As I mentioned before, just by walking around the old town you’ll get to know Porto’s most famous attractions, like Clérigos Tower, Dom Infante Museum, São Bento train station, Ribeira, Luis I bridge, Monastery Serra do Pilar e Catedral da Sé/Porto Cathedral (and still counting…well, that’s a lot! I told you Porto is a treasure). So here some things we did.
Where to stay
Fontainhas Centenary Apartments – staying in an apartment is a good option if you’re traveling in a small group and you don’t want to spend so much eating outside. Besides that, at least at Fontainhas, we felt as comfortable and spoiled as in any good hotel. In Porto, it’s also a good option to have breakfast outside and taste the great Portuguese pastries. We stayed in the Stone Yellow room: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and balcony, perfectly suitable for five people. The owner is a very nice and friendly Portuguese gentle, who will love to talk about the city.
What to do
Visit wine cellars (caves do Porto)* and sunset from Gaia: yes, the fountain of happiness, the Porto cellars! Crossing Luis I bridge, right on the other side of Douro river, is Villa Nova de Gaia, where many Porto wine companies are located, and whose logos and ads you can from the Ribeira. Some of them offer tours, workshops and of course, wine tasting. A good chance to know where Porto wine’s sweetness (and happiness doses) come from. To have a nice time and see a perfect sunset on D’Ouro river, go to the rooftop of Porto Cruz winery, and have yourself a drink while enjoying the view.
Private tours: great to get to know the city in details. Mostly private guides are locals, and you don’t have to be squeezed in the middle of a big group to hear what the guide has to say. If you look for creative tourism in Portuguese language, I recommend Rita Branco, from the blog “O Porto Encanta“. I’ll get back to her later.
Bus tours*: the hop-in hop-off bus is a good way to have a first look at the city or if you’re traveling with someone who’s unable to walk for a long time. You receive a disposable pair of earphones and the explanations are available in 16 languages. They’re short but ok to have an overview and mark the places you want to visit later. The two bus drivers we met were very helpful and nice. It’s also a good way to reach São Francisco Xavier fort, Praia da Luz, and Avenida Boa Vista. We also did the D’Ouro river boat tour. It lasts 50 minutes, passes under the main bridges and audio guides are available too. (*these tours were courtesy from the Blue Bus company)
Lello e Irmão Bookstore: one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world (no exaggeration). Founded in 1906 by the brothers José and António Lello, the shop has become a traditional place in Porto. Its beautiful Neo-Gothic narrow façade is a prelude of what we’ll find inside. As you step in, wood shelves all around, and an astonishing art-nouveau stained-glass roof are only two of some of the details you’ll catch yourself staring at.
Its famous stairs cannot be not mentioned: in the beginning of the 20th century they were already vanguard in matters of design but it was in the last 10 years their fame went abroad. It’s said that Lello’s red round stairs inspired Harry Potter’s author J.K. Rowling to describe Hogwarts stairs. She used to live in Porto years before Harry Potter become a worldwide hit, and once you enter Lello, you’ll see it’s impossible not to feel inspired by this place.
But right because of the international buzz, Lello now has many tourists and fans in front of their doors taking pictures. So far nothing new, as it became a touristic attraction in town. But this is why you must purchase a ticket if you want to visit the store. The tickets are sold in a cabin in front of the shop. Which is totally comprehensible. Afterall, Lello is and was always one of the best bookstores in town, and with more people inside its doors than a tolerable capacity, it wouldn’t be possible to preserve the cozy old library atmosphere.
Sometimes, you may face some line to get in and the ticket, but it goes fast, and the ticket price can be deducted from your purchase in the bookstore.
Eat Francesinha and alheira: the former is one of Porto’s most famous dishes. A huge sandwich filled with beef and covered with sausage, ham and a lot of cheese and tomato sauce. Still hungry? Oh yeah, they’re served with fries. The Francesinha (or “Frenchie”) can be found in many restaurants in the city, and of course, we had to try it. Alheira is original from Northern Portugal, and it’s a sausage made of chicken meat, bread, and lots of garlic. The appearance may not be that pleasing, but the taste is something else: alheira is served with bread and olive oil, or even if you have a bite of it only, it’s delicious!
Radio AM Bar: looking for an indie/rock club, we found Radio Bar. Less than 10 min from Liberdade Square the club is located in an antique house, and even some of the walls are still preserved. On the ground floor, a dance club, and on the first floor three lounge ambients. (One of them of course, decorated with a collection of vintage radios). Good music, good price, good drinks. Great! Address: Praça D. Filipa de Lencastre 175. But if you’re not into indie rock, go a bit further and you’ll find a very lively nightlife. Many bars, live music, clubs. We didn’t go to other night clubs, but the impression is that people like to stay a bit and change places here and there, and stay talking outside, which I love. Extra tip: right beside Radio Bar, there’s a good home made burger restaurant, Munchie. They also have good cocktails and fresh chips 🙂
Galerias de Paris: a bar with a peculiar decoration, a collection of old objects, a museum bar, I don’t know, but it was fun. As we arrived, the waiters were already putting up the chairs and tables to open some space for the dance floor. Well, it’s cheerful and worth the stop by to order a sangria. Address: Galerias de Paris, 56.
And if you think this whole fascination is because I’m a tourist who just met the city, here goes the opinion of someone who lives and knows each corner of the Porto. Rita Branco, natural from São Paulo, loves this city so much, that she created the blog “O Porto Encanta” (Porto charms, in a free translation), where she shares tips on what to do in the city and offers touristic services and cultural/gastronomic experiences. “My favorite and special places in Porto are medieval alleys, in the oldest places, where the city started. Near the Sé Cathedral and inside Ribeira, close to D’Ouro river, these are the places where we find the city’s most genuine people, very typical houses, the walls with history…it’s where Porto is really Porto. With identity.”