If you’re heading to Portugal, Lisbon isn’t the only “big city” that you should be on your radar. Head up to the coastal city of Porto for some great wine, stunning architecture, and surprisingly vibrant nightlife.
Okay guys, so full disclosure: as some of you know from following my Instagram, I got sick about halfway through my three days in Porto. Such a bummer. Therefore, I didn’t think a typical day-by-day format worked for this blog post due to the sporadic nature of how I spent my time (including laying in fetal position on my bed for like two hours – yikes!).
As a result, I’ve decided to create this post in sections: Eat, Drink, Do. Any places that I planned on going but didn’t make it to will be denoted with a * because they deserve an honorable mention.
Without further a-do (see what I did there?) here’s what you can expect from a visit to Portugal’s second largest city!
Table of Contents
- 1 Eat
- 2 Drink
- 3 Do
Voltaria: Authentic Porto food at great prices
Man, I am kicking myself that I didn’t get to visit Voltaria more than once! They were closed on the last evening I went to visit, but I will always remember the meal I had there. For one, the food was delicious (more on that in a moment). However, the bigger impact for me was the community-style dining available due to the restaurant’s small square footage.
Now, you might be thinking: I don’t want to eat dinner with strangers! Totally get that, but hear me out: sometimes, you can meet really cool people that offer a different perspective on life or simply inspire you with their adventures. In my case, I ended up sharing a table with a mother-daughter pair from Germany, as well as a man traveling solo from Germany. We all were amused by the German connection, considering they didn’t know each other beforehand! Overall, we shared a great conversation and I got to hear about their home-life as well as their travels. 10/10 recommend.
DaTerra: Vegetarian and vegan options
DaTerra was a great spot a few doors down from my hostel, and I was pleasantly surprised to find very tasty and diverse food options for vegetarians and vegans! AND it was all at very reasonable price points (although that’s also Portugal in general) – amazing. They have a rotating lunch buffet and dinner options, so it’s possible that any recommendation I make wouldn’t be there when you go. But take my word for it: there are tons of options, and you might enjoy it even if you’re not strictly-veggie!
Manteigaria: Pastel de nata
Manteigaria was a quick stop right before a group of us went out for the night, but it came highly recommended (by locals) for its pasteis de nata and ginjinha shots. After trying a few variations of pasteis de nata throughout my Portugal trip, I think the pastry is a tiny bit too sweet for me to have had so often. That said, one of my favorite pasteis that I had happened to be at Manteigaria.
Ginjinha shots are an acquired taste as well, as they have a very heavy cherry flavor. I highly recommend giving these a try, even if just to get a taste of two Portuguese staples!
I couldn’t write about Porto without mentioning the wine, right? Here are the top wineries that I visited/was recommended to visit:
Quinta da Boeira
Quinta da Boeira was definitely my favorite winery, purely because it is situated on a beautiful garden estate. It’s also home to the biggest bottle in the world, which you can normally go in to sample port wine and watch a film about Portugal. Of course, with my luck, it was closed for construction during my visit. Regardless, the gardens themselves were so peaceful that I entertained myself by simply walking around for a while. Once I was done, I came back inside to try a tawny port wine. Beware: port wine is very strong both in flavor and effect – so sip with caution!
Poças Junior is a wine company that has been owned by the same family for 4 generations, and that tradition shows throughout their wine tour and thoughtful presentation. After touring their cellar, I tried two port wines here, ruby and tawny, with some cheese and nuts. Overall, I definitely recommend having port wine with a little bit of (contrasting flavor) food if you’re a newbie like me. Did I mention that it’s strong?!
Cálem was a winery that I did not make it to unfortunately, but I had many people tell me that they enjoyed it. Cálem is absolutely more touristy than the other wineries in the area, but they at least seem to do it in a way that still shares the Portuguese culture! Visitors can choose from a wine tasting, cellar tour, museum tour, Fado show, and/or a 5D movie experience. Obviously, not the most traditional setup – but it’s apparently a great experience overall.
Bar Crawl with Porto Walkers
I had no idea that one of my most wild nights during this trip would start in Porto; but that was exactly what happened! Per the suggestion of my hostel, I decided to go on a bar crawl with Porto Walkers during my very first night in the city. Just for reference, this was a Tuesday night.
The bar crawl was a fantastic deal, because we got substantial drinks and/or shots at multiple bars, all for 13 euros! Furthermore, I was able to meet a bunch of other travelers from many different places (Chile, U.K., Finland, Spain, Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands) and dance the night away! We seriously did not leave the last club until 5am – we were having too much fun. So take my word for it: even though Porto may be known as the chill, northern, wine-centric counterpart to Lisbon, don’t sleep on its nightlife (literally)!
Visit the Beach
Even though it’s incredibly windy and can be a little chilly (in the water, at least) the coast of Porto is gorgeous and worth visiting. You can get to the coast pretty easily using public transport, an Uber (more expensive), or via a hop-on/hop-off bus, like I did – more on that below.
There are plenty of surfing spots along the coast, but since I am not very good at sideways sports – and believe me, I’ve tried a few of them – I chose to meet up with a few bar crawl friends and spent some time soaking up the sun. As I said, the water is quite cold here, so just be prepared for that if you were planning on taking a dip. You’d be much better off in the Algarve if you want warmer water!
Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour
I’m usually on-the-fence about bus tours, simply because they can be quite touristy. In this case, the hop-on/hop-off bus in Porto was convenient for getting around the city, learning about its history, and even saving money on wine tours! Both of my experiences at Quinta da Boeira and Poças Junior were included in my bus ticket, and it was definitely no more than 20 euros.
The bus also worked well for getting out to harder-to-reach areas of Porto, provided that you weren’t in a hurry. You can choose to sit below and inside the bus, or head to the top to get better views and experience a breeze. Whichever you choose, the bus tour might be a great option for you if you don’t have much time to see the city efficiently.
Shopping on Rua Santa Catarina
From cork purses to Cristiano Ronaldo mannequins to travel irons (much-needed since I broke my travel steamer!), Rua Santa Catarina is the place to go for your major shopping needs. My favorite find along this street was an authentic cork purse, which is unique to Portugal and cheaper to buy in Porto versus Lisbon. Cork is surprisingly water-resistant, so it was especially perfect for when we got rained on in Lisbon.
Rua Santa Catarina can get quite crowded and touristy, but if you know what you’re looking for and aren’t afraid to ask for help, you’re nearly guaranteed to find it. On the flip side, if you want to simply discover what this shopping district has to offer, you may be surprised by what you stumble upon.
Fundação Serralves gets an honorable mention here because it was an attraction that I planned to do on the same day that I went to the beach (since they’re relatively close); but I didn’t build in enough time unfortunately.
Serralves in general is one of the most important institutions of Porto, and it includes a Contemporary Art Museum (the most visited in Portugal), Park, and Villa. All three feature modern, art deco, and contemporary architecture throughout, and it’s (apparently) quite the sight to behold! Although it’s located a bit outside of the city, be sure to build in time to stop by.
Although I didn’t get to see everything that I meant to in Porto, I hope this guide helps you start planning a trip of your own – sans food poisoning!
What other lesser-known cities are you a big fan of?