I have to admit that I added and removed Porto from my plans multiple times. Some of the reviews I had gotten about the city were mixed, and I wasn’t quite sure whether to follow them or not. But by the end of my three short days in Porto I was glad that I had let this city stick in my plans. I was never wondering what to do in Porto, as there is so much to do.
Whilst in my original plans I expected to only spend one day in the city and use the other two days to do day trips to nearby towns, I actually ended up spending all three days exploring Porto.
Lisbon will always be my favourite city in Portugal, but Porto is also definitely worth a trip.
For me Porto isn’t the type of city where I can give you a perfect list of places to see or museums to tick off. What I loved most about Porto was just wandering around the streets and alleyways and taking in the beautiful scenery and city. But there are a few things you can’t leave Porto without doing.
A Port Wine Tasting Tour
I started my three days in Porto by indulging in the drink that it is so famous for; port wine. Port Wine is the name given to the sweet wine grown in the Duoro Valley near Porto.
Port Wine is a fortified wine, which means that spirits or alcohol is added during the wine making process in order to fortify the wine. This was original done because it meant wine could last longer and wouldn’t go bad when being transported across shores. Now it’s done for taste reasons.
Regardless of the quality or expense, every bottle of port wine requires a minimum ageing process. And from the beginning that ageing has occurred in the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia.
Whilst it’s located just across the river from Porto, ironically this is actually considered a different city. The major reason for the port being stored here all of those years ago was because the sellers paid far less tax in this city than if they had stored it in Porto.
It’s also the place where you’ll get the best view of Porto.
The reason I now know so much about Port Wine and the different port wines is because I took a three hour port wine tasting tours. If you’ve been following for a while, you know that outside of free walking tours I usually shirk away from organised activities. But this tour was particularly good.
The tour began with a visit to the museum at one of the more famous port wine makers and houses; Ramos Pinto. Here we were taken for a guided tour around the museum which had some great information on the development of advertising and the new techniques used by Ramos Pinto.
We were then taken down to the cellars where we learnt more about the port wine process as explained above.
The whole museum tour finished with two very large tastings of Port Wine. I’ll be the first to admit that Port isn’t usually my thing. I’m not into sweet wine or sweet alcohol and port is characteristically sweet.
But in small amounts the two different ports were delicious and vastly different to one another. One was especially sweet while the other had more of a citrusy flavour.
The second stop on the tour was another port wine house where we got to taste more port while listening to traditional fado music. It was the first time in Portugal I’d listened to the music and a rather beautiful way to enjoy our port tastings. Especially when our guide broke out chocolate that enhanced the flavours of one of the ports we were tasting.
The tour ended at Porto Cruz where we had our final four tastings. We got to feel very professional as they were laid out on a proper table with a light in which we could examine our port.
We finished the tour on the rooftop of the port house where we got a stunning night time view over Porto. It was magical and our guide couldn’t have been better. The tour is 16 Euros and we did it with Porto Walkers which I would absolutely recommend.
A Free Walking Tour
For my first full day in Porto I did what I try to do whenever I first arrive in a new city; participate in a free walking tour. Free walking tours work on a tips basis, so at the end of the tour you give the guide what you think the tour was worth. I always give a minimum of 5 Euros, and 10 Euros if they are exceptional (which I’ve only given out three times in four months worth of walking tours).
The one I did was with the same company as the Port Wine Tour; Porto Walkers. They also run a pub crawl (which I didn’t participate in; I was still recovering from Lisbon) but everything I did with them was excellent.
Given that Porto is the kind of city that is best explored by wandering around on foot, the free walking tour was the best way to see it.
On the almost three hour tour we took in some of Porto’s most famous sites.
The best thing about Porto is you can stumble upon remarkable sites without even meaning to explore. The prime example of this is the main train station that is full of thousands of tiles depicting important events in the history of Porto and Portugal.
We visited the last remaining pieces of the fortifications of Porto, and were able to climb them to get some pretty remarkable views over Porto.
Porto is a city where you need to expect to climb, there are a lot of inclines and climbs and my legs were burning by the end of our tour. Another climb was up to one of the oldest buildings, the Porto Cathedral.
Whilst at this point in my trip I was struggling with a serious case of church fatigue (I seriously never wanted to see another church in my life, no matter how beautiful said church was), this was a prime photography taking position. The best thing about all that hill climbing is you get the reward of the remarkable view.
We also learnt about the traditional (and what I find rather disgusting) delicacy in Portugal of offal and innards by taking a walk through the district where it all began. Whilst I didn’t admire the choice of dishes, I could admire the little and beautiful alleyways and passages we stumbled upon on our way through.
Our tour ended at one of the most beautiful places in Porto, the Duoro river. Duoro means gold the river was named for the sediment in the water that gives it a golden colour. We were told we were lucky because at the time of our visit there had been heavy rains and conditions that meant the sediment was pushed up the river and it was characteristically gold.
Of course by the river you’ll also find a more modern aspect of Porto, the Dom Luis Bridge. You find recognise the style of design as something akin to the Eiffel Tower. In fact the man that built this bridge was a huge rival of Eiffel. It was a rather interesting tidbit of information and something I never would have learnt without the free walking tour.
Livraria Lello Bookshop
Before she published her first book, and during a rather turbulent period of her life, JK Rowling lived in Porto with her first husband. Hence it’s no surprise that the Portugese are forever trying to attribute something as an inspiration for the books.
One of these is the bookshop that is meant to be Rowling’s inspiration for Flourish and Blotts. Of course the true Harry Potter nerd I am, I absolutely had to check it out whilst I was in Porto, even if it did cost 5 Euros to go inside (you get this back as a credit off your purchases if you do buy a book).
It’s rather pretty and you can definitely see the similarities to what I imagined Flourish and Blotts to be. But I’m not sure it’s worth the entrance fee unless you are a fanatic like me.
Eat a Francesinha
I mentioned this is my food roundup but it seems essential to bring it up again in my actual Porto post. This is Porto’s most famous dish and you absolutely can’t leave without eating it.
The francesinha was invented in Porto by some crazy genius and it consists of a sausage, steak and ham sandwich that is wrapped in cheese, topped with an egg, surrounded by fries and smothered in magical sauce.
Don’t feel so bad about all those calories; you’ll walk them off by climbing all of Porto’s hills!
Fantastic Photo Opportunities
Porto was always surprising me with opportunities for beautiful photos. A case in point was when I skipped out of the hostel one afternoon to stock up on toiletries and other supplies. As I wondered around trying to find somewhere that sold scissors and glue for my scrapbook I found myself wandering down picturesque streets like this one.
And on my way back I stumbled across this little street and took this photo that still remains one of my favourites of the whole trip.
Further afield from Porto
I had some day trips in my original plans but never got the time to actually do them. But if you find yourself with extra time up your sleeves the two most popular trips outside of Porto are to the beautiful Duoro Valley, and to the beautiful nearby town of Guimares. Guimares is easily accessible by suburban train, whilst the Duoro Valley is often easier with some sort of guided tour or experience.
The citizens of Lisbon and Porto fiercely fight over which city is better or more worth it to visit. Much as us Melbournians quarrel with Sydney over which is the better place to life. But my piece of advice is to not miss either of them!