Porto! If there is a city you need to add to your ‘list to visit’ one day – make it Porto, Portugal! What a place. Wow and wow.
The amazing, historic buildings and neighborhood districts are all within a 2-3km radius of the old city center. In fact, they bragged about this architectural richness quite a bit at the Tourist Information Office. The concentration of so much in a small area makes for a great day or two of wandering down windy side streets to and from the next church or market or statue. No matter which route you meander there is a number of unique and wonderful cafes to stop at for refreshments or a bite to eat and many boast traditional Portuguese fare.
We had an day/evening (when we arrived as Pilgrims on Friday) plus 2 full days (Saturday and Sunday) in Porto and we are so glad we did. It was enough time to explore all we wanted and still have some time for relaxing at our rented flat or people watching in a plaza or cafe. If you go, three days would be perfect and two would be manageable to get in the major sights!
Day 1 Porto – Friday, Beach and Tram Day
We arrived in Porto by our own two feet, having walked from the town of Vile do Conde about 30kms away. The route we were on had us waking the entire waterfront promenade which was fabulous. You could easily spend a day doing just beach type stuff in Porto (surf, sand castles, rent bikes, walk the promenade, visit waterfront cafes, etc).
However after too many kilometers on our feet already, when we saw the old school trolley tram roll up we couldn’t resist a ride. We jumped on at the old Fort (on the beach front walk) and took it all the way to the bottom of the hill in old city center for just 3 Euros. About a 20min ride. The tram has been maintained just as it was when it was brand spanking new and we really loved it. This would be a great way to round out a beach day or to make your way to city centre.
From there, we made our way to our rented flat in the middle of the old city center – thank you Air BnB and Lana for this awesome booking! We were right in the thick of it!
Our Porto flat was a great home base for exploring the city for the weekend. Everything was honestly within blocks! While you could go out for a nice dinner and drinks on your day of arrival … instead we did laundry and made soup and toasted sandwiches at ‘home’. After weeks of eating out on the pilgrim’s route, it was so nice to have a home and cook and enjoy our space.
Day 2 Porto – Saturday, Historic City Centre
The next day we made a ‘see the old sights high in city’ day and had planned to spend the evening on the town (aka sitting in a pub laughing at our own hilariousness and ignoring everyone around us).
We began our day in our favorite way – slowly. I got up and went for a morning run in and around the city center which has a lot of hills by the way, yikes. Then we both took our time getting ready, enjoying an un-rushed coffee, and Lana made us fried eggs and bacon breakfast. It’s been a while since we could sleep till we wanted and just enjoy a peaceful morning, so we fully enjoyed and appreciated what would be our new routine as tourists.
Around noon we made our way out into the old city center and walked about either following the map or in any direction that made us happy. We saw the cathedral, the churches, the markets, statues, the court house, and more and more. Here are just a few of the highlights from my morning run and our afternoon adventure.
Porto is a very, very, very busy place – noisy and full of people going in all directions and loads of traffic. You could liken the craziness to New York City less the car horns and with buildings a heck of a lot older. Crazy, busy and so much to look at. Funny how being around so many people was actually a bit exhausting. We have shared a path with just a few other pilgrims at any one time for weeks and now all of a sudden my personal space is no longer my own and everyone is rushing and snapping pics and just really unmindful of others. This was something I didn’t expect to have to get used to again after the peace of pilgrimage.
By about 3pm we were ready to slow it down and enjoy a nice lunch in a cafe that we felt would bring us joy. We found one! La Catina in the city center was amazing. All wood and stone and old vintage decor with amazing food and very talented serving staff. We were served banana infused butter (wow!), olives, lupinin beans, and fresh bread to start. We each tried a local white wine and I had the Franchesina Sandwich and Lana had the Poached Pear salad and fries. Everything was perfect.
When we left the cafe we did a little more exploring but thought we could go home for a couple hours to relax before heading out for dinner when the kitchens in the cafes and restaurants open again at around 9pm.
Squirrel … as we passed a cafe on our very own street we saw they were featuring a Port Sangria. When in Porto! We stopped in for one of these beauties and wow delicious!
We tried to take a selfie with our first Port experience but got the giggles instead of being serious … so a giggling photo shoot had to happen of course. Oh and it’s not the Port that made us giggle (as you can see we hadn’t even had more than a sip) it was our own silliness and an overtired combination! Geeks!
Our big plan to spend an evening out at cafe or pub was thwarted by naps and Netflix. We had not watched TV since leaving Canada in August, so when we figured out our flat had Netflix we were quite excited to watch a movie and be lazy. Creature comforts! Lana had the studio ‘bedroom’ which had a whole wall that literally opened into the living room and I had the living room futon – we could both get back in our beds and watch the movie. Why wouldn’t ya!
Well after a lazy evening like that going out for dinner and drinks at 9pm felt like a lot of work, so we didn’t. We put on another movie and had an awesome lazy night! It was so nice to just watch tv and chill.
Day 3 Porto – Sunday, Historic Waterfront
Our final full day in Porto started much earlier but still on tourist time. After our lazy evening we were rested and ready to see the rest the city had to offer, today was a ‘head down to the historic water front’ day. We had split the city by bottom of the hill (water) and top of the hill (city center) for each day or you would risk exhausting yourself on the steep but awesome side streets all day. We have been walking for a while now and have his to save foot energy down to a science!
We first went on a 5 Bridges Tour – basically a river tour which allows you to see the city from the water and hear the history of some of the oldest water front buildings (aka church built in the 1300s – wow!) and the bridges. We loved it and perhaps got a little too into the boat thing with with our pirate impersonations.
For 15 Euros it may sound a little pricey but you get a sailing of 50mins, all the history, great photo opportunities of the river district, and it was beautiful sunshine – why wouldn’t yah!?
After our pirate excursion of sorts, we headed across the water to the Port district where all the Port companies and tastings are concentrated. We were looking for lunch and to try some white, tawny, red and vintage Port.
Confession … lunch was side tracked by a pastry vendor at the street market along the river front. Who could blame us! The Bolas de Berlin donut (sugar donut filled traditionally with egg yolk rich custard) is something you have to experience to know Portugal! So amazing. No wonder they are all so sweet around here – with treats like this about I would be sweet too. My Bolas was traditional yellow custard and Lana got one with a thick clotted cream inside. Mmmm
Ok back to business. The Portuguese take their Port very seriously – so no more pirates, sugar donuts and other Tom Foolery!
We popped into a couple of the Port companies along the water and ended up staying at one called Quintas do Noval. We go by the feel of a place when making cafe, restaurant, pub and I guess Port tasting location decisions – and this one felt good. We picked right.
We each ordered a glass of Port and shared so we could taste a few different ones without drinking too much. I started light by ordering the Fine White which was not light at all – think Jack Daniels marrying ice dessert wine. Yuck! Lana tried to start with an easy red called Light Ruby but was talked into a 2011 Limited Bottle Vintage Unfiltered – it was tasty but quite heavy. We each ordered one more taster. I got the 10 Year Old Tawny and Lana ordered the Noval Black (which is the only red Port served cold). One look on my face after a taste of the Tawny and Lana switched with me. What a friend!
Port tasting complete and still only a donut since breakfast, we went in search of some lunch. As usual, we ended up getting distracted again climbing a crazy steep hill down a wee baby side street to take pictures from the high pedestrian and tram bridge. The pics were worth the climb and time.
Ok for real, we need some lunch it was coming on 3pm or so and the weather was starting to get dark and stormy.
We found just the most wonderful place in our very own neighborhood. A traditional Portuguese restaurant called Concept 31. The staff and owner were just so sweet and the decor was very inviting. I had the Steak Mirendisa style (garlic sauce and served medium rare) and Lana had the Pork with Port sauce. Both were absolutely amazing and served with potatoes and greens.
While there, we were introduced to green wine by our waiter and loved it – so fresh and easy to drink. We were also treated (aka given no choice by the very sweet owner lady) to another Port tasting after dinner, both a red and a white from Calem one of the more well known Port companies here in Porto. They were delicious!
By the time we left at about 5pm, the kitchen had closed and we were the last customers in the place. It turned out to be a real treat as we had a chance to talk to the waiter a bit about Portugal, the current election and how the food changes from region to region. We also avoided the worst of the rain that had started to come down while we had our lunch.
Finally we put on our waterproof jackets and made for the market (for supper stuff, breaky and lunch on the train food) and then home. We had to pack up and get ready for our next adventure in Lagos on the south coast of Portugal and secretly wanted to chill a little more to Netflix. For those who are social creatures, opposite to Lana and I, we could hear from our flat that the night life of Porto is on fire!
Yesterday we left behind Porto with a huge thanks for just an awesome weekend of relaxation, good laughs and amazing sights. Now we are saying hello to Lagos, a beach side city we are so excited to use as home base as we explore the coastline and beaches!
We will check in after Lagos!