Although Lisbon is often the first city that people think of when talking about travelling to Portugal, Porto has its own unique charm and should not be missed. Who can resist the tiled churches and houses and the beautiful riverside?!
Thanks to cheap flights from London, Dublin and Brussels, Porto was the perfect destination for my group of school friends to reunite in. After having an amazing time in Madrid a year ago, we were all really excited to get exploring this new city for a long weekend.
In four days we managed to see a lot and visit all of the main attractions. Here’s a guide to help you make the most of Porto too!
Hunt for azulejos
The blue tiles that I’d seen a few times on Instagram were the first thing I wanted to see. I made a note of a few churches that are known for their azulejos and made sure we visited them all: Capela Das Almas, Church of Saint Ildefonso, Igreja dos Carmelitas, and Porto Cathedral. Of course there are many beautiful houses with colourful tiles on their walls as well, but you will come across those naturally!
Learn about port wine in Gaia
It may not be your cup of tea (it really isn’t mine!) but going to Porto without coming across any Port wine would be a bit of a disappointment. Head over to Vila Nova de Gaia, a city just South of the Douro river, and find a cellar/cave. Make sure you get there before 6pm because we really struggled to find
a cellar tour at that time. There are many different cellars to choose from in Gaia (see TripAdvisor) but we went to Burmester and really enjoyed our short guided tour, introduction to the wine, and red and white Port tasting.
Look up at the houses!
I love the architecture in Porto. Houses are quite simple, some are even falling apart, but the city is colourful and each house is unique. It left me wondering why colourful tiles are not used for decorating houses in other countries. So pretty!
Try some local food
Number one food that comes to mind when thinking about Portugal: pasteis de nata. After a quick search, we concluded that Nata Lisboa was the place to go for the best little custard tarts. We weren’t disappointed! It’s the perfect place for breakfast. The pasteis come warm and are incredibly delicious with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled over them.
All the locals told us that we had to try a Francesinha – the most typical dish of Porto. It’s basically like a French croque monsieur cheese toastie but with a lot of different types of meat in it. I didn’t actually get to try it (was never hungry enough!) but we heard from a few people that Santiago makes the best in the city (it was too busy when we went there so I’d suggest going on a weekday).
For dessert, we loved Cremosi, a pretty little ice cream shop. All the ice cream tastes home made and you get to choose from many different toppings, yum!
For coffee, head to Majestic – a gorgeous café that opened in the 1920s (closed on Sundays). It’s on Rua Santa Catarina which is a great street for shopping too.
Go book shopping at Livraria Lello
If you love books and architecture then you must visit this place! It features in every ‘most beautiful bookshops in the world list’, and it sure deserves to. People say its stunning red twisting staircase inspired J. K. Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter during her time living in Porto. Make sure you also look up and admire the stained glass skylight.
Buy your ticket from across the street. The 3€ entry fee will be deducted from any purchase you make inside.
Shop for souvenirs and gifts
If you haven’t spent all of your budget on books and wine already, here are a few really nice places to go shopping for souvenirs:
A Vida Portuguesa: from retro soap and tableware, to pretty notebooks and pencils, you’ll find everything you need for the perfect old-fashioned Portuguese home.
Loja das Conservas: a whole shop of tinned fish! Exactly what was missing from your life. Seriously though, most of the tins are colourful, retro and beautifully designed. Let’s hope your friends like tuna/cod/sardines.
Prometeu Artesanato: if you love Porto’s azulejos, get your own colourful tiles from this shop. You’ll also find hand-painted tableware and items made from cork here.
Take in some views from Clérigos Tower
The Clérigos church’s baroque bell tower is one of Porto’s most important landmarks. For 3€ you can climb up the 240 steps and enjoy the view from the top.
Catch a train from Sao Bento station
Okay, you don’t actually have to catch a train but you really should go to Sao Bento just to see how beautiful it is inside. The thousands of tiles on the walls depict landscapes, battles, and parts of the history of Portugal.
Cross the Dom Luis I bridge
The best view of Porto can be seen from the top of the Dom Luis bridge when walking between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Does the design remind you of anything? Anything in Paris maybe? Théophile Seyrig designed it after working closely with Gustave Eiffel.
Have a drink by the river in Ribeira
The area around Praça da Ribeira, a square by the river, is so lively and beautiful. There are many bars and little restaurants to choose from, as well as a little market and some boat tours.
We watched the sunset from Café do Cais and it was stunning!
Oh and if you go to Bar Ponte Pensil you might spot some guys jumping from the bridge…
Check out the nightlife
A girls’ trip abroad isn’t complete without a good night out. After a few Google searches, I concluded that Galeria de Paris and the streets around it were where we needed to go – and we were not disappointed! When we got there around 11pm, people were spilling out of the bars and onto the street. The atmosphere was awesome and just got better as the night went on (and the sangria got poured). We ended the night at 3 or 4am at Plano B, a nightclub with commercial music and several rooms to dance in.
I absolutely LOVED our long weekend in Porto and I will definitely be back soon (maybe with the boyfriend!). The azulejos, the pasteis de nata, and the atmosphere in Ribeira all made me feel so happy – I’d love to stay there for a whole week next time! Many thanks to my lovely friends Arina (missing from the picture sorry!!), Astrid, Sofia and Nina for making the trip extra special! 🙂
Are you planning a trip to Porto?
What do you like the most about it? For me it’s got to be the azulejos!