adventures of an american housewife in the south of france

Porto City Guide: Dos, Don’ts, Eats

Oddly enough, I have to thank Ryan Air for introducing me to Porto, Portugal.  Stéphanie and I wanted to go on a trip together before she moved back to Montreal and Ryan Air had a great deal to Porto that we just couldn't pass up.  Before this trip I had never really heard of Porto as a European destination and I want to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else.  Porto is amazing and it was my favorite trip that I have taken since moving to France.  Here's my list of Dos, Don'ts, Eats so you can start planning your trip to Porto: DO: - Go with your girlfriends.  Porto has "Girl's Trip" written all over it.  The main things to do are shop, drink Port Wine, and walk around.   We were in town for 3 days and had the best time taking in the scenery, drinking lots of Port and just hanging out.  The beauty of the city itself is romantic, so it could also be a really fun vacation to take with a significant other, but for me, it was the perfect last trip to take with Stéph!

bring your bestie!

- Take the Boat Tour.  Do I really even need to say it?  You guys know how I feel about Boat Tours.  But the Boat Tour in Porto is my absolute favorite kind:  small boat, all one level with plenty of outdoor seating, and a bar.  A winning combination!  We booked our tour right on the waterfront.  Tickets cost €10 and came with a free tour, tasting, and 20% off at Croft Port Winery.  The Boat Tour lasts 50 minutes and takes you down the Douro River, under all 6 bridges of Porto and out to the Atlantic.  Commentary is broadcasted through a loud speaker in several different languages, which for some tours can make it difficult to hear, but since the boat was small we didn't have a problem.

ready for our tour!

beautiful boat views

some of our scenery

3 of the 6 bridges in Porto. the one in the middle was designed by the same architect who designed the eiffel tower!

- Try the local food.  Some of it might sound strange or heavy (lots of potatoes), but I loved trying the traditional cuisine, like the Salted Codfish.  My favorite by far was the Baked Octopus.  It's tender and buttery and, really, just heavenly.

clockwise from left: baked octopus, mussels, salt cod-potato fritters

And when you try the Francesinha (read about here), do it the right way.  We must have had a momentary brain lapse and forgotten that everything is better with an egg on top because Stéphanie and I decided to each have a small one without the fried egg and french fries.  Boo on us.  Bring a friend and split the big one with the works.

getting ready to stuff our faces

- Set aside some time for shopping. Portugal has been hit pretty hard by the economic crisis and as a result, everything is pretty cheap.  Even merchandise at national chains like H&M and Zara is priced lower than usual.  Check out Rua da Boavista and Rua de Santa Catarina for more of these chain and department store shopping, and Rua do Rosario to Rua de Miguel Bombarda for more funky boutiques.  My favorite shop in this area, Muuda, was a boutique/art gallery with lots of really original clothing and accessories.

inside Muuda

love this display

gallery portion of Muuda

And if you walk far enough around this neighborhood, you'll come across some pretty rad street art.

reminiscent of a rooster? which is the unofficial symbol of porto!

You can also check out the huge outdoor food and craft market, Mercado do Bolhão. (It's right by Rua de Santa Catarina).  We wandered around here checking out the beautiful produce and flowers, snapping about a zillion pictures along the way.

what i wouldn't give to bring all those chili peppers home to France with me!

there were SO MANY beautiful flowers!

gorgeous produce

- Spend a day learning about Port Wine.  It's basically the thing to do in Porto.  Right across the river you can find tons of different Port Wine cellars to visit, tour and taste Port Wine.  We spent the afternoon imbibing and you can read all about our experience here.

Stéphanie enjoying some delicious White Port at Taylor's

- Walk up winding alleyways to find spectacular views.  Porto reminded me of San Francisco in that there were some pretty amazing views around every corner.  The streets are twisty and hilly but the photo ops are totally worth the urban hike.


dusk in porto

  DON'T: - Stay in a hotel.  Rent an apartment!  Stéphanie and I booked this apartment through Home Away and it was absolutely fabulous.  Centrally located and very comfortable, we had a "normal" shower situation (which can be hard to find in Europe) and nice television with satellite, and a balcony with an incredible view.  David, the owner, was punctual, professional and very kind.  He met us at the train station, took us to the apartment, and left us a bottle of Port Wine to enjoy during our stay.

view from the balcony

image from David's HomeAway posting

image from David's HomeAway site

Expect a bumping nightlife.  Unless you want to go to a Dance Club.  The restaurants stop serving food around 10:30 and there aren't many late night bars where you can just hang out.  Apparently there are many after hours discos (although we didn't see any), but let's face it.  We're old married ladies now.  We don't want to be spending our evenings grinding on strangers and getting drinks spilled on us.  We were perfectly happy to go finish up our evening with a bottle of wine on our balcony. - Make a special trip to the Livraria Lello.  This bookstore is one of the landmarks that's talked about in all of the guidebooks as a must see.  And I'll admit, it's pretty cool.  There's some beautiful woodwork, a crazy spiral staircase, and cool stained glass.  But that's about it and it takes all of 3 minutes to walk through the store.  And you aren't supposed to take any pictures, although I didn't realize it until I took these.


spiral staircase and woodwork

If you find yourself in that neighborhood, stop by and check it out, but otherwise, I don't think it's worth a separate trip. - Pass up the opportunity to see a sunset at Solar do Vinho do Porto.  If you didn't read about our experience at this Port Wine bar/lounge, check it out here.  This place was so incredible.  We had a lovely afternoon admiring the gardens, drinking some delicious Port Wine, and watching an incredible sunset.

enjoying my Portonic cocktail on the terrace

our amazing view




- Forget to learn a few Portuguese phrases.  Most people don't speak English, so it's helpful to learn the vocab for the food and how to say things like "hello", "please", and "thank you."  Even though it's a very different language, I found I was able to get by a little bit with my Spanish.  From what the locals told me, "The Portuguese can understand Spanish, but the Spanish can't understand Portuguese."  Somehow, I believe them.   EATS: I talked about a lot of these restaurants and shared pictures during my last edition of the International Food Porn Dictionary, but here's a quick recap.
  • Restaurant A Grade - fantastic and family owned, this place is right by the waterfront and is the perfect lunch stop before or after your Boat Tour.
  • Kyodai Sushi - the best sushi experience Europe!  The Brazilian chefs are hilarious and the fish is fresh and creative.  Don't worry about figuring out what to order, there is no menu.  Just eat what they put in front of you!

the awesome sushi chef

  • Café Santiago - we did our research on where to find the best Francesinha and it led us here!  It's right near Rua de Santa Catarina and the Mercado do Bolhão, so stop by here after a long day of shopping.

how freaking adorable is this old man??

  • Cafe Majestic - in the heart of the shopping district, this is a legendary restaurant with a pretty big menu and beautiful outdoor space.  We didn't have time to eat here, but we did check it out and it's definitely on my to-do list for next time.
So have I convinced you to visit Porto?  Personally I think it's a hidden gem of Europe and I can't wait to go back!
Obrigada, Porto!

3 Responses to “Porto City Guide: Dos, Don’ts, Eats”

  1. Dawn says:

    Looks amazing! Love the wood spiral staircase.

  2. Mike says:

    Thanks for posting this review for Porto. I’m planning my stay, will definitely do the 6 bridge boat tour and port cellars.

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