After a quick train ride from the airport to the city center, I get to my abode for the next three days, the House of Sandeman Hostels. Honestly, the only reason I decided to stay here was that their beds weren’t bunks, and they were shaped like wine barrels….dope, right? Well, even the best of us make poor choices sometimes.
The hostel was clean, the rooms were spacious, and no bunk beds are a nice change because somehow, I managed to get a top bunk every fucking time. Breakfast was included, though it was nothing to write home about; just your typical fruit, cheese, and meat spread. In the evenings, they also served port from the connected lodge.
Overall, there was nothing terrible about the hostel, it was very far away from the other parts of the city, and the atmosphere in the hostel wasn’t very warm or social. So, in hindsight, I would’ve stayed somewhere else. I also had my eye on the Gallery Hostel, perhaps that would’ve been a better option. I guess it didn’t really inhibit me too much; it just meant that I had a long walk back home after a night out. Anyway, after dropping my stuff off, it’s time to take in the city.
Separated by the Duoro River, Porto is divided into north and south sides. Most of the action happens on the north side, and the south side holds most of the Port lodges. Porto isn’t a big city, so getting between the two parts isn’t all that difficult, you just have to cross the magnificent Dom Luís I Bridge. The pictures don’t really do this bridge justice, either. From every angle, it’s spectacular. Lively restaurants and picturesque painted houses line the north side of the riverbank, known as the Ribeira neighborhood. Most of those restaurants are going to be a bit touristy and expensive, but it’s definitely worth a glass of wine as the sunsets.
It’s time for some grub. I didn’t really plan a ton for Porto, actually, which is a bit odd for me. But with some quick searching and asking around, I end up at Puro 4050. An Italian restaurant and self-described “mozzarella bar,” this place is definitely catered toward the yuppie crowd. The food is good, though. I had a prosciutto and burrata dish and some small vegetable plates. Also on the menu are some pasta and pizzas. So you really can’t go wrong.
After dinner, drinks, of course. I start the night at Capela Incomum. A few streets removed from the main drag, Capela Inocumom had a great selection of wines and tapas. It’s also located inside a converted church, so definitely a unique atmosphere. Apparently, sometimes they have live music as well, but unfortunately, not the night I was there.
Sufficiently liquored up, the only reasonable thing to do is drink more. A block or so away, I stumble upon a bar with people spilling out into the street. Esapço 77 is a hell of a place. The crowd is pretty young, and at this point in the evening, pretty toasted. But the beer is cheap, and the food is, well, the food is precisely what you want at 1 am. There was a francesinha on the menu, but I wasn’t ready to embark on that journey—more on the dreaded, or revered, francesinha to come.
Anyway, after some friendly chatter with a few locals and a few games of foosball, it was time to stumble back home and try not to wake up the entire hostel.
The next day, it was a leisurely stroll throughout the city. I visit the Jardin Palácio de Cristol for a bit of scenery. Perched above the city to the southwest, you get fantastic views of the Porto and the Dom Louis bridge. It’s a pretty big park, so I would expect about an hour or so of walking around.
Also, the northwest of the city has a few streets filled with great street art and murals. That’s one of the great things about wandering a city like Porto. The architecture is historical, and you immediately get a sense of the immense history. The Azulejo tile is also breathtaking. There was obviously a bunch in Lisbon as well, but in Porto, it seemed that every other building was covered in the bright blue tiles.
Lunch today is at a cozy gastropub, As 7 Maravilhas. The food here is pretty low key and all types of varieties; pestiscos, stews, cured meats, pretty much what you’d expect—a good selection of beer too, even some from the states.
After a quick bite, more wandering. I usually don’t have a strict agenda when I go to a city, but it seemed like I really didn’t plan anything for Porto. Sometimes though, it works out well. I stumbled across Armazem, a bar, vintage shop, and restaurant all in one. The store was kitschy and eclectic, with furniture built from wood pallets and greenery all around. They had a beautiful little outside seating area, too, with food and drinks perfect for a snack. I tried a port and tonic, which was quite delightful on a warm spring day.
The vintage shop is pretty expansive, too, anything from clothing to luggage to any assortment of trinkets. If I traveled with more than a carry-on, it would’ve been pretty enticing to bring back some goods.
Continuing on my, no-planning-whatsoever trip to Porto, Taberna dos Mercadores was an impromptu dinner. Walking through an ally on the way back to the hostel, Taberna dos Mercadores seemed cozy, and the menu was seafood centric. So, fuck it, I guess I’ll wait 15 minutes for a table. One of the benefits of traveling solo is the ability to squeeze into bars or restaurants when there wouldn’t otherwise be space.
When in Porto, you drink wine. So I head to Prova, another wine bar downtown. Prova is definitely a more modern wine bar than some of the others I’d visited in Porto.
My last day in Porto is all about checking off my touristy items. I check out Livaria Lello, a bookstore rumored to have inspired J.K. Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter. There’s a bit of a process to get into the book store, however. You have to buy a ticket from a different store, then wait in line, then present it as you enter. It’s a bit annoying, but if you go early enough, the line isn’t too bad (by mid-afternoon, the queue is outrageously long).
The bookstore itself is beautiful, and I could see why it would inspire some of the Hogwarts set. Large, dark wood beams with intricate detail that is hard to find nowadays. Also, the cost of the ticket does count toward a book if you buy something. I went for The Book of Disquiet, by Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa.
It’s lunchtime now, and yes, Portugal is known for its seafood, but the one thing it’s also known for the Francesinha. This monstrosity of a sandwich was invented by a French immigrant, Daniel da Silva, in 1953 as an answer to the croque-madame. Though there are regional variations, the sandwich usually consists of wet-cured ham, fresh and cured sausage, steak, a fried egg, and covered with melted cheese and a hot and thick spiced tomato and beer sauce.
Many restaurants and cafes across Port serve them, but I went to Cervejario Braso, mostly because they brew a beer specifically to drink with a francesinha. Fortunately, here you can also order half of one, so I was able to save my arteries some future pain.
When in Porto, you also must try the Port wine. On the south side of the Duoro River, several different Port lodges offer tastings and tours. Just about all of these wineries grow their grapes east along the Duoro River and then bottle and age the port in Porto. If you’re not familiar with port, it’s merely wine fortified with distilled grape spirits, exclusively from Duoro Valley. There are a few different varieties, tawny, ruby, white, all with unique properties. I’ll get more into the history and types of port in a later post.
The tours book up pretty quickly, so I would definitely recommend booking in advance. I was lucky enough to find a spot at a tour of Graham’s Port Lodge:
Time for one last supper. What I love about Porto is the small, quaint restaurants on every corner. Most of them hold 10 or so people max and have a rotating menu that changes daily and is often only available in Portuguese. Tonight, I head to Taberna do Barqueiro. There’s a woman taking orders (presumably the owner), one chef, and one item on the menu, none other than bacalhau, Portuguese salt cod.
As it’s my last night, I figured I’d do a bit more wandering and find somewhere cozy. I stumbled on Candelabro, a cute little bar/cafe. It was pretty quiet, so it was nice to kick back and reflect on my time in Portugal.
Porto is definitely a sleepier, quieter city than its Lisbon counterpart. The temperature is colder, the days shorter as the sun sets earlier behind the large hills surrounding the city. The people, though, just as warm and welcoming as every other part of Portugal. Maybe more so in Porto than in Lisbon, does the term saudade resonate with you more? Perhaps Portuguese scholar and author Aubrey F.G Bell sums it up the best:
“Vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an insolent dreaming wistfulness.”
An incredible city, filled with wonder.