A few years back when we were in Portugal we fell for Lisbon’s colorful streets and laidback vibe, but unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to visit Porto back then. So, when we had a few days to spare for a city trip this summer, we knew we had to hit Portugal’s northern jewel!
It’s easy to see why Porto is quickly becoming a popular destination: its location on the steep banks of the Douro, the ancient historical center, its relaxed atmosphere, colorful azulejos and proximity to the ocean are only a few of the reasons why the city is so attractive.
Portugal’s second largest city is only a few hours away from big sister Lisbon, but both cities are very different. Though hardly obscure, Porto is the less obvious destination of the two and due it’s discrete nature, less touristic. More so than in Lisbon, one can really feel that authentic, traditional Portuguese charm when strolling through its narrow streets. With its rusty balconies and weathered rooftops Porto has a uniquely worn feel, giving it even more character. We haven’t even mentioned its stunning panorama, with the Maria Pia Bridge (designed by Gustave Eiffel) that connects both banks of the Douro river. Porto truly does not look like any other place.
Also, it must be said because we know it’s not unimportant, visiting Porto is super cheap! On every street corner there’s a pastelaria or cafetaria where you can eat local specialties until you’re full, for less than what you’d pay for a coffee in Paris. Porto isn’t what you’d call hip or on-the-trend, but rather authentic and simple, yet fascinating. Plus, if the nighttime is your time: Porto comes alive at night. In some neighborhoods, bars stay open until the sun comes up and a good time isn’t hard to find.
So, if ever you’d feel like discovering Porto on a weekend or during a mid-week trip, scroll down to learn about the addresses we can recommend.
Just walking around - One of the simplest pleasures Porto can offer you is just randomly roaming its streets, even at the risk of sore feet. Discover its many baroque churches, the Sao Bento railway station and the frescos made up of blue azulejo tiles. Make sure you catch some amazing views, like the one from the Cristal Palace Gardens, then descend via the typical alleys of old Porto, also known as the Ribeira neighborhood (classified as World Heritage by Unesco), to finally end up on Plaça de Ribeira, next to the river. Ideally on a charming terrace during sunset.
Centro Português de Fotografia - Most people visit the museum of photography for its atypical location (an 18th century building that housed the Court of Appeal’s prison back in the day), but we were honestly blown away by the exhibition we saw there. And it’s free!
Casa da Musica - Even if you only have the faintest interest in architecture, it would be foolish to miss out on the contemporary theater house designed by Rem Koolhaas. Totally worth the detour.
Serralves Muséum - This is Porto’s contemporary art museum. It doesn’t have permanent exhibitions but rather works with 5 exhibits of invited artists per year. A must-see, even if it were only for the villa and the gardens.
Padaria Ribeiro - As said, there is no shortage of pastelarias and cafeterias in Porto, all offering a chance to discover local cuisine. Try some torradas in the morning or francesinha later in the day. Padaria Libero is one of the more popular places to eat, with locals and tourists alike. If you were looking for the perfect spot to try some Pastel de Nata, you’ve found it.
Café Epoca - Really nice café – cool, modern and simple all at once. Fun vibe, great service, nice-looking interior and killer food. Big up to the Turkish omelette to end all Turkish omelettes.
Mistu - A food sharing restaurant, with Asian and South American influences, in a chic Parisian brasserie-style setting, with a large bay window and mezzanine. Very friendly service. We highly recommend the bœuf tartare.
Early Cedofeita - It’s as if everything siblings Emmanuel de Sousa & Patricia Sousa touch turns to gold. The creative duo is definitely determined to give Porto its own touch of modernity and design. After their guesthouse Rosa Et Al and the concept store/art gallery Early Made (both located in the artsy Cedofeita area as well) they recently opened Early, a café and all-day restaurant. We didn’t only love the design of the place – its wooden walls reminding us of some of our own boutiques – but they don’t mess around when it comes to coffee either.
Cafe Vitoria - Located in the heart of the rapidly growing Baixa center of Porto, Vitoria is a modern bar/café with a midcentury touch in a typically Portuguese house. Its terrace is a haven of peace and quiet, a place where you’ll want to spend hours.
Bar Galeria Paris - When we told you about Porto’s nightlife, this is what we had in mind. The Galeria de Paris street with its succession of bars is essential. One of those, Bar Galeria de Paris has vintage objects of all kinds and is at the very least unusual. A Fiat 500 on the wall? Why not huh? Cozy vibes, Fado concerts, drinks: the ideal start for a night out.
O! Galeria - If we could only recommend one single place to go shopping, it would be this one: a small gallery filled with illustrations and artwork from floor to ceiling. A magnificent collection with work by more than 80 international artists of which Emma Ribeiro, the owner, speaks with the utmost passion. Every month a different artist is put in the spotlight. You can buy your favorites for anything between 20€ and 200€. Choosing is the hardest part.
Vida Portuguesa - A beautiful collection of typically Portuguese items with retro designs. Sardine cans, cleaning utensils, soaps and lots more. Browse away!
Claus Porto - This soapery and perfumery has been here since 1887. All products are made the old-fashioned way with the best ingredients. The unique design and colors of their soaps have become world famous. Oprah Winfrey’s a fan, so there you go.
myhomeinporto - As the name gives away, My Home in Porto isn’t a hotel but a guesthouse in which Juan welcomed us and made us feel right at home. The three rooms of this townhouse from the 1930s with its green azulejo facade are all decorated and furnished with love and are, making us at Bellerose smile.
Rosa Et Al - In the same style but located in the middle of Cedofeita, Rosa et Al is a modern home in an old townhouse, decorated with the same tastefulness and attention to detail that we see in all of Patricia and Emanuel’s projects. The bonus? An in-room spa! That’s the dream, right?
Tipografia do Conto - Another cool option if you’re feeling more like staying at the hotel. Together with Casa do Conto (500m away), Tipografia is the result of a massive renovation project by Porto architects and artists. The result is a clever mix of stark concrete and vintage furnishing. And breakfast is pretty generous which is always a plus!
Pictures : Hadrien Hanse & Victoria Nossent
Words : Bjorn Dossche