every corner of the city. The next day I woke up at 7 and was on my way to exploring the city at 8:00am. Unfortunately, I did wake up to a heavy downpour and had to maneuver my way around the city by metro/bus during the first hour or so but let me just say.. thank God for the Porto metro system. The Porto metro system is literally a blessing. I have never liked public transportation more in my life. It is so easily navigable, it’s fast, and I highly recommend it to anyone that has limited time in Porto because it will get you where you need to go and quickly. From my Airbnb, the city center was only 4 metro stops and for the rest of the day, I chose to explore by foot.
First, I ended up in the beautiful São Bento train station. This was actually by accident because I was trying to get out of the rain to decide where my first stop should be. São Bento is a must-see if you ever travel to Porto. It used to be the city’s main train station before they built Porto Campanha. However, São Bento is still in use for the urban trains and medium distance trains. The inside of the station is decorated by tiles (an artistic tradition in Portugal) that depict murals.
From São Bento, I took the short walk to Avenida de Aliados. Aliados is the main center point of the city. Everything and everyone can be found in this area. This is where many tourists find themselves because numerous tours by bus/foot, souvenir shops, and random exhibits in the plaza can be found here. There’s a McDonalds (please don’t eat McDonalds while you’re in Porto because the local food is amazing). From Aliados, most of the best places to see in Porto are within distances that are about 30 minutes walking. I really can’t go into detail too much about what places to see in Porto because I would be writing a novel. The truth is that there is so much to see and I spent about 14 hours that day walking to see all of it. However, some of my favorites are:
- Ponte Dom Luis!!
- Torre de Clergios
- Livraria Lello & Irmão
- São Bento Estação
- Palacio da Bolsa
- Palacio de Cristal (the park is beautiful)
- Casa de Musica
- The beach (if you have time)
The list isn’t even a rating because I love every corner of Porto but I definitely recommend all those places PLUS the cathedrals and churches which if you just walk up and down every street like I did you will for sure run into them at some point. If you feel like you don’t want to get lost, there are walking tours that start in Aliados and they are free. You technically are supposed to make a donation though. However, the one I took lasted about 3 hours and I recommend doing it within your first day or hours in Porto because you learn many helpful tips about where to find the best restaurants, shops, and overlooks.
Something I didn’t appreciate about Porto until I went back a second time on the way to Lisboa was the food!! The food in Portugal is amazing and I never had even thought of Portugal being a foodie’s dream. It is absolutely recommended to try the Francesinha and Bacalhau (cod fish). The Francesinha is a Portuguese dish that is a thick, beef steak in between two pieces of homemade bread with sausage. From there it is placed in a deep dish with a kind of soup sauce with cheese drenched on top and an egg on top of that. It really is kind of overwhelming when you first get it and it can be easily shared by two, if not three, people. But it is amazing, you’ll just kind of feel like you might have a heart attack after (normal). Bacalhau is simply cod fish and you can find it in many different forms throughout the city. Another restaurant that I ate at during my first trip to Porto is called Pedro dos Frangos and it was recommended by the tour guide of my walking tour. This restaurant is famous for their roasterie style chicken with french fries. Their wines are also very good and they have a great selection. Again, this is another place where you can share dinner with a friend. Luckily this time I did with a girl that I met from the US in Porto on the walking tour. (Shout out to Emily Suryadi! I miss you!) The city also has a lot good desserts. So be happy if you have a sweet tooth. My first trip I ended up at a gelado cafe because there was live music and it had a fun vibe to it. I enjoyed some of the best gelado that I have had since I have been here and I even got asked by the beautiful Portuguese man singing if I wanted to join him and sing while he played the guitar. *swwoooon* I kindly declined in respect for the audience. Let it be known if I marry anyone while I am here, it will be a Portuguese man.
VILA NOVA DE GAIA
Okay, so in all honesty, this was my favorite part about my trip to Porto. Vila Nova de Gaia is another city that is right across the Rio Douro. When talking to locals do not, I repeat do not, consider it part of Porto because they will get offended. It’s true. Anyways, Vila Nova de Gaia is the area where you will find all of the Porto Wine or Vinho do Porto. The riverwalk is lined with restaurants, bodegas (wine cellars), and shops that are ready to have you hand your money over to them for a sample of port wine. I myself took a tour of the Sandeman bodega and it was actually really cool and I learned a lot about the port wine. It was only 10 Euro so I definitely recommend and you get two samples with the tour. I personally was not a fan of the port wine and I have even tried other kinds from different places and I don’t just have a taste for it. It’s very thick, sweet, and I don’t know. I just don’t like it. Be warned that is more similar to a liquor than a wine. It is very strong and has a syrup-like texture. There are four different kinds: White Port, Ruby Port, Tawny Port, and Vintage Port. If I had to describe it, I would say it is very similar to an after-dinner drink such as Sherry or Brandy. It is meant to be consumed in small amounts (about a shot and a half) and not drank by the glass ( or multiple glasses) like you would a normal wine. Other than the port wine, Vila Nova de Gaia is perfect for lookouts over Porto, watching the sailboats bring in the port wine on the river, and for grabbing lunch or simply taking a walk. I really fell in love with this area because it was so calming to have lunch by the river and to watch the water. You also really do have a great view of the colorful homes across the river in Porto and it just feels like an “authentic” area to be in.
I have traveled to Porto two times now and I feel like I will be going back more when the weather is nicer because I love it so much. The city is very welcoming and the people are great and super nice. Apart from the historic and popular sites, I am not sure why I love it so much because it is actually kind of dirty and unkept but I think that is what gives it the “hipster” and real vibes. It is a city that has a ton of personality. I can guarantee that anyone will enjoy getting lost in the narrow streets of Porto.