Recently we visited Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon, and one of the oldest European centres. It’s located along the Douro river estuary in northern part of the country and it’s best known for it’s delicious wine of the same name that’s been produced only in this region.
It’s amazing how some cities surprise you… maybe ’cause we didn’t expect too much, we just wanted to enjoy and chill on this trip, drink some wine and have a good time. At the end we were so thrilled with everything this place has to offer that we didn’t want to leave.
Getting Around Porto
There are plenty of ways of exploring and getting around Porto: taxis, public transport; buses, trams, metro… Most of the time we were taking the bus to come to the city center ’cause our hotel wasn’t so close (near Casa da Musica), but the best way to explore some of Porto’s most popular spots is on foot. The city is hilly so I would recommend to wear comfy shoes and be prepared for lots of steps and steep slopes.
Divine Codfish and Other Food
The food is amazing and pretty cheap in comparison with other European countries, especially if you take the daily menu. A nice guy that we met participating in his documentary about Porto told us to always look for small restaurants in side streets and dark alleys, where the locals eat. So during our whole stay we avoided clean and shinny places with big signs in front and we didn’t regret it! Fresh fish, shrimps, vegetable soups, pork sausages, cozido and divine codfish I can’t stop thinking about. Walking through the streets of Porto you can often hear the smell of codfish coming from kitchen windows and restaurants… mmmm, I was hungry all the time. And even now, when someone mentions Porto, the first thing that crosses my mind isn’t the wine like for most of the people, but the cod.
Pastry Shops on Every Corner
Pastry shops in Porto are offering some of the most delicious and fantastic treats you will ever enjoy. Their windows look unreal… you just look and can’t decide ’cause you want to try everything. One particular treat I find outstanding is called Pastel de nata… it’s a Portuguese egg tart pastry created before 18th century by monks at the Jeronimos Monastery in the parish of Belem so it’s also called Pastel de Belem. Must try!
If you are a wine lover, like me, you will fall in love with this region in a second. Porto is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine with chocolate or cheese, though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. It’s produced exclusively in the Douro Valley where the microclimate is optimal for cultivation of grapes.
Vila Nova de Gaia is part of the city on the other side of the Douro River (across the Ponte de Dom Luis), well known for its cellars (locally known as “caves”) where the wine is stored and aged. The cellars offer guided tour, wine tasting and this is one of the things you must experience if you visit Porto. You’ll hear a lot of interesting things about history and winemaking, drink a little and relax among giant wooden barrels. In the early history of the wine trade, many of the most powerful shipping families were British and Irish which can still be seen in the names of many of the most famous Porto wines. If you have time I recommend visit to the Douro Valley where you can discover winery landscape and breathtaking views of the area.
Ribeira, the Soul of Porto
The streets of the historical area of the city are steep, narrow and dark because of the high buildings. In some moments it seems like the time has stopped there and you can feel the real soul of Porto walking threw the medieval streets and seedy alleyways. At the bottom there is a riverfront fascinating and colorful square Ribeira, the site of many shops, bars and restaurants. Across the river Douro you can see Porto wine houses, traditional shipping boats and impressive Cais de Gaia.
In case you like surfing, this area offers you a couple of great sandy beaches where you can show your skills to the crowd gathered around watching. We visited Matosinhos Beach, it was a beautiful sunny day and the place was full of surfers and seagulls. It was interesting to watch the guys preparing, stretching and fighting with the Pacific waves. If you get hungry, there is one small restorant “O Lusitano” I can highly recommend. Simply fresh and tasty seafood prepared on your eyes on the outside barbecue, accompanied with green salad and delicious potatoes with garlic… yumm!
There is so much to see in Porto that I didn’t mention; Lello Bookstore, Palacio da Bolsa, São Bento Railway Station, Casa da Musica, Clerigos Church, Church of São Francisco, Cais de Gaia, Ponte Maria Pia built by Gustave Eiffel, Ponte de Dom Luis and many more.
Hope we’ll see each other again, Porto! 😉