Porto in the north of Portugal gained notoriety for wine, but not much else. I actually went here to not only go to wine tastings, but to see Portugal’s second largest city. It has a lot to offer, especially if you love architecture. Here’s my guide for navigating Porto and eating your way through the city. I only had three days, so I did miss out on some wine tastings, but you can read about the ones I did experience in Portugal Series Part 4, coming soon.
Getting here: If you’re coming from Lisbon via train, you have two options depending on where your accommodation is. There are two main stations – Campanha and Sao Bento. Both connect directly to the metro and both are close to the center. Every train goes through the main station, which is Campanha, but Sao Bento is beautifully tiled and actually has a great cafe inside called Jeronymos.
Tip: Both stations have luggage storage if you need it, and it is cheap. The first hour is 1.50 euros, and you pay the balance when you return to retrieve your luggage. There is an attendant there to provide change if you need it, but if you don’t see anyone, just hang around looking confused and he’ll appear. Just put your bag in an open locker, turn the handle, put your 1.50 in the machine, and you’ll get a ticket with a code to enter when you return to retrieve your bag. DO NOT LOSE THIS TICKET! When you return, enter the code first, pay the balance in exact change, and your locker will magically pop open.
Getting around: The center of Porto is easily walkable, but metro stations are plentiful. One trip on the metro is 1.40 euros I think. I only used it once to get to my Airbnb. I used Google maps a couple of times, but after that, I found I didn’t really need it anymore to navigate.
Things to see:
#1 Se de Cathedral, or Porto Cathedral – Every town has one. A cathedral that was once at the heart of daily life in every European city. Porto is no exception and the cathedral here is another stunning example of architecture paid for by the taxes of poor people. There are two real reasons to visit this cathedral (free to enter, but 3 euros to visit the cloister). The first is the views of Porto you’ll get when you are outside the cathedral. The second is the cloister. It’s not like all the others. This beautiful cloister is tiled with traditional Portuguese tiles that make this a very photogenic example of architecture.
#2 Sao Bento Train Station – Even if you don’t arrive or depart from here, this stunning train station is worth stopping in to see the tile work and take photos, and you can get a decent coffee and a yummy Frago sandwich at Jeronymos. I struggled to find decent coffee in Portugal, but thought the coffee here was pretty good. The bathrooms are clean, too (.50 cents).
#3 Lello Bookstore – This is supposedly where JK Rowling got her inspiration for Hogwarts. I don’t know if I believe that, but they are definitely capitalizing on it. Anyone who enters has to pay 4 euros just two doors down on the corner, where you’ll receive a voucher that goes towards any purchase you make at Lello. While the wooden staircase and bookshelves are unique and beautiful, they also have an excellent selection of books (and maps!), in both Portuguese and English. Yes, I went here to see the bookstore, but I also went here to shop and did not walk away disappointed.
#4 Numerous churches – I was a bit tired of churches and cathedrals by the time I got here, but I loved walking around in the town center and photographing the many churches adorned with blue and white porcelain tiles on the outside. I didn’t bother going inside most of them, but they really add to the architectural scene of this city.
Dining: I don’t usually recommend restaurants, but there are a couple I want to mention for Porto. There’s also one dish in particular that all meat lovers should try.
#1 The potential tourist trap of Majestic Café – This is another 1920s art deco café, and if you read my post about Lisbon, you know I got sucked into a real tourist trap there called Nicola. I feared Majestic might be a similar story, but when I arrived, I found it to be worth checking out. But I did make two mistakes here. One, I sat outside. The really cool thing about Majestic is the interior, so sit inside! Two, I ordered food. Don’t. It is expensive and mine wasn’t good. I noticed no one really came here to eat. They came for coffee (5 euros), or sangria (9 euros), or ice cream. Stick with these, take some photos, and enjoy your time here. It’s expensive, but the food wasn’t worth 18 euros for a club sandwich (No crusts? What am I, four?)
#2 The Traveller Caffé – Not far at all from Majestic Café, I found another place that makes a decent latte. They also have a good-looking breakfast that isn’t all bread and pastries. They speak excellent English here and have free wifi, although I couldn’t get it to work on my Mac. It’s cheap, and the coffee is American size.
#3 Café Santiago – Across the street from The Traveller Caffé is Café Santiago, an unassuming plain looking place serving up heaping portions of local cuisine. The price is definitely right. I tried a local specialty here called Francesinha. This sandwich basically consists of a square stack of meats on top of a slice of bread, topped with melted cheese and an egg, surrounded by French fries in gravy. Sound weird? It was delicious! I had this with half a bottle of green wine, and didn’t need to eat again for 24 hours. I did, but I didn’t need to. Cafe Santiago also provides excellent, friendly service and they speak English. If you’re wondering about green wine, just know it’s way better than the coffee.