We caught the train up to Porto, and very quickly made our way through the metro to our Airbnb, which was (while up a lot of stairs) in a very convenient spot. As my back was still a bit busted from the fall in Lisbon, we made the most of public transport in Porto to get around the town and see things.
Here are seven great things to do while in Porto.
Go to the local food market.
We went to the market almost every day we were in Porto, to pick up fresh supplies for cooking in our Airbnb. The price and quality of the food makes cooking your own meals a pretty obvious choice. We even went so far as to pick up a whole chicken to roast, which Sarah accomplished in our Airbnb kitchen. It turns out that the woman we bought our chickens from was a local celebrity in Porto food culture – we saw her picture on a cookbook cover later on in the trip!
Do a port tasting.
Porto is justifiably famous for its local wines, and the best way to experience them is to do a tasting at one of the caves on the south side of the river. We went to Sandeman’s, and took a tour that gave us a lot of background on the process of making port, the history of Porto’s wine culture and industry, and ended with a couple of glasses of Sandeman’s excellent port varieties. We enjoyed it so much that we bought a couple more bottles for the remainder of our stay!
Visit Livralla Lello, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.
In the old days, you weren’t allowed to take photos in Livralla Lello, but like most places, it seems that the inevitability of people taking photos with their phones has paved the way for a relaxation of this rule. The staircase inside this bookshop is a woodworking marvel, and if you can get people to clear the stairs long enough, makes for a great photo. The bookshop does cost money to enter, but then the entry fee can be used as a discount if you purchase something. It’s worth a visit, but expect it to be crowded!
Go and hear some Fado.
The Fado House in Porto is not a traditional restaurant with music. It’s actually a music venue where the singers will serve your food between their sets. Fado is Portuguese folk singing with a melancholy edge – it’s sad, structured and apparently very difficult to do well. We went to the Fado House and sat for hours listening to various singers come and perform, accompanied by two guitars. We don’t speak Portuguese, but the passion and longing that dripped from every chord and syllable was unmistakable.
Do a Six Bridges Tour.
Porto’s history is tied so closely to the river – as trade route, shipping route and natural border – that it’s impossible to overlook how Porto’s culture has spring up from it. We did a cruise that takes you under Porto’s six main bridges, and explains the history behind each one. From the rail bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel (of the Eiffel Tower fame) to the more recent bridges for traffic, rail and pedestrians, it’s a great way to see the city from the water (particularly at sunset) and learn a bit more about Porto’s history and culture.
Visit The Music House.
This huge, cubist venue is Porto’s main performance house, and stands in stark contrast to the architecture which blankets the older part of the city. Massive in size and full of unexpected touches (like the free mixing desks in the foyer for people to create their own demos), it’s a cavernous space that clearly caters for patrons of all kinds of music. We walked around it while a rehearsal was on, and the contrast of soaring ceilings and clever natural lighting, combined with its unmistakable emptiness, made it a very interesting place to visit.
The architecture in Porto is astounding. The famous Portuguese tiles are on many buildings, usually in blue and white, telling fables and painting scenes of rural and city life. The churches are remarkable, restrained in size but still dizzying in scope around their ornamentation and decoration. Every laneway leads to something interesting, and while it’s easy to get lost in the maze of small streets that comprise Porto’s old town, it’s definitely worth foraging for new experiences there. Particularly the street art, which flourishes due to governmental lack of action!
So that was the end of Portugal, and we made it onto another overnight train to make our way north east to San Sebastian – the Basque city of tapas!