Welcome back! Today we’re talking all about one of my favorite European cities–Porto, Portugal (“o Porto” if you’re a native). Before you jump in, be sure to subscribe to SideofKail and follow me on Instagram @sideofkail!
Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal–right after Lisbon. It’s located on the Douro river and sits partially along the Atlantic Ocean.
And it’s genuinely one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited.
Not just because of the sights, but because of the people and pace at which everyone moves. Things are slower here–dreamier. People aren’t in a hurry or racing around with their heads cut off. Food is savored, drinks are sipped. Time is experienced and felt–not rushed and spent.
Fair warning though, the streets are steep–I don’t care how physically fit you are, 2 miles on cobblestone roads at a 45-degree incline will leave you out of breath and rubbing tired ankles. It’s worth it though.
Add this magnificent city to your European Destinations List and let’s get started!
Where to Stay
As close to the Douro as possible. Why?
- It’s gorgeous
- Gaia (the city across the river) is really fun to visit
- Boat tours
- It’s where all the fun is
In my opinion, Porto orbits around the Douro River. Bars, shops, outdoor activities, everything happens along the river’s edge. This neighborhood is known as Ribeira, and it’s ridiculously charming.
If you’re visiting Porto and don’t want to stay in Ribeira (for whatever crazy reason!!) here are a few other great Porto neighborhood options:
- Baixa: Downtown, lots of landmarks, beautiful artwork
- Miragaia: Also by the river–less “touristy”
- Boavista: Cheaper (great for budget travel), basically an outdoor museum
What to Do in Porto
I mentioned earlier that Porto is a slow moving city, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to do and see. My favorite? Chugging up and down the steep streets munching on endless amounts of cake.
Check out the churches. Even if you’re not religious, the churches and cathedrals in Porto are incredible to see. They’re massive, crafted from beautiful materials, and like living pieces of history. Most of them are free to view but some require tickets. My favorites were: Porto Cathedral, Clérigos Church, and Igreja de São Francisco.
Sip Port Wine. If you like your alcohol sweet, thick, and made from grapes, you’re in the right place. Port wine is ABUNDANT in Porto–and it makes sense–because by definition port wine is only distilled from grape spirits near the Douro Valley.
If touring wineries and sipping endless glasses of wine sounds good to you, cross the bridge and head to Gaia for the ultimate Port Wine Tasting Tour.
São Bento Railway Station. You probably won’t head to São Bento Railway Station to hop on a train, but you’ll definitely want to stare (jaw dropped) at the 20,000 painted blue-and-white tiles that line its walls. How in the world someone(s) created such masterpieces is beyond me, but I could’ve hung out in this rail station all day. Yes, it really is that cool. Trust me.
Lello Bookstore. I’ll be 100% honest with you–I didn’t actually go inside Lello. It’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s that the line stretched 4 blocks long and I’m not a patient person. Note to self: Get there early.
Lello is known as the most beautiful bookstore in the world. Built in 1906, the store mixes Neo-Gothic and Art Dec elements to create a stunning, ornate little gem that draws in people from all over the world. Yes, you can actually purchase books, but most people come just to experience the place. You’ll need tickets to get inside but they’re not actually purchased at the store–you buy them 4 doors down at another shop.
Eat cake, followed by grilled cheese. When we first arrived in Porto I asked our Airbnb host if she had any advice. She responded simply, “eat the cake.” I looked at her like she was crazy, as you’re probably looking at your screen right now. Trust me on this one. These are your steps:
- Take a stroll down any street in the city and peek into shop windows.
- Stop at a shop with cakes in the window (it’s like every third shop…)
- Go inside and order 2-3 pieces.
- Eat cake.
- Repeat steps 1-4.
- If you’e extra hungry, also order grilled cheese. I don’t know what they do to their cheese in Porto but it’s OUT OF THIS WORLD.
Serralves Museum & Villa. If you love art, greenery, and history–you’ll want to put Serralves on your to-see list. Take a walk through the gardens and breathe in the fresh air before heading to the art museum and marveling at the paintings.
Luís I Bridge. This isn’t really something you do, but more something you see. What’s cool about this bridge is that 1) it crosses from Porto to Gaia so you can be in 2 cities in a matter of minutes 2) it gives you the best view of the river and the adorable homes that line it. Plus, sometimes you see rowers and sailboats doing crazy things in the water.
Watch the Sunset in Gaia. Cross the Luís I Bridge to Gaia an hour or so before sunset, bring snacks, and plop down on the wall overlooking the river. You’re about to witness one of the world’s most spectacular watercolor sunsets. Sometimes there’s even performers putting on a show–but the real show is in the sky. Don’t miss it.
Food in Porto
Prior to this trip I’d never tasted traditional Portuguese cuisine. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what “Portuguese cuisine” consisted of. Let me sum it up in a few words:
- Sande Mistos (grilled cheese sandwiches)
That’s honestly about it. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I ate (and drank) plenty of the first three. Sorry seafood–you’re not for me.
Other Things to Note
Public transport does exist! It’s not as prevalent as other European cities but it’s available.
Portuguese is obviously the language of choice, but you can typically find someone who speaks English OR you can utilize the point and nod method.
Some cafes and restaurants don’t accept card (more than I experienced in other cities), so it’s smart to have cash on hand.
Speaking of cash–they use euros.
ENJOY YOUR TIME IN THIS MAGNIFICENT CITY! Move slowly. Eat lots. Take deep breaths and twirl around in the streets with a giant smile on your face because this city is truly magical.