I’m on a plane to Porto and I finally have some time to read the blog posts and travel stories that I quickly saved on my iPad before I left. This feels like the worst planned trip and I’m pretty sure Jess is feeling exactly the same. We’ve both been super busy with work so it’s great to leave the city for a couple of days. But what are we going to do when we arrive?
As it turns out, it’s not that difficult to have a great time in Porto. The city is beautiful, the weather nice and the food delicious. So no matter what you end up doing, you’ll be fine.
That being said, I’m really glad we got to experience the things below, that are great to do when you’re visiting Porto for the first time. So here are the six experiences in Porto that you don’t want to miss.
Visit the São Bento station with the blue and white tile panels
If you’ve seen any pictures of Porto, you’ve probably seen the famous blue and white azulejo tiles. They’re everywhere: churches, restaurants… and railway stations.
The São Bento station in the centre of the city is one of the best places to admire the tiles. The panels with twenty thousand tiles are more than a century old and show important events in the history of Portugal.
Address: Praça de Almeida Garrett
Wander around the 19th century Mercado do Bolhão
On a Saturday morning you’ll want to visit the Mercado do Bolhão, a 19th century market where they sell fresh produce. To be honest, we didn’t buy anything, but I loved wandering around the market, observing the locals and taking lots and lots of photos.
Address: Rua Formosa 214
Enjoy a pastel de nata at the beautiful Café Majestic
Around the corner from the Mercado do Bolhão is the famous Café Majestic. This ‘belle époque’ café is often listed among the most beautiful cafes in the world, so definitely worth a visit. Inside you can see how back in the day this would be the local spot for the elite to get together. Today you’ll mostly see tourists, but don’t let that stop you to go in for a drink and a delicious ‘pastel de nata’.
Address: Rua Santa Catarina 112
Walk across the Dom Luís I bridge for the best view of Porto
When people talk about the Dom Luís I bridge in Porto, you often hear the name Gustave Eiffel. You’d think he was the one who engineered the bridge, but it was actually one of his students who did.
The bridge is huge (44,6 meters high) and with my fear of heights I can’t say I particularly enjoyed crossing the Douro river via the top deck of the bridge. But I have to admit, there’s no better spot to admire the city views and the river.
The Dom Luís I bridge connects the city of Porto with Gaia, where you’ll find lots of nice restaurants with rooftop terraces by the river (tip: DeCastro Gaia).
Go on a port tasting tour and visit a vintage port cellar
Gaia is also the best place to learn more about the production of port. Most companies will offer you a tour of the cellars and a tasting of different types of port wines.
Real Companhia Velha is the oldest wine company in Porto, founded in 1756, and offers a ‘vintage tour’ of the cellars. You’ll learn more about the ageing process, but the highlight is visiting the old cellars where they store ‘the good stuff’. Really old bottles of port covered in dust, including one bottle from the year the company was founded.
And if you’re really lucky you get to play with the young kittens after the tour.
Wander around the historic city centre of Porto
As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s easy to have a great time in Porto. And that’s because the historic city centre by itself is already amazing. With its colorful houses and narrow, steep streets it’s easy to get lost but that’s part of its charm. Don’t try to get from A to B, but just wander around and see what’s waiting for you around the next corner. The city’s history goes back 2000 years which makes it one of the oldest cities in Europe. No wonder UNESCO classified it as a word heritage site.
In 3,5 days we got to see a lot of Porto. Not everything of course, so I’ll definitely come back, but since we didn’t plan much in advance I think we did pretty good. The fact that you can cover so much of the city and still take your time for lunch, coffee or a glass (or two) of wine or port makes Porto a great destination for a European city trip. And since this was my first time in Portugal I’m now looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful country.