TRAVEL GUIDE: PORTO
I am so excited to share our trip details of Porto with you. This was probably our favorite location of the whole trip (it's alway hard to pick your favorite) because of the activities, food and people we met. It's a fairly small historical city center and we found ourselves doubling back on the same streets over and over again. But the streets are charming and there are so many blue tiled-buildings it's hard not to fall in love with the city.
To get to Porto we took a train from Lisbon. We left out of the Santa Apolonia train station which is near the Alfama. It was a small, easy-to-navigate, station that also felt very safe. We were advised to get the first-class tickets by a few travel sites we had read and we were glad we did. The first class seats are about 30 euros and they come with WiFi as well as assigned seating. We were the only Americans (or English-speakers) in our train car so it was nice to have assigned seats and not have to worry about moving etc. The train ride was quite pleasant and took about 1hr30mins. We went to Sintra the morning that we left and still arrived to Porto before dinner.
WHERE WE STAYED
We literally stayed in a castle at this location. I had googled it then found out that you could actually stay there and was very surprised to find out it was affordable. It was the hotel I was most excited for on our trip. It lived up to the pictures. We loved the breakfast with a view of the river and the gorgeous gardens, lobby and sitting room. One day we went down to the pool and lounged there before dinner. There were only two things that wish were a little better. The first was that the actual rooms were in a building adjacent to the main house. It was actually an old soap factory that they refurbished to house rooms. Also, the rooms themselves were a little outdated with mustard-colored walls and beige carpet. Lastly, the hotel isn't in the city center so you do end up taking a $8 taxi each way back and forth into town. Overall, it was beautiful but next time I might stay at the Pestana's other hotel which is in the heart of the city. We love the Pestana hotels and really enjoyed them while we were staying in Portugal.
WHERE WE VISITED
We were in Porto for 3 days, one day longer than Lisbon, so we had more time to explore. We hit all of the major sites but left a few others out that didn't interest us.
Douro Boat Cruise - Pick any of the boats along the rive to give you a nice by-water tour of the city. While the boat cruise down the Douro River didn't quite blow our minds or teach us many new things, I think that it's always fun to get out on the water to see the city from a different vantage point. The tour was a quick 50 minute jaunt down one direction and back toward the sea. You go under the five main bridges, four of which we passed each day while taking the taxi to and from the hotel. I recommend it because it provides a nice view of the city and some glimpses into its history. Go early to avoid big crowds--we were the first ones there when it opened up at 10am for the first cruise (go us!)
San Benito Train Station - This is the prettiest train station you will ever go to, trust me. The tiles are absolutely stunning and the best part is that visiting is free. You can pop into the main room from the street to see each of the floor-to-celling tiled walls. This was our first taste of the beautiful blue tiles in Porto and we were dying to see more.
Clerigos Tower - After cruising along the river, another way to see the city is from high up on Clerigos tower. The steps are wide-enough until you get to the very top and have the option of going a bit higher. They get quite narrow up there (as in if someone is coming down you have to back into a corner) so if you are afraid of small spaces or heights, I recommend you stay on the first level. But once you are up there, the view of the city is beautiful. You can see the port lodges, the red tile roofs and the glittering river. Totally worth all of those narrow steps up.
Palacio da Bolsa - This palace is actually the former stock exchange of Porto. The stock exchange was consolidated to just one in Lisbon in the late 20th century. This beautiful building is still used by the government so guided tours are required. They are pretty short and very informative about the history and architecture of this very unique building. The room at the end of the tour is particularly stunning with its moorish details.
Ingreja do Carmo - I've got to hand it to my sister when I insisted that we find the "Porto church from Instagram" she didn't bat an eyelash and totally agreed to help me find it. I had seen this church in countless pictures of Porto on Pinterest and Instagram and I knew that I had to find it. The tiles are just so beautiful on this particular church. Needless to say we did find it and it was totally worth it. Now I am giving you the name of it so you can find it too.
Port Tasting - How can you go to Porto with out port tasting?! We just had to do it for the history, naturally. We decided on Graham's because we had seen good reviews and I was really happy that we went there. It was a bit of a hike up from the main town. We just walked and were totally fine besides the trek up the hill. The more remote location meant that it felt a little more secluded and private. We walked in without a reservation but they did suggest that you make one. Then the tour began and our guide took us around showing us where the wine comes from, how port is made and their vintage bottles which date back to the 1800s. Then you get to go to their tasting room and try the ports they have told you so much about. I don't know about you but how you drink their generous pours and still manage to get down the hill is beyond me. Amanda and I took a few sips of each but I guess you get your money's worth? It was a lovely cap to our second day.
SHOPPING - We finished each day with a little shopping. We thought that the shopping in Porto was really good--much more authentic than the places we found in Lisbon.
Oporto Craft Market - this little market brought together the best of the city. Our favorite Porto-based jewelry designer, Maria Branco, had her things there as well as some beautiful ceramics including the swallows that you see all over Portugal.
MGNM Porto - We searched all over Porto for authentic tiles that weren't touristy or a fortune. We happened upon this hardware store that sold more than affordable tiles. It was a great find so I wanted to make sure we passed it along.
A Vida Portuguesa - This home goods store was featured in Elle magazine so it knew it must be good. I loved the way that they merchandised things and the products that were selected. It felt like a wonderful mix of old and new.
WHERE WE ATE
Porto was a city with delicious foods. They are know for their sardines which I am still too squeamish to try. We picked up a tin for dad because we thought they were pretty (I know, eye roll) but didn't eat any ourselves.
La Cremosi - This gem of a gelato and dessert shop was our haven one day when a sudden rain storm popped out of no where. We ducked inside to find ourselves pleasantly surprised by the delicous smell and clean decor.
Mercearia das Flores - This little sandwich shop was recommended by a friend of Amanda's. It was on one of our favorite streets in the city so we walked past several times. The food was delicious and affordable. They also had a very cute market inside with lots of perfect gift items for taking back home.
Petiscaria - This was a little restaurant we discovered while wandering down a side street. The lady that ran it barely spoke any English, just asked us if we liked fish or meat. We decided fish was a safer way to go. She brought out cheese drizzled in honey with raisins and ham for a starter. Then she delivered two kinds of salted cod, which the Portuguese are known for. We were both a little hesitant about the salted cod but it ended up being really flavorful and tasty. To finish off we had a traditional holiday dessert that was soaked in honey. It was a very memorable meal and proved to be a good lesson in stepping out of your comfort zone.
Miss'Opo - This was also recommended by a friend and quite hard to get into. It was dark, moody and filled with hipsters making me almost feel like I was back in SF. The menu was very limited but fresh and inventive. Definitely a fun way to try a more modern version of Portuguese food.
Phew, that was a super long post. Hopefully you enjoyed a glimpse of our favorite city on the trip. Next week we are talking about Tuscany.