Azulejos, azulejos, azulejos
While others were painting on canvas, Portuguese had a brilliant idea to express their art on tiles and this is how azulejos were born back in the 13th century. It used to be a sign of wealth. Nowadays azulejos are not only decorative, but also protect against damp, heat and noise. Did you know that there is a place in Porto where you can get these beautiful tiles free of charge?
Well, okay, it is not as easy as it sounds, but Bank of Materials collects the city’s lost tiles to give them back to building owners. This helps local inhabitants restore the façade and keep the houses always pretty, however, you will have to prove that you are the owner of the building. The place also looks a lot like museum, so give it chance when wandering around Porto.
Best places for azulejos hunting – São Bento Station, Igreja do Carmo, Capela das Almas, Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, but the good news are – you will find them on every corner.
Eating like a local
After living in Portugal for some time, I can say that there are a lot of differences between cuisine in Lisbon and cuisine in Porto. You can still find Pastel de Nata and 365 versions of cod fish, but there are some things that you cannot miss when visiting Porto.
Francesinha – people call this heart attack in a plate. I have to say, I was skeptical at first, but I had to try it. For me, it is very weird concept of dish and I adjust some ingredients for my taste, however, you cannot miss Little French girl in Porto. Made with bread, meat and sausages and covered with melted cheese and a hot and thick beer sauce. My tip – go to Cervejaria Brasão.
Iscas de Bacalhau – once again, not the healthiest thing to eat, but definitely a great snack. Cod fish mixed with wheat flour and parsley… Calories do not count when travelling. In order to try a good one, look for a very traditional Portuguese restaurant. Nothing fancy just a simple place run by entire family.
Caldo verde – green soup that contains kale, potato and some garlic (sometimes with chouriço). Could be a healthy option after eating Francesinha and fried cod.
Tripas à Moda do Porto – this one is only for the bravest food lovers. I personally did not try it, but I advise you to take a look and make your own judgement. But there is a story behind this recipe and it just shows the generosity of Portuguese once again. Locals donated a lot of food to the navy and they were left only with tripe, this is when they got creative and Tripas à Moda do Porto was born.
And you simply cannot miss the famous Majestic Café.
And drinking like a local
Port wine – you can’t leave Porto without trying its signature drink. It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine, though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. You can find a lot of cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia (other side of Porto), but my personal suggestion is to choose Porto Augusto’s – it’s one of the few authenticate and Portuguese owned places left.
The best sunset spot in Porto
Passeio das Fontaínhas – it’s more than just a pretty spot! It’s very authentic area of Porto where you will not meet many tourists. In fact, every Saturday morning you can visit flea market called Feira da Vandoma that started back in the 80s. On top of that, you get a beautiful view on Douro River and Luis I Bridge!
But I have to say, steep streets of Porto and multiple miradouros (viewpoints) around you means that you can catch a great view from anywhere. Consider alternative ways – Foz do Douro, Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, Ribeira, Esplanada in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Where to stay in Porto?
Let me tell you this! There are no bad areas around Porto for tourists, so you just simply need to find the one more suitable for your needs.
Ribeira – this is the soul of Porto, so you definitely would enjoy staying in this area. You go out of your apartment or hotel and you can already indulge in local lifestyle. However, this means busyness and noise around you 24/7. Additionally, there are not many parking options and some streets are not even open to cars.
Area of Rua das Flores & São Bento station – so far, this has been the best choice for me. You are in the middle of all the important attractions and everything is in a walking distance. It also easy to get around and you have train station nearby, buses, metro and taxi on every corner. Plus, the street of flowers, why would you stay somewhere else?!
Vila Nova de Gaia – okay, technically this is not Porto anymore, but here you can find amazing views from your balcony and postcards from Porto! Also, all the famous wine cellars are nearby! But keep in mind that you will have to cross the bridge to arrive to Porto. It is still less than 10 minutes, so everything is very close.
Foz – this area is a bit far from city center and walking all the time is not an option, but you have ocean next to you, so you will not miss any of those beautiful Portuguese sunsets! And taxi is very afforadable, so this is a great way to arrive to central area of Porto.
Main attractions that everyone has to see
Ribeira – once again, it is central area near the river and it has the most amazing vibe (and view!). Sit down and indulge in a glass of green wine (or delicious Portuguese coffee), enjoy the background music of local artists and see the heart of Porto.
The Dom Luís I Bridge and Vila Nova de Gaia – best view over Porto. You can really appreciate the scenery and find some local wine cellars.
FUN FACT! The Maria Pia Bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel (the same person who built Eiffel tower), but Luis I Bridge – by Théophile Seyrig – student and future associate of Gustav Eiffel. Some people say that they started to work together on Luis I Bridge, but Eiffel didn’t want to share the credit and couldn’t accept the fact that his student has become a master, so he left the project.
Clérigos, Casa Oriental and the sign of Porto – another area to discover around Porto (preferably on your way to Igreja do Carmo). You will get some cool Instagram shots around here as well.
Igreja do Carmo – I do not know the statistics, but I think this is one of the most photographed places in Porto. Yes, is that wall full of blue azulejos that you have seen all over internet. Surprisingly, there are not many people around. But in order to get a photo, you do have to be patient since there is a traffic light next to this spot and you will have to wait for the moment when all the cars are gone.
Escada dos Guindais – get ready to walk! This is one of those places that does not have particular attractions, so it’s a perfect spot for getting lost. I advise you to start from the top and go down until Ribeira. There are no cars around, which makes this path even more charming, but the best part is authentic Portuguese vibe that surrounds that area.
Igreja de Santo Ildefonso – it took more than 11,000 azulejo tiles to cover the façade of the church, but it is very beautiful also inside. Please enter this place if you have a chance and it is open during your visit.
Pergola of Foz – beautiful balcony with a view on the ocean. Sunset and sunrise lovers will thank me a lot! This is quite modern area of Porto so it is full of fancy bars, restaurants and unique stores.
Capela das Almas – another azulejos paradise. If you ask me, this is the most impressive azulejo work in Porto and the contrast of blue is so, so pretty, but it is not so easy to take a photo. Loads of cars, people, street is quite tiny, so leave your camera to rest and indulge the details.
COOL IDEA: book a ride around Porto in a retro car and save your feet from constant walking (and climbing!). And the good news are, I know just the right guy who will make this experience unforgettable (click here).
Diversity within the city and yourself
One of the things that I noticed about Porto straight away was diversity. You get out of your hotel and you have totally different experiences based on the way where you decide to go.
On your right, you will find charming streets with some local artists and end up in fancy Ribeira, however, if you go left, you will notice simple architecture, abandoned houses and even poverty. Both ways are worth exploring though. I highly advise you to open you heart and simply get lost in the streets of Porto and you will discover a lot of beautiful places.
INTERESTING FACT: Porto was divided in 3 decks. Nowadays known as Ribeira used to be an area of fishermen and considered for lower class, however, most of the churches are built on the top of Porto, which symbolizes aristocracy and wealth. And then, middle deck was always considered for middle class. You will notice these sections, once you go to Vila Nova de Gaia.
Hidden spots around Porto
Capela De Santa Catarina E Senhora Dos Anjos – this is one of those places that I discovered thanks to our amazing guide Pedro who took me there in his retro car. I believe the real name is Capela De Santa Catarina, but if you google it, you will find Santo Ildefonso. Address: Largo Santa Catarina 3, 4150-425 Porto.
Largo da Pena Ventosa – I am not so sure we can call this place hidden thanks to Instagram, but I always get questions how to find this place in the photo below. Simply google this name and follow directions. You can also combine it with Se Cathedral.
Museu da Farmacia – you do not have to be interested in medicine in order to enjoy this place. You get insights on some of the most famous pharmacies around the world. Check their website for opening times and schedule a tour. You will not regret.
Indoor places that you do not want to miss
Se Cathedral – azulejos on top of azulejos, you will love it. Plus you get an amazing view from the tower. PRICE. Cathedral – free entrance, cloister – €3. CURIOSITY: the criminals of Porto were hanged in the square outside the cathedral
Igreja de Sao Francisco – one of the most amazing churches that I have seen in Portugal… And trust me, I have seen many of them. PRICE. €3.50
Sao Bento train station – I don’t always take photos in train stations, but when I do, it’s full of art and history! Since this is actual train station, you do not need to pay the entrance fee, but you do get to see actual history of Portugal on the walls of the station.
I feel like I have to include Livraria Lello, but to be honest, I never been there and I cringe every time I see the line to get in. It does look beautiful inside, but I just do not enjoy big crowds in small places. ALTERNATIVE WAY: A Vida Portuguesa around the corner.
Bolsa palace – this has been an absolute wow for me, so I will go a bit more into the details here. Keep reading next chapter!
My personal highlight of Porto – you simply must
WHERE? Rua do Infante Dom Henrique, 4050 (very central!).
HOW MUCH? €10 per person, but you get a guided tour. In fact, you can visit only with the guide. Afterwards you will have time to explore a little by yourself.
WHY? Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? But apart from beauty, it is a truly unique place to visit during your trip to Porto. You will not only learn about the Palace, but also about the city and history of Portugal. Then again, aren’t you curious to see Golden Room?
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE? Check opening times (depends on the season) and schedules tour time in your preferred language.
Porto and beyond
Most of the people who go to Porto, manage to visit also Vila Nova de Gaia which is another city located in front of Porto, but they do not know that there is much more to see than just pretty view on Porto. Here are some cool experiences that you should include in your itinerary:
- Wake up for sunrise at Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar and enjoy uplifting view over Douro
- Try Port wine at Augusto and check local market
- Visit unique chapel located on the beach and fall in love with Capela do Senhor da Pedra
- Sit down and relax at Jardim do Morro
- Get royal treatment at The Yeatman
- Explore new wine shop concept at 17.56 Enoteca
Porto through my eyes
Three years ago I went to Porto for a short weekend getaway. Honestly, I did not have any knowledge about their culture or traditions at the time, so I just went with open heart and zero expectations. I do not want to be tacky, but it was love at first sight! Locals were so warm and friendly, sun was out, architecture was amazing, local artists were playing on the streets, smell of tasty Portuguese cuisine was all around. It seduced me immediately. Long story short, in a month I already lived in Portugal.
If you have any questions or additional tips, let me know in the comments below.
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