Porto is an increasingly popular city break destination among Dutch people. Well, the Dutch are known to travel a lot, so I don’t know if that says much. My husband Titus and I chose to go there to celebrate the anniversary of our first date, now four years ago. The city is famous for its port wine production and colorful houses perched against a hill along the river Douro. We figured it would make a good get-away in the winter.
What to do
Porto has a few museums and some interesting historical buildings. The city has quite a few lovely parks and you can gaze at the azulejos (tiles) for days. Since the weather was warm and sunny, we chose to walk around a lot. What we did:
Walk to Vila Nova de Gaia
We walked from the city center across the river to Gaia, where all the port cellars are located. First we went over the lower part of the Dom Luís I bridge. Since it was before noon and we thought it a bit early to sample the wines, we took the cable car (€6 one way) to the higher level of the bridge and strolled back. The view from the Gaia-side to Porto’s historical center (Ribeira) is a must!
Walk to the Atlantic Ocean
One day we walked from the city center along the river to Foz do Douro; where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean. The weather was great, we could walk without coats even in February, and it was a great feeling to start to smell and feel the ocean air as we came closer to Foz. We were there at the end of the afternoon and watched the sun set from a beach bar. Seeing the waves crash onto the beach and rocks along the shore was mesmerizing.
Take the metro to Matosinhos
Matosinhos is an ocean-side town known for its fish. There is a fish market (metro stop Mercado) and a lot of restaurant where you can eat fresh fish which is then grilled for you on the street. We went to O Valentim on Rua da Lota (Rua Heróis de França) and had the best meal of our whole stay.
The metro tickets are rechargeable, so don’t throw them away.
See the most beautiful tiles
Go to the São Bento train station and/or the Capela das Almas (Chapel of Souls) at Rua de Santa Catarina. Breathtaking.
I’m going to brutal here: I was disappointed by the food. Our timing of the trip might have had something to do with it. We were there from Sunday to Wednesday, and many restaurants close on Sundays and Mondays. This made it quite hard to find a good meal. The Tuesday should have given us more choice, but then we happened to have an awful experience in a restaurant that was recommended to us, but clearly lost its shine over the years.
We had plenty of recommendations from friends, a guide book and the Lonely Planet Guides app, but also found some restaurants to be permanently closed. It seems the economy is in a poor state if even the good restaurants can’t stay afloat.
What to eat
Francesinha is dish with bread, several types of meat, cheese and beer sauce. Fries are served in the dish or as a side dish. You can find it all over town. Basically, it’s a heart attack on a plate. Good for when you’re hungover.
Inhabitants of Porto are called tripeiros – as in people eating tripe/intestines. We did not try tripas a moda do Porto: Titus would not mind, but I can’t stomach that. Pun intended.
Pork is eaten a lot and we had a nice pulled pork sandwich at A Casa Guedes. Take the one with melted cheese. Delicious!
Where to drink
Even though we were not in Porto on the peak party nights, we had no trouble finding a nice place to drink. Porto is a student city. The bars are full every night of the week.
Aduela – Rua das Oliveiras – Lively terrace, cosy atmosphere.
Café Vitória – Rua de José Falcão – Very friendly staff, nice garden room.
Café Candelabro – Rua da Conceição – Stylish, a bit dark and moody in a good way.
Catraio Craft Beer Shop – Rua de Cedofeita – Opens at 4 PM, serving Portuguese draft and bottled beer.
What to skip
We found the Mercado do Bolhão to be nothing special. It has mostly souvenir stalls.
Livraria Lello (book shop) is said to be beautiful, but so crowded that it is no longer enjoyable. Plus it charges a fee to get in.
Porto is a nice place for a city break. I’d recommend timing it for the spring or summer, so you can combine it with the beach nearby.
We liked Porto especially for drinking. Saúde!
Also of interest: other European city trip destinations.