Glazed Majolica, panoramas studded with terracotta roofs, restaurants on the river and many (many) flakey ‘pastel de nata’ pastries: the unique personality of Porto will capture you in seconds. The ideal European destination for a long weekend away, here are some of our favourite things to do in this colourful city.
Strolling among the Maravillas of Porto
A holiday in Porto is best enjoyed on foot, exploring the historic centre and bravely facing the succession of uphill streets. First stop São Bento, the train station famed for its mesmerising atrium that is decorated with white and blue ceramic tiles depicting the history of the city. They are called ‘azulejos’ and are one of the most distinctive features of Porto: they adorn churches and palaces in an explosion of geometric motifs or Renaissance frescoes. The facades of the Capela das Almas and Igreja do Carmo buildings are covered with them.
Another popular spot is the Livraria Lello; a neo-Gothic masterpiece. Books scale from floor to ceiling along with an impressive and imposing staircase – it is here that J. K. Rowling is said to have been inspired to create Hogwarts from the Harry Potter books.
A walk towards Ribeira, the old town of Porto is a must, with its colourful houses overlooking the Duoro River. To get there, you must climb to the tip of the city, to marvel at the panoramic views from the Miradouro da Vitória. It is a spectacle that is repeated in all the Miradouros (viewpoints) of the city, from the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal – among botanical gardens dotted with statues, fountains and magnolias – to the highest level of the Dom Luís I Bridge.
Another fabulous spot for a picnic and a wander is the Parque de Serralves where the landscaped gardens are truly spectacular. At the centre of the park is the Casa de Serralves, an incredible pink art-deco building that is now a contemporary art museum.
If you’re craving escaping the city for a little bit, then the Piscinas das Marés, on the beach of Leça da Palmeira can easily be reached by taxi or subway. Nestled on the coast, this swimming pool was built using the rock formations along the coast. Here the turquoise waters are as bright as that of the Caribbean.
Wine tasting: port and vinho verde
You can’t go to Porto and not try the wine. If you fancy something lighter during the day, the clean, fresh and slightly effervescent vinho verde is the perfect accompaniment to a light seafood lunch. However, the most famous export of Porto is, of course, Port. The south side of the banks of the Duoro is home to the wineries that make this infamous export. You can head to most of the wine houses for tastings of the delicious fortified wine including their white, ruby and tawny vintages. Two of the most well-known wineries include the largest called Sandeman which was established in 1790 and Taylor’s which offers a rewarding view at the top of the steep Rua do Choupelo. Alternatively, sit with a glass outside on one of the terraces and soak up the views of the Duoro which is lined with the Rabelo boats.
The gastronomic spectrum of Porto certainly doesn’t disappoint. For the most important meal of the day, you must head to the Flor de São Bento bakery shop, located in front of the station of the same name. Munch on delicious croissants baked fresh daily (with more filling than soft puff pastry), and the traditional tarte de amêndoa and pastel de côco, and the inevitable pastel de nata – it will likely become your morning ritual accompanied by a frothy coffee.
For lunch, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the array of sandwich shops located between São Bento and the Torre dos Clérigos: delicious sandwiches with flavoursome combinations – the perfect on-the-go lunch. For a longer, lazier style lunch there are plenty of tapas-style tabernas along Largo de Sao Domingos which will serve up tasty cheeses, breads and charcuterie.
In the evening, it’s impossible to resist the quiet call of the nightlife of Ribeira, between the tinkling of aperitifs in the square and the din in the restaurants of the alleys hidden behind the colourful houses that line the riverside. For a cosy dinner, just before the Luís I bridge, is a cosy Taberna Está-se Bem: here, exposed stone walls dotted with coins and a bright vaulted ceiling were the backdrop to a triumph of appetizing petiscos, among cutting boards of cold cuts and cheeses, two or three pregos (mini sandwiches filled with meat), flavours of land and sea, and rivers of wine. Looking for something a little fancier? Hidden behind an unknowing door, Cantina 32 is a seriously popular spot with the locals. You’ll have to book ahead if you want to grab a table at this charming eatery where the low lighting and cool music create the perfect accompanying ambience to your fabulous meal. Alternatively, Portugal is known for its sumptuous seafood and if you’re feeling a little extravagant, then Mistu Restaurant is the go-to place for incredible oysters. Bom apetite!