Porto, dessert wine and what else?
Yes, you nailed it, Porto or Oporto in Portuguese is actually where Portugal’s name derives from; “port”!
I don’t know why, maybe the everlasting expensive plane tickets, but somehow I had this posh image for Porto which isn’t the case I realized. It is quite cosy and you can get around on foot. If you think the slopes are not for you, just consider hop on hop off buses. Make sure you stay in the center, we chose Batalha Square. Remember, this is a city by the Atlantic Ocean, better have a scarf for the wind, an umbrella for the rain other than summer. Portugal’s second largest city is cheap relative to the rest of Europe. And check the city’s agenda for an upcoming event, we found ourselves in the middle of a world rally championship!
Dessert wine is best tasted in Gaia district across Douro River. You need a reservation in advance for the port (wine) houses, make sure you do that a couple of hours or better a day ago. Famous ones are Taylor’s, Graham’s, Sandeman and Cálem. If you need a spontaneous one like we did, I can recommend you Quevedo Port Wine Bar. They have ideal priced wine tasting menus and a two storey cute wine lodge with large wine barrels serving as tables by the window.
Ideal for a (long) weekend getaway, Porto, doesn’t just offer port wine but historical landmarks, great viewpoints for photography lovers like pastel, tiled architecture, sunset over Douro, street art, cuisine for foodies and shopping alternatives.
Chosen the world’s best under-the-radar romantic destination, Porto is a laid back city. So, long as your expectations match, you will not regret the visit. See how you like it below.
Transport: Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport is a 15 minute ride away by taxi or 45 minutes by metro which probably has the cheapest fare. It’s a top up card (valid also on buses) and the fare depends on the distance. Porto is connected to Lisbon and Faro nationally and Vigo and Madrid internationally. I heard the train tickets are also available after boarding but you might wanna recheck it. Just like Lisbon’s, Porto has its vintage yellow trams too, operating mostly along the riverside and historic center.
Dom Luis 1 Bridge: Designed by no other than Gustave Eiffel, the bridge connects the city center, Riberia to Gaia district. You can take a cable car from the upper deck to Gaia riverside. There’s also a funicular to the reach the lower deck of the bridge. Don’t do the same mistake we did and take it to go upwards instead, unless you’re crazy to take a picture of the landscape but I don’t think it was worth it for such an expensive price.
Before the arrival of the railway, the Rabelo boats used to transport port wine from Douro Valley to the cellars near the city as the fastest means of transport. Apparently, rabelo means “little trail” referencing the long timber projection from the rear of the boat used to steer the vessel. Today these vessels are only in use of port wine companies along the river.
Clerigos Church & Tower: It’s worth trekking up this baroque church’s tower. If you can climb through a narrow staircase of 240 stairs, go up and enjoy the nice view of pastel buildings, terracotta rooftops, and streets with ups and downs. Opposite the tower is Cordoaria Gardens.
Sé Cathedral: Despite its Romanesque roots, the cathedral has undergone some architectural changes, from baroque to gothic. The terrace in front offers a great view over Douro and Ribeira.
Church of St. Lawrence: UNESCO World Heritage Site is also home to Igreja dos Grilos (as known by locals) which is right below the terrace of Sé Cathedral.
São Bento Train Station: Once a monastery, this train station is full of history. You will see sky blue panels depicting major events from Portugal’s past on the interior walls.
Carmo & Carmelitas Churches: If you take a close look, these twin churches are seperated by a tiniest house. Reason why? The law didn’t allow them next to each other by then.
Santo Ildefonso Church: This was my favourite among all blue & white tiled baroque churches throughout the city. Lovely, isn't it?
Liberty Square (Avenida Dos Aliados): This is the heart of the city, a sloping boulevard lined with buildings like Town Hall at the top, a central promenade with hotels, banks, cafes and tourist info.
Cafe Majestic: A must, not just in terms of its menu but also its historical importance. This almost a hundred year-old cafe will charm you with its cafes, coctails and special desert “rabadanas”. They have special wine for each dessert on the menu.
Dama Pé de Cabra: This little shop we came across coincidentally is actually tripadvisor excellence certificate holder and ideal for breakfast. Hurry, as there are few tables.
Nata Lisboa: The place to discover pastel de nata, Portugal’s famous dessert, if you haven’t already.
Cafe Guarany: Take a break at this historical cafe in the centre when you feel tired.
Base Porto Cafe: An adorable, highly recommended outside bar, opposite Clerigos Tower. Lay back or on the grass and take another sip on that drink.
Tapabento: This is an excellent tapas bar & restaurant. Make sure to have reservations and get ready to be spoiled by amazing food.
Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau: You might think you’re in a library when you go upstairs. Such a cute place where you could taste codfish along with wine. Mmmmh, yummy it was! And such sweet staff 🙂
Bolhão Market: Ideal for those who want to have a nose-to-tail experience with Portugal’s most challenging national dishes like tripe, brain and blood sausage. Not quite for me...
Bali-Hai Polynesian Bar: Have you ever tried one of these? The coctails are so cool.
What else that I haven’t covered?
Casa da Música: An out of the box concert hall with its upside down form and a shoe box-shaped auditorium.
Livraria Lello: Neo-Gothic bookstore which many say was the inspiration of the Hogwarts Stairway in the Harry Potter series. Did you know J. K. Rowling lived in Porto for a little while? Yep, that’s where the inspiration came from. Overwhelmed with tourists, beware that the shop has begun to charge €3.00 for entrance, which you are reimbursed when you purchase something.
Palácio da Bolsa: Former Stock Exchange built to impress european investors could be mistaken for a royal place, especially with the ornate Arab Room, that attempted to copy Granada's Alhambra; Pátio das Nações, a great example of iron architecture, and a remarkable staircase. The 25€ entrance fee may be a bit pricy, tho. As it wasn’t on my list to cover, I happened to pass by and didn’t have to make that decision 😀
Forte de São Francisco do Queijo: Otherwise known as Cheese Castle because of the wedge of rock it stands upon, is situated in the north, is simply why we skipped the visit. But if you have time, keep it in mind for sunset.
Rua St. Catarina is where you’ll want to do your shopping. These curved hearts, called Viana hearts are super popular. Topped with a crown-like shape that represents fire, this design symbolizes the Roman Catholic depiction of “the flaming heart of Jesus.” Why not buy a pair of earrings of Viana hearts like I did! By the way, accessories made of cork are also very in.
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