I almost don’t want to tell you about this place…Over the last 3 days Jenny and I have been entranced and we want to keep it all to ourselves! That’s right, Porto is definitely one of my favourite cities so far; up there with Florence, Amsterdam & the gorgeous Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland!
So what makes Porto great? Its killer tri-factor of scenery, atmosphere & food/wine:
Its easy to see that Porto is gorgeous both naturally and architecturally. Located on the challengingly steep banks of the Douro River, Porto was not deterred in its construction meeting the challenge, producing a visually stunning city. Much like the wine it produces, where the harsher the environment the greater the grapes, so it seems the landscape has forced a greater quality than could otherwise be found. To me the city feels like a mix between San Fransisco & (what I imagine) Cuba to feel like.
Derelicte (zoolander version)
I find that culture isn’t found in uniformity but in variety and while most of the central town shares the classic red roof many of their buildings variety greatly in design, colour and surprisingly; the state of upkeep. Despite being a world heritage site, we found many of the central buildings to be in a state of disrepair, to the point of being an empty shell in some cases. We actually found this to be quite charming. Talking with a couple of locals we found that many of the buildings have become this way either through the cost of upkeep and some had their foundations damaged through the blast-works of tunnel creation for the new metro and car tunnels.
To combat this Porto has rolled out an ambitious (and controversial) plan mandating that every building in the centre must undergo a complete renovation in the coming years (exteriors must be restored and interiors get modern free reign). Tax cuts and low interest loans have been offered to help locals through this. If the locals can’t afford to do so, they must sell to investers who are willing to do so (controversially many of the investors are not portugese). Though the plan is a little heavy handed, it is wise, future-proofing itself for years to come, I’m excited to see the development.
Another aspect of the city Jenny & I feel in love with was the use of tiles on their exterior of their buildings. The exquisitely colourful tiles transform otherwise dull concrete buildings into works of art. You’ll struggle to find tiles alike on two or more buildings. We couldn’t stop snapping up pics of the different tiles as we passed through the city. Its also common to find blue & white tiles depicting grand scenes on the exteriors of churches and in the interior of their main train station, well worth a look!
Named as one of the coolest/beautiful bookstores in the world Livraria Lello has definitely earn’t it’s title. Featuring a stunning central staircase (featured in Harry Potter) and lovely handcrafted woodwork and stain glass. Entry to the store costs 3Euro per person but can be used to subsidize a book of your choosing by the same amount.
There are so many great vantage points in the city, each offering a different perspective:
- Walk across the top floor of the Ponte Louis I bridge to the Gaia side and climb the path to the ex-monestary (Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar), beautiful and free!
- Climb the Torre dos Clérigos bell tower for a view from above (3 Euro)
- Take the Gondola from the same spot as #1 down to the Wine Cellar’s of Gaia, this costs 5Euro but gives you 5mins of unique views and a free taste of port at a local cellar.
If you’re an avid traveller you’ll know that there are plenty of large cities across the globe that feel a little dead. This is not one of them. Walking the back streets we found plenty to do and see and plenty that is uniquely Porto.
While we encountered many local handmade stores across the city this was both our favourite (offering a wide variety of non-tacky, quirky local goods) and most central (just one parallel street back from liberty square – Rue du Almada). Its also the location of the Miss Pavlova store that we expand upon in the food section below. Almada 13 is the place to go if you’re looking for that local, cost effectively hip product, check it out.
Friendly and Safe
Unlike many cities we felt completely at ease in Porto at both day and night. While we still took our usual precautions (locking up our bags etc) we we’re able to put our mind at ease knowing we’d be safe. While not everyone speaks English an impressive amount do and are always willing to lend a hand to point you in the right direction.
Jenny and I are both street art fans and walking through Porto we found plenty to take our fancy. Concrete not beautified by tiles found new life through the colorful display of local artists.
If I had to die by heart attack I’d choose to do it by Francesinha a quintessential local Porto delicacy. Effectively a Chorizo, sausage meat and ham toasted sandwich with the cheese drizzled upon its exterior, sitting in a spicy tomato and beer sauce served with fries. We had one for lunch and weren’t hungry again until breakfast the next morning (at 8-10Euros each but divided across two meals worth, its reasonably cost effective).
Port Wine Cellars
Porto (and Gaia) are probably most well known for their Port Wine and rightfully so. On the Gaia side of the river sits a treasure trove of Port Wine cellars and tastings to be had. Apparently the area has the highest amount of alcohol stored per square kilometer in the world and I believe it. We took tours/tastings through two producers: Croft (the oldest) and Grahams (the largest). Croft’s basic tour cost 5 Euro per person, came with a 20 min tour and 3 port wine tastings and was reasonably central, highly recommended.
Graham’s basic tour came with a 10minute pre-movie which we missed (although according to the cashier – a time filler as they wait for more people to arrive for each tour) a 20min tour and a tasting of 3 ports for 10 Euro. We also opted to upgrade one of our tastings to the superior tawny range for an additional 5 Euro.
Although it was nice, it was a long (and dangerous) walk to grahams and probably not worth the extra money – best bet is to go for central and cost effective, Croft being a good option that we can recommend.
If you’re a coffee lover in Porto, you’re in luck! Most places we found were very cheap, less than 1 euro for a coffee (of all shapes and sizes), we definitely took full advantage of this, I wouldn’t blame you if you did also.
As I mentioned earlier, nestled at the back of the quirky Almada 13 store is this gem: Miss Pavlova, which as you guessed it specializes in Pavlova. Hailing from New Zealand (the inventors of the Pavlova – let it go Australia, it was in our cookbooks before the date you claimed to have invented it – but you do get to claim the flat white for the same reasons reversed) we we’re very excited to find this store. Boy oh Boy do they do it well? Heck Yes, its like they’ve taken our prototype and taken it to the next level! Its worth every cent so get out your wallets and take a visit to Miss Pavlova.
Anything we missed? Be sure to let us know through the comments section below, we’d love to include your tips!