What to do during your first visit in Porto, the beautiful Portugués city?
1. Porto patterns
One of the most emblematic representations of Porto’s history and culture are those beautiful tiles we see all over the city which are known as azulejos. They come in different colors, but most commonly, they are in white and blue.
“It was King Manuel I of Portugal who brought azulejo tiles from Seville, in Spain, to Portugal, during the 15th century. Azulejos were very common in parts of the Iberian Peninsula dominated by the Islamic Expansion during the middle ages. Indeed, the word azulejo comes from the Arabic word ‘al zellige’ which means: the polished stone. Portugal imported its azulejos tiles from Spain, Italy and Holland until the Portuguese mastered the art during the 16th century. In Portugal, the art has developed its own forms, changing from being just geometric shapes and flowers to something that tells stories, mostly of religious nature. Indeed, azulejo tiles in Porto are a great example of how different cultures and eras can give life to something so symbolic and so beautiful.”
2. Porto wine tasting
The southern side of the Douro river is Vila Nova de Gaia, the home of Porto Wine and a place that you must not miss even if you’ve never cared for the wine. This waterfront can be busy and usually it’s packed with tourists. All the wine houses offer tastings and almost all offer cellar tours which are really the most interesting part.
3. Try the local food
“As a coastal city in northern Portugal, Porto food will surprise the food lovers. The food in Porto draws from the contrasting landscape on the mild ocean side, the Trás-os-Montes isolated mountains, and the hillsides of Douro Valley.”
As a result, you will find delicious seafood from the Atlantic. The Trás-os-Montes region brings hearty meats and cheeses. While the Douro Valley will seduce you with rich and sweet Porto wines and its fine red wines. Nice combination, isn’t it? 😋
The most popular Porto food is called Francesinha, and funny enough it is basically a warm sandwich. The name literally means “little French girl”. It is said to have been brought to Porto by an immigrant returning back from France. This sandwich is an adaptation of the French toasted sandwich, croque-monsieur. It is made with bread, ham, sausages, and steak. It is typically covered with melted cheese and an egg on top. Though, what makes the Francesinha unique is the secret sauce that each restaurant prepares with its own touch. It is a hot thick tomato and beer sauce to dip your sandwich in. Fortunately this sandwich is already available at many places in vegetarian and vegan versions too, so if you are not into meat, you can still try and enjoy it!
Check here our Culinary Journey articles for more foodie tips!
Pasteis de Bacalhau – fried cod fish cakes, is made out of dried and salted codfish, which is Portugal’s national treasure. This fish is so popular that there are over 365 ways of preparing bacalhau, and some say over 1,000 ways of serving it. One of the most popular ways locals enjoy bacalhau is eating them fried as cod fish cakes. These little bites are indeed delicious. The recipe calls for a heavy presence of cod and mashed potatoes, as well as plenty of parsley, onions, and eggs. These tasty and flavorful codfish cakes are easy to eat. You can enjoy them hot as appetizers or starters, or as street food from many street sellers.
4. Get lost in the city
Porto is really that kind of place where you can get happily lost without any travel plan and certainly you will still 100% enjoy it. Wherever you go in the old historical quarter, on both sides of the Ponte de Dom Luis I., you will end up in picturesque narrow streets, never ending stairs, breathtaking views and it is indeed worth to spend a morning discovering the numerous churches set amongst tiled houses.
5. Sé do Porto
Built on the highest point of the city, Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto in Portuguese) is the most important religious edifice of Porto. It is a Roman Catholic church and it’s located in the historical centre of the city. Besides that it is not only one of the city’s oldest monuments but also one of the most important local Romanesque monuments.
“From 1906 until the present day, Livraria Lello has been recognized internationally as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. Visited everyday by thousands of people from around the world, Livraria Lello’s cultural heritage is in constant and perfect synchrony with its time, being more alive, more inhabited and more dynamic than ever.”
Have you ever seen anything like this? Although, come to think of it, it probably reminds you of somewhere…yes, yes, this lovely bookshop inspired (yes, that’s it!) the Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts. In fact, J.K Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990s.
The São Bento Railway Station was opened to the public in 1916 on the site of a former Benedictine monastery. The structure emanates the city’s typical melancholy and nostalgic air. Although the train station is striking from outside, the real beauty lies inside. The main hall is breathtaking with over 20,000 tiles that reflect the history of Portugal. It is located in the city centre, so you’ll probably walk past it several times during your stay. Don’t miss discovering its main hall.
Completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, the bridge’s top deck is now reserved for pedestrians, as well as one of the city’s tram lines; the lower deck bears regular traffic, as well as narrow walkways for those on foot. The views of the river and old town are stunning. If you want a really magnificent panorama then the top route is undoubtedly the way forward.
+1 tip: if you have enough of climbing stairs, you can easily go to Funicular dos Guindais that will bring you to the upper level of the bridge in just two minutes, close to the cathedral and you can get onto the bridge from there. The funicular was built in 1891, and was fully restored after more than a century of inactivity.