Happy spring, everyone! It’s been long since the last time most of us enjoyed the proper sunshine. And quite long since I enjoyed ocean views. Usually I take some time in winter to decide where I want to spend upcoming spring break, but this time it came naturally to me. Despite my long-term practice of never going to the same place two times in a row, which I don’t follow only if we talk about Italy, I was sure I wanted to go to Portugal again. First visited for Easter last year – and I fell in love from the first sight! Few people told me that if I loved Lisbon THAT much, Porto should be my next destination. Booked!
- Ribeira district. At any time, even during rain, it’s charming. Little restaurants, but not too many, so that you can still enjoy views with no tables in some directions. Order some porto to warm up if it’s windy, but when the sun is shining one can get some tan on sun-beds there already at the beginning of April. We ended up going to Café do Cais 3 or 4 times. even though I usually look for new places, that one is simply the coziest there. But some restaurants up along the pavement share a wonderful view as well, if you are lucky to grab a table that faces the river. Regarding sightseeing, there are Porto Cathedral with Terreiro de Sé and Palácio da Bolsa in that area, but I honestly didn’t find them to be anything super special; there are prettier places with more TILES in Porto.
- Once you are in that area, check out Prova: wine bar, great selection; Belos Aires – the best food I ever ate in Portugal! just try everything there, the starters blew my mind but then my ossobuco came and I died; Cantina 32 is i think the best looking cafe I have seen: smooth light, deep grey color, simple and very stylish design, nicest staff and flawless food, their banana cheesecake seems to be the most famous dessert in Porto based on my instagram research.
- Eat francesinha. It is a typical traditional food of porto that is a sandwich with ham, crunchy sausage, steak or few other meat types inside, covered by melted cheese, often topped with an egg and baked with a very special beer and tomato sauce in which they throw extra french fries. It’s crazy how tasty this simple thing can get! They call it a hangover sandwich, and I really wouldn’t mind having one every tough morning of life. It’s served pretty much everywhere, my first I ate just in some street cafe next to Hard Rock Cafe, then at that place by the river. The most famous ones are served in Cafe Santiago, Cervejaria Brasão, Bufete Fase and Offline (another place for taking pics). But honestly they seemed to be delicious everywhere.
- Go to Foz do Douro. Its a wealthy quiet neat district where the river flows into the ocean. One of the best ocean views you can get not having to leave the city. The famous lighthouse that is often on postcards from Porto is found there. I was sure that such a place will be full of tourists and have a crowded promenade with shops and cafes – not at all. We actually struggled with finding a place to eat there. It’s an untouched natural beach with an old castle and spectacular views on high waves breaking against rocks. If you want more civilization and a regular beach – go up to Matosinhos district. I randomly went there with a subway once not knowing how to get out of there. but the magical bus 200 that brings you literally anywhere you need to be in Porto from the very center to the furtherest ocean coast was found there, too.Transportation is in general very convenient and straightforward, and the people are extremely helpful.
- Take a walk from Dom Luís I Bridge in the direction to the ocean during dusk. It’s very beautiful to look behind at the city hills as the lights start to go on. The walk also opens up daily routine of the inhabitants as you get away from the center: the houses are right in front of the sidewalk and are a bit lower so you can even look in the windows (sorry, people of Porto, I didn’t mean to be creepy!). I spotted a cool gin bar on the way, too – inside Gull restaurant.
- Talking about that famous bridge, crossing it on the highest level is a must-do as well! If you are not scared of heights! Because that really IS high. The view is fantastic! Those who don’t feel comfortable walking higher than birds fly, you can also cross it on a lower level. The other bank is no less cool than Ribeira! There are a lot of restaurants, bars and pop-up terraces, we couldn’t chose where to sit, so inviting they all looked! On that side you can also find The Yeatman hotel which has a Michelin stars gourmet restaurant with a view-deck.
- Livraria Lello – an old bookshop that will take you to Hogwarts library. Just check out the pics from there to understand why one must visit it! There is always a line to enter and a line to buy tickets, but don’t let this scare you away, they move very fast, altogether it took us no more than 10 minutes to get in. And it’s worth it! The cool thing is that a ticket is actually a voucher that you can use when purchasing a book, so you don’t really pay for the entrance, because you for sure will want to buy something inside! The selection of books in various languages (besides Portuguese, mostly English and Spanish) is very impressive, and the prices are more than decent. There are quite a lot of tourists inside, that can get annoying, so try to choose some less popular times to really enjoy it.
- Bolhão market. People write a lot about it being a must-see, but honestly if you have ever been to any nice big market with fresh fruits and handmade crafts – it’s not gonna impress you much more. The food people were eating looked delicious, but besides that I am only mentioning it here because of the street next to it – Rua de Santa Catarina. There you find all the mass-market shopping as well as some local brands, and Portugal is very good for shopping! On top of great clothes brands presence, you can bring beautiful dishes and house design items, nice handmade jewelry, soaps and famous sardines from there. And of course pastel de nata! Last year we explored all pastel de natas one can possibly eat in Portugal, and I particularly like the one at Fábrica de Nata. You can find it on that street and bring few packs home. Some more unique shopping can be found at Bombarda commercial center and and places like workshop pop up. Just look inside the smallest stores!
- Museums: I don’t attempt to visit all museums of the city when travel somewhere. I mean, Picasso in Barcelona and Van Gogh in Amsterdam are must-do’s, of course, but I am more of a walk-all-streets-possible kind of tourist. For whatever the reason, I had Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis pinned on my map, so we went there. The description of an interesting collection in a beautiful palace is ehmm.. quite overrated. It’s a very old-school soviet-like museum like those local lore ones where they force you to go in middle school. We were quite disappointed, only a beautiful garden inside made it a but more worthy. Another day I needed to hide from rain and went inside Igreja da Misericórdia not having any idea what it is. Turned out to be very beautiful inside, with an informative collection on Porto’s history and development of medicine and human care services. Really enjoyed it! And the 2.50 euros entrance fee for students in any museum is very fair I think! Especially after Vienna, where you can easily pay 13 euros to see one small exhibition.
To wrap it up, some more gastronomy advice is always good! A sandeira was a place with awesome huge and delicious sandwiches for 4 euros. Flor dos Congregados is a very cozy romantic place. DOP can be added to the list of fancy gourmet restaurants. Ostras&Coisas will make happy any seafood lover! Frankie serves the biggest and coolest hotdogs I’ve ever seen, and it’s also very cheap and cool there. Vício do Café serves delicious coffee and also cheaper snacks, but toasts I ate there were soooo full of cheese! We couldn’t visit all the places I marked because a lot were closed due to Easter holidays, the same story as last year. My list also included Pedro Lemos, Terraplana, Museu d’avo, Aduela and Touriga (last three a more of bars). The Royal Cocktail Club showed a different approach to cocktails: controversial but interesting; Era uma Vez em Paris is a 50s bar which is said to have cool music, but when we stopped by it was still empty; espresso martini was perfect, though!
Porto definitely got its special place in my heart, so does whole Portugal already have. People there are very nice, everything functions, sorry, much better than in neighboring Spain and France, I am not even mentioning English proficiency. Those amazing views, tasty food, sunshine and TILES! Hope to be back soon!