There’s so much to love about the city of Porto – home to Romanesque and Gothic architecture, beautiful bridges, old world charm and of course, Port.
Much like Lisbon, the city of Porto consists of hills, so that means one thing: a good old workout for your thighs! Those narrow, winding streets and laneways offer many discoveries and photo opportunities – from cute shopfronts and street art, to little parks and old buildings covered in stunning hand-painted azulejos.
Mercado do Bolhão.
Whether you come here to check out the local farmers stands, butchers, seafood mongers or souvenir vendors, Mercado do Bolhão is a must on any Porto itinerary.
Parts of the 19th century wrought iron building are in dire need of repair, but all that adds to the charm and atmosphere of this old icon. Get there early enough and you can nab yourself a table at one of the no-frills seafood stalls at its heart.
Be sure to check out the amazing delicatessens on Rua de Fernandes Tomás between the market and Rua de Santa Catarina.
Mercado do Bolhão – Rua Formosa 214
Food store on Rua de Fernandes Tomás
Rua de Santa Catarina
Rua de Santa Catarina would have to be the busiest shopping strip the city has to offer. Not only is it a beautiful place to stroll and check out big names like H&M, Zara and KIKO, but you can settle in at one of the numerous cafés with lunch or drinks or grab an icy treat from somewhere like Amorino Gelato.
Head down to Rua das Flores near São Bento train station and enjoy the many small shops, cafés, restaurants and museums along it. It’s a perfect place to try some of those addictive pastel de natas, or Portuguese custard tarts. Join the queue at Nata, or get them from one of the other cafés.
Amorino Gelato & Nata Café
Sardine store in Porto.
It doesn’t take long to learn that the Portuguese are a little mad over sardines, be it fresh or tinned. You’ll even see stores devoted to just one thing – tinned sardines. Ok, maybe not just sardines, as you can also find tinned mackerel, anchovies, eel and octopus meticulously displayed in a gallery-like set-up. The perfect souvenir!
Fuelling-up is important ahead of a big day of exploration, and what better way than to do it than at a local confeitaria. Our pick was Confeitario Belo Mundo as it was close to our hotel and they had a decent breakfast deal going.
You can have your usual baked items, Francesinha and other treats, but their Pequeno almoço filled our bellies every morning. Score an outside table, take in the cool morning air, and tuck into two pastries, coffee and fresh orange juice for €3.90. These guys are also popular for their lanche misto (mixed jacket), a dense layered pastry of ham and cheese.
Lanche misto at Confeitaria Belo Mundo – Rua de Santa Catarina 542
Restaurante O Buraco – Rua do Bolhão 95
Casa Paraíso – Rua do Paraíso 257
A couple of blocks from Belo Mundo is Restaurante O Buraco, a 40+ year old stalwart with tradition at its heart. The tight space fills with locals in no time, but if you’re there early, it’s easy enough to get a table.
Kick things off with cod croquettes or caldo verde, then move on to fried sardines with tomato rice or the divine feijoada à transmontana (6; bean stew with pork and chouriço).
Way off the tourist trail is a neighbourhood mecca of meat that does a booming takeaway trade. Casa Paraíso isn’t just about ordering your chosen grilled beef, pork, chicken, sausages or seafood and taking it home, as you can enjoy the wares in the upstairs restaurant.
Had we known the portions were on the hefty side, we wouldn’t have ordered the half portion of churrasquinho de carnes (9.5; mixed grill) and the costelinhas de porco (6.5; pork ribs). Way too much food!
Casa Guedes – Praça dos Poveiros 130
A couple of must-try edibles in Porto would have to be a sande at Casa Guedes and a Francesinha at one of the numerous cafés about town.
Casa Guedes is somewhat of an institution for the sandes it pumps out pretty much all day. The constant line of people says it all! Juicy roast pork features in all of their sandwiches, but you can opt for some soup, fish, meat dishes or desserts.
We paid these guys a visit twice: first time for their excellent sande de pernil (4.2) – one with that juicy pork plus ham, and another with pork and soft cheese. Incredible. We returned for dinner another day and tucked into crumbed pork with fries and salad.
Those sandwiches win hands down.
As for the Francesinha, this is a Porto specialty. Spend around €4 and you get yourself a sandwich like no other. The name translates to “Little Frenchie” and it’s Portugal’s answer to the croque-madame. This ham, linguiça, steak and sausage ensemble is cloaked in melting cheese, doused in a beer and tomato gravy and served with golden hand-cut fries. It’s an undoubted stodge-fest like no other.
Francesinha at Bufete Due la Due – Rua de Sá da Bandeira 464
Molete Bread and Breakfast – Rua de Rodrigues de Freitas 256
Bakeries always got our attention in Portugal, mainly due to being cheap and filling, and we couldn’t get enough of that pão com chouriço (chorizo bread) they all do so incredibly well.
Just metres from Casa Guedes is Molete Bread & Breakfast, an inexpensive, modern and very popular bakery-cum-café. They open early for breakfast, have some very cheap lunch deals, very decent espresso and excellent array of breads, cakes and pastries.
Casa Ribeiro – Praça dos Poveiros 2
Surrounding Praça dos Poveiros are a number of places to grab some food and drinks. You’ll find Casa Guedes on its southeast side, several traditional cafés, even an American-style burger joint.
On the plaza’s west side is Casa Ribeiro, a handsome-looking set-up with an outdoor seating area that’s perfect for people watching. Service is very relaxed, the food is a mix of pizza, pasta and traditional and the prices are a tad higher than other joints in the area.
My suckling pig pizza (12) sounded very promising, but when it resembles a very thin “cracker” of pastry topped with dry, unseasoned roast pork, it isn’t so enjoyable. The rigatoni carbonara (19) was decent, yet standard.
On the other side of Baixa (Centro) opposite Convento dos Carmelitas is a small café that stands out from many others. Noshi may have a Japanese name, but there’s no sushi, noodles or pair of chopsticks in sight.
Expect coffee from South America, over 25 teas from Germany, oatmeal pancakes, açaí, innovative salads and toast topped with a variety of wholesome ingredients.
Noshi Coffee – Rua do Carmo 11-12
Porto Cathedral – Terreiro da Sé
The UNESCO listed city of Porto has a wealth of architectural masterpieces almost everywhere you turn. One of my favourites is the Porto Cathedral, or Sé do Porto. This landmark is made up of a variety of styles, but Romanesque is what stands out most.
With different additions and constructions from the 12th through to the 18th century, it’s hard not to appreciate everything about it. The view of the city from its main terrace is stunning, too.
Porto’s historic heart is its waterfront district of Ribeiro; an undulating piece of land with steep, narrow, cobbled streets and passages filled with fascinating things to see. Yes, it’s touristy, but if you’ve got the budget for one of the busy waterfront restaurants, why not just sit and enjoy the stunning surroundings?
Vila Nova de Gaia.
Head across the double-deck metal arch Dom Luís I Bridge and you end up in another historic area called Vila Nova de Gaia. This city that occupies the south bank of the River Douro is renowned for its port cellars, or caves (more than 60 of them!), many of which are open to the public.
For hundreds of years the river was used to transport barrels of port, up until the 1950s when trucks made the boats obsolete. Wander the backstreets of Gaia today and you often catch a whiff of port wafting on the breeze.
The waterfront promenade is heavily touristed with many alfresco restaurants, a park and even a cable car. Expect to pay €5 for a one way trip, but if you prefer to use you feet, there are plenty of zigzagging stairs to get you from Jardim do Morro down to Cais de Gaia on the waterfront.
The view to Porto is simply breathtaking from Gaia whether you’re in the upper part of town or down on the waterfront. Even the backstreets have their own charms, with many small eateries, gift stores and of course, cellars to taste that port.
This was where I sampled the Portuguese classic – arroz de pato (7.9), which is basically rice with duck and chouriço. I wasn’t overly taken by the one I tried at the now closed Encontro Ribeirinho, but there’s bound to be a beauty in some Porto backstreet restaurant somewhere.
Arroz de pato at Encontro Ribeirinho – Rua Cândido dos Reis 79
The #76 Transdev bus leaves the riverside bus stop on Rua do Clube dos Galitos at 8.55am. This isn’t a direct bus from Aveiro to Porto, as it drops you in the town of Albergaria-a-Velha.
There’s another bus – Rede Expresso – to Porto 30 minutes later (10am), which arrives in Porto at 10.40am. Cost is €10.50 per person.