Porto, Portugal

August 5, 2015

From Montemor-O-Novo, Porto was an easy 3 hour drive North. Arriving, you’ll inevitably have to cross at least one of Porto’s six famous bridges. While lovely, I found this experience to be terrifying (these bridges are crazy high and narrow). Once in Porto, we parked the car in a garage for 7 Euros/day and got around the city on foot almost exclusively. We did end up taking a cab to dinner one night because our garage closed at 8:30pm, so we wouldn’t have returned from dinner until after that time (most restaurants in Portugal don’t start serving dinner until 8pm). The cab process was simple and for tipping you just round up to the next Euro.

PORTO (4 days)
Porto has all of the great architectural diversity of Lisbon, but on a smaller scale and with a more colorful, artsy, gritty flavor. Old World icons, such as the baroque Torre dos Clérigos bell tower that helped the city earn UNESCO status in 1996, contrast with contemporary buildings. New hip boutiques are transforming historic streets, and upscale hotels are bringing former palaces and row houses back to life. And then there’s the port wine, lots and lots of port. We went into this trip knowing nothing about port, and were surprised by the range of variety. The Douro River is the life blood of the city featuring the iconic postcard view of the iron D. Luis I Bridge above and the rainbow-colored buildings lined with the Port-barrel-carrying-boats below.

The White Box House
Rua de Santa Catarina 575, 4000-454 Porto, Portugal
This guesthouse is chic and very affordable, with a mix of standard rooms and hostel style, located right in the center of Porto on the best known pedestrian shopping street. With only 6 rooms it creates a cosmopolitan atmosphere, cozy and relaxed, allowing contact with the local culture in a more intimate way. It’s housed in a building from the early twentieth century, carefully restored preserving the original features while updated with today’s standards of comfort. There’s a minimalist clean palette aesthetic sense, with hardwood floors, granite walls, pops of Portuguese tile, and vintage mid-century modern furniture.

We stayed in Room 6, a roomy suite on the top floor, with lovely white exposed wood beams, a skylight, and a small lounge area for $80/night. Breakfasts were fairly simple, including some ham slices, cheese, yogurt, freshly-squeezed OJ and a different homemade baked good each day. The small staff were young, hip, super friendly and very helpful. They were a great resource for insider tips and were happy to help us with dinner reservations or anything else you could possibly need.

All In Porto
Rua Arquitecto Nicolau Nasoni #17-27
We stumbled upon this little wine shop hoping for our first port tasting, and we really lucked out. The owner, Hugo, was incredibly informative, friendly, and has a great selection. We learned that Port can be bottle aged (the vintage fortified wines you’re probably most familiar with) or barrel aged (tawny ports meant to drink younger than the bottle aged ones.) A new discovery was white port which can be served as an aperitif with seltzer water and a citrus twist. Hugo introduced us to the Niepoort line of ports, which was by far our favorite. This was a much more intimate one-on-one experience than dealing with the crowds and lines of the port houses across in the river in Gaia.

Avenida da Boavista, 1277, piso -1 – Porto
Sushi, asian fusion and Japanese tapas in a modern and friendly atmosphere with nice, professional service. In the basement of a hotel featuring minimalist Japanese inspired interior design with a cool metal curtain that separates the dining room from a lounge area. This place is more expensive than the average Portuguese restaurant, but in line with what you’d expect for high-end sushi.

D. Luis I Bridge
The iron double-decker D. Luis I Bridge is the symbol of Porto, inaugurated in 1886, engineered by a disciple of Eiffel. The upper deck is the Metro & pedestrian track while the bottom deck is traffic and pedestrian. We walked across the upper deck to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river, the views of the city and the area from the bridge are spectacular. But I was so scared by the height on the top deck (190ft above the river) that I had to close my eyes about a quarter of the way across and let John lead my white-knuckled self the rest of the way. So we returned on foot via the lower deck (which was much less terrifying), taking the funicular back up the steep hill into Porto. At the base of the bridge on the Gaia side, industrious local teens were asking 1 Euro to jump from the lower deck of the bridge into the river 50ft below.

Vila Nova de Gaia
Across the Douro River from Port, stretched along the hillside on the south bank, is where all of the port houses are. They all offer tours and tastings, but we were content to just sit ourselves down outside the Sandeman house, sipping our port, listening to a street musician play beautifully on his violin, and people-watch for a couple hours. Plus, the view of Porto from this side is fabulous.

The Bolhao Market
Mercado bolhao Loja 1, 4000 Porto, Portugal
Established in 1839, this colorful, noisy market is located in the heart Porto. The market consists of an open roof two-story building and carries every imaginable type of fruit, vegetables, beans, olives, specialty cheeses, home made breads, desserts and some local crafts. Of course there is fresh fish, poultry, and meats.

Shopping at A Vida Portuguesa
Rua Galeria de Paris 20 – 1º, 4050-162 Porto
Very cool shop on the second floor of the building which sells traditional Portuguese goods with a twist, in a gorgeous setting. Perfect for souvenirs for yourself or gifts for the friends and family back home watching your kid/pet/plants.

Lunch at Conga (“Casa das Bifanas”)
Rua Bonjardim 318, Porto
Located close to the town hall, opened in 1976, a perfect lunch choice is their famous slider-size Bifana pork sandwich, cooked in a secret spicy sauce on a mouthwatering chewy bun. We each devoured one and regretted not ordering two.

Dinner at Frida
Rua Adolfo Casais Monteiro, 135
Somehow we had missed this neighborhood all together until our last night, which was a total bummer because there were some super cute hip artsy boutiques that we would have loved to check out if they’d been open. We were craving some Mexican, and found this place via TripAdvisor – what a great call. It’s tiny, so you definitely need a reservation. Quirky latin decor, including little bottles filled with sand on each table from Central and South American beaches. The service, food and drink were all excellent, especially the margaritas. This place is the real deal. Probably our favorite meal in Porto.

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