Porto, Portugal, a small city with big personality.
Lisbon is often the first place people think of when talking about traveling to Portugal, but Porto, the country’s second largest city, is charmingly traditional.
Colorful, mismatched houses and winding streets. Sunsets over the Douro River. Beautiful blue tiles. And, plenty of port wine.
I’d originally planned a birthday trip to Lisbon and Porto, but ended up needing to delay and shorten the trip. In the end, I decided a long weekend in Porto was exactly what I needed as a mid-November getaway.
Thinking about visiting this beautiful city in northern Portugal? Six reasons to stop thinking about, and start planning a trip to Porto-
Porto doesn’t even have to try, it’s romantic, trendy, unassuming and charming all in one. Some parts of the city are a tad run down, but exploring all of it is the only way to get a true feeling for what it’s like for locals.
If you’re visiting, at some point in your trip, you’ll likely be in the Ribeira, old town Porto. Holding World Heritage status, there are old, abandoned buildings on every street, but the area still manages to ooze charm.
When you’ve had your fill of wandering, pull up a seat at any of the cafes that dot the river (loved Bacalhau for their cheese board and wine list). I came late one afternoon, and stayed a few hours until it was time to watch the sun set. True holiday perfection.
If you want to try your hand at relaxation on both sides of the river, the double-decker metallic Douro Bridge makes it easy to do so, and has the added bonus of magnificent views. I walked along the high part of the bridge on my way to port tastings, and took the tram down to the riverside. You can walk along the lower portion of the bridge on your way back to Ribeira/city center, or hop in an Uber like I did (only £3 for a 15 minute ride).
Stunning design and beautiful architecture
Porto does picturesque imperfections better than any other place I’ve ventured to. At every turn, you’ll find bright pops of color, darling details and crumbling tiles.
No visit to Porto is complete spotting the city’s famous blue tiles, azulejos. Azulejo-clad facades are all over the city, each one as stunning as the next. One of my favorite displays, in Sao Bento train station is made up of over 20,000 tiles. Breathtaking, to say the least.
A few other places to see gorgeous azulejos: Capella Das Almas, Church of Saint Ildefonso, Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalos and Porto Cathedral.
And, as you’re wandering the streets in search of blue tiles, stop in Livraria Lello, said to be the most beautiful bookstore in the world. If the floor to ceiling bookcases don’t have you making heart eyes, the curvy center staircase will do the trick. Because the bookstore is so popular, it’ll cost you ~£5 to enter, which is refunded if you purchase anything inside.
Port wine in plentiful amount
Porto is the home of port wine. Until I started planning my trip, I didn’t realise Porto is home to one of the world’s largest wine regions, the Douro Valley. Much like Champagne can only come from a certain part of France, true port wine can only be produced in the Douro Valley.
Interestingly, unlike in most of the world’s other wine regions, wine in Porto is still done by hand- no machinery is allowed in the vineyards.
The output though, is well worth the manual labor. And, with so many varieties- tawny, ruby, white, rose and vintage, it’s likely you’ll find something you enjoy.
There are a bunch of different houses to taste at, we tried three- all of which we loved.
- Kopke: Don’t miss the port wine and chocolate tasting pairings here. Loved the tawny variety in particular
- Calem: This port house is massive, but still manages to feel personable. We enjoyed our tasting at a table with a riverside view, and sampled a few darker varieties of port- tawny, ruby and vintage. The store on the ground floor is huge, it made us wish we had room in our backpacks to take home a few bottles
- Espaco Cruz: You can sample on the ground floor, but you’d be remiss not to head to the rooftop for a sunset sampling. As much as we enjoyed our tasting here, the vibe can be a bit young/trendy on weekends (read: lots of people, loud music), so coming mid-afternoon may be a better decision if you’re looking for a relaxing time
Portuguese eats, muito delicioso
I didn’t go to Porto with the intention or expectation of finding outstanding eats, and was pleasantly surprised by every restaurant we tried. Options for traditional Portuguese are endless, but with me being a vegetarian and my travel partner avoiding starchy carbs during our visit, we sought out a few alternative places to eat:
- Zenith: Excellent brunch with classics like fresh squeezed juices, eggs Benedict, french toast and Portuguese pastries
- Negra Cafe: Another breakfast favorite, great smoothie bowels and cold brew
- Brick Clerigos: Known for their awesome vegetarian eats, we loved this gem. The sweet potato “pizza” topped with a bunch of different vegetables is a must-try
- Flow: Gorgeous restaurant, perfect for a nicer dinner. Menu is Mediterranean focused, try the pumpkin risotto if it’s available
- Panca: Perfect place if you’re into ceviche and pisco sours
- If it’s coffee and a quick breakfast bite you’re after, Majestic Cafe is gorgeous, Moustache or Duas de Letra are great central go-to’s for a morning stop on your way to see/do other things, and Combi Coffee Co. & Mesa 325 are a bit outside of city center (still walkable), but excellent third wave coffee
And, if you’re looking for great spots to grab a drink:
- Aduela and Candelabra are great wine bars
- Champanheria de Baixa does a mean sangria
- The Royal Cocktail Club doesn’t disappoint when it comes to mixed drinks
Day trip to colorful Aveiro and Costa Nova
Aveiro is easy to get to from Porto, urban trains run every hour and are affordable at €3.45 for a one-way ticket. The journey itself takes a little over an hour.
Historically, Aveiro was a port town. Many of the neighborhoods you’ll see on your visit were established by the fishermen and their families. Wandering Averio on foot is easy, the city is pretty compact. Narrow streets, bright houses, patterned tiles- it’s a beautiful place to get lost.
Famed for its pretty striped wooden houses, nearby beach town Costa Nova feels like a return to simpler times. These houses were traditionally used to store fishing tackle, but are now an iconic landmark.
We visited Costa Nova in the off-season (November), but still enjoyed strolling the beautiful beach after admiring the adorable striped homes. It’s the kind of place I left dreaming of returning to in the summer.
Have you ever been to Porto? What did you enjoy most about your visit?