City Guide to Porto, Portugal
Author: Julie Thompson | Last Updated: 19 Dec 2018
In a country known for its amazing beaches (like the Algarve region) and coastal cities (Lisbon, for example), Porto has a lot to live up to, yet it steps up to the challenge and is easily one of the prettiest cities of the Iberian peninsula. Sitting above a great valley, the city of Porto is more than just its fairytale appearance, a hub for food, unique craft stores and of course Port wine.
Best time of the year to visit Porto:
Porto actually has a couple of stunning beaches tucked away a few metro stops away from the center, and while not everybody knows about them, they are absolutely worth the trip. As a result, going to Porto in summer seems like a safe bet to take advantage of the beaches, with an average temperature of 75F. The months of June and July are also the driest of the year with on average 7 days of rainfall each month, so take advantage the of nice weather since the rest of the year sees its fair share of rain. It is certainly advisable to avoid booking a trip around Spring time, mainly because a very important weeklong Spanish holiday falls around this time and so many Spaniards make the short trip to Portugal and flood the cities.
Maybe not the first thing you would think to do when arriving to a new city, but certainly worth your time, going to a port tasting by the river is a must. There are a row of bars the other side of the river where you can try 5 different types of Port wine for 5 euros, an incredibly cheap way to try the local product. Bar Soares is one such bar offering the fortified wine and relaxing atmosphere. While settling into the laidback lifestyle enjoyed by many in the Iberian peninsula, you’ll be treated to one of the most spectacular sights in the city of Porto the other side of the valley. Connected by 2 colossal bridges, the 2 neighborhoods of Porto offer 2 very different experiences, but from bar Soares on the Vila Nova de Gaia side you will get the most picturesque view for sure.
In order to make sure you don’t start the trip too tipsy, head literally next door to the sizeable indoor food market called ’mercado Beira-Rio’. Inside you will be met with a wide selection of food stalls selling just about everything you can imagine; there’s all the amazing variations of Portugues ’bacalhau’ (cod) which are extremely popular in Porto especially for a start. Then you have typical fare such as the ’francesinha’, which though not for everyone, is worth a try. The Portuguese sandwich is a large sandwich, drenched in a spicy tomato and beer sauce with several types of meat and fries thrown in, lovely. Before you leave, stop off and try one of Portugal’s renowned sweet treats in the ’pastel de nata’, a rich custard tart which will perfectly top off any lunch.
Next up, comes a pivotal decision: to take a short but steep hike up to the top or opt for the slightly more fun cable car. If you’ve just eaten, the latter option will surely seem more enticing but whatever the case you should head in the general direction of the medieval castle on the Vila Nova de Gaia side before tackling the centre of Porto. ’Muralha Fernandina’ is worth a visit, not just because of its fantastic location looking out over the entire city of Porto, but also as a fascinating attraction in itself. Once you step foot inside the castle walls, you’ll have the same view as Porto as from the bar, but from much higher up, giving you a much different perspective. The stonework of the castle contrasts brilliantly with the pastel-colored houses behind it and really adds a lot to the view.
Luis I bridge
Next up it’s time to tackle the bridge, not just any bridge, one of the most awe-inspiring bridges you’ll ever set your eyes on. High above the water, walking across the top bridge, if you can briefly ignore the feeling of vertigo, make sure you peek over the rails at the myriad colors on display from the city of Porto, made even more impressive once illuminated by the sun, assuming you go during the summer. Add to that the fact that there is a tram that regular crosses the bridge and that this bridge was the longest of its kind at the time of construction, a fact you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate as you cross.
Once you set foot on solid ground again, it’s time to descend again to check out the lively riverfront on the other side, the city of Porto. Walking along the riverside you will see boats regularly pass by and if you look back across the river, you will notice a few Port wine bodegas up in the hills overlooking the city. All along the right hand side there is a long line of interesting bars, restaurants and cafes; some even appear to be within caves. It’s definitely worth stopping off for an ice cream or even a cold Sagres,one of Portugal’s own lagers.
Harry Potter book store
If you in any way enjoyed the Harry Potter book series or the movies, then this next recommendation is mandatory, and even if you aren’t familiar with the series this famous book store is suitably unique to be worth a visit anyway. ’Livraria Lello’ is one of Porto’s biggest draws, tied to the incredibly successful Harry Potter franchise, the bookshop is a brilliant example of architecture and a true treasure of the city. If you were wondering what the connection to Harry Potter is, the bookstore – one of the oldest and most beautiful in the world – was a big inspiration to the author J.K Rowling. The Author would visit the bookshop frequently when she lived in Porto, and so gave it that extra special aura.
No trip to Portugal would be complete without seeing an authentic performance of ’fado’. Fado is to the Portuguese, what flamenco is to the Andalucians of Spain, and as such is well worth experiencing. The dance, thought to have originated in Lisbon, takes influence from the sea and the poor people of the time, and usually adopts a very melancholic nature and sound. Try ’O Fado’ in Porto for a dining experience combined with the sounds of Fado music for an authentic Portuguese evening.
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