Porto: The Land of Port and Bridges

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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!

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23 thoughts on “Porto: The Land of Port and Bridges”

  1. Amazing! That HDR app is doing wonders for you! 🙂 I had no idea there were different types of port, I’d only seen dark red ones. I’ve been wanting to visit Portugal for a while, and not I don’t think I’ll be able to push it any further!

    1. I love my Pro HDR app! I’m learning more about it all the time, and one thing is that HDR looks much better in lower light than bright light. Which is one reason why my Shetland photos came out so well.

  2. I’ve only tried aged port and really didn’t like it. I had no clue there were other kinds of ports until I read Inspiring Travellers’ post about Porto, but based on what you and they have had to say, I’d really like to try white port.

  3. I absolutely loved my time in Porto, for me it has this magical quality about it, I really enjoyed its character. The weather was great too when I went, so I’m sure that helps! I definitely would love to explore other parts of Portugal as well. Nice pictures!

  4. That A Vida Portuguesa store looks like my kind of store! If a place or view is beautiful, no matter how “touristy”, never allow yourself to skip it. That photo looks amazing by the way!

  5. I visited Porto a little over a year ago and was also really surprised by what I like to call its “ugly beauty”. Parts of the city were really run down, especially if you keep walking along the river, but at the same time there were flowers cascading from the hills and all of the houses had their colorful clothes hung out to dry… it was definitely magical! I took a fun tour of one of the Port caves and was surprised that there was such a variety between the different wines. I’m glad that you enjoyed yourself too!

  6. I did, I checked the Lello bookstore, just like in the photos online, though I have to say it is in reality smaller than it appears in the photos.
    They were not letting us take photos, the ‘no photos’ sign was on every pillar, on both floors, in addition to the person in charge keeping an eye on you if you try to cheat and have one without flash lol.

  7. As a Tripeiro (Porto’s people nickname), I am happy that you enjoyed the city and found out a little bit of its magic. At the same time, I have to be honest: you definitely did not get to know 1% of Porto. You just saw a couple of touristic places (there many more) and missed the real Porto. Maybe you didn’t have enough time to spend here, but 2 days are definitely not enough. Well, if you want to say to your friends: ” I was in Porto”, it’s ok…
    Porto has much more to offer and trying to live like local people live, it’s the real deal. It is not only about places. There are also lots of typical events and nice people pleased to receive you.
    Don’t take me wrong with my comments! I just want everybody to discover the best of my city! And I would happily give you some tips if you decide to come back 🙂

    Good luck for your next trips!

    P.S.- Porto’s nighlife is more alive than ever. Renewed, energic and diverse!

  8. Hi! Thanks for the info about Porto! My new husband and I are currently honeymooning in Lisbon and plan to spend 2 or 3 nights in Porto on Friday. Do you have any recommendations on neighborhoods to stay in? We are going the AirBnB route, which has proved to be going great in Lisbon. It is very affordable for what would have been an otherwise very expensive suite in a hotel. We would to do some wine tastings and we’re hoping to go to the Duoro Valley, but don’t think we will have time. If there are any bars you recommend we would be so grateful!

  9. I hated Porto. It is not only full of derelict buildings but its architectural unity has been totally ruined by the cosntruction of ugly cement buildings over the years. It is also dark, dirty and full of cheap stores. The hotel I stayed is a good example of bad architecture. Stay away from Porto. It is a ruined ugly place. Go to Guimaraes instead.

  10. Hi Kate:
    I am going to Porto for two weeks at the end of March. Will be renting an apt. What are the best neighborhoods to focus on. Want quiet and a good location. I walk everywhere but would like it convenient to the attractions.
    As a Guage I was in Lisbon last year for two weeks. Stayed in Biarro Alto. Loved it, yet too noisy. Staying in Chiado this trip. Thanks. Terry

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