Our one day itinerary shares some of the best things to do in Portugal's charming riverside city of Porto.
We had one day in Porto. No restaurant reservations or list of attractions—just a place to sleep and the unrealistic expectations you unconsciously assign to the last destination on a long, wonderful trip.
Porto exceeded them.
By a happy accident, our Airbnb was located across the river in the neighboring city of Villa Nova de Gaia. I'd had a conference, a wedding, and a New York weekend before our trip and just ran out of time to look into the last leg of our trip. My Porto research went like: Ooh, is that a room with a river view? Done.
Our kitchen looked out to Porto's orange rooftops and the traditional rabelo boats on the Douro River—the prettiest of scenes to start our day.
First things first: We needed breakfast, the Portuguese way. A jolt of espresso and a sweet pastry. We crossed the Dom Luis bridge from Gaia to Porto, skipping the stairs in favor of Funicular dos Guindais to get from the Ribeira (riverwalk area) to Porto's city center.
Determined to nosh on a few pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg tarts) on our last full day in Portugal, we grabbed a table at Majestic Cafe's outdoor cafe seating. Our first mistake: outrageously overpriced and just as underwhelming.
Lesson learned: For a much better pasteis, visit the nearby Confeitaria do Bolhão, a 120-year-old patisserie with a mouthwatering assortment of sweetbreads, croissants, and other pastries.
Next up, the Sao Bento train station—where ~20,000 azulejo Portuguese tiles dating from 1905-1916 adorn the walls. Multiple people in Porto told us this was the most beautiful train station in the world, and they weren't wrong. Note to self: Find out what kind of grout they use in Portugal... clearly the good stuff.
Then it was time for some shopping. We love buying unique housewares when we travel, and Portuguese tiles were #1 on our list. A quick Google search brought us to Clerigos Market, which takes place every second and last Saturday of the month. A popular nightlife street in the evenings, it's converted into a pedestrian market with stalls selling everything from cork goods to antiques.
Picking out the tiles was a little thrill. We mixed and matched our favorite blue and yellow patterns, dreaming about how they'd look under the hood of our nonexistent Napa farmhouse. These were the most affordable of authentic old Portuguese tiles that we found, at between 3-5 euro each. Considering a single Home Depot subway tile is $1, I'd say 5 euro is a deal!
...MIGHT have had to make a quick pit stop at our Airbnb to drop off the goods.
If the market's not open when you're there, there are also actual tile shops around town, like Prometeu Artesanto or Azurmamol.
After our choice of Majestic Cafe, it was unlike us to take another un-researched gamble. The heat and the bad decision to wear jeans was getting the best of us. We turned a corner, and tucked into a little cobblestoned residential alley was a Muro Velho, a tiny tapas cafe.
Tripeiros—which is what they call people who live in Porto, not Portoites, as one might guess, or Portions, to my chagrin—don't let not having a garden hold them back from tending to their own little plant jungles.
Our find was just perfect: quiet, shaded outdoor cafe seating. The sweetest server, crisp cold white sangria, and outstanding nibbles. I let Mike order mussels with a little trepidation (it's only happened twice, but I have gotten allergic reactions in the past). Some of the best I had:
Then, more exploring. Porto is a city of contradictions, with trendy restaurants sandwiched by dilapidated buildings—all of it wonderfully walkable and photogenic.
If you're in need of a few goodies to take home, wander over to Porto Belo (a play on London's "Portobello"), a small outdoor market of pop-up stalls in Praça Carlos Alberto Square, which opens on Saturdays from 12-7. You'll find handmade soaps, wooden Portuguese toys, homemade jams, etc.
Nearby is the hipstery shopping complex, Galerias Lumiere. Previously home to a cinema, it's a relaxed modern space to take a quick coffee break, buy unique goods, or to peruse the cute plant shop.
Once you've worn out your wallet, Aduela Taberna Bar, in its olive tree adorned square, is the local gathering spot for an aperitif al fresco.
Or, head back south toward the water and walk along the Ribeira. The touristy stalls don't have much to offer, but 15 minutes east along the river you'll find this tapas bar we loved: A Bolina. Hip jazzy music, old stone walls, unpretentious Portuguese food, and riverside dining. If you're a gin fan—the staff will make a great recommendation. After all, it's only appropriate to start your evening with a refreshing gin-tonic or white port-tonic.
At 7 pm we had a moment of panic: Where should we watch the sunset? Before the realization set in on both of us at once—from our Airbnb, for free. We hurried back across the bridge to catch the setting sun that washed the Douro River with pink and gold.
For another sunset vantage point, make the climb up to Serra do Pilar Monastery, high above the Dom Luis Bridge on the south side of the river.
The Quick List : Where to Eat, Drink, Sightsee, Shop, and Stay in Porto
EAT : Confeitaria do Bolhao for pastries, and El Muro Velho or A Bolina for tapas. Try a francesinha—a version of the croque monsieur, loaded with meats and drenched in tomato sauce. (A Muro Velho had a mini one that looked perfect!)
DRINK : Vermuteria da Baixa for vermouth, Adeula Taberna Bar for a chill aperitif, A Bolina for a riverside gin-tonic, Yeatman Hotel's rooftop bar for the view, Royal Cocktail Club for a craft cocktail. For evening festivities, barhop on the parallel streets of Cândido dos Reis and Galeria de Paris.
SEE & DO : Walk along the Cais de Ribeira waterfront, cross the Ponte Luis I bridge, ride the Funicular dos Guindais, visit Sao Bento train station, see the magnificent Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace), do a port tasting/tour (Graham's was highly recommended).
SHOP : Buy antiques at vintage goods at Clerigos Market, and pick up miscellaneous Portuguese-made home goods and souvenirs at A Vida Portuguesa. Browse unique trinkets and books at Galerias Lumiere, and check out the artisan crafts at Porto Belo market.
STAY : There are plenty of cute, affordable Airbnbs in Porto! We stayed at the insanely reasonable Douro Riverside apartments on Airbnb. (Not recommended for anyone who can't do stairs—the view was gorgeous, but it's a 4th floor walkup.) For an upscale option, I hear Porto A.S. 1829 is a gem.
SKIP : Majestic Cafe—so overpriced and nothing special. 360 Terrace for the awkward mix of all-ages tourists and sceney electronic music. The gastropub Cervejaria Brasão was highly rated, but everything we ordered was rather disappointing.
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Everywhere we went in Porto, airport staff, Uber drivers, and bartenders would ask us 1) where we were from and 2) what we thought of Porto. I was happy to report back that their city—while small and assuming—packs a big, vibrant punch that I loved.
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