My only memory of Portugal before this visit was a fairly distant one. I went to the Algarve after University for some ‘real’ sun and, well, because i’m English and that’s where we go. The beaches and scenery were beautiful, but I didn’t really experience any Portuguese culture. Having moved to Madrid in the summer of 2018 I was in a much better location to explore parts of Europe for brief weekend visits.
So, just before Christmas, my girlfriend and I flew over to Porto for her birthday. The previous year we’d been to Baden-Baden in Germany for the Christmas markets and I felt like this trip wouldn’t quite live up to the last due to Portugal being less ‘Christmassy’. Nevertheless, I was keen to explore and see what it had to offer!
The trip didn’t get off to the best start as we were running extremely late for our flight. We arrived at the airport 15 minutes after our gate closed, so we were pretty sure that Porto might have to wait for another time. However, thanks to Madrid Barajas Airport being the quietest airport in the world, we managed to rush through security, grab the most expensive sandwich this side of Singapore and then join the back of the queue (which hadn’t started moving yet). Breathe.
The flight from Madrid to Porto took under and hour and at the other end we jumped on a train directly to the centre of Porto, which took another 20 minutes or so. It was early in the day still (hence us nearly missing the flight) so we decided to grab breakfast before checking into our Airbnb. I watched on (jealously) as the Portuguese puffed on their cigarettes and sipped on their coffees. Just the coffee for me.
We meandered down to the riverfront, on what was a gloriously sunny day, and I was amazed by how beautiful the city was. I’d done zero research into the trip and I didn’t even know what the city looked like, but it was a splendid mix of historical elegance and modern architectural feats. Porto, so my Portuguese friends tell me, is a city that has been playing the part of the ‘poor sibling’ to Lisbon for quite some time, but more recently is coming out of its shell and gaining a, well deserved, reputation. I can see why.
Over the next few days we explored the city and ate like kings (and queens) and here are some of the highlights which I would recommend if you visit Porto in the near future!
Taberna Dos Mercadores
This lovely Portuguese restaurant is a gem and a must see. It’s tiny though (seats around 16) so I would recommend booking in advance to avoid disappointment! The food here is amazing and we went for the shellfish and rice stew with a bottle of alvarinho. The restaurant is so cosy that you daren’t get up and ask where the toilet is for fear of meeting the eyes of every other guest in there. However, the service is superb, the food is second to none and the owners really make you feel at home.
Another must try food is the Francesinha, a ‘sandwich’ which Porto is well known for. We tried one at a resutaurant attached to the Sandeman Cellars, a winery which is based in a 1797 building. It’s definitely something worth trying (assuming you’re not vegetarian), but I don’t think you would last long eating one everyday.
Jardins do Palácio de Cristal
After meandering through the quaint streets of Porto we went to the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, which are landscaped gardens designed in the 19th century. These gardens give a great view over the city and along the river. As it was December it left a lot to the imagination as to how it would look in the Summer. Nonetheless it was a wonderfully crafted garden and tranquil space to relax in.
Walk to the coast
Whilst Porto isn’t located right on the coast, it doesn’t take long to get to the nearest beach. You can get a taxi, bus, tram or cycle to the nearest beach very easily. We decided though, as it was a pleasant day, to walk there. It took us about an hour and a half just following the Douro River. After the Ponte de Arrábida bridge there is no way of crossing the river so make sure you’re on the side you want to be on! That being said there is a fisherman’s taxi which will take you across the river should you need! We walked to Praia do Ourigo where we had lunch and got an Uber back to Porto as we missed the last tram. The trams are certainly worth experiencing too, even though we didn’t get a chance to do so ourselves!
My experience of Porto was brilliant. A city I knew nothing about before has become one of my favourite places i’ve visited. I am planning on going back this Summer to experience it in another season and to visit some of the coastal areas too. All in all, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!