Almost exactly one month ago, I posted on Instagram Stories and asked my followers to choose my next trip in Europe. In an effort to create more useful travel content on this blog – and more engaging content at that! – I thought it would be a cool experiment to see if my audience was interested in having a say and joining along the way, if only digitally. I narrowed it down to two places I had been wanting to go to for a while but couldn’t quite decide: Porto and Prague.
I’ll be honest – I was thrilled at the number of people who voted, but also I was more thrilled that Porto won by a narrow two votes. I didn’t waste time booking my tickets and started uncovering what was behind this Portuguese city-on-the-rise. I knew it was going to be a quick trip and wanted to get the most out of it.
At first glance, Porto had it all: colorful azulejo tiles adorning buildings facades, a thriving food and drink scene, majestic river views, medieval history, and warm locals. I was already in love. It started to make sense why Portugal’s ‘Second City’ was on so many of my friend’s lips.
Porto might be a small city but it’s packed with a lively spirit, understated grandeur, passion, and historical importance that any curious traveler can appreciate. I found Porto to be interesting thanks to its beauty, character, and the touch of grunge that keeps the city feeling real and anything but artificial.
A city still on the rise
In the last 5-10 years, Porto has seen a major increase in investments and developments thanks to direct flight connections from low-cost carriers like Ryanair. This newfound wave of tourism is reviving this city in such a palpable way.
Now Lisbon is no longer the only important city stopover for tourists coming to Portugal, and as some of the locals told me:
“it’s a delicate balance between retaining our authentic identity and celebrating that with tourists while also avoiding the sometimes inevitable effects of gentrification.
Within my first few hours in Porto, I was blown away by the Roman and Medieval architecture around the city. Looking up to ornate facades and porcelain-tiled buildings gave me a sense of discovery. Even more impressive than the historic buildings was the rate of construction in and around the historical center. The historical buildings have their own stories to tell and apparently, the story is one of conservation and strict renovation code. According to a certain study, 1/5 of all buildings in Porto are vacant, most likely due to high costs of renovating them.
My friend and I stayed in a small studio near Ribeira historic district in a cute, clean, and well located AirBnb Plus. A bottle of Port wine and a quaint terrace with an amazing view was the special touch during our stay. I would really recommend it!
Here’s the listing if you’re curious: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/plus/23760804
Porto is all about the views!
I woke up super early every morning at sunrise (6am to be exact) to catch the city at its best and its most tranquil. Hiking up the steep hills was well worth it because the views of orange rooftops and the Duoro river are simply spectacular. If you want a true 360º view on the city, head to Clérigos Tower (what used to be a lighthouse) and be ready to climb 240 steps and work off all those pastries and Port.
Azulejos – Beautiful blue hues all around the city
Most people who have any idea about Portugal know about or have seen its colorful ceramic tiles called azulejos. They are everywhere in Porto and they come in a range of designs, colors, and sizes. Originally, azulejos were brought to Portugal by the Moors in the 13th century. Azulejo means, ‘small polished stone’. I could have easily spent the entire 36 hours just tile hunting. If you’re into architecture and tiles then look no further than Porto and its pretty polished stones.
Azulejo highlights are Igreja do Carmo, São Bento Railway Station, Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, Capela das Almas, Oratório de São Francisco, and Palacio da Bolsa.
A delicious food scene – And a great afternoon out with Secret Food Tours
In my mind, there’s no better way to get to know a city than through its food! Porto looked super promising from a food point of view: fresh seafood, coffee culture, affordable prices, world-renowned wine, and seriously sweet pastries. Last week, I was happy to be hosted by Secret Food Tours to try their latest walking food tour in Porto. The tour itself is pretty new, but the company’s reputation in Paris is great (they have tours in over 30 cities around the world), so I couldn’t wait to try it.
I met up with my guides Carlos and Alexandra on a beautiful sunny afternoon and I instantly felt I was with friends. They were so warm and hospitable and showed a clear passion and expertise for not only Portuguese food, but the city and its history. Our conversation flowed for hours and we walked all over town and dipped into local hangouts after local hangout where tourists were hard to find. As each local stop brought on a new dish I’d never tried before, they explained fascinating stories about its origins and variations that have emerged over the years. I was in foodie heaven learning about Porto’s food from locals firsthand. Also, seeing the passion of these local entrepreneurs was the cherry on top of an extremely authentic experience. The Port wine tasting at the end was a fitting way to end things off, of course 😉
In an effort to keep their tours as secret as possible, I won’t list the restaurants we visited here on the blog, but I will tell you that we tried famous dishes like Francesinha, sponge cake, Bifanas, tripe stew, and other specialties during the tour that lasted over three hours. Definitely come very hungry for this tour!
If you’re someone who appreciates local insights and flavors, I highly recommend this tour to dive deeper into this intriguing city and its people. Do you have to be adventurous to try this tour? Not necessarily, but you definitely have to be a gluten eating carnivor 😉
Porto specialties to try:
Francesinha: a sandwich with layers of ham, sausage, and pork melted with cheese and sometimes with a fried egg on top. Some places even do a vegetarian version! Taberna Belga, Casa Da Horta, Lada B Cafe, Lupin Restaurante are just some restaurants who serve this meat-free.
Caldo Verde: soup made with kale, potatoes.
Bacalhau: dried codfish
Pastéis de Nata: custard tart is a Portuguese egg tart pastry dusted with cinnamon – you should enjoy these warm!
Tripas à Moda do Porto: stew with pork stomach, veal cubes, white beans, and carrots.
Bifana: light but crusty bread roll filled with sautéed strips of pork that have been seasoned with garlic, spices, and white wine.
PORTO food Tips 🍴
Pasteis de Natas: Confeitaria Serrana & Padaria Ribeiro
Bifana sandwiches: Casa Guedes & Conga
Gluten-free pastries: Com Cuore
Francesinhas: Cafe Santiago, O Golfinho, Bufete Fase, Lado B
Brunch & breakfast: Zenith, Noshi Porto, O Consulado
- Tapabento (great tapas and ambiance)
- Intrigo (sunset views with good food)
- Casa de Cha Boa Nova
- Puro 4050 (mozzarella bar with great decor)
- Esquina do Avesso
- Taberna dos Mercadores (small, cozy dining room with traditional cuisine)
- Da Terra (vegetarian)
- Bufete Fase (must book since there’s only four tables)
In the last few years, Porto’s street art scene has taken off with splashes of creative murals and eye-catching color covering parts of the city. It wasn’t always like that, though. Porto’s mayor from 2001-2013 was against urban art and created an Anti-Graffiti Squad to wipe the city walls clean. The artists weren’t going to let that happen and fought back peacefully by continuing to paint on the white walls in resistance. Finally, in 2014 the first ‘legal mural’ was painted and – lucky for us – the urban art scene has been able to thrive again.
Rúa Miguel Bombarda
My second favorite thing after the food of Porto was its architecture! Before I visited someone described Porto’s cityscape as that of faded grandeur. That’s exactly what I felt when I was there. Baroque buildings, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Neo-classical and even innovative contemporary designs make wandering the streets an exploration of sorts. Some historic buildings are less well preserved than others, but either way, it’s a sight to see.
✨ For lovers of Art Nouveau: stroll by Rua da Galeria de Paris where you won’t feel like you’re in Portugal anymore.