I didn’t know what to expect from Porto, which might have been partly why I fell so hard for this incredible city. It has everything I love in a destination: panoramic views that look straight out of a painting, delicious food, a vibrant nightlife, incredibly friendly people, colorful buildings, and plenty of easily walkable tiny streets to get lost in. If I ever have the chance to go back, I’ll be there in a heartbeat. It’s now one of my favorite cities in the world.
I caught the train from Lisbon (only a short 3-hour trip and ~$35). When I arrived in São Bento train station, its beauty BLEW me away!! What a stunning welcome to Porto!
My Airbnb in Porto was the best one I’ve ever stayed in! My host, Luís, spent TWO HOURS welcoming me and offering recommendations and suggestions to make my stay as enjoyable as possible. He’s a fascinating guy — mathematics teacher by day, and graphic designer by night!
I spent a lot of time peeking my head out of the window and watching the people below!
The centerpiece of the Airbnb is this cube, which is designed to be used as a headboard, kitchen, and self-contained bathroom. What?! I couldn’t believe it when he gave me the tour! SO brilliant! Luís told me that companies have offered to buy his design, but he doesn’t believe in mass production/consumption, so his will remain the only one of its kind. I thought it was so interesting and unique!
At the recommendation of my host, I had dinner at a traditional Portugese restaurant and let the server choose for me. The result was this delicious cod dish.
Everyone talks about the azulejos (tiles) in Lisbon, but I actually found Porto’s tiles to be even more vibrant and grandiose! They took my breath away!
After checking into the apartment, I headed to the Dom Luís Bridge to watch the sunset. Pedestrians are able to walk across the top level, which is suspended 190 feet above the Douro River. The bridge offers stunning views of both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite side of the river. It was a perfect bird’s-eye introduction to the city!
The first time I walked onto the bridge, the beauty of it all took me completely by surprise and unexpectedly brought me to tears. One of the best moments of my life, for sure.
The breeze from the bridge was also (literally) a breath of fresh air! The temperature had dropped 45 degrees from my time in Lisbon, and I was really glad to switch to sweater weather.
After crossing over to the Gaia side, I wandered away from the crowd of tourists to the Monastery side, and I found a little grassy area with just a few other people. It was such a peaceful place to take in the views…I was in heaven! The little bottle of port I packed didn’t hurt, either! 😉
From the top of the bridge, I noticed that the riverfront seemed like the place to be, so I wandered down to the Ribeira district and walked along the water for a bit. I found so many talented buskers and enjoyed watching the people! Porto has a really vibrant nightlife that still hadn’t died down by the time I wandered home at midnight (and that was on a Tuesday night!) I opened up the windows of the apartment and enjoyed listening to everyone on the street until I went to sleep.
I dedicated the next day to my favorite type of wine: PORT! Most of the famous port cellars in the world are all located in this one tiny town (it’s a better location for wine than Porto because it doesn’t receive direct sunlight) You can view all of the houses from the top of the bridge, and it was so cool to see familiar names dotting the landscape: Taylor, Graham, Ferreira, Sandeman, etc.
I couldn’t leave Porto without a port wine tasting, so I headed to Kopke for a port flight and chocolate pairings (two of my favorite things in the world). Established in 1638, Kopke is the oldest port wine house in Gaia!
The tasting room was so peaceful, and I had a lovely view of the river! I read a book and took my time with the tasting, trying white port, ruby, and tawny (my personal favorite).
After the port tasting, I was easily convinced to hop onto a $20 Douro River cruise. Thankfully, it was a really enjoyable tourist trap, and I loved floating past all of the colorful buildings.
Couldn’t get enough of these buildings dripping with ivy. Hung out with the locals for awhile and read some more of my book…
I wandered up to the Porto Cathedral just in time for some rainclouds to give way to golden hour. The light at the terrace was stunning and so dramatic!
I planned quite a few activities in Lisbon, many of which turned out to be very crowded/touristy. In contrast, I decided to play Porto by ear and just follow my eyes/nose. Porto is definitely an easier city to do that, since it’s more compact and very easily walkable! I took about 10 Uber rides to get around Lisbon, but in Porto I only took one. I loved being able to explore everything on foot.
Messy hair, happy heart!! 🙂
After taking in the view of all the rooftops below, I wandered back down the hill through little cobblestone alleys filled with gardens and brightly-colored houses.
I ended the day with dinner at DaTerra, a delicious vegetarian restaurant that I had already visited for lunch that same day! I always prefer to visit new places on vacation, so the fact that I went twice in one day tells you just how delicious the food was! :O
My final day in Portugal was also my very favorite one. By that point in the week, I had let go of all expectations, and I had gotten used to spending time by myself (and even enjoyed it!). I was really sad to have to leave, but I was determined to make full use of my last day in town!
I kicked things off by waking up early to visit the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever seen: Livraria Lello. This place is said to have inspired JK Rowling in her creation of Hogwarts, and I can definitely see the resemblance! With wood paneling, antique bookshelves from the floor to the ceiling, and a gorgeous stained glass ceiling, it feels a bit like stepping back to a time before cell phones and computers.
The centerpiece of the store is the magnificent spiraling crimson staircase, which is impossible to photograph because everyone wants their picture taken on it! 😉
After checking out Lello, I visited a hidden little coffee shop located across the street from my Airbnb. It’s on the second floor of a clothing shop, and I enjoyed sitting in the window and sipping coffee while watching the people below.
I followed my ears to find this group of students performing on the street. They’re called a “tuna,” and play traditional instruments and sing serenades. One of the members asked to hold my hand and sing a song to me on bended knee, but I declined and watched another girl get embarrassed instead! Ha! 😉
Following the recommendation of the barista from the coffee shop, I wandered around the alleys of the Ribeira district, which is the historic neighborhood surrounding the waterfront in the center of town. Designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s a perfect place to explore and get a little lost!
Couldn’t get enough of this little stained glass bridge!
I was so inspired by the layers of colors and textures everywhere!
Eventually I stumbled into Virtudes Garden, a wonderful terraced park that’s enjoyed by locals (but it seems like tourists haven’t yet discovered it, since I think I was the only non-local around).
I met a very friendly elderly gentleman, and we became friends with the help of Google Translate (since my Portuguese is terrible!) I was a bit taken aback when he started to give me a hand massage, but I later learned that for elderly Portuguese men, that’s considered a sign of respect – basically, he was treating me as he would his granddaughter. He gave me a kiss on the forehead (also sweet but kind of uncomfortable for this American girl!) and I said goodbye to keep wandering.
I kept heading west, and then I realized the river would turn into the ocean sooner or later. Sure enough, Google Maps told me I was only an hour away, so I set out to see the Atlantic Ocean from the opposite coast!
It was such a lovely walk, with the sea breeze picking up strength the closer I got to the coast. Seeing the Atlantic at sunset was a true highlight that I’ll never forget!
From there I took an Uber back to Porto to walk across my beloved bridge one last time – so bittersweet!
I decided to go all-out for my last night in Portugal and made a reservation at Tapabento, which had been highly recommended by two different people. It’s a cozy little restaurant tucked behind the train station, which seems to be immensely popular with both locals and tourists — the hostess turned away walk-ins that night and told them she had no more space available for the rest of the week! I think I must have lucked out by squeezing in as a solo diner. Another perk of eating alone. 🙂
I packed a book to read between ordering and eating, but it turns out that I didn’t need it at all because I ended up making friends with two French travelers sitting next to me! We got to talking, and it turns out that one of them is actually a member of WeWork as well (the co-working company from which I rent my office space). It’s such a small world!
The food was A+, and I would highly recommend a meal at Tapabento if you visit Porto!
Until next time, Porto! I sure hope we meet again!