Funny enough, Portugal was never on my destinations bucket list and oh boy how wrong I was.
Imagine a country so colorful that it instantly brings cheer and hope to your life.
In Portugal, people enjoy small things in life and care for the people they love. I absolutely salute this way of life. I also admire Europe’s sunniest country for vivid towns, sparkling beaches, extravagant architecture and great food. It’s a joy to explore.
For my first visit to Portugal I chose Porto as I wanted a less touristic and more compact place – just enjoy long strolls around the city with less crowds to feel the authenticity of the country. Porto was voted several times as the best European destination and it did not disappoint me. I fell in love with this coastal city straight away.
REASONS TO VISIT:
Porto has a really stunning old town. You will warm your heart walking the small streets of Ribeira that remained untouched with typical colorful houses, old balconies and hanging clothes. Stunning facades will wake up your artistic side. Beautiful and vibrant squares will drag you in a scene full of life. Douro river views with a famous double span iron bridge will make you feel romantic. Walking around Crystal Palace gardens will win your exotic side and make you relax.
Porto has so many colors and so many architectural styles – Romanesque, Rococo, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Contemporary. This city will surprise you with its unique charm.
Portuguese culture is no less colorful than its architecture. It’s a great mix of different elements to embrace you with vibrancy, charisma, creativity, flamboyance and vitality.
Many bookshops (Lello Bookshop is considered the most beautiful in the world!) , museums, galleries, music venues, historic monuments, and theatre. It is so much to explore for anyone who loves culture.
Portugal is known for its rich cuisine and Porto is a paradise for food lovers with so many restaurants and pastry shops for sweets lovers. For a big seafood lover like me – visiting Porto was also a feast!
To try Francesinha is a must – it’s typical (massive!) Porto sandwich made with bread, ham, sausage, steak, cheese, tomato and beer sauce! (They have vegetarian options too).
And don’t forget you are in a home of port! You cannot go to Porto and not try the port! No more explaining needed here.
Must See and Do’s:
Livraria Lello (most beautiful world’s bookshop)
Cruise over The Duoro river and enjoy sunset
Visit Ribeira – oldest area in the city
Admire fascinating church of Sao Francisco and Igreja do Carmo
Gardens of Crystal Palace
Do some shopping at Bolhao Market
Douro valley and wine tour
Visit one of the port cellars
Tuk tuk Sightseeing tour around Porto
Visit Beautiful town of Aveiro
HOW TO GET HERE:
There are not many options for direct flights from the US to Portugal, except from New York with Lufthansa or United Airlines, however if you choose connecting flights there are multiple flights available from all over Europe. The most convenient flights to Portugal would be from London. Flights to Porto or Lisbon from here take only around a couple of hours and there’s plenty of cheap flights with budget airlines.
Travelling around more freely is definitely worth renting a car which is not very expensive (however be aware of many toll-pay routes) and gives you an opportunity to see areas around.
If you are staying only in a city – Porto has a very easy and well established city transport system. You can travel by bus and metro, but you should definitely try to take a tram to get the full vibe of the city’s charm. You can also cross a river in one of the gondolas!
WHERE TO EAT:
Like in all Mediterranean countries here the same rule applies – go and eat there where locals go. Traditional taverns are cheaper than restaurants.
Advise: Portions in traditional restaurants are very generous, so if you eat small – always ask if a place offers an option to order half a portion.
Some places to highlight – Barao Fladgate Restaurant (spectacular view), Café Candelabro (snacks and bar with very hip vibe) , Café Santiago (for most famous city’s francesinha), Flor dos Congregados (traditional tavern).
Dishes to try – Tripas a moda do Porto (traditional pork stew), Bacalhau (cod), Caldo Verde (traditional soup), Cremoso de Camarao (seafood risotto).
Tip : Be aware of lunch break in the restaurants – many places close from around 3pm to 6pm)
WHERE TO STAY:
The best districts to stay in Porto – Ribeira, Vila de Gaia riverfront, Balhao, Vitoria, Avenida de boavista (further down but many high end hotels) and Matosinhos beach.
There are plenty of options to stay in each area – 5*, 4*, 3* hotels, apartments, boutique guesthouses.
We stayed in Pestana Vintage Porto hotel which was fantastic and also rented a private flat with amazing rooftop views for a few more nights over Airbnb.
Options are endless for every budget.
-Weather here stays enjoyable for longer than most European cities so the season here is pleasant over the year.
-Prices in Porto are quite reasonable so it is an affordable city even if you are on the budget.
-Wear comfortable walking shoes as most urban areas have uneven sidewalks with many cracks.
-Have some cash – most restaurants prefer cash over debit cards. And have some smaller notes.
-People who like to party won’t be disappointed- Porto has a buzzing nightlife.
-Forget about counting calories here.
-And don’t try speaking in Spanish!