After falling in love with Lisbon on our visit in 2016, we knew Portugal’s second city beckoned. So with a four-day weekend to spare in May and our skin craving some early summer sun, Porto was an obvious choice!
We stayed at Casa dos Lóios, a centrally-located boutique hotel with breakfast included. And getting there wasn’t a problem as Porto’s metro has a line extending from the city center to the airport. Visitors to Porto will quick realize how hilly the city is—bring comfortable shoes! Luckily there are stunning views seemingly around every corner awaiting those willing to wander.
Get your bearings at the Sé (cathedral), which offers views around the city center. Just south from here is Cais da Ribeira, a riverside neighborhood stacked with colorful but charmingly worn houses and full of restaurants, bars and cafes. From here you can’t help but notice the imposingly beautiful Luís I Bridge, the centerpiece of the city and easily Porto’s most recognizable icon. Stroll across the top level (which is mostly pedestrian-only other than the occasional tram) to Miradouro da Serra do Pilar for panoramic views of the bridge. We also spent some downtime sitting on the south bank of the Douro River admiring the views of the bridge and Cais da Ribeira.
Clérigos Tower is another icon of the city. A hot, stuffy and tight climb to the top is worth it for more panoramic views, this time stretching all the way to the Atlantic! Be sure to arrive here early to avoid the lines. The nearby Portuguese Center for Photography is worthy of a stop for a look at the history of the camera (and air conditioning!).
One of our favorite things about Lisbon was the prevalence of the characteristic azulejo tilework. These tiles are ubiquitous in Porto as well. In addition to their more modest use on houses and other buildings, there are some examples of exquisite tilework throughout the city: check out the tiled façades of Igreja do Carmo, Chapel of Souls, and Church of Saint Ildefonso (walk up Rua da Madeira on the way to Saint Ildefonso for its street art and striking views). Even the entrance hall of São Bento Train Station is lavishly decked out!
On the topic of architecture, the Livraria Lello bookshop is a tourist spot popular for its beautiful interior. But even having pre-booked entry tickets and arriving a half hour before the doors opened, we still had to queue and the shop was already packed by the time we got in. It is indeed a lovely spot, but the crowds rendered it difficult to appreciate.
Shopping isn’t usually an important aspect of travel for us, at least outside our searches for souvenirs, but we stumbled on a few stores that are worth a look: A Vida Portuguesa for the home décor, packaged snacks and cool interior; Loja das Conservas for the wide array of local sardines (perfect for a snack or gift); Loja da Burel for the unique selection of blankets, pillows, and bags, among other goods; and 43 Branco for the clothes (one of their shirts is now hanging in Rico’s closet).
Food enhances travel, and Porto was no exception. We grabbed a delicious lunch at Brick Clérigos (sweet potato pizza, veggie and fruit salad, red velvet cake) and just had to try the local Francesinha sandwich (look it up!) from Café Santiago. Brunch at Zenith (peanut butter pancakes, yogurt, fruit) provided our bodies with plenty of fuel in a hip atmosphere. We had to stop by the touristy Majestic Café (Pasteis de Nata and chamomile tea) to sneak a peek of its famous interior for ourselves. And delicious dinners were had at Portugues de Gema (asparagus and cashew curry) and Taberna Dos Mercadores (pork stew, fried shrimp, cod)— the latter can only be described as a “hole in the wall” and typically requires reservations.
Stay tuned for our day trip to Aveiro—a walk on the beach, a wander around a quirky town, and a gander at a stretch of delightfully cute oceanfront houses!