When most people talk about visiting Portugal, the destination in question is almost always Lisbon. The bustling capital city is full of kinetic energy, while also being lined with several beautiful beaches. And while Lisbon has its own share of gems and magnificent experiences to be had, I know firsthand how magical the city of Porto, in the north of Portugal, can be for a trip.
I visited Porto for around 36 hours two years ago. At the time, I was living in Madrid and bought a really cheap round trip ticket on a whim from budget airline, Ryanair. Before then, Portugal had never been on my list but the tickets for Porto were much cheaper than tickets to Lisbon, so I decided to go. Years later, I’m so glad I did.
Porto, although a bit quieter and not as large as Lisbon, is tucked away near the stunning Rio Douro, one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula. The coastal city has amazing food, a thriving arts scene, and is home to the country’s signature drink, port wine. While Portugal as a whole deserves a visti, these are five reasons why you should consider heading to Porto on your next travel adventure.
Gorgeous architecture and tiles
The gorgeous, typically brightly-colored tiling Portugal is known for speaks for itself. When I first arrived in Porto and was making my way to Gallery Hostel, where I stayed, I stopped numerous times to glance at the beautiful tiling that showed up in the most ordinary of places — on the side of a cathedral, marking the entrance to a building, on the ground in front of a restaurant. If you really want to be stunned with this type of ornate beauty, visit Estação de São Bento in the city center. It’s a train station but the most magnificent train station you’ll ever see with floor to ceiling tiling.
Portuguese food is a blend of Mediterranean and African influences. To take a bite of out of the tasty cuisine, try caldo verde — a soup with a kale and linguica base, bacalhau à Gomes de Sá— comparable to a baked casserole dish with dried salt codfish, onions and potatoes, and pasteis de nata — a sweetened, custard creme desert found in most any Portuguese bakery or pastry shop. Solar Moinho de Vento has great bacalhau and Padaria Riberio has delicious pasteis de nata. For a cutesy burger joint with Portuguese influences, Bugo Art Burgers makes a great choice for a late lunch or early dinner.
Port wine and port wineries
— Graham’s Port (@grahams_port) March 17, 2016
Porto is the birthplace of port wine, so get ready to drink up! This particular variety of vino is sweet, but also strong, because brandy is infused during the fermentation process. There are a host of wineries to tour throughout the city, and port wine tastings abound, so be prepared. Graham’s and Taylor’s are two of the more well known wineries and are just on the other side of Rio Douro. While in Porto, be sure to pop over for a visit and a tasting.
Flourishing art scene
— Livraria Lello (@LivrariaLello) November 16, 2015
Along the street Rua Miguel Bombarda is the epicenter of arts scene in Porto and where many galleries can be found. Aside from Rua Miguel, throughout Porto there are several museums with either no or low admission fees — a photography museum, one on romance, and another on port wine, to name a few. If you’d like to tap into the literary arts, visit the famous bookstore Livraria Lello. Writer J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time there when she lived in Porto teaching in the 90s, and it’s said to have inspired parts of the Harry Potter series. The beautiful store, which is over 100-years-old, doesn’t disappoint, either. While in Porto, spend an afternoon wandering the aisles while basking in its books and history.
A historic market in the city center
Walk uphill a ways from Estação de São Bento and you’ll reach Mercado de Bolhão, one of the city’s central markets. Fresh seafood, bread, produce and other knick knacks from local artisans and sellers can also be found here. When I visited the market, I purchased a wooden, handmade mortar and pestle. I paid no more than $2 for it and it is a treasured trinket I still have today.