The colorful, tiled buildings of Porto’s Ribeira neighborhood stand at attention, greeting the mighty Douro River as it passes through the city on it’s way east to the Atlantic. Ribeira’s cobblestone streets are packed with restaurants, small bars, and traditional shops, but it’s the Dom Luis I Bridge that crests high above the Douro and steals the show.
We fell in love with Porto nearly the moment we arrived. Groggy from an early morning flight, we stumbled past the Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina, with its intricate blue and white mosaic-tiled facade, as we huffed and puffed up the city’s hilly streets and were immediately awestruck. As with Lisbon, Portugal’s larger, capital city to the south, almost all of Porto’s sturdy stone buildings are beautifully presented, with brightly colored tiles, and curved windows with intricate wrought iron balconies.
It’s hard not to reminisce about San Francisco as you walk through Porto, with all of its hills, surprising vistas, and impressive bridges. We explored the city with some of our best mates, who flew down from London for a quick, early autumn getaway. Passing the Palácio da Bolsa and Sé do Porto on our way across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia and its many wineries, we watch in amazement as young locals rile crowds in anticipation for spectacular high dives off the Luis Bridge. A word of warning, the waiting and showmanship are impressive, but the jumps are fleeting and easy to miss.
When in Porto, one must drink Port. So continue along the waterfront of the city’s south banks and stop at one of the dozens of incredible Port lodges that line its streets. Swing by the Portuguese family-owned Ferreira, nearby Churchill Graham, or Croft Port just up the hill. After touring and tasting at one of these producers, we recommend making your way back to Baixa and the city center, where Sao Bento train station is definitely worth a visit, along with Igreja dos Clerigos, and Livraria Lello, if you’re up for waiting in line. Porto’s restaurant scene is thriving, with everything from local, inexpensive sandwich shops to Michelin-star dining. If you’re into the latter, check out Pedro Lemos where the food is grounded in the traditions of Portuguese cooking, with simple dishes that utilize quality ingredients to reflect the country’s culinary heritage. O Comercial, located in the city’s stock exchange, has a relaxed yet sophisticated vibe and uses modern cooking techniques to elevate some of the region’s freshest produce. If you’re interested in trying Porto’s classic sandwich, the francesinha, Bufete Fase might be the best place in the city to get it.
After plenty of eating, we spent an evening drinking some shockingly good local microbrew at Letraria Craft Beer Garden in the Bolhao neighborhood. What looks like a small craft beer bar from the street is actually much, much more. Head down the back stairs and you’ll find an expansive, nearly hidden garden in the middle of the city, with a long list of excellent beers brewed here in Porto. Breakfast and a bloody mary the next morning at Zenith Brunch & Cocktails is the perfect way to recover from one too many IPAs.
Aside from the obvious, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Porto such a compelling city. Maybe it’s the hipster vibes, the sea winds coming off the Atlantic combined with the warm Portuguese sun, or the friendly, welcoming Portuguese themselves with their unique grasp of the English language stemming from childhoods full of undubbed American television and movies. Or it could be that the city still has an authentic feeling. Even with the tourist crowds, there’s a sense here that not too long ago, Porto was relatively untouched, existing on its own, without the Port-bottle keychains and mosaic-tiled magnets. Whatever it is, it’s special. And that’s why it’s the first on our list of places we didn’t get the chance to write about before. Or as we like to call them, the places we’ve loved before.
...Or maybe it’s just the port.
If you’re ready to be swept away by the beauty, culture, and authentic nature of Porto, check out our Designed Trip, Portugal: Cobbled City Streets & Vineyard Covered Valleys.
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