Portugal Diary | Porto

I loved Porto. I really, truly love the city of Porto. I spent 3 magical days wandering around this historic city and I loved every moment of it. The sun was out, the skies were blue, and the weather was absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have asked for more on this initial leg of my trip.

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The view from Torre dos Clérigos

 Snuggled in the north of Portugal, Porto was the perfect city to start my solo adventure in. While Porto is the country’s second largest city, it didn’t feel like it. The city possessed an ease that I didn’t feel in any other city that I visited. Maybe because Porto is so far away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon, or maybe because of its proximity the ocean, or maybe because its central to the birthplace of Port wine (yes, that port wine), I never felt any kind of hurried pressure to constantly be on the go while exploring this city, even when I was surrounded by hundreds other of individuals.

While I may have started my exploration of Porto in the evening, my real introduction to the city started in the early morning before the city was awake. I booked a 7am sunrise walking tour of the city and it was absolutely worth it. In a small group of 8 people led by our guide Laurem, we visited some of Porto’s largest tourist destinations and historical sites before the city or many people were even awake including the gorgeous São Bento train station where we began the tour.

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Ponte de Dom Luis I Bridge

Wandering around the streets of the UNESCO world heritage neighbourhood of Riberia and the famous Ponte de Dom Luis I Bridge while was shrouded in fog was an unworldly experience. Laurem was a really fantastic guide, pointing out all the interesting points within the city and the history behind them. I actually ended off the tour having an espresso with Laurem and a few other girls from the tour and got to learn more about the city and what it’s really like to live in Porto. Unfortunately, Laurem is no longer offering the tour, which I had booked through Airbnb.

My next stop after the sunrise tour was the historic Livraria Lello bookstore, made famous by J.K. Rowling who used it as inspiration for her Harry Potter series. The bookstore is architecturally one of the most beautiful bookstores I’ve ever visited and also one of the most crowded. Most of the people who visit the store aren’t really there to buy books, but if you do or choose to purchase postcards/stationary, your entrance ticket fee (€5/person) will be subtracted from your final purchase price. And a word of advice from someone who waited nearly 2 hours in line to get into the bookstore, buy your ticket early, possibly the day before you visit, and try to get in line before its 9am opening time.

I finished off the rest of the day wandering around the streets of Porto, having lunch at the Majestic Café (another Harry Potter inspiration site), strolling around the different shops of the temporary Mercado do Bolhão whose original location was under renovation at the time of my visit, taking a boat ride down the Douro River which costs about €15/person, and checking out the Igreja de São Franciso, a church whose ENTIRE interior is covered in floor-to-ceiling gold, literally so much gold that it will stun you into silence the moment you step foot into it.

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The view from the boat tour on the Douro River

I finished off the night hitting a few of Porto’s bars for happy hour and chowing down on Porto’s famous Francesinha sandwich for dinner. The Francesinha is a monster of a sandwich consisting of thick pieces of bread, cured ham, linguiça (cured pork sausage), fresh sausage, steak that’s completely covered in melted cheese and a thick gravy-tomato sauce served with a side of fries. I attempted to finish off the sandwich, but I did not stand a chance and ended up in a food coma and supported my reasoning that empire waist dresses are the best vacation dress.

I spent my final morning in Porto climbing up the many steps tightly wound steps of the Torre dos Clérigos, which offers unrivalled panoramic views of the city in the day and night, which were worth climbing up all those stairs. I would advise you bring a bottle of water with you because it does get really hot as you try to navigate your way up the tight stairs of the tower.

My last stop in Porto was the Jardin do Palácio de Cristal. This massive botanical garden sits atop a bluff overlooking the Douro River. It was the perfect place to sit and reflect on my trip so far as I looked out at the city of Porto and the city of Gaia, which sits across the Douro River and is the home to many of the famous Port wineries including Graham and Cálem.

One of the biggest regrets that I have about visiting Porto was not taking a port winery tour across the river in Gaia. Most of the wineries offer daily tours and packages that include wine and food in multiple languages and range from hourly tours to ones that take half a day. Some tours even offer to take you to the Douro Valley where the grapes used to make port wine are grown. A tour will definitely be on my itinerary if I ever return to Porto.

As a solo traveller, and one that really wanted to explore Porto, I chose to walk everywhere which wasn’t that difficult seeing as how the majority of the city’s main attraction sites are within walking distance from the centre of Porto. It was a great way to see the city and the people that live in it. It also helped me scope out some of the best bars and cafes in town, which came in really handy on my last day in the city.

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Porto Tonic

I spent my last afternoon and evening in Porto hanging out on the sidewalk patio of a bar indulging in a number of Porto Tonics (a famous Porto cocktail made with tawny/white port, tonic water, and a few slices of fruit), which became a real favourite of mine while on this trip, and reading romance novels. It was really the perfect end to this first part of my solo trip to Portugal.

(All the photos that you see on the post were shot with my iPhone 6s.) 

Next Chapter: Northen Portugal and a road trip to Lisbon

Thanks for reading!

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