We know, there is so much to visit in Porto, from the old azulejos-covered churches to the brandnew hipsterbars. But don’t rush anything! Let the city wash over you. Cause this place has surprises in store for anyone brave enough to let go and experience life.
To us, Porto is a city of Being, more than of doing. We know there is a Portuguese saying, claiming that the people of Porto work, while the others party in Lisbon. And that’s also true. The Portuense work long days untill they’re old and grey and they’re proud of it. Never call them lazy! But that’s a world happening behind closed doors, in the old worn-out houses near the river of even in the big offices in Maia.
If you don’t have to make a living here, this city is a place of taking it slow. Of using your senses again.
1. Unwind and drink a port-tonic at Ribeira.
Ribeira is where it all began. The tourism, we mean. You should know that before 1996, nobody made a visit to Porto. The city was slowly dying and the only people living in the center were the ones who couldn’t afford to leave. Then all of a sudden UNESCO pronounced Ribeira a World Heritage Site. So it became a tourism destination.
Now most of the houses have been cleaned up, their coloured tiles glowing in the sun. The old docks have turned into small restaurants and on the deck there are street-artists from all over the world showing off their skills.
The only thing you have to do, is choose where to sit and enjoy the amusement. Now order an ice-cold port-tonic. It’s a thing here
2. Get lost in the small cobbled streets underneath the Se catedral
We know a very old lady who payed only one euro rent per month. One euro! For a whole house! We have to admit her house was probably very small though. She lived in the area under the Se cathedral.
Officially this neighborhood is part of Ribeira, but the tourists don’t come here as often. Maybe it’s because those narrow lanes used to be kind of a dangerzone. Now it’s THE place where you can feel part of the real Portuense charm. The rents are not alowed to go up unless there’s a new tenant, so the majority of the people living here have been living here for generations.
The result? Party garlands hanging in the alleys all year round. One day somebody brings a radio and dances by himself in the middle of the street. Another day, two ladies are screaming their lungs out at each other. It’s always a surprise what you’ll encounter. But now matter what happens, the people smile when you greet them in their beloved Portuguese.
3. Discover all the open air artworks
Porto is a city for artists. It’s literally everywhere. From the old azulejos-covered churches to the haunted São Bento trainstation to the funny and puzzling laughing statues in Jardim da Cordoaria (Rope-makers Garden).
And don’t forget the streetart! We can tell you all about those rebellious works of art on our Street Art Tour! For now we have one example to spark your interest. In the Miragaia neighborhood there is a wall with a huge painting of some old ladies face. She is from there.
Now imagine…She didn’t do anything special to become famous. She wasnt especially known for her poetry, or her many lovers or an important job in the city. She was just sombody minding her own bussiness. But for some reason, in 2015, when street artist Daniel Eime was looking for someone to paint, she said: “well… do me!”
So now her face is looking down on us from a big white wall near the city’s Alfandega. Did she suprise her neighbours with this act? What did her children think? Her husband? What was her reason for complying? She will smile at us knowingly long after her neighbours and she herself are gone.
4. Indulge on a francesinha
So the food in Porto is not exactly Mediterranean. We Portuense like our meat full and slowly roasted and we’re not afraid of some grilled cheese either.
A francesinha (little French girl) is something different though. It’s a complete feast on it’s own. It’s meat combined with meat combined with sausage, layered in a sandwich. You’ve got your grilled cheese on top, supplemented with a fried egg and a secret sauce made out of tomato, paprika and… BEER! We like to top it off with french fries, soaked in the creamy red sauce. Wow!
Nobody agrees on the best restaurant for this experience, but everybody loves the dish. On our food tours we can give you a taste and let you enjoy our lovely pastries too. They’re light, fluffy and sweet, with a hint of lemon most of the time and some sprinkels of canela on top. Never enough..
Do you remember Forrest Gump, sitting on a bench, talking about his lifestory? “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonn’ get.” In Porto, sunset is a mystery. Will the sky turn purple? Red. pink, darkish grey… green? What shape will the clouds be like?
We watch the sky like a movie and gather in the cityparks as if they’re cinemas. So be like us and grab a blanket. Now enjoy the sweet smell of the chestnut trees while you watch the world turn dark.
Not sure where to go? We can show you the best spots on our City Tour. There will be cheap shops around to buy you some tasty foods and a bottle of vinho Verde or some SuperBocks. Nobody will be able to tell you’re actually not from here ;)
And what if you do like to watch a sunset but don’t want to sit still? We can take you on a special Segway Tour…
6. Pass by Livrario Lello by night
Even if you are not a Harry Potter fan and you never touch a book, you will probably be amazed by this bookstore from 1916. Because this
bookstore was already special when it was built (even the Brazilian newspapers wrote about it) and they never changed a thing since then.
Back at the day, the rich men still wore black hats and moustaches and had lively debates about the state of affairs in the world with loud voices and serious looks on their faces, while the women were elegantly smoking cigarettes out of black wooden pipes.
This was a world where books were the most important source of information! So the walls and the ceiling of the Lello Bookshop are richly decorated and full of promise.
Unfortunately, you won’t be the only one interested in entering this special neogothic building. After decades of being forgotten, now there are lines in front of Livraria Lello almost every day. And when you finally made it inside, it can be difficult to get a glimpse of the painted plaster, that was made to look like dark sculpted wood. And even the iconic red staircase is filled with people.
And how can you really enjoy imagining conversing with a Portuguese poet from the past, when people look at you funny for ‘talking to yourself’?
So this is what we recommend: smile at the line of tourists in front of the shop while you pass them. Then return to the place at night. Now, nobody is here. The golden drawings of Science and Art on the granite facade glimmer in the yellow streetlights. Beautiful. But it is when you look inside the shop through the glass, that the magic happens. How ghostly the atmosphere seems, how forbidden your act of curiosity.
It is almost as if someone is staring back at you.
If afterwards you decide to buy a ticket to Livraria Lello anyways, you will have a better understanding of the appeal of this place. People will tell you about the resemblance with the library in the Harry Potter-books, and that of course is all exciting too.
But the magic happens at night.
7. Catch a wave in Matosinhos
One of the simple charms of Porto is the soft breeze on a hot summer day. A little bit furthe at Atlantic ocean, this breeze instantly gets fresher!
Here Porto turns green, lush and spacious. By bike, it will take you only half an hour to arrive from the city center. It’s a ride we really recommend. You’ll pass restaurants serving fresh sardinhas. They’re grilled in front of you on barbecues facing the calm Douro river. But we’re drifting off..
Surfing, that’s what we’re talking about. So if you follow the coastline, there’s an old fort called Castello de Queijo (don’t ask). Behind it lays a beach with rolling waves. You’ll see a different side of Porto here. YEW! If you take a chance and go for a surfing lesson from one of the surfschools, you’ll probably meet a new side of yourself too! Cause surfing is more than a sport. It’s a way of living. Some even call it a religion. You’ll come out of the ocean with a clear head and a changed perspective, that’s for sure. It’s just something about them waves, brah!
8. Go for some vintage shopping
If you visit Porto, don’t miss the student district. In Cedofeita Porto shows it’s experimental side. It’s in the art galleries in R. Miguel Bombarda and the partystreets around R. de Galeria de Paris. So if you like to pass on the traditional stuff and instead opt to eat some vegan pancakes with maple syrup or a healthy pokebowl, this will probably be your favourite area of the city. (Although there are some cool spots arriving at other districts as well…)
From Mexican to Asian to Spanish tapas to Hawaian, they’re all represented here. Most of the time with a hipster take on it. At night the streets turn into an open air discotheque. All the bars a different theme, the youngsters walk outside from one place to the next.
But besides eating, drinking and clubbing, Cedofeita is a great district for shopping. One place we love is Mon Pere Vintage. This hidden vintage shop sells all the latest trends. From clothes to fanny packs to shoes and accessories for both women AND men, Mon Pere will have something to your liking. People will ask you where you bought you treasure for years. Promise.
9. Take a riverside cruise
Did you know that this pretty picture perfect used to be a wild, foaming, people-swallowing snake? In 1809 around three-thousand souls drowned on a collapsed bridge when they tried to escape the army of Napoleon. Navigating the Douro river was a risky business and only the small Rabelo boats had a chance of making it to their destination. But we can tell you more about that on our Walking Tours. Now, when it’s hot, the local boys like to jump in the clear turquoise water, only scaring the fish. Don’t worry, the river behaves since we built dams landinwards.
If you have a day extra to spend, you really should enjoy exploring the Douro Valley. Hopefully you already had a port-tonic by now or even tried a selection of different portwines. You can also book a tour through the cellars owned by one of the porthouses on the Gaia side.
So now, it’s time to see where the grapes grow. If you decide to go by boat, you’ll glide through green valleys and hills that fall steeply to the water’s edge. Here, a special microclimate helps olives, grapes and almonds grow. Most tours stop at wine-producing farms (quintas) and villages to enjoy some local cuisine. You’ll learn a lot about this area (World Heritage since 2001) and it’s two-thousand years old tradition of producing sweet wine. Maybe you’ll get a little drunk too…;)
10. Take the ride up to Batalha
Pay attention, cause we’re about to tell you a little secret. You DON’T have to walk all the way up if you are enjoying yourself at cais de Ribeira but suddenly feel attracted to the upperside of the city… There is a hidden means of transport.
You’ll walk right past it, if knowbody told you about it. But if you pass the Luis I bridge, you’ll see a small white building housing the Funicular dos Guindais. Inside there’s the
ticket office to a steep rollercoaster ride of 2 euro’s 50 that will take you right up to Batalha. The ride follows the 14th century Fernandina Wall (surrounded by gardens with orangetrees) and you’ll enjoy a panoramic view on the Luis I bridge while you’re at it. If you’re scared of heights you’ll definitely feel some butterflies in your stomach…
Hopefully nog enough to spoil your taste. In Batalha you can enjoy a juicy bifana (pork) sandwich with melted goat cheese in Xau Laura, one of the sunny terraces you’ll stumble on. Drink some red wine with it. A little bit further, near Jardim Marques de Oliveira, there is a square with famous restaurants like Santiago, Casa Guedes and Gazela. Here you can try our famous cachorro (a hotdog, but better) or a Francesinha (tip 4).
This also happens to be the area where our office is located. We offer you walking tours, biking tours (with e-bikes) and Segway tours to all the places we love. If you want to explore by yourself that’s also possible. You can rent an e-bike start or try a Go-car.
We hope to see you around!!