I’ve never really thought about visiting Portugal until my friend sent me a cork postcard from Porto. My first encounter with Portuguese “culture” a.k.a. food was on a short trip to Macau, a former Portuguese colony an hour away from Hong Kong.
I am the laziest traveller cuz I don’t do any research prior to my trip; also because I didn’t have time as I was finishing my essay. I hope you’re not expecting to learn facts or read about Portuguese history in this blog post – cuz that’s what Wikipedia and Wikitravel are for – but there’ll be loads of pretty pictures and food recommendations I promise. Where was I, right, no research, it has its upside because the best way of exploring a city is to get lost in it!
I decided to fly into Porto only because it’s cheaper than flying to Lisbon, which worked very well for me because all the other places that I wanted to see are to the south of Porto. It was all sunny and warm in the UK the day before I left, so as you can imagined, I was a bit bummed when I arrived in cloudy Porto which later started to rain – I was planning on getting a tan 😦 But nothing’s going to ruin my holiday.
I arrived on a Sunday, so most shops are closed. I had my first meal in Café Luso (Praça de Carlos Alberto 92) and tried the traditional “francesinha”. It’s a sandwich layered with bread, ham, sausage, steak and covered with melted cheese and gravy served with fries – basically a heart attack lol Personally I didn’t like it, but I love trying local dishes when I travel, then you can tell people whether or not you like it and why.
Porto is rather small, just the way I like it – everything’s within walking distance. Two days is more than enough to do all the touristy things on your checklist: Torre dos Clérigos, Ponte D. Luís I, Igreja de São Francisco (not that impressive imo) and Estação de São Bento (stunning!) to mention a few.
If you’re a book lover and are always drawn to bookstores, Livraria Lello is a must-go. It’s one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and one of the most beautiful in the world. I’ve been told that it was frequented by J. K. Rowling when she taught English in Porto. It seems to me that everyone’s trying to make money out of Rowling, you know, this and the Elephant House Café in Edinburgh. I wanted to get an English translation of their traditional folktale, but sadly their English section is very limited (and disorganised; I started rearranging the books for half a minute and stopped when I realised what I was doing lol).
My favourite thing about Porto/Portugal is azulejo, their traditional painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework. You can see them everywhere, less in Lisbon though. Blue is my favourite colour and I gasped a little too loudly when I accidentally found Capela das Almas 😮 São Bento train station is also known for its tiled panels.
Everyone has been to Lisbon, but Porto is so underrated. If you love wine, there are some great wine/port tour that I didn’t have time to do. I don’t think I’ve seen Portuguese wine in shops or on menus (outside Portugal I mean) but they’re really good and cheap! The river is so calming; the alleyways are full of surprises; Portuguese people are very friendly and speak good English (I’m so disappointed with myself for my Portuguese has not improved at all after travelling in Portugal for 10 days). I’m so glad that I’ve decided to see Portugal 🙂 Below are some recommendations:
Best sunset spot/view of the bridge and river: The Gaia Cable Car upper station, Calçada da Serra 143. It’s just right off the bridge on the other side. I didn’t pay to take the cable car, instead I just sat on the edge of the wall. If you’re classier than me, there’s actually a wine bar right next to it.
Best sandwich shop: A Sandeira, Rua dos Caldeireiros 85. Best. Sandwich. Ever. Terrific lunch deal between noon and 3pm. Limited space though. Closed on Sunday.
Best seafood restaurant: Adega São Nicolau, Travessa São Nicolau 1. Mixed reviews online but I really enjoyed my 2-hour dinner with the view of the river. Good food, good wine and free port with dessert. Must make reservation in advance.
Best hostel: Gallery Hostel, Rue de Miguel Bombarda 222. Hostel in an art gallery, wonderful staff who gave me the most elaborated tour of the city on a map upon arrival, spacious and clean room with comfy beds and nice hot shower. Big breakfast included and also got a rooftop terrace.