Portugal has been on my top destination list ever since we moved to London over three years ago. And yet it has taken this long to get our arses over there! This was mainly down to the flights typically being extremely overpriced. But at the end of last year, I was very surprised (and delighted) to find some reasonable flights over the Easter break. Taking an extra two days leave from work we were able to spend 5 and a half days exploring both Porto and Lisbon, which was a good amount of time in each place.
Not far from our Airbnb in Bolhão, Porto we visited A Loja dos Pastéis de Chaves on our first morning for breakfast and tried their signature stuffed pastries, deliciously flaky and buttery. The staff were also very welcoming and friendly and made me instantly start to like this city. We spent the day without much of a plan, wandering around checking out the main sights like the Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso Church, São Bento railway station and the impressive buildings in the Historical Old Town.
We got lost in the stairways and alleyways, stumbling across some pretty epic viewpoints. The hilly landscape in Porto means there are loads of viewpoints looking back at the city or across the Douro River to the port houses on the south side.
After viewing the river from afar we made our way down to the famous Ribeira area. Here the colourful houses and hotels sit behind a row of riverside restaurants and cafes. It was a beautiful spring day so the area was bustling with people. We made our way across the lower part of the arched Luís I Bridge toward the port houses in Vila Nova de Gaia.
From the other side of the bridge, you get great views back to the Old Town and Ribeira. The weather was improving as the day went on so it was lovely to stroll down by the Douro River popping in to check out the numerous port houses along the way. By this stage, I was 12 weeks pregnant, so my dream of trying all the delicious port was put on the back burner and Andrew didn’t mind as he was cutting back for the London Marathon a week later. We walked into Sandemans and they were about to start a tour so we signed up on the spot. The House of Sandeman, has been used for more than two centuries to age “the world’s most recognised Porto wines.” The ‘Classic’ tour led us through the old cellars and we learnt all about the process of making and ageing their famous ports. We weren’t that impressed with the two tastings we got at the end, Andrew had tastier ones at dinner later that night.
Two great spots we can highly recommend in Porto are Selina and Tapabento S.Bento. Selina is a hidden gem. It’s actually a hip, boutique 3-star hotel and hostel but we were told to pop in here to have a drink. They have a great garden area and a bar/restaurant serving street food with a nice relaxed vibe. We maybe would’ve stayed here had we known about it! For dinner, I had booked us into the popular (and highly rated) Tapabento S.Bento, after a tip from a fellow travel blogger. The service was impeccable and the food was tasty with unique flavour combinations. Book in advance to avoid having to queue!
On our second day, we again took things at a pretty leisurely pace. After some delicious pastries and coffee from Combi Coffee (also highly recommend), we made our way across town to Miragaia, dubbed as one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods. We saw more beautiful azulejo tiled building, including Igreja do Carmo. These tiles, usually blue and white, are one of the most emblematic representations of Porto’s history and culture. Out of interest, I wanted to pass by the Livraria Lello Bookstore. It’s one of the oldest in Portugal and frequently rated among the top bookstores in the world. It is so popular that they now charge an entrance fee. The crowds outside were crazy so we didn’t even consider going inside.
For lunch we took a bus out to Foz do Douro to see the Atlantic Ocean. Living in London we really miss seeing the ocean, something you really take for granted living in New Zealand! It was a mild day but definitely not warm enough for a swim. Nonetheless, it was a pretty area to visit and we had delicious seafood for lunch. We rounded out our afternoon with a visit to the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal. These botanical gardens sit atop a hill and offer stunning views over the city and river. It would be a lovely place for a picnic.
No visit to Porto would be complete without tucking into a francesinha. This over-the-top toasted sandwich includes white bread filled with ham, sausage and steak, then covered in lashings of cheese and a special beer and tomato sauce. Our verdict: It was alright! Get one to share so you don’t end up feeling ill 😀
Next stop Lisbon…