Travel Guide // Porto, Portugal

august 31, 2017

In such a sliver of a country, you would think the two biggest cities in Portugal would be quite comparable, yet their diversity is rich. Where Lisbon is bright and sunny,  Porto offers a darker beauty and edge. Things are a  bit rusty, but in an urban and very hip way. The sweeping views of the sapphire-blue Douro River enchant, alongside the historical context of this medieval town. Endless goblets of port and local wines entrance the senses and leave you satisfied until tomorrow, when there are more local gems to discover in this treasure of a city.

Port // wine tastings

I'm saving the best for first - Porto’s namesake beverage. Here are some of my favorite places to get boozed on the finest from the Douro Valley:

 

Wine Caves in Gaia

Just across the river in Porto (accessible by walking across the Dom Luís Bridge) is row upon row of fine establishments serving house branded port. You really can't go wrong, but here are my top 3:

 

  • Real Companhia Vehla/Royal Oporto is not far from the main drag, but tucked away on a  side street. It has cute little patio and neighboring street art.  I recommend the Reserve Tasting - €10 gets you a serving of their highest quality vintage pours, extra dry port, and rosé port.

 

  • Espaço Porto Cruz has a rooftop restaurant and bar. It's the perfect place for a refreshing port and tonic at sunset with stunning river views.

 

  • Sandeman was recommended by both locals and fellow tourists alike as the best guided tour of the wine caves. It won't disappoint.

 

But the highlight of my entire trip was a day excursion to the Douro Valley wineries with Living Tours. We stopped in a couple small towns outside Porto and at a couple of wineries. We also had bottomless drinks and food at a local lunch spot overlooking the vineyards and river, followed by a boat cruise. It was amazing to hear from the manufacturers of these fine wines. Along with port, we also enjoyed some lovely dry reds and vinho verde. I could go on and on about how great this day trip was; yet, I think the photos speak for themselves:

Eat // Drink

 

  • Muralha do Rio sits on an elevated path beside the river. They serve fresh, traditional seafood off a chalkboard menu.

 

  • Gull Terrace serves sushi on a rooftop patio with river views. They have a good lunch special that includes a tasting of a handful of sushi rolls and wine.

 

  • Rua Tapas & Music Bar is situated in the center of town alongside many other great bars. The seriously tasty tapas will bring you in but, the after hours music will keep you around. Make sure to save room for the raspberry sorbet, served with grilled chèvre and rosemary for dessert. Heaven.

 

  • Cafe Candelabro is a super relaxed former bookstore converted into a cafe and bar. I lost a couple of afternoons here with a glass of wine and a novel. It's the perfect place to grab an aperitif alongside locals before dinner.

 

  • Cremosi - cozy and cute interiors meet creamy, artisanal gelato. Yes, please!

 

  • Armazem is incredibly eclectic. Think flea market - meets coffee shop - meets bike rental shop - meets cocktail garden. Four good reasons to check it out. Bam.

 

  • Porto de Leixões is one of the most important seaports in the country - hence amazingly fresh seafood. A 15-20  minute drive from central Porto is worth the excursion for a fresh sea breeze and a taste of the Atlantic at it’s peak of freshness. I enjoyed the best sea bass I’ve had in my entire life - and I eat a lot of sea bass. According to locals, you can stumble into just about any restaurant on this strip and leave happy.

See // Do

 

 

  • Livraria Lello, dubbed the most beautiful bookstore in the world, is one of the main tourist attractions. For this reason, I recommend being very thoughtful about when you go because there is always a line. When I visited it was borderline claustrophobic. However, I sucked it up, solely because J.K. Rowling is said to have frequented the establishment back when she spent a brief period living in Porto. The place truly does feel magical - sans the clan of tourists. There is an entrance fee, but the cost is deducted from any purchase you make. This was a non-issue for me, as there are a total of five types of establishments I can't enter and leave empty handed. These include: ice cream parlors, dog shelters, anywhere that serves wine, Whole Foods, and book stores.

  • São Bento Station is famous for the ornate, blue tilework (azulejos) on the interior walls of the station depicting Portuguese cultural, lifestyle, and historical scenes. You do not have to buy a ticket to enter the station and take a look.

 

  • The Dom Luís Bridge, connecting Porto to Gaia (AKA: home to the Port wine caves, was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who is most famous for his construction of the famous tower in Paris. It seems to be a right of passage for young Portuguese men to jump from the bridge into the river below. 

Shop // Splurge

 

  • Violet and Ginger is a womenswear boutique with cute, colorful clothes and lifestyle items, such as perfume and  pottery.

 

 

  • Mercado 48 has a little bit of everything and a lot of adorable, funky, and fun. There’s lots of gifty things and local artwork - get souvenirs for yourself here.

 

  • A Vida Portuguesa literally translates, “the Portuguese life,” and it lives up to this name. Offering everything from canned sardines to soaps to stationary - you know, the necessities. Shop for everyone on your gift list here.