Olá, amigos! The temps have dropped and snow is on the ground in NYC! The weather peeps got the forecast right when they predicted a ‘deep freeze’, that’s for sure. And on top of that, Christmas has already come and gone, which breaks my heart to say. Why does it always go so fast?! At least New Years is among us and I’m so stoked for 2018. It’s been a great year for me and The Dana Diaries and I’m so excited for all of the great things coming in the next year!
Anyway, I’ve been spending the past few days trying to ignore the bitter weather by reminiscing about warmer times in Portugal. I finally brought you our Lisbon itinerary earlier this month. Yes, I know that was a long read, but hopefully one day you’ll say obrigada 😉 Now, I’m so excited to tell you all about our experience in Portugal’s popular northern destination, Porto.
I absolutely loved Porto and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in visiting Portugal. It’s definitely a laid-back city, with a solid mix of classic old European city feels and an urban, working-class city vibe. The food is amazing (not to mention, incredibly cheap), the wine is wonderful (also cheap!) and there are a ton of really cool sites to see. We knew we wanted to check a few things off our itinerary list like Port tasting, visiting the Livraria Lello bookstore & heading over to the Jardim do Morro for views of the sunset, but we definitely spent a good amount of time wandering around taking in whatever sights we stumbled upon. The highlight of the trip for me was definitely the drinks in the garden at dusk (before the rain came and covered us with ashes from the horrible fires Northern Portugal had been plagued with days earlier), but port tasting and finally finding the famous blue tiled church, the Chapel of Souls, was also really fun. Naturally, every day was a damn good day filled with fun banter, great friends, Harry Potter references (more later), exploration, and good food! We did have one scare when we thought someone was breaking into our Airbnb (hi, mom hope you’re not reading this LOL) but we survived. Note to self: always make sure the door is actually shut. Anyway, keep scrolling for Porto goodness!
HOW YOU’RE GETTING AROUND:
While we flew from NYC to Lisbon, we ended up heading straight for Porto. We took the train from Oriente Station (only two stops from the airport on the subway) north. Once we got there, we opted to take an Uber to our Airbnb since we had all of our luggage and were exhausted from the hours of traveling. Keep in mind that Uber in Portugal is ridiculously cheap, and I’d highly recommend Uber on travel days! We also scheduled an Uber to take us from our Airbnb back to the train station when we headed south to Lisbon. Definitely beats lugging rolling luggage on bumpy, mostly stone, sidewalks!
Porto itself is an incredibly walkable and we walked everywhere we went. The city is pretty small, making it relatively quick and easy to get everywhere. We ended up renting an Airbnb with an awesome private deck in the “city center” area. The area definitely seemed a little “rougher” to me, but I think that goes for most of the city that lies outside of the traditional Old Town. We were a short walk to the bridge, and everywhere else we went was also really accessible. And now, onto the good stuff!
La Ricotta: A delicious Italian and Portuguese fusion (say, what?!) gastropub. The atmosphere is rustic, yet sleek, and the food is phenomenal (I’d highly recommend the squid ink pasta or the duck!) While it’s not exactly the cheapest restaurant around, the food and experience are worth every penny.
O Tascö : If fried fish and classic Portuguese tapas are in the cards for you, you’re headed straight to O Tascö. Thinking about the fried cod makes me full blown drool. The vibes are really cool, and the upstairs turf dining area feels like an indoor garden. Make sure you sign the chalk wall on your way out!
Puro 4050: Puro 4050 has a gorgeous, rustic space inside, but the plaza seating is where it’s at! It’s situated on a tiny pedestrian-only road, lined with tons of restaurants and stores. I would definitely suggest stopping here for one of their truffle pizzas and a bottle of Vinho Verde (which is not green… LAME! But still tasty nonetheless!)
Cafe Majestic : Majestic in the name, majestic in nature! The renowned J.K. Rowling used to post up here, making it a notable breakfast stop for tourists. Rowling lived in Porto for years, and the city’s served as major inspiration for her while she was writing Harry Potter. The portions are on the smaller side, but the food is good and the grandeur of the restaurant itself is pretty breathtaking. I would suggest going on the early side since it gets crowded quickly!
Cantinho dos Bragança: This is a great place if you’re looking for a delicious tapas-style dinner paired with amazing sangria! I honestly don’t even think this spot has indoor seating, so you’ll be posting up in a little plaza across from the entrance. The plaza is surrounded by a ton of other restaurants and seems to be a local hangout, so you’ll feel like a real Porto pro while you nom on some octopus, jumbo shrimp, and flaming Portuguese sausage.
Zenith: Healthy brunch? Caffeine pick me up? Strong cocktails? All three collide under one trendy roof at Zenith. Zenith basically feels like a more upscale coffee shop, and I’d suggest sitting outside for a casual pick me up (whether that means alcohol, coffee, or both!)
7groaster: An instagrammable, chic coffee shop if there ever was one! This is a great spot to post up for a healthy treat (um, the yogurt bowl was to die for) and sip on a unique and innovative coffee poured from a Chemex. Their menu is jam-packed with specialty drinks and the aesthetics are stunning. It’s nestled away on a side street in Gaia, making it feel like an undiscovered, low key gem.
Sunset Drinks at the Jardim do Morro– Grab a beer from Esplanada Transparente and head for the park! There are tons of seats built into the hillside and the view of Gaia below and Porto across the river are phenomenal. Hopefully, you’ll be able to catch a beautiful, clear sunset (I’ve heard from my friend Alex, that it’s absolutely breathtaking!) and I’d suggest taking the cable car from the Gaia riverside up to the garden. Then you can walk across the top of the bridge back to Porto and be on your merry way!
Champ’s da Baixa Bistrô : Looking for a more sophisticated night out? Whether it’s a date night or drinks with the ladies, you’re headed to this uber chic spot for wine (or champagne!) It’s incredibly classy and the ambiance is sultry. This is also a great spot if you need a place to grab a drink before being seated at La Ricotta!
360º Terrace Lounge at Porto Cruz: Another city, another rooftop. That’s literally my motto. I’m always on the hunt for a rooftop with a view, whether that’s in NYC or beyond. The Porto Cruz port house has an awesome, trendy rooftop that’s perfect for grabbing a port cocktail and watching the sunset. Since you’ll technically be in Gaia, you’ll have beautiful views of Porto across the river.
Ponte Luís I Bridge: If you’re afraid of heights, walking across the Ponte Luís I bridge might be a little nerve-wracking because it’s SO high, but the views are Porto and Gaia from the top are pretty freakin’ spectacular. From the center of the bridge, you can see the Port houses in Gaia and Porto’s beautiful Old Town, which looks like your traditional old European city.
Port Tasting! Let’s put two and two together: Porto is famous for the port wine industry. The options for port wine tours and tastings are literally endless, as there are port houses scattered literally all along the hillside in Gaia, which is directly across the river from Porto. We wanted to go to Graham’s, which came highly recommended, but we couldn’t get in at time that best fit our schedule (note: you will need to make reservations wherever you go! Even if it means putting your name down for an upcoming tour and coming back an hour later!) We ended up doing a tour and tasting at Ramos Pinto, which was great because the company preserved the original workspace and office used by it’s founder, Adriano Ramos Pinto, back in the day. It’s well worth the experience, even if you end up not liking the port, which tastes NOTHING like wine! Yours truly was not a fan: it’s thick and really sweet! Oh yeah, the alcohol content is crazy high so don’t try to get drunk off of it! Praise be to our Airbnb host for the heads up!
Walking Tour: There’s no better way to get your bearings than by seeing a city on foot. While we spent the first day wandering around on our own, we took a walking tour on the second day so we could take in all of the sights and learn a little more about the city’s culture and history. Our tour was by Porto Walkers, which I’d highly recommend. Our tour guide was charming, and super informative when it came to explaining Porto’s history and basic Portugal tips (warning: DON’T ever say GRACIAS to anyone in Portugal.) All you have to do is show up at Praça da Liberdade (a massive city square right in the heart of Porto, which is surrounded by stunning buildings and is home to the most gorgeous McDonald’s I’ve ever seen in my life…) and you’ll be on your way to being a Porto expert in no time. The 2-hour walking tour stops at various sights like the train station, the bridge, and the shopping area on Rue de Santa Catarina, but it’s also a great way to learn more about the connection between Porto and Harry Potter. Bet you didn’t know that was a thing, right? By the end of it, the people walking around the city draped in long black cloaks will make perfect sense. While the tour itself is free, you’re expected to tip! We each tipped 10 Euro. Don’t skimp. It’s worth it!
Livraria Lello So, earlier I mentioned that J.K. Rowling incorporated a lot of Porto’s culture into the Harry Potter series, right? Well, check out Livraria Lello and let me know if you spot anything familiar (Hint: think, Hogwarts.) This bookstore is a major tourist attraction in Porto, and even though it’s quite small (good luck getting that solo pic on the stairwell…) it’s definitely worth checking out! They have an incredible selection of books and the gift shop where you buy the entrance tickets is really neat, too. I’ve never seen so many varieties of Harry Potter covers! Mischief managed!
Chapel of Souls: I’ve found the location for your next Porto Instagram! The outside of the Chapel of Souls church is covered in blue tiles and is absolutely stunning. It completely contrasts the gritty, hustle and bustle of the Rue de Santa Catarina, which is the city’s major shopping area. Standing far away you can actually that the tiles depict images, specifically, scenes from the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine. To get the best picture, though, you’ll need a dedicated friend to stand in the middle of the street so you can get a wide shot of the whole wall on the side of the church. It’s definitely possible (obviously, see above…) and worth it! There are various churches in Porto, and another one that showcases similar magnificent blue tiles is the Church of Ordem Terceira de Nossa Senhora do Carmo.
Porto Cathedral: Porto has a rich Religious history, and another stop on your list should be the city’s cathedral. The views from the terrace in the front of the cathedral are beautiful. You can see the winding streets of the Old Town and the river below. While the cathedral itself is fantastic, what makes this worth a stop is the stairway that leads from the terrace down through the Old Town and onto the River Walk. You’ll pass people’s front doors, and get a real sense of what it’s like to live nestled into the hillside along the river. How these residents get any shopping done, etc, beats me, since their houses aren’t exactly the most accessible!
River Walk and the ‘old town’ Walking along the river in Porto, you’ll find tons of restaurants, coffee shops, and tiny stores! The Ribeira is part of the ‘old town’, so all of the buildings don either bright paint or classic tiles. The buildings are absolutely stunning! They say that this area is really touristy, which doesn’t come as a surprise, but we definitely avoided eating in the area so we didn’t break the bank. There are so many restaurants scattered along the river walk, including some really gorgeous looking spots! I mentioned the Old Town above, and you totally need to get lost in those streets!