Porto is Portugal’s second city on the banks of the River Douro and is one of Europe’s oldest cities and the centre is a world heritage site. It is perhaps best known for being the centre of the port industry and on the opposite bank of the Douro in Vila Nova de Gaia you can see and visit many of the most famous port houses.
Since our last visit to Porto a new “Metro” system has been built, this is in fact a tram system featuring a number of lines which in the centre run underground but are above ground elsewhere. Porto airport is now linked to the metro as are the two main train stations.
Porto is an incredibly hilly city therefore it is worth checking with your accommodation as to the best way to reach the hotel or guest house from either the airport or train stations. In our case we arrived at Campanha station, the main one for long distance trains, and we arranged a very reasonably priced taxi to collect us as the nearby hills with luggage would have been hard work.
Travel on the metro and buses can be handy for reaching some of the sites outside the centre and buying a travel card can save time and money although the ticket machines at stations are not user friendly. A tip is to go to Trindade metro station where there is a travel shop and they will advise and sell you the best type of ticket.
Note that if you buy a travel ticket they do not cover the three historic tram routes or the funicular from the river side uphill even though the cards show the symbols for these forms of travel.
Using www.booking.com we chose 6Only Guest House, Rua Duque de Loule 97, www.6only.pt run by Mariana and Pedro. This comprises two beautifully renovated traditional buildings the original part containing a variety of types of rooms the second adjoining offers suites of various sizes. The whole place has been very well designed in a modern style and the personal care of Mariana and the staff is second to none. It is 15 minutes walk from some of the more trendy areas of restaurants and bars but is handy for transport links and the main shopping street only five minutes away.
Camafeu, Praca do Carlos Alberta 83 we booked in advance, a must at weekends. The restaurant is on the first floor of a building on the square and was a lovely setting for an excellent meal, the roast octopus was amazingly good. The quality of the food, wine and service was outstanding particularly given the incredibly reasonable price.
Tasco, Rua do Almada 151A, had been recommended and luckily we booked in advance as there was a queue for tables. This is a modern relaxed restaurant offering small plates and main dishes, we chose a selection of small plates which gave us a chance to try some traditional style Portuguese cooking. We loved the atmosphere the friendly staff and the simple cooking. Can totally understand why it is so popular.
O Buracao, Rua do Bolhao 95, this was a great find, a traditional Portuguese restaurant packed out on a Saturday lunchtime mainly with locals who all seemed to know each other. We both had simply grilled fresh fish dishes and although the service can seem rushed it was warm and the language barrier soon vanished.
A Saneira do Porto, Rua dos Caldeireiros 85, bills itself as the best sandwich in Porto and it is, in fact possibly the best sandwiches ever. A tiny place only open at lunchtime we had the set meal of soup and sandwich and a glass of wine for 6 Euros a person. The choice of sandwiches was so interesting it was hard to choose but both the presunto, brie & mango and the chicken, goat’s cheese & apple were fantastic.
Sins, Rua da Conceicao 59, found on a wet Sunday afternoon this is a very small place doing really good burgers. The staff were friendly and the food and drink very reasonably priced.
Cafes & Bars
Aduela, Rua das Oliveiras 36, is a really lovely wine bar about five minutes walk from the Clerigos Tower and the Galerias bar area. From the minute we walked in on our first visit we felt at home, lovely staff, an excellent selection of reasonably priced wines and a variety of meat & cheese platters and sandwiches.
Wine House Bolhao, is a small wine bar in the Mercado Bolhao it is run by the grandson of the original stallholder who ran a flower stall and is still around aged 92. The owner and his wife are charming, there is a small selection of wines and some incredibly cheap small plates of meat and cheese. In the middle of the lower floor, slightly difficult to find, look for the stalls selling linen but make sure you visit.
Majestic Café, Rua de Santa Catarina 112, is a Porto institution and must be on every visitors list of places to visit. This Art Deco gem must be visited at least once either for a coffee or a drink or a full meal. The prices reflect the amount of visitors and there is often a queue, try going after dinner for a nightcap.
The Galerias area mainly centred on Rua Galeria de Paris and Rua Candido do Reis is certainly the happening area for nightlife, there is a huge variety of bars and everyone should find something that suits them. It is also a good area for restaurants and most of the recommended bars and restaurants are close by.
The Cais do Ribeira on the riverside is packed with bars and restaurants we re-visited Café do Cais, the glass box having been extended since our last visit. Still a great place to sit outside and enjoy the view and people watch.
O Pretinho do Japao, Rua do Bonjardim does not really fit under either restaurants or bars as it is in fact a shop specialising in Portuguese food and drink with an excellent selection of port. It has to be mentioned as the owner is a charming young man who will make you feel very welcome and let you sample the produce and they are looking to expand and open the garden area as a café and restaurant. Having seen the plans this looks like it could soon be an excellent place to try in the meantime visit the shop.
You should not visit Porto without sampling some Port in at least one of its many varieties, Tawny, Ruby, White, LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) or Vintage. One of my favourites is a white port and tonic which I first sampled many years ago in Porto and now seems to be a very popular tipple, fantastic on a warm day.
If port is not your thing then try the unfortified red and white wines from the Douro Valley. The reds are often blends of Portuguese grape varieties not commonly known look out for Quinta do Castro ones of the better known producers.
Lastly as in many other countries craft beer is production is booming and one I saw in several places in Porto is Letra who are based in Braga and produce a number of different types of beer which have been highly recommended.
There is much to see in the city and there are a number of interesting museums and galleries. I would recommend a visit to the Serralves Modern Art Museum not just for the art but also the architecture and the gardens. There is also some wonderful examples of street art around the city, the tourist office will be able to advise on the best streets to visit.
A trip out to Foz de Douro on the coast is another must to enjoy the Atlantic beaches and seaside bars and restaurants, one of the vintage trams runs out there but there is also a regular bus service which runs from Sao Bento station along the waterfront.
Even if you are not a port fan a visit to Vila Nova do Gaia should be on the agenda just to gaze at the wonderful views of Porto from the other side of the river. If you are into port and want to visit some of the port houses a tip is to start uphill and work your way down to the waterfront, much easier than the other way after sampling the ports.