Porto: The Land of Port and Bridges
For my second Portuguese destination, I headed straight to Porto, the largest city of northern Portugal. I didn’t know too much about it — it was a smaller city, apparently very nice, and the ancestral home of port.
What shocked me was that Porto was not only beautiful, but astonishingly so.
The Ribeira neighborhood of Porto, the riverfront area, is mind-blowingly attractive. The brightly painted houses, the twisty, turning streets, and the fantastic bridges — like this one, the Dom Luis — add up to quite a good-looking package.
The Ribeira may only be for tourists, as I was told over and over again by locals — but it’s hard not to be swept away by just how beautiful it is.
All the guides I read were vehemently against sitting at any of the cafes on the riverside, saying that they were price-gouging and only for unaware tourists.
But really, I don’t think much harm was caused my having a coffee (it only cost a Euro!) and enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
Not a bad place to while away an afternoon, don’t you think?
Like Lisbon, Porto is a very hilly city, and you’re nearly always walking up or down a steep hill. By this point, I’m shocked that Portuguese people don’t have thighs like rugby players!
Unlike Lisbon, however, the streets occasionally turn into stairs — and you never know which street is actually a real street!
I doubt I’ll be driving in Porto anytime soon!
And of course, you can’t go to Porto without doing a bit of port tasting.
On the Gaia side of the river, there are port “caves” where you can do tastings. These vary from fancy guided tours to casual tastings. I opted for something in the middle — a selection of four ports and a chat with the tavern owners.
Left to right, I had white port, lagrima port, ruby port, and a port aged ten years. Fine, aged ports are way too sweet for me, but I did love the white port and ruby port!
Downtown Porto, I’m a bit sorry to say, isn’t nearly as beautiful as the riverfront — but it’s got a bit of character, and a lot of cool stores. I was devastated that the Lello bookstore, one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, was closed for the entire time I was there.
I did get to see A Vida Portuguesa, though, which was another store set in a cool building.
A Vida Portuguesa sells a random assortment of gifts — on the ground floor, you’ll find cotton purses, handpainted mirrors, and wacky kitchen utensils.
But upstairs, it’s like stepping into a twilight zone where retro styles dominate.
There was an amazing assortment of vintage goodies, dressed up for modern times: sardine pate in colorful cans, ornately labeled jars of honey, paper-wrapped soaps. If you need to buy someone a gift in Porto, this is where you need to go.
Later, I was in a gritty-looking neighborhood, as far from the Ribeira as I could get, and I stumbled upon a tea house. Turns out they had hundreds of teas, fresh scones and jam, and a peaceful garden courtyard in the back!
I had a really nice visit to Porto. At the same time, I think two full days in Porto is all the time you need. Try to spend the day with the nicest weather on the Ribeira so you can get good pictures. My pictures from Porto are what I treasure the most.
So if you’re in the region, or looking for a random European weekend getaway (there are budget flights all over), I’d be happy to recommend you Porto. I just ask that you visit the bookstore on my behalf!