Porto is definitely one of my all time favourite destinations. In 2017 we did a over a two months long Europe round trip visiting over 15 countries. It was due to end in Porto in August, but in the end we went back to North of Spain and spent some days more in Galicia and Asturias before returning to Belgium. So, maybe these warm memories are just because of the hot end of summer days in Portugal and reminiscing about the trip ending, or maybe Porto really is that worthy. Let’s find out. This Bucket List will be combination of the two times I have visited Porto – firstly in peak of the summer and secondly in the peak of the winter.
The Dom Luís I Bridge over river Douro that connects Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
There’s a similar Maria Pia Bridge in Porto that is built around 10 years earlier by the same architect Théophile Seyrig, but also Gustave Eiffel, who took all the fame and glory for it in the end. In competition to who gets to build the bridge connecting Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, Seyrig won and Eiffle was said to be furious. Legend says that to prove a point, as Dom Luís I Bridge was the longest double-deck metal arch bridge in the world, he built the Eiffle Tower for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris.
Whatever the history may be, it is definitely a good view of the city and you can see both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia from up there and why not enjoy the sunset from the centre of it.
Also, it’s the easiest way to go to visit the Port Wine cellars from Porto’s old town.
Talking about port wine, then it’s a must! ‘It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine, though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.’ Although similar wines are produced elsewhere, only product from Portugal can be labelled as port or porto.
Funnily enough, port wine is not actually from Porto at all. It was transported to the region in barrels by the river Douro. But as real estate in Porto was limited and Vila Nova de Gaia was locate on the North side, they stored it in the cellars on the opposite river bed. Why is not then called Gaia wine? Well, the only port was in Porto, thus on the documents it said ‘Vinho do Porto’ and thus it became port wine.
There are tens of port wine cellars on the other side of the river and you can easily book a tour and have a tasting. Prices can vary from 7-20€ probably which include usually a short explanation of the process and cellar and the winery’s produce samples.
For example, I did not know that four different kind of port wines – white (made of white grapes and can be used well for base of cocktails), ruby (from red grapes and usually aged in steel or concrete and is the least expensive of them all), tawny (from red grapes aged in wood barrels) and vintage (must be age for another 10-40 years, but also up to 70 years before drinking).
For extra tip you’re going to seriously thank me – wherever you go for your port wine cellar and tasting, still visit Porto Cruz’s 360 Rooftop bar. It has the best view the river and Porto and you can enjoy the sun or sunset while tasting (port wine) cocktails or some more of the port wine itself.
São Bento Station is said the be one of the most beautiful train stations in Portugal with its aproximately 20 000 traditional white and blue tiles telling the stories of Portugal’s past.
Several funny facts coming your way. In the place of the nowadays train station was the convent of the Benedictine nuns. They were given an order that no new nuns can be taken it, but the convent will stay till the death of the last one of the 55 nuns living there. The last nun finally passed away 58 years after the order was given and then the construction of the station could start. As it took so long, the central station of Porto is not São Bento Station but Campanhã.
They say that the ghost of the last nun is still haunts the place though.
Francesinha or Portugese adapted croque monsieur is essential bread stuffed with different kind of meats (ham sausage, steak or roasted meat), covered in melted cheese and topped with a spicy tomato-beer sauce. And served with french fries. You know, just so you could get your 3 days worth of calories in on sitting.
Apparently a chef who worked in France was asked to come back to Porto by his uncle, so he tried to make something similar to croque monsieur, but got a little carried away with the meat. The hot sauce was told to make the conservative Portuguese ladies lose some layers of clothing and become a bit more as French girls were in that time, thus the name Francesinha aka French girl.
Porto was a city for common people and religion. No noble people could stay in Porto and they had only three days to visit and after that they had to leave. Thus almost all the grand buildings in Porto are connected to religion.
In the place of Palácio da Bolsa was /drum roll/ a convent. After a fire Queen Mary II donated the ruins to the merchants.
Building began in 1842 but insides were finished in 1910 and decorated by several artists.
I haven’t been inside the place, but it’s on my list for the next time in Porto.
It’s one of the oldest book stores in Portugal and often rated among the best bookshops in the world.
It was opened in 1906 and was the highlight for cultural life in the 20th century in the city. It was luxurious and eye catching for the time.
There are rumours that JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in this bookstore, but no. It’s not a place to quietly work or enjoy a book, but it s a part of history to visit. It is said that it indeed the inspiration for “Flourish and Blotts“ in Harry Potter.
Today to get in, you have to pay 5€ entrance fee. It used to be free in the past, but attracted all the tourists without any revenue coming in. Nowadays, if you buy a book, they will deduct this 5€ entrance fee from the purchase.
If you’re nothing like me and love Harry Potter books, visiting Majestic is a must. It’s said that JK Rowling wrote the first book in this café. She used to live in Porto and teach English and is said to have outlined the book series and started the first one. After the marriage had broke down, she moved with the three first chapters to Edinburgh.
Even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, you can visit the place to consume its old time charm and majestic service.
It was just opened after renovation as I was in Porto, but in one day visit, just couldn’t fit it in the schedule this time.
In August 2017 was the first and so far the last time I have rented a tandem bicycle. Not as easy as it looks, I must say.
We rented it for couple of hours to stroll around the beach line and see the end of the river. I’d not really rent a bike to discover the centre of Porto, as the traffic can be a bit chaotic and it’s filled with tourists.
It’s so nice to get the sea breeze in your face and have the sun in your face. So, if you’re going in any season except winter, go for renting a bike and discover either side of the river and continue to the beach.
Oh boy. My mouth waters from the fish dishes I have had in Portugal. If in general Portuguese dishes are lacking salt for me, their salted fish is sometimes even a bit much for me. Sorry arteries.
Apparently, even though cod is as a religion in Portugal (you’ll see), nowadays they mostly import salted version of it. Around 50s thanks to the military dictatorship they tried to decrease the dependence of imports and State boosted the catching of cod fish by financing the ship owners.
With ending of the dictatorship, the codfish industry had a decline as well due to limited fishing zones and liberalisation of imports.
Honestly, I think I have eaten cod every day in have been in Portgual on both of the trips.
RIDE A TRAM
Porto tram line is one of the oldest electrified transport systems in Europe, but serves more and more a touristic function, as locals prefer to use faster and cheapers means of transport. Nowadays there are three lines in the city which are mainly used by tourists. I took the tram line 1 that follows Douro River, but it can get terribly busy and especially during high season you might have to wait in line to get your 20 minute ride.
If you’re all about Instagramable pictures, you can still take one in the end station while the tram wires (?) are turned around and the tram stays still for couple of minutes before the next ride.
These would be my suggestions, but I found an article that lists 101 things to do in Porto, so if you need more and are staying for longer, you might find it useful. Also, I cannot not recommend – the Free Walking Tour of Porto gave me so much of the information also presented in here and is just such a good way to grasp the essence of the city in 2-3h.