If you enjoy city breaks then you simply cannot skip out on visiting the picture postcard city of Porto. Honestly, I could easily go back there and spend another two or three days just wandering aimlessly and soaking up the atmosphere.
My plan was to spend roughly two days exploring the city with my partner Jon and then take the train down to Aveiro for an overnight stay before making our way East towards my parents house in Central Portugal. We bought the latest Lonely Planet guide to Portugal a couple of weeks beforehand and then cross-referenced everything with internet reviews and TripAdvisor. Yes, I’m like that! I even upset Jon by defacing our guide book by writing all over it (in pencil)!
The trip started with a rocky start as our flight out of Gatwick was delayed by three hours. This threw our meticulously planned afternoon activities out of the window as by the time we arrived all of the museums and port tours were closed for the day. Perhaps ‘a day and a half and two nights in Porto’ would be a more fitting title for this article! It was okay though because we were staying in an apartment we found on AirBnB and the owner recommended some fantastic places to visit off the tourist trail and some viewing points for our evening wanderings. That’s why AirBnB is so good! This was the view from our apartment window in the city centre:
We spent the evening just wandering around the Riviera and enjoying the sunset. In the photo below here you have the Luís I Bridge behind me, which was constructed by a student of France’s Gustave Eiffel. It has two levels; the top is used by the metro line and the bottom is used by cars and pedestrians. According to my Lonely Planet book, prior to the bridge being constructed they used port barrels attached to each other for people to cross from one side to the other. That does sound like fun but I’m glad that they decided to build a bridge!
Despite the weather being a bit murky on the next day we kicked off with a self-guided tour around the city. We paid 3€ to climb the top of the Torre dos Clérigos, where we could see much of Porto. Jon and I amused ourselves by seeing which nationalities said ‘thank you’ (or the linguistic equivalent) when we climbed to the top of the tower; there wasn’t enough room to pass on the steps so somebody always had to stop to make space. We observed that the English, the Germans and the Dutch all said thank you but the French, Italians and (sadly) the Portuguese didn’t even give us a grunt. We passed a lot of people going up and then coming back down, so I think it is an accurate field study of a nation’s politeness, don’t you?
After this we had a wander around the area and saw the Ingreja do Carmo:
Then we headed back in a loop back towards the Torre dos Clérigos and then on to São Bento train station, which was really beautiful. We had a play with the ticket machines and took note of train times because we needed to work our way down to Aveiro the following day and São Bento was our local station.
We started to get pretty peckish at this time so this time we threw the Lonely Planet book out of the window and dipped into the first restaurant we saw that looked nice, which turned out to be Das Tripas Coração. I had a francesinha, which is a traditional Porto sandwich made with ham, sausage and steak between two bits of bread. It is smothered in cheese and tomato sauce and typically served with an egg on top and/or some chips on the side. It’s a very interesting lunch and certainly one that makes you feel like you might have a coronary soon afterwards. I couldn’t work out whether I actually liked it or not but I would definitely recommend you try it if ever in Porto. Here’s a photo of me about to dig into a francesinha:
Jon was feeling adventurous and went for a dish that we had not heard of before called ‘Tripas à Moda do Porto’. The dish turned up in a stewing pot and looked like butter beans with various meats and vegetables, it looked pretty tasty. We had no idea what the meats were so asked the waitress after Jon had finished eating it. She told us that it was a very traditional dish that included veal tripe, a veal’s hoof (?!), some beef, a sausage here and there, some bacon and smoked ham and to top it all off: a pig’s ear! I have no idea how Jon didn’t spot the ear or hoof floating around. Unfortunately we didn’t get a photo, sorry!
After this we went for a walk around the Riviera, which is the tourist hot spot in the city centre. On one side of the river you have the expensive tourist restaurants, cafes and boat tours and on the other side you have a whole different city called Vila Nova de Gaia (or just Gaia for short). Gaia is where the magic of port making all happens, whilst you’re sat in a cafe on Porto’s Riviera sipping your insanely expensive €7 a glass of Super Bock (ok, it was a very big glass!) you can see all of the port cellars and warehouses on the other side of the Luís I Bridge. You can see them in this photo, which we took on a clearer day:
After we paid our €14 for two drinks we went for a plod across the bridge to seek out a suitable port tour. The weather makes such a difference to the quality of the photo, but here’s the view of the Riviera from Gaia:
We opted to go on a Taylor’s port tour, which for 5€ each included a 45-minute long guided tour around the warehouses and three port tasters. Here’s Jon about to tuck into his Taylor’s white port before we embarked on the tour:
I found the guided tour very interesting! I do quite like port, so it was good to know how different types of port should be drunk to fully appreciate their flavours. Port is a fortified wine that was ‘discovered’ in the 17th Century when, due to war, the French were starving the British of their regular French wine supply so Britain decided to opt for Portuguese wine imports. The wine often didn’t survive the trip intact so they began adding brandy to keep it fresh! Port wasn’t always fortified but it became commonplace when importers realised that the wine would be better protected if brandy or a grape spirit was added before shipping it off to Britain.
Here’s one more little fact: a port tradition is to always pass it clockwise around the table and to always fill up the person on your right’s glass (if they would like some) and never your own glass because your neighbour on your left is in charge of filling up your glass.
It was getting towards evening so we decided to wander back into Porto and back to the apartment to freshen up before dinner. Porto is a city of ups and downs (literally) and we were feeling lazy so we took the shuttle up the hill to our apartment. It looks like a roller-coaster, so we couldn’t resist!
We passed the old tram system, it’s still going!
We also saw a slightly terrifying mannequin:
We opted for Portuguese tapas for dinner and ended up in Casa de Santo Antonio, which we totally recommend! We didn’t really know what to choose, so the waiter gave us a selection of favourites and kept topping up our drinks. The bill came to a grand total of €25 for the two of us, which is an amazing price for a popular city. Here were some of our dishes but don’t ask me what’s what:
And that was our first full day in Porto. What a day! We did a lot and went to bed exhausted, feeling like we had really made the most of our day.
On the second day we woke up to blue skies and warm weather, hurray! We went for a wander to Porto’s cathedral, Sé do Porto, but mass was going on so we didn’t enter it and instead went for a general wander around the city centre. Here are a few snaps:
Then the plan was to go on a river tour, which was an extremely touristy thing to do! We didn’t get any decent photos because the other tourists were all rushing around the top of the boat to get to the front with their cameras and GoPros, so I decided just to sit quietly in one corner with Jon and enjoy the ride. Let’s just say that Porto has six bridges. It was definitely worth the river tour but I would recommend going earlier in the day to avoid the mad crowds.
We then felt pretty peckish but we didn’t have enough time for a big lunch before our train to Aveiro so we just grabbed a sandwich each and fought off the pigeons. Before long it was time to catch a train south towards our next destination: Aveiro.
As we were sat on the train I opened our Lonely Planet book and reviewed our little adventure. After all that planning I had done in the end we only really managed a quarter of it! We simply ran out of time and spent a lot of time just wandering around and enjoying the atmosphere. We didn’t get to see the bookshop that inspired much of Harry Potter, or visit the stock exchange, or go on a tour up the Douro valley, or go to all those restaurants and cafes that I circled in my guide book. So I’ve decided that we are just going to have to go back and stay for longer than just two days and two nights.