The combination of the colorful houses carefully stacked on the steep green sides of the Douro River, the weaving and winding cobblestone streets and the incredibly beautiful blue azulejos tiles that adorned the sides of churches, buildings, and streets created the enchanting atmosphere that took me away for the short 48 hours I had to spend in the city.
Porto is in the north of Portugal, and during early spring it can rain a lot. Fortunately, it wasn’t pouring at any point during my stay, but I did pack an umbrella which came in handy for the long walking tour of the city. It is a great city for budget travelers – I was riding close to zero in my bank account as this trip was at the end of the month before my paycheck was to go through, but I skated by, getting to enjoy all the delicious things Porto had to offer while not having to dip into my emergency travel funds!
I must say, it isn’t often that I feel the need to strongly recommend a hostel, but in this case, I couldn’t rave about it enough. Tattva was the most perfect place to stay. The location was front and center, the beds were comfortable with privacy curtains, a reading lamp, and electrical outlets. The included breakfast buffet was enormous, the staff was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, and what’s not to love about a hostel with its own aquarium? Budget travelers – stay here, don’t think twice about it.
Because Porto is a low-key city in terms of museums and “things to do” I would highly recommend taking a walking tour if learning more about the city history interests you. We had a great guide and the best part is that the tours are free and leave every day from the Plaza de Independencia. If you enjoy the tour I would highly recommend giving a nice tip – the guides work hard and completely rely on them as their income.
The Port Wineries of Gaia
Porto and Gaia are twin cities, if you cross the River Douro via the Ponte Luis I bridge in search of Port Wine, you actually leave Porto and enter Gaia. There you will find all the wineries to try tours and port wine at. I stopped at Espaço Porto Cruz and went to the rooftop for a beautiful view. There’s a bar where you can enjoy a port drink without having to pay extra for tours or tastings. It all depends on your interest, research the different Port Winery tour options and decide which one is best for your interests!
Livería Lello – a.k.a. the Harry Potter Bookstore
This place is one of the top things that comes up when you do a Pinterest search for “things to see in Porto” and for a good reason. It is a beautiful bookstore right in the city center that is famous for being one of the places that J.K. Rowling would spend her time writing at and getting inspiration for the Harry Potter series during her time living in Porto.
The bookstore is undeniably beautiful, but in all honesty, I would not consider it a “must-see” of Porto. It is a 4€ entry fee (which is discounted off a book if you decide to buy one, but there isn’t a huge selection of English books) and it is so incredibly crowded that you shouldn’t expect to get the beautiful photo that you have seen on the internet. It was cool, I don’t regret seeing it, but I wouldn’t say that you’ve missed out on anything if you choose not to go.
The best free attraction of Portugal is all the beautiful tile work that you can see on various building exteriors scattered throughout the city. Notable spots to admire the beauty of these artistic creations include the Sao Bento railway station, as well as on the exterior facades of many churches.
Vegetarians beware! You may have a difficult time getting the full Porto gastronomic experience, considering a lot of the signature dishes of the city contain pork, and when I say pork, I mean lots of pork! The weekend I spent in Porto was definitely one where I didn’t think about calories or health and allowed myself to enjoy every meal I ate, and it was a savory and gluttonous experience.
This place is my #1 recommendation to anyone on a budget and for anyone who loves to sample the authentic, local fare. I went straight here from the airport before even bothering to check into my hostel (I was starving!) The line was out the door at 9 p.m. and it was almost exclusively locals. I got the pork sandwich with the mountain cheese, fries, and a beer and it was less than 7€. It was incredible.
My mouth began watering the moment I did a google search for a description of this delicious monstrosity. Bread, ham, sausage, steak, melted cheese, a thick tomato and beer sauce and served with french fries. Dear God, it was absolutely incredible, and yes I did finish the entire thing!
Pasteles de Nata
The classic Portuguese egg tart pastry is the pastel de nata, and it is one of my all-time favorite pastries. I got them from Nata Lisboa in the city center in Porto, and I think I ate four in one day. They pair incredibly well with a midday post-lunch coffee.
Porto is a magical place to spend a long weekend. It’s the perfect destination for people looking to see a new city at their leisure and enjoy savory Portuguese food with different types of Port wine. I’d recommend a stop in Porto to anyone traveling in Portugal, as a visit to the country isn’t complete without it!
This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to this link to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.