Before I visited Porto, I kept reading that it is an incredibly romantic city. What qualities a city to be romantic? The first time that I walked on the port, I understood. I think it has something to do with all the small bars, colourful buildings, weather-beaten tiles that adorn the facades, the constant cries of seagulls on the river, the stunning architecture, unique history, high pedestrian bridge that spans the river, cable cars moving slowly above the port distilleries, fishing boats, and more than a few vantage points to enjoy the skyline and surrounding countryside. Oh, and of course, the Fado music.
I was lucky to spend an entire month coworking and exploring in beautiful Porto with Unsettled. I highly recommend visiting the city for a long weekend break, or even better, an entire week. Especially if you include driving into the Douro wine valley. A landscape most definitely worth seeing if you’re a wine lover or not.
Here is my visiter’s guide to Porto, including the highlights of this charming city. You’re a foodie? My Porto Food Guide will be coming soon.
Feel free to add more of your suggestions or experiences in the comments.
A Visiter’s Guide to Porto
Take a Walking Tour
Even if you’re only in the city for a short while I suggest taking a walking tour. This city has many different neighbourhoods and little streets that are easy to get lost in (I know from experience). A walking tour will help you with your bearings and make sure you see the most stunning views, of which there are many. Ask at the tourist office for information. Many of the tours are even free!
If you don’t take a walking tour, do find the highest point on the other side of the river, in Gaia, as well as find the Sé (cathedral). Both viewpoints are musts. Also, visit the stunning Sao Bento train station.
Take a Food Tour
Portugal is not like France or Italy; you cannot just wander into any restaurant and expect a decent meal. You have to be informed and choosy in Porto to experience the authentic cuisine. I was in Porto for a month and took a food tour only 3 weeks in. I wish I had taken one the first day! Taste Porto offer amazing tours that give you a sense of the city’s culinary and cultural history. I was lucky enough to have a private tour from André, the owner, and his intense enthusiasm for his city was just wonderful. The poor man made the silly decision to give me his phone number; I pestered him for the rest of my stay with questions about the best places to eat and even which bottle of port to buy at the airport!!
While in Portugal, it is mandatory to experience Fado. You can go to the Casa di Guitarra which has shows every evening at 6 pm. The quality of the singers are very good here but the atmosphere is a little clinical. I suggest going to O Fado Restaurant for a Fado ambience with 2 singers and low lighting.
Visit the “Harry Potter” bookshop: Livraria Lello
Perhaps calling this bookshop by such a name is an insult considering it was there long before the popular books. However, everyone seems to call it that. J.K. Rowling is said to have taken a lot of inspiration from the city of Porto for the Harry Potter books during her stay here. Notice the university students and how they all wear decorated black capes. Like wizards all over the city!
Climb the top of the Clerigos Tower
For a stunning view of the city, climb this tower in the early evening before your drink at trendy Base located nearby. Tickets cost 5€.
The souvenirs, fantastic flea markets and boutique clothing stores make Portugal a shoppers heaven for anyone looking for something a little different. There are many pop-up flea and artisan markets but here are a few shops that I quite liked.
There are many cool stores featuring a variety of artisan and craft talent. Perfect for a unique souvenir. Head to Workshops Pop-up for a beautiful hand-made item or even a cooking class!
Explore the Rua de Cedofeita area for trendy craft, jewellery and clothing stores. Also, find CCBombarda which is kind of like Porto’s equivalent to the LX Factory in Lisbon. It’s a shopping mall with trendy boutiques and handmade artisan products. On the same street, you’ll even find a book printers with arcane English poetry books. Love it!
Close to the port: PortoSigns is a souvenir shop with higher quality linen cloth bags and beautiful Portuguese style ceramic platters for an artistic souvenir.
Saturday Evening Flea Market*
Not only are the Gallerias de Paris (pronounced pareesh) the spot for nightlife but every second week there is a wonderful flea/craft market here with handmade jewellery, vintage plates, Portuguese tiles and cork handbags. Have a glass of wine in one of the local bars and people watch after you’ve spent too much money on Portuguese style jewellery. Or at least, that’s what I did…
Buy your food at the Bolbao market
There isn’t a lot of English spoken here but pointing, smiling and knowing please and thank you in Portuguese will get you a long way. If you speak French, try speaking French first instead of English as this used be the second language here. ‘Eat a simple fish lunch at the market and marvel at how the kitchen yells over the crowd to the nearest fish stand ordering the fish one by one according to the customer’s needs.
Dance Like you Mean It
The Portuguese love a good night out and even in this small city it’s possible to dance all night.
Party central is located on the Galerias de Paris where you’ll find three streets full of bars and clubs. Your friend loves gin and you love wine? No problem! Buy from whichever bar you like and drink in the street. This is the custom here.
*non-smokers be aware! The Portuguese still smoke in bars and clubs.
*the party gets started late here. Take an afternoon nap!
For an outdoor Evening Drink with Great Music and Good Looking Hipster Bartenders where you can even lie on then grass:
For a trendy bar close to the river where you can learn about wine and have tasty nibbles:
For a bar to start your night off full of energy (no one seems to be able to agree- including the bartenders if this club is gay or straight. The bartender, in an odd moment of Portuguese passion bit my cheek though- ha! His friend explained that he liked me? Ya think!)
For after the bar when you’re still looking to dance. This club has 2 large rooms with different types of music:
For a unique bar: Casa do Livro
Dance surrounded by bookshelves. It’s like a club/library!
**The best advice: meet locals and follow them to the smaller, cooler clubs.
Drive into the Duoro Valley
Renting a car for the day is pretty cheap in Porto. Drive an hour into the Douro valley to see the gorgeous scenery that is the home of Port wine. If you’d like to taste, take the boat instead or hire a driver. There are many tours that leave from Porto. Otherwise, take the Taste Porto food tour and ask for their advice on the best vineyards to taste at according to what you’re looking for.
For Romantic Porto
Watch the film Porto for a stunning depiction of a love story between an American and Portuguese woman in this atmospheric city. Notice the movie is shot on old film for added romanticism.